Aconcagua Climb, December 2012

My friend Erik Akerberg from Stockholm, Sweden ask me to join him to climb Mt. Aconcagua near Mendoza, Argentina; the highest mountain in North and South America standing at 22,837 ft / 6,960 mt and is one of the seven summits of the world.

We joined Inka Expeditions along with 9 other climbers from around the world; Jerone Brisebourg (France), Benoit Clerc (France), Audrey Le Diraison (France), Craig & Michelle Kellet (Australia), Olaf Lechtenfeld (Germany), Thierry Rocetta (France), Sergio Tomsic (Argentina) and Joen Yen Lee (Singapore).

Due to extreme winds and a nasty forecast of severe weather for the next few days, we had to turn around at Camp Colera at 19,960 ft / 6,000 mt. Despite the daily winds and no summit this was one of my best adventures and learning experiences.

Day One, December 1st
Today was my first official day of my Aconcagua climbing adventure in Argentina. I started packing the night before and finished the rest of it the next morning before Linna drove me to the Seattle airport. My first flight to Santiago was through Atlanta, Georgia on Delta Airlines sitting in the fat seat. My second leg I wasn´t as fortunate, I was back in the cattle car sitting in a so called premium seat, Delta calls it Comfort Plus…I call it Suffer Plus. After a couple of glasses of wine at dinner I was out until breakfast and soon we landed in Santiago, Chile.

Day Two, December 2nd
Walking into Santiago customs, I was directed to a separate line to purchase a one-time VISA for $160 US dollars. Not a real surprise since I had to do this last March in Buenos Aries, Argentina. What was strange though, only six or seven countries are required to purchase a VISA. I landed at 9:30 a.m. and my friend Erik from Sweden walked out of customs around 2:30 p.m. The last time I saw Erik was in Russia, when we climbed Mt. Elbrus together in 2010.

Our plan was to catch a bus over to Mendoza, Argentina where we would actually start our Aconcagua adventure. We had to catch the red-eye bus that took off from Santiago at 10:00 p.m. and got into Mendoza around 5:30 a.m. Typically, getting around South America is mainly accomplished by buses and there seems to be abundant number of bus lines to fulfil the needs.

Day Three, December 3rd
Now in the wee hours, we had to stop at customs on the mountain pass between Argentina and Chile; all bus passengers had to disembark and stand outside under this huge dome. You stood in line to leave Chile and after they would process you and your passport, you then stepped over to the next line (very next window) and the Argentina customs would then process you.

We finally got to our hotel and to sleep around 7:00 a.m., but only to be awaken by Cristian Mur, an assistant guide for Inka Expediciones to review our equipment. Later in the day, Erik and I found a very eloquent restaurant Anna for a late lunch. After chowing down a piece of delicious lamb with a local Mendoza cabernet we headed back for a long over-due siesta.

That evening we met up with the rest of our climbing group; Jérome Brisebourg (France), Benoit Clerc (France), Audrey Le Diraison (France), Craig & Michelle Kellet (Australia), Olaf Lechtenfeld (Germany), Thierry Rocetta (France), Sergio Tomsic (Argentina) and Joen Yen Lee (Singapore). I had the lovely opportunity to have my iPhone ripped off during dinner that night by a few young kids; totally my fault for leaving my phone on the table as we chatted. I called Linna when I got back to the hotel room with my satellite phone I rented from BlueCosmo for the month of December; I totally recommend BlueCosmo for their outstanding service and quality phones to choose from.

Day Four, December 4th
Had my first full night of sleep which was well overdue since I started my journey from Seattle days ago. The guides and our climbing group drove to the government park office to get our Aconcagua climbing permits; $730 per application. From Mendoza, we drove two vans with loaded gear and food for 2 1/2 hours to a tiny ski resort Penitentes. We slept our last night in a bed at Hotel Penitentes and ended our day with a great dinner and wine.

Day Five, December 5th
I started off my day with my last hot shower for a while. I was anxious to get my hiking boots on and make this happen. We drove a few miles down the road to the park entrance Pampa de Lenas, this is where we turned in our individual park permits and officially started hiking; elevation at 2,950 meters / 9,678 feet. It was an easy hike, but after five hours of walking at 10,000 feet, I was exhausted. The mule drivers’ barbequed up a bunch of delicious beef and sausages for dinner, the beef wasn’t as tender as prefer, but I couldn’t bitch being in the middle of the Andes at 10,000 feet. This will be my first night of sleeping in the tent; we paired up in two’s that gave us plenty of room in the 3 man Mountain Hardware tents that were provided. Mijel, the lead guide took our oxygen level with a small gadget that fit over the end of the index finger, it provided a digital read-out and mine was 91.

Day Six, December 6th
I slept well and felt fantastic, must have been all that beef I had the night before. My tent roommate Erik Akerberg had the opposite experience, he didn’t sleep well at all due to the beef he ate. Erik is a semi-vegetarian so he woke feeling like shit and he was suffering all day with stomach cramps and a headache. Not only did he grieve with pain, but he and the rest of us had to walk 6 hours in a 25 – 30 mph constant headwind for six hours.

I have never in my life had to deal with so much wind all in one day; it was completely challenging for the mind, body and eyes. Most of the group wore goggles to protect their eyes from the wind and dirt that the air was carrying. Five minutes before you reached second camp (Casa de Piedras), you get your first sighting of Aconcagua up the Relincho Stream Valley.

