Counting down to 2003

Hi, this is Leila Caudwell calling on the 31st of December, New Year’s Eve.

We woke up today in the Confluencia camp (3368 m/11,000 ft) ready to start our long hike to Plaza de Mulas. We checked in with the rangers – you are supposed to check in at every camp, where they stamp and mark what time you get in and things like that. Right after that we started our hike to Plaza de Mulas.

The hike was pretty flat for a long time and the weather was luckily really nice, not much wind. We hiked around Aconcagua until finally we started up hill towards New Plaza de Mulas.

Because it has been pretty warm, the glaciers have been melting a lot. We hiked along the Rio Hortones and a lot of little streams have been getting kind of strong and we had to jump quite a lot of them. Finally, when we got to the turn we needed to cross to get over to get to Plaza de Mulas, the river was quite strong and the only way to cross was on foot and the current was strong and the water was deep, almost covering our knees – not mentioning that the river, of course, being glacier-fed, was extremely cold.

We couldn’t help thinking about our last experience on Ojos del Salado and what great training that had been. At Ojos, when we did the hike around Laguna Verde, we had to do a similar crossing with cold water. But this time it was difficult not only because we had a big pack. The water was deeper and the current was very strong. I couldn’t help thinking about the possibility of foot entrapment even though we did use ski poles to scout where we were walking. But it was still something to keep in mind.

David, our cook, was the first to cross, followed by Bernardo and then myself and John. Karl was not really willing to do it, so he decided to scout further down the river for a place he could jump across instead of having to walk through the water. Finally he realized there was no other way and he just did the crossing like we all did.

We arrived at Plaza de Mulas pretty late and it was quite a pleasure to be welcomed with the full service provided at base camp. We had a fantastic dinner of vegetables, cannelloni with melted cheese followed by a dessert of an apple cooked on hot syrup. It was really good.

Karl went straight to bed after dinner but he told me, “Wake me up at 11:30 so that I can join one of the parties around base camp celebrating New Year’s Eve.”

I’ll try to explain Plaza de Mulas. It’s quite an interesting place. For those who have seen the movie Vertical Limit, I could say that it looks a little bit like how the K2 base camp was pictured in that movie. Of course you have to remove the high-end and high-tech that only Hollywood can make. It’s a very cheerful place. Everyone seems very happy. There are quite a few dining camps that provide service to several expeditions and even a fast food tent which I haven’t checked out yet.

The weather so far has been extremely good – blue sky, really little wind and a really family atmosphere everywhere.

We can see preparations for parties for New Years Eve that will happen later tonight.


I tried to wake up Karl to join some of the party but he said he was too warm to get out of his sleeping bag. So we missed the chance to have someone from our team checking out the local action. We did hear three separate countdowns close to midnight in Spanish, screaming when it was midnight. I guess all of the parties must have had different clocks because they started counting on their own. But it was quite interesting because in the end it was different than anything we’d ever seen – a New Year’s Eve where everyone is wearing down booties and fleece and hiking boots and down jackets. It’s quite an entertaining ambience.

This morning, the first of January, we woke up to find to our surprise two 2-litre bottles of Coke by the entrance to our tent. We still haven’t figured out who left it there but we were very thankful. It was probably someone who thought they had left it by their own tent, just too drunk to see it. I don’t know. But that will remain a mystery, a very welcome one and I’m pretty thankful for that.

22,841 feet
6962 meters

22,637 feet
6900 meters