Published: January 1st 2012December 31st 2011
How cool is that? Actually it is more than cool, it was #*+@ cold. Some say "Joel why do you want to climb a mountain?" Well as the famous mountaineer Greorge Mallory, who tried to be the first to summit Everest in the 1920s (and died trying to do so), when he was asked "why do you want to climb Mt. Everest?", his reply was simply "because it is there". So part of my answer is just that simple. The other part deals with challenging yourself to see how you handle things and hopefully succeed in achieving them. Regardless, you hope you will learn things about yourself from those experiences. Many people face incredible challenges everyday not by choice but by necessity. They win some of those challenges and they lose some, either way they have grown as an individual (hopefully). For me these adventures are challenges by choice. I believe you can only measure yourself against things that force you beyond your comfort boundaries. So hopefully I will be a better person for the things I have learned from climbing a very challenging mountain called Aconcagua. :)
Here is a little glimpse of my 18 day mountaineering
The Weigh In
I weighed 80.2kgs at the start. I finished at 72.1kgs. I am working hard as I write this from Mendoza to regain what I lost through a strict diet of Argentinian Beef and Wine. :)
experience on Aconcagua where I trekked over 66 miles up a mountain and down; sleeping in a tent, in some times extremely wind and freezing conditions; packing a 40-50+lb pack up and down sheer vertical slopes along paths that were only fit for a cat, knowing one wrong move could send you tumbling 100s of metres below; and sharing this with a great group of people. Oh yah and getting to wear cool ice crampons and carrying an ice axe. :)
Getting there was more than just walking up a mountain that is almost 7,000m (22,830ft) high and not only the tallest peak in South America (making it one of the Seven Summits), but the tallest peak outside of Asia. It is physically challenging because of the altitude and the steep scree (ie rocks) slopes. No question you have to be in excellent shape. But more importantly this mountain poses a mental challenge that can stop you no matter have fit you are. As you walk up to the 7,000m peak you have all the time on your hands to come up with countless reasons to quite, and your mind starts to make you think your body
is not physically capable of making it.
Besides constantly worrying if you can physically or mentally make it, when we got to Camp 2, Guanacos, the weather became a factor; extreme winds, I´m talking 100km-120km/hr which is a little crazy when you are in a tent on the side of a mountain. It then became a game of worrying whether the weather would allow us an attempt to summit. It is one thing worrying whether you can do it, it is another kind of nervousness worrying about something not in your control. At Guanacos we lost a member of the team to Mountain Sickness. Bernie, a fellow Canadian living in Texas, got too sick to continue and had to retire from the trip. Bernie is a marathon runner and it goes to show you that the mountain is indiscriminate. We saw several people who were getting sick and having to return to lower altitude. You definitely have to respect Acancagua and it´s thin air. Make no mistake, Acancagua takes lives every year.
My nervousness over the weather was alleviated on Christmas Day and after five nights at Guanacos and after
Mules and Gachos
OUr bags and supplies were carried by mules to Base Camp
moving to High Camp (6,000m, 18,200ft) on December 26, we left from High Camp (the last camp where the summit bid is launched) on December 27 on a 7 hr journey straight up almost 1,000m to the summit. It was difficult, challenging and for 2/3 of the way we had to use our boot crampons and ice axe. It was serious mountaineering, very cool. :) At approximately 12:30pm we reached the summit and experienced a moment of nirvana and pure satisfaction in knowing we had reached your goal.
As hard as it is going up, it is just as hard or sometimes harder going down, especially when the wind picked up and it started to snow. There are only two things good about going down: 1. It is a lot faster than going up, and 2. You are actually going down! Our tent was a welcome sight after our 11hr summit climb. :)
The final two days were no cake walk. The very next morning we were heading straight down to Base Camp on the opposite side of the mountain from where we started. I think it was the hardest
Our first glimpse of Aconcagua at Piedra.
day of the expedition. The day after a 12 hr summit day, we had to carry everything (I mean everything!) down, down, down and down a very steep scree field on the side of the mountain: The packs weighed over 50lbs and it took us 7 hrs to get down. We enjoyed a night´s rest in Base Camp where we enjoyed pizza and an outhouse with a sit down toilet! It was luxury. The final day was a 30km trek out of the park. Fortunately the mules took our heavy backpacks out, unfortunately I developed a blister on my big toe that looked like I had grown another toe at the end of it -oowch.
Getting back to the hotel just outside the Aconçcagua Park in Penetentes was like reaching heaven only to find out the hot water wasn´t working and that we had to wait about two hours. Howver, after 18 days a few hours didn´t seem like too long to wait when we had another running substance called celebratory alcohol!
Reaching the top is not only a major accomplishment, but for those precious few moments you know you
Had to get my pic taken with her for the first time. :)
are alive and you experience a state of mind that is very special. Climbing Aconcagua successfully is more than about physical fitness. We climbed up a mountain knowing that is was not only going to challenge us physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. We climbed down the mountain having conquered everything it had thrown at us; however, more importantly we had conquered ourselves; our fears, our dramas, our self doubts. TS Eliot wrote, "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." For some of us we found our limits for others we glimpsed the boundless limits of life. Memorable things along the way: The Team:
Guides: Tom Chambers - Lead Guide, Jonathan Wood - Assistant Guide
Chris Kennessey (my tent mate and great guy for putting up with me!), Rob Jackson, Frederick Patterson, Erin Boyle, Bernie (unfortunately Bernie got mountain sickness at Camp 2 and had to retire from the trip) The Route:
False Polish Traverse, also known as the Vascas Route
There are more photos below