By Andreas Fransson
The valley never wanted to end. After every bend, another one just kept showing up, further ahead. On the third day of walking, we started to feel like we had had enough of the burning sun and our heavy packs. Dips in the creek only got us cold long enough to, a few moments later, be able to remember the feeling of being cold. The one pair of underwear we had was already stinking of sweat, and we were starting to feel the wear and tear of our poor backs. But finally, there she was—the south face of mighty Mercedario, at the end of the valley.
At nearly 2,000-vertical meters, the face is almost twice as tall as any other continuous face I have ever skied. I had really hoped we could attempt it during our adventure through the Andes, and when we came to Mendoza, Argentina, and learned that we couldn’t go to Aconcagua before the 15th of November—going north to the Cordillera de la Ramadas, and Mercedario, was an obvious choice.
It ended up being the longest and heaviest approach we had done in our lives. It was especially heavy since we thought the mules were way too expensive and decided to carry all of our gear ourselves. (They wanted around 700 dollars for one mule. While that might be pocket money for some, for us it amounted to more than double of what we had budgeted for this part of our adventure.)
But that was not the hardest thing in the end. The biggest challenge was to get up the damn mountain with serious stomach issues. I was racing in between good spots on the face to either throw up or get the diarrhea out. Laughing at my situation, all I could do was take the pain, the tiredness and the smell of ammonia from the body’s attempt of burning muscles instead of food. (That said, turning around before the top of the face was not an option, not after all the ordeal of getting there in the first place.)
But the shiny ice-blue ridge above the face leading to the summit was not what I had come for. I had come to ski one of South America’s true dream lines. The face has no real technical difficulties, it’s just one of these big things anyone who lives for skiing would love to point their ski tips down and simply enjoy. And enjoy, that I truly did.