Aconcagua 2005 Dispatches
22,834 feet 6960 meters
Aconcagua is a popular climb for those wanting to test themselves at high altitude. It is often a step before attempting Everest and of course one of the Seven Summits. I summited it on February 19, 2005 and again on January 8, 2008 one of my Memories are Everything®: The Road Back to Mt. Everest expeditions and again on January 29, 2011 as my 7 Summits for Alzheimer's project.
Using satellite communication , I sent frequent dispatches during my climb of Aconcagua. I used a system that includes a digital camera, PDA and sat phone. In addition to my written dispatches, I sent pictures almost real time as the events occurred. I tried to capture the spirit of the Argentinean gauchos, the mules packing our gear to base camp and of course the challenges and satisfaction of climbing the highest mountain outside the Himalayas. Thanks for coming along. Please check out the updated FAQ and main Aconcagua page.
February 22, 2005 - Final dispatch
I did not come to Argentina to stand on top of a mountain.
I try to keep three areas of my life in balance: my family, my work and myself. My family is the foundation and the key to everything else. My work is a critical piece for obvious reasons but also a source of great satisfaction when going well. Climbing mountains is my passion, keeps me growing, and centered. Coming to Argentina to climb Aconcagua at this time in my life had significance beyond standing on top of a Hill.
I came to Argentina with an incredible support team of friends and family.
The day before I left, I got calls and emails from friends and family all around the world. Cathy was suffering from a flu-like illness, smiled as I shuffled back and forth packing, hauling duffle bags, trying to get the sat phone working. Max and Mimi scurried under the furniture trying figure out what was going on. I have said before and again now, if you have one friend who understands why climbers climb, you are lucky. I am blessed to have so many.
I came to Argentina to try a different approach to commercial climbing.
I found about Field Touring while looking for guide services for a Pakistan climb. I was impressed with the philosophy of Dave Hancock and signed on for Aconcagua. His value pricing and strong spirit of respect for the independent climber attracted me. And I was not disappointed. Stu Remensynder and Martin Girodo executed the philosophy with ease and respect. It was a genuine pleasure to see two guides so committed to the safe success of their clients. It is rare in my experience to see such uniform client satisfaction amongst so many cultures and experience levels. I believe their model, if expanded and improved, could have a major impact on guided mountaineering in that they attract mature climbers who take full responsibility for their own success while relying on FT for a safety net. Well done.
I came to Argentina to meet new climbers.
It is always a special treat to meet fellow climbers with a love for adventure and a passion for the mountains. Martin kept us laughing but it was his spirit to return to this Hill five years after a failed attempt that impressed me. Ireland must frown when James leaves since his intuitive nature and contagious smile keeps everyone relaxed. Garth is a natural mountaineer. He easily climbed this Hill and impressed me with his unselfish nature and natural teamwork. Mick, the schoolteacher, was a quiet and confident influence on the team. It would have an honor to be in his class. Young Rod grew throughout the climb suffering with the altitude more than should be expected. But he never gave up. His determination was an inspiration to us all. Luis left early but touched everyone with his gentle demeanor. Every step was a new altitude record. I hope he returns. And Suzy. We shared a tent for many days and nights. Her strength was obvious but it was her internal struggle that left a mark on me. In the end she connected with what was important to her and left Aconcagua with new knowledge about herself. She will climb many mountains.
I came to Argentina to see the culture.
Walking the streets of Mendoza at 3:00 AM seeing families eating ice cream, laughing, holding the hands of their children. The Latin dancers holding each other so tight, spinning intertwined and ending with a snarl on their face. The Muleteers careening down the dusty trails with twenty fully loaded mules. The national park guards taking garbage collection so seriously in order to keep their country clean and pristine. The restaurant waiter who smiles so easily and laughs so deeply. The rugged Muleteer who frowned at his young assistant who asked me for money in exchange for a mule ride across a raging river. The Argentine guides who watched everyone carefully, offered assistance without expectations and looked you in the eye with care and confidence. And, the schoolchildren on a three day outing who swarmed me on my last day in the Horcones Valley. The held my hand, asked my name, laughed and smiled as we taught one another English and Spanish.
I came to Argentina to make sense of the next chapter in my career.
After the most confusing, disillusioning and dehumanizing period in my career, I needed time to re energize and sort things out. In a world where corporations assign the same employee number to everyone, 24601, I need to find a place where I can be accepted, add my value and get the satisfaction I need from my work. Walking the valleys and climbing the mountains gave me time to focus on the next chapter.
