Logistics II - Jeeps, Mules, Camps & Cooks.
Due to the fact that our group was limited to a two week period, we elected to work with a logistics provider to facilitate road transportation, arriero services, food acquisition, and base and high camp cooking. After researching providers we chose Anibal Maturano's Don Mercedario Expeditions to provide the necessary services, including overland transport from Mendoza to the Santa Ana trail head, arriero (mules and driver) service from the trail head to the base camp and a camp cooking inclusive of all food acquisition and preparation.
While this may seem extravagant, we all three have reached a point in our lives and careers that cooking dinner after walking 18 miles is a luxury that we can each do without. We take vacation to enjoy it and spending a day garnering the food and then fussing over who will cook and who will clean is a part of the climbing experience that we have all experienced in the past and just don't want to do very much of anymore if we don't absolutely have to. So we lined up the logistics and to Anibal's credit, every aspect of the planning came together. I'd read good reviews of Don Mercedario and now that I've working with their crew, I will readily vouch for their ability to make a trip like this come together. Some details . . .
Jeep Transportation. The jeep, or more accurately, Land Rover, ride to the Santa Ana trail head and back was covered by Fernando Grajales who coordinated with Anibal to provide the road portion of the transportation needs. Fernando was great . . . on time, dependable wheels, and he took the time to make sure that the ride to and fro was just as much fun as the rest of trip. Fernando covered the rides from Mendoza to Santa Ana and then the return from Santa Ana to Barreal via 4WD Rover and then when we elected to stay an overnight in barreal, Carlos, his associate, took us back to Mendoza in a minivan. No junky equipment, no delays, no breakdowns, no getting lost, no hassle. You cannot get a higher grade than this outfit.
The cost for a one way trip from Mendoza to Santa Ana was $350 with a $100 supplement if one wishes to overnight in Barreal on the trip out. Our total transport cost to move three people and gear to and from the trail head was $800.
Mules and Drivers. Anibal covers mules on his web site and as our gear weighed in at about 60 lbs each, we needed 1.5 mules to get our gear to the base camp. The mule train consisted of 3 mules as the food for the trip needed to move as up valley as well. The deal with the arriero was that we would go three hours on the first day and then cover the rest of the distance on the second day. This appears to be a normal arrangement and was included in the basic cost. The mule transport was hassle free, you dump the bags on the ground and they show up at the camp .. . no hassle. I'll also put in a plug for the arriero as he covered the campfire cooking at the close of the first leg of the walk and that guy was one hell of a good cook.
The cost for our two mules was $500 in each direction to carry all of our gear over an 18+ miles trail with approximately 5000 feet of elevation gain. The uphill overnight did not require a supplement.
Base Camp Facilities. Don Mercedario provided all base camp services for our stay in the Valle de Colorado as well as a cook for the higher camps. The base camp service included three meals per day, a geo dome mess tent at the base camp, and all high camp meals as well. Celeste and Manuel covered the cooking and we have no complaints in that department as the meals were good, well prepared and more than adequate for our climbing appetite. This was not freeze dried faire but fresh food throughout the trip, including desserts and even wine and some Baileys a few nights where there was reason to celebrate or just spice up the meal.
Anibal's provision of a geo dome tent was a great aspect of his service. There was enough room for six of us to sit around a table and play cards after dinner, relax, read or otherwise get in from the cold early in the morning or in the evening before we headed for our tents. We provided our own sleeping tents at the base camp as well as the high camps and we also provided a BD megamid for use as a cook tent higher up.
Our cost for the whole of the base camp facility and service was $1900 and given that it let us enjoy the base camp without the hassle of cooking and with the roomy comfort of the geo dome, it would have been a mistake to take on the base camp housekeeping in lieu of using Anibal' service. Another hats off to Don Mercedario.
Other Transport. Anibal arranged for an airport pick-up when we arrive in Mendoza at a cost of $30 to our hotel. After our trip, we arranged for a return to the airport with Felipe Canedo's Mendoza Transfer at the same cost. We used Felipe for a day long wine tour on our free day in Mendoza and I'll vouch for his English, timeliness, and service as a driver and local guide. When I go back to Mendoza, I'll connect with Felipe for the in-town transport needs without a second thought.