Day Seven, December 7th
Another good sleep, even though it was really windy; must have been the Advil PM’s I took last night! We headed up to Plaza Argentina base camp today, picking up 960m / 3,150ft. When we arrived lunch and beverages were waiting for us. We set-up tents and had dinner later in the large dome tents where everyone ate. I was exhausted by the time I crawled in my sleeping bag, I remember telling Erik that I underestimated this climb and thought it would be much easier. I woke in the middle of the night feeling I had to vomit, but after a healthy bowel movement I was back to normal.

Day Eight, December 8th
I slept good last night and was sleeping in late until there was a helicopter that landed a 100 yards in front of our tent. The pilot drop off two park rangers and supplies before flying off. Base camp is only ½ full, I am told the busy part of the season starts in January. December weather can be unpredictable so many people start in January. I had two great bowel movements today….I am a happy camper. There are two make-shift out houses with one not having a door. People saw me use my satellite phone and so I became a popular guy. I ended up letting people use it, I wasn’t worried about the usage but draining my battery…I still had many days to go. There was another guiding outfit that had large solar panels and for a small fee you could recharge your batteries, so I recharged my camera and phone batteries back to a full charge. Today my resting heart rate was 93 and my oxygen level was 83. We all had a chance to take a shower today. There was two stalls that had a large plastic container hanging overhead filled with hot water. It was great to get the grime off. I also washed up my socks and my dri-fit shirts / underwear I have been wearing the past few days.

Day Nine, December 9th
After a full day of rest and another great night of sleep at Plaza Argentina base camp we hauled up food and personal items to camp one. We hiked up 900m / 2,700ft. today to reach camp 1 and it was really windy all the way up. We consolidated all of the equipment together and descended back down to base camp…of course my knees didn’t like it. Tomorrow will be another rest day and I am happy about it, again I underestimated this climb thinking it would be easier with all the days we have, but I guess being at a very high elevation all day can be exhausting. So far all of the equipment I brought is perfect.

Day Ten, December 10th
Had a great rest day and used most of it prepping for tomorrow’s climb to camp 1 of 3 before we hit the summit. Tonight’s dinner is our last sit down dinner in the base camp tent. I got to admit the meals have been fantastic and there was plenty to eat. We have 3 French people in our group that sit together and every meal they end up laugh among themselves, but to find out they have been laughing at the one German we have. He can be very boasting at times and the French make fun of him.

Day Eleven, December 11th
We had our last sit down breakfast in the base camp tent. Erik and I took down our tent and packed up backpacks and ascended to camp 1 at 5,000m / 16,404ft. Our pace was 10 minutes faster than yesterday hiking to camp 1; took us 3 hours and 20 minutes which included breaks. I was totally exhausted by the time we reached camp 1. After a 10 minute breather we set-up tents. Dinner was brought to our tents and the day was finished off with a game of chess.

Day Twelve, December 12th
I slept off and on last night the dry air cold air blocked my sinuses when you breathe through your mouth it makes your throat and lips very dry. I had packed everything at home except my Chap Stick, I can’t believe I would forget something so important to me and something I actually use a couple times a day at home. I keep Chap Stick at my work desk, car, briefcase and a couple of places through-out the house. At least it’s another sunny day to enjoy.

Today we will move personal items to camp 2 gaining 800m / ft. It was steep and steady today to camp 2 where we off loaded and rested before descend back to camp 1. We had a group meeting to decide not to have a rest day tomorrow but too move the rest of camp 1 onto camp 2. There is bad weather coming in and could affect our summit climb. We have been shitting in large heavy duty trash bags since we left base camp. You had one bag that you would use over and over and just tied it off when you were done. Shitting in your bag is not easy when you have your gear on and it’s freezing out. Before we went to sleep, Erik and I played two games of chess and I won both of them.

Day Thirteen, December 13th
Slept well last night even though my sinuses were blocked this morning. It was another sunny day in paradise, just cold and windy. We packed up everything so my backpack was feeling heavy. By the time we climbed to camp 2 and set-up our tents I had a full raging headache. I took a couple of regular Advil and started to feel better. The guides are talking about reaching the summit on December 16th, but are wary of the approaching weather. We have a rest day tomorrow and then the next day we climb to camp 3. The view from camp 2 is totally amazing.

Day Fourteen, December 14th
I was sleeping well until morning when my sinuses were completely plugged. It was rest day so a few of us hiked up to 5,700m / 18,700ft. for a little exercise and acclimatization. I am amazed how good I feel at this elevation, it’s almost you don’t even feel it until you start moving your feet. Tomorrow we climb to camp 3 and hopefully we attempt the summit the next day! The guides are saying that there are high winds coming in and even our summit bid could be in jeopardy.

Day Fifteen, December 15th
Audrey who is married to Benoit, the couple from France…she was nice enough to provide me with a small bottle of Vick’s nasal spray yesterday. I slept without any nasal/sinus issues…thank you Audrey! You can tell it’s getting colder by the frost inside the tent. Today we packed up everything and headed for camp 3. The wind was very, very strong and you had to be very careful with your footing. By the time we reached camp 3 the winds were at colossal strength. I saw somebody’s sleeping bag from another climbing group take off like a missile into the sky. We assembled one tent at a time with 6 or more people helping. We are now at 6,000m / 20,000ft. with the summit attempt tomorrow. The weather doesn’t look good though, guides are saying that the winds are only going to get worse with white out conditions….not good.

Around 4:00 a.m. the guides came around to tell us to quickly pack everything and we will need to descend to base camp. The weather got worse and it was forecasted to get worse for the next few days. There went our summit bid and I started thinking that maybe we should have not had those rest days. We came so far to be so close, but to be rejected due weather was disspointing.