I came to Argentina to test my body
Everest 2003 was the most challenging climb of my life. My body, or spirit, gave up after 20,000 feet. For a long time I did not know if I could, or had the desire, to go to high altitude again. Also, I was disillusioned with commercial guiding companies and guides in general. Not because I did not summit, but that I was not treated with respect and dignity. I focused on the lessons I learned from that experience. I took care of my body and it took care of me. I listened to my inner voice. Our guides, Stu and Martin, restored my faith that there are great guides out there who can be tough but respectful. The final climb to the summit was straightforward and I felt very well. While it was almost 23,000', some how it never felt as debilitating as my Everest climbs.
I did not come to Argentina to stand on top of a mountain
but I did
Flash: Rod summited with Martin G on February 21!
February 21, 2005 - Back to Mendoza
I have never been so happy to see a mule! The trek down from C2 was long and arduous.
This is the part of any expedition called "cleaning the mountain" where everything, and I mean everything, that was brought up must be taken down. Now this may seem simple but remember that we used mules and took two trips to get all our gear between camps. We had to bring everything down in one huge load.
Clearing the mountain of all debris is a great rule established by the Argentinean Park Service. You bring out all of your garbage or pay a $100 fine. This goes a long way in keeping the mountain camps clean.
The climb down from Colera or C2 to Plaza de Mullahs involved a 4500' descent in very, very loose gravel or scree. My pack weighed over 45 pounds but Stu took the record with a heavyweight limit of 88 pounds! I swear his pack outweighed him.
We all made it to Mulas for an overnight R&R and then left around 11:00 a.m. the following morning for Penitentes. The route we took back to Penitentes followed a different valley than the one we came in on. While shorter by two days, it was not nearly as scenic.
Rod is giving his all with a summit bid today along with Martine. I must say that he doesn't know the meaning of no. I hope he makes it. I will post an update as soon as I have any information.
Now we are back in Mendoza for a celebration dinner.
I will post my last dispatch from Argentina tomorrow. I will give my impressions of Aconcagua, Field Touring, Argentina and some insights to why I came here. Alan
February 19, 2005 - Summit Review
Stu and I left C2 at 6:00 a.m. for the summit by the Polish Glacier Route. We had been looking at various routes up the glacier for the past week and had settled on two that basically went up the center of the glacier. We felt these were safe and fast.
We climbed in the dark for about 600' on scree to join the glacier. As we put on our crampons and harnesses and prepared to rope up, my back was to the glacier. There was no sound, no alert, but something told me to turn around. A car sized piece of snow was rumbling down the glacier as were hundreds of smaller pieces of snow. We were about 300 feet away.
As I watched the avalanche, a chill went through my body. The slide began exactly at a notch where we had planned to climb and was falling right down our climbing route. I have had several close calls in the mountains before - crevasses, avalanches, sickness. I had an extremely strong feeling that this glacier was not for me.
After a brief discussion, Stu and I abandoned the glacier and headed towards the False Polish Route. We were starting late. This route is straightforward and required no technical tools. We made the summit about seven hours later and returned to C2 about 8:00 p.m. A 14 hour day!
I will write more about the False Polish Route later. Congratulations to Martin and climbers James, Mick, Garth and Martin for their summits.
Today, Sunday, we are all heading towards Plaza de Mulas and then back to Penitentes. Garth and Suzy traveled together to Penitentes. Rod and Martin will attempt the summit on Monday. Alan
February 19, 2005 - Summit Attempt
now 5am sat leaving in about an hour sat phone just came back on line . No wind!!!
I received the above email from Alan this morning...it would appear that he and Stu are going up today. According to Alan's dispatch from yesterday, the entire team should be making their summit attempts today. Good luck to everyone!!! Cathy
February 18, 2005 - Camp 2
Remember when I wrote that the key to mountaineering is flexibility, well we proved that today. Obviously I am not on my summit bid today. We all woke up at 4:00 a.m. in preparation for the summit attempt. Everyone had a difficult night due to sleeping at 19,000' for the first time, being anxious about the climb and the worst night yet for high winds.
Suzy said she wanted to pull out of the glacier climb since she might be a detriment to the team since she got only two hours of sleep. Stu and I, dressed in multiple layers of gortex, discussed our options. The weather still looked good and the temperature was actually warm when the winds didn't blow. We both felt okay, but not great. We had plenty of food and the traverse team was not leaving until tomorrow so we could use a day and not impact them. The biggest issue would be a weather surprise. But something inside me said "take care of your body and go tomorrow."
I said in yesterday's dispatch that I had not pondered the poor Everest experience during this climb but rather considered the lessons. One lesson I had learned was to listen to my body and my intuition. They were speaking clearly here on Aconcagua at 4:00 a.m. and 19,000'. So Saturday it is...maybe.
Stu and I climbed about 1,000' up the glacier this afternoon. That is roughly 25% of the gain required for the summit. We both felt good and it reinforced that it was a good decision to rest today. Suzy, James, Garth, Martin and Mick left for the next camp and their summit bid also scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday. All five are in excellent condition. However, it is sometimes hard to maintain your motivation and concentration at these altitudes, conditions and time away from home. As Suzy said "It was between the glacier route and a cold beer and big steak earlier. The beer won!" Rod continues to lag the team by one day since he cannot seem to acclimatize as fast as everyone else. I continue to be in good shape and feeling well. I did have a bit of an altitude headache last night and this morning but nothing serious. Also, my old friend the Khumbu cough is back.
So we try again tomorrow. Hopefully, the weather cooperates one more day. We will leave camp around 6:00 a.m. and summit 8-12 hours later. Alan
February 18, 2005 - No summit attempt today
I just had a two minute sat phone call with Alan...no summit attempt today...team was too tired...will attempt summit tomorrow with Stu and Alan going up...Alan was going to try to send me a dispatch earlier but it doesn't seem to be coming through...will post it if it arrives...Cathy
February 17, 2005 - Climb to Camp 2
Well, the time has come. Friday morning Suzy, Stu and I will leave the comfort of our tents for the summit of Aconcagua. We debated taking a rest day at C2 to allow our bodies to make some more red blood cells and to rest our legs but, the weather forecast continues to look excellent and we want to take advantage of this window.
The rest of the team will move to camp Colera at 20,000' and make their summit bid on Saturday. Everyone continues to feel good with the exception of Rod who continues to struggle adjusting to the higher altitudes.
I am feeling good at this point. Two night ago I got very little sleep because a crunching headache kept me tossing and turning all night. I have tried to eat and drink more since then and feel better. I am torn about spending another night here at 19,000'. I know my body would be slightly stronger but it also degrades at the same time at these altitudes.
To be honest, I have thought little about my problems on Everest in 2003 above 22,000'. This mountain is quite different and the altitudes lower that mostly I have applied the lessons I have learned to make this more enjoyable. However, sitting here at C2 looking at the Polish Glacier feels very similar to the South Col only 7,500' lower!
The three of us will dress in multiple layers primarily to block the ever present wind. Last night was the worst yet with the sides of the tent slapping my face until I pulled my bag over my head. Then I realized it had been 15 days since my last shower. Anyway, it was a long night.
We hope to be climbing the lower glacier by 5:00 a.m. Then we will traverse right to left on the attached picture picking our way through the crevasses, seracs and bergschrung. The glacier is kinder and gentler this year given the lack of snow. But it will still be a 13-15 hour round trip. Of course, all could change if someone wakes up not feeling right or the weather dramatically changes. But this is what mountaineering is all about.
It has been fun to be back at altitude again. Standing on high ridges seeing even higher ridges. Wearing all my gear to keep me warm. Doing the "crocodile" roll all night in my sleeping bag only to find that perfect position just as the sun comes up. The weight of my pack against my hips and shoulders. Getting to know another set of teammates.
Last night we shared a camp site with another group. As it happens, conversations start. I had a pleasant chat with a woman named Barb from San Diego. A little later while standing in a group, her partner, Leo, looked at me and said "You are Alan Arnette." I looked at him with interest and he said in a one word reply "Website". It seems they have followed some of my climbs through the website and also knew all about Cathy, Ashley and of course Max and Mimi. What a small world!
It brings us great pleasure to share these adventures with anyone who is interested. We also hope it encourages people to set hard goals for their lives and do their best to reach them. It really is the journey. Thanks for taking the time to come along...and don't wait until we meet at 18,000' on some mountain to say hello!
I will try to call Cathy using my remaining battery power from the summit if the phone works. I will continue to post dispatches until we leave Argentina...batteries willing! Alan
Please note that I have posted two dispatches at the same time...please also read dispatch dated Feb 15...Alan can only transmit the dispatches at certain times of the day...Cathy
February 16, 2005 - Camp 1.5
After acclimatization hikes, carries and rest days, today we got serious. We collected all our remaining gear from C1 and made the two hour climb gaining 1500'. Everyone seemed a little quieter and restrained as we made breakfast and packed our gear. Instead of moving as a group, almost everyone made the climb alone. Time to think, time to wonder, time to reflect on why we are here.
We are sharing our camp site with Alpine Ascents out of Seattle. A well respected company, everyone seems to be enjoying someone new to talk to. As I write this dispatch, I hear multiple conversations all around me. "Where are you from?" "How are you feeling?" "What route will you take?" While Martin rushed to get here before them to secure the best tent pads (no rocks, smooth ground, high rock walls to block the wind), the competition was short lived.
Tomorrow we move to C2. Stu, Suzy and I will leave for our summit bid around 6 a.m. on Friday. We will attempt the Polish Glacier Route. There are 31 different routes on the mountain but the Polish is a very small percentage of the attempted summits due to the technical difficulties and the 18 hour day. We have milestone times to measure our progress and will turn back if we miss our marks.
The rest of the team will join us in C2 and monitor our progress. They will move to a slightly higher camp late Friday and attempt the False Polish route, which avoids the glacier, on Saturday.
Meanwhile, we are enjoying our afternoon here. The views of other Argentinean mountains are stunning as is Aconcagua looming directly over our heads. Everyone is eating and drinking well (but it is never enough) and making the best of a mild afternoon with low winds. Alan
February 15, 2005 - Climb to Camp 2
"Ulrich, Ulrich, are you there?" he shouts towards our tent in a panicked Austrian accent. Stu, bolting out of his tent, took immediate control. It seems that Ulrich, a 60 year-old Austrian had gone for a walk half an hour ago and had not returned. His friends were alarmed since the sun had set and he had told them he was tired and feeling ill. A search party was immediately organized and shouts of "Ulrich, Ulrich" echoed throughout the valley that held C1.
Fortunately, Ulrich casually walked back into C1 a few minutes later as if nothing was wrong. Calls immediately went out to the searchers to return before they also got lost in the dark, cold night.
Stu, using his EMT training, interviewed Ulrich believing he could be suffering from HAPE, the swelling of the brain at high altitude. You do strange things when that happens like wandering away from camp at night. Ulrich passed the test and his friends promised to watch him. Everyone tried to go back to bed.
This is not that unusual and happens on mountains around
the world. Often, it ends disastrously. Often, it brings
a halt to the rescuers summit bid. But the unspoken code
of conduct in the high mountains is to always give aid.
Today we moved half of our gear to C2 at 19,000'. The route from C1 was straightforward as it hugged the top of a box canyon or valley. The loads were heavy and we took our time. Most everyone arrived at C2 in about four hours. Tomorrow we move all of camp to 17,500' for one night and the next day to C2.
The weather continues to be excellent with warm days and cold nights. The wind is the only problem but that is normal for Aconcagua.
The team seems to be acclimatizing well. Our schedule is
designed to spend days at higher altitudes and nights lower
down to help the process. Rod has a headache but continues
to make his climbs within normal times. Alan
February 14, 2005 - The Climber's Wife
"Move on, this is a limited kissing zone" laughed the traffic policeman as we held each other tightly saying our good-byes at the airport. "But he is going away for a long time" she said without removing her lips from mine - The climber's wife.
We have been through this many times - fourteen to be exact. It never gets easier, it never is the same.
Flying away from home, I consider my motives. Am I being selfish? Am I taking too many risks? Am I expecting too much from my wife? Yet she never complains. She never adds to my load with guilt.
She drives home alone. What does she think about? Does she consider the possibilities of what might happen during this climb? The days until we kiss again? The risks? Or her daily life until I return?
We never speak about a long-term plan for my climbing. It is always one mountain at a time. See how I do. See how she does. It is a decision of mutual commitment, never one-sided. One day I mention the mountain. By now she knows them all. "I am thinking about Aconcagua in February." The discussion ensues - How long, how much, who with, are you ready, and how dangerous? We discuss the options and together we agree to be separated once again - The climber and his wife.
Each climb brings special considerations before leaving home. What birthday will I miss? An anniversary? A graduation? Some mountains are not worth the price.
I look into the night sky before getting into the tent. It reveals more stars than there are. Curled up in my sleeping bag, the wind is so strong that the tent shakes violently and moves slightly from it's place. I curl up tighter and think of home. She is in bed by now. Both cats snuggled nearby. I wonder if she is asleep or lying awake.
Only days from the summit bid, everyone gets a little anxious. How will I do? How will she do? My task is simple, put one boot in front of the other until I stand on top or retreat to camp. Her task is not so simple. What is happening up there? How is the weather? Have previous demons returned? I have the luxury of knowledge. She has the burden of the unknowns - The climber's wife.
So on this Valentines Day, the climber climbs and the climber's wife goes about her life and we are connected by a bond. One that keeps me from falling because I know she will always be there. And one that lets her sleep well because soon I will be home. Alan
February 14, 2005 - Happy Valentines Day
Everyone is doing great here at C1 after a day of acclimatization walks.
On this Valentines Day, here are some wishes from the expedition team members to friends and family at home. See if you can pick out your Valentine. Happy Valentines Day.
Ich leibe dich, soop sher
To Honeybuns and the One-tooth Wonder
Happy Valentines Goober and Piper
Just missing you my nutty buddy
Only two weeks to go Babe
Hi mom, love you, am happy and safe
February 13, 2005 - Moving to Camp 1
I spread level 50 sunblock over my face as if I was washing with it. Trying not to miss the ornery spots like under my nose or the tops of my ears, I look at the pile of gear on the ground. "This will never fit in my pack" I tell myself and start packing. It all fits but it requires every square inch of the pack plus extending the lid to its maximum length. The pack is now half as tall as me.
Everyone had the same dilemma as we moved to C1. And most of all, nobody was looking forward to the steep scree hill with our heavy packs.
We all made it to C1 in about three to five hours with most everyone in camp by 2:00 p.m. The wind was howling once again, so strongly that it actually took my breath away for a moment.
Setting up the tents and getting some hot water was the first order of business. Spread over four tents, we will go to bed early tonight.
At this point in a climb, everyone gets anxious for a summit schedule. Usually, guides shy away from exact days given there are so many unknowns like health, weather conditions and the like. However, our current plan is to spend two nights at C1, move up the mountain about 2000' for the next night with a final move to C2 for a night before the summit bid. But this is complicated by our two teams - one on the traverse and the other on the glacier. So, the motto is to stay flexible!
The weather continues to be excellent and the team remains in good health and spirits. Alan
February 12, 2005 - Climbing to Camp 1
I have dirt where dirt is not supposed to be. Today was a carry to C1 at 16,075'. We mostly packed food, fuel and some of our high mountain clothes. Tomorrow we move to C1 and take tents, sleeping bags and the rest of the technical climbing gear such as crampons, ice axes, ropes and harnesses.
The route was straight forward following the glacier up from BC. Garth, Suzy and I left about 8:30 a.m. and arrived about three hours later. The wind was howling and temperatures were much colder than at BC. So we picked spots for the four tents, cached our gear in bags under heavy rocks and headed down. The rest of the team was not far behind and would repeat the process.
The climb to C1, and most of Aconcagua, is marked by fine dust and dirt. Scree, tiny crushed rocks, cover the hillsides after eons of erosion from the rain, snow and wind. These conditions make for a trying climb as your feet are constantly slipping making progress frustrating. The best part is the constant taste of grit in your food and water. The grit gets into all the gear, clothes, tents and sleeping bags. It is like bunking with Pig Pen from the Peanuts cartoons.
A good reason for our climb today was to stress our bodies at higher altitudes. This makes our bodies create more oxygen carrying red blood cells that will come in handy on summit day! So one of the pictures today shows us hard at work resting and creating red blood cells.
We have new neighbors in BC. A Polish expedition climbing the Polish Glacier on the 70th anniversary of the first assent by their countrymen. They had a great celebration last night near our tents. Luckily, for not too long.
We are having pizza tonight for our last BC dinner. I am sure it will be great! Alan
Meet The Team
I would like to take a moment before we go up to introduce my teammates. In addition to some brief comments, I asked each climber to give a word that describes their experience thus far. You can find more information and pictures for each expedition member on the Field Touring Alpine dispatch page.http://fieldtouring.com/expeditions/aconcagua2005.html
Suzy is from Canmore Canada where she runs a catering business. She is doing a great job of showing up the men since she is the only woman on this trip. She sends a shout out to Craig. The word for her experience thus far is "entertaining".
Martin is a "retired" consultant from London. After the climb he is staying in Argentina for two months to research the wine industry, an area he already has quite some expertise in! His word is "awe".
James is an Irish businessman and wants to say hello to Stephen and Moira and Indy says hi to the grasshopper. His word is "exhilarating".
Rod is from Perth Australia and works in the freight industry. Every time we turn around he is climbing a rock wall! "AMS" is the word.
Garth is a fellow American from Boston. A marathoner, he is always the first one in camp. "Wicked pissa" is his word.
Mick is a school teacher from Australia. Every few years he takes a walk-about. This time it was seven weeks in Argentina hopefully finishing up with a summit photo. His word is "ariba".
Stu calls himself our leader, not a guide. A new father of six month old Madalyn, he knows his way around Argentina and Aconcagua. His low key style and medical lectures fit in well with this team. The word from Stu is "comfortable".
Martin is our local leader and runs a bee business when he is not climbing. He has 150 hives south of Aconcagua and mostly sells bees in a quantity of 30,000 per order. He is also impressing everyone with his culinary skills. His word is "autospecialmente".
And for the record, my word is the same as it is every time I go into the mountains "inspiring".
That's the team. Everyone is working well together and hopefully will be in the team summit picture. Alan
February 11, 2005 - base camp Plaza Argentina Rest Day
The day started with a gorgeous sunrise just showing the Polish Glacier covered in a warm light. Garth, being the only one up took this picture.
base camp on Aconcagua's north side is quite civilized. There are several Argentinean outfitters based here with large tents and climbing services. Also, the national park has an outpost to check permits, maintain order and conduct rescues. Finally, there is a full time doctor on call 24 hours a day. Today we all made our required visit to the Doc.
In broken english she asks for name, country, have you vomited, had diarrhea or insomnia. Thankfully, Stu is quite fluent in Spanish or I might have been noted as being pregnant! She takes everyone's blood pressure, pulse, listens to our lungs and measures our oxygen molecules in our blood. A reading of 100 is normal at sea level. Most everyone did fine on this test. My readings were BP of 120/75; pulse 77 and a blood sat of 87. All quite good for being at altitude.
I think this is a great service of the Argentinean Park Service. They also offer helicopter rescues as part of the $200 climbing fee.
After our visit with the Doc, we climbed to 15,000' or 4545 meters to get our bodies acclimatized to the altitude. We had great views of the route to C1 and the Polish Glacier. We met several teams returning from the summit using the Polish Traverse Route. All seemed very, very tired.
Our team continues to be in good health, primarily thanks to a very intelligent acclimatization schedule as lead by Stu, as well as incredible meals cooked by Martin, our Argentinean guide. You simply would not believe the dinner last night of roasted chicken, cheese soup and cole slaw...fantastic. I am gaining weight!
Tomorrow we take half of our gear to C1 and return to BC to sleep. It will be a long, tough day. The first real test on the mountain. Alan
February 10, 2005 - Trek to base camp Plaza Argentina
We made it to our home away from home, base camp. At 13,880' it is about the same altitude as my local Longs Peak in Colorado but very, very different.
Our camp sits on the moraine of a glacier and overlooks the valleys we trekked up the previous days. Our friends, the mules and muleteers have already left for their return trek back down the valley.
The morning started off like a third grade recess with the entire team having to make a river crossing. The water was extremely cold causing everyone to yell out like they had been hit with a dodge ball.
We climbed steadily for about five hours gaining over 3000' and enjoying the spectacular views. As I came around one corner Aconcagua was right there. A few clouds hid the lower mountain but the summit and the Polish Glacier were as clear and brilliant as the sound of a concert piano.
I have spoken with many people coming down from their summit attempts and continue to get mixed reports; extremely cold but not too bad; steep ice then again not too bad; crevasses then none. This is actually normal since there are many routes up there and a very wide range of experiences.
It is mid-afternoon and about 70 degrees and most people are in their tents resting. Tomorrow we take a short climb to the top of the moraine to check out the route to Camp 1.
One team item to report is that Luis left the expedition this morning due to a family emergency. He is a gentle man and we wish him the best.
Everyone continues to do well. I will send a dispatch daily until the battery gives out! Alan
February 9, 2005 - Trek to Casa de Piedra
The barbeque was just as advertised. The head muleteer efficiently cooked slabs of ribs while one of his crew sliced bread. There was no ceremony here as a slab of beef was placed on a slice of bread and handed to anyone without something to eat. I was impressed how the top guy took care of his younger crew. This has been a common occurrence here in Argentina. Family taking care of family and no hesitation to show that you care for somebody.
After a restful night, we left for day two of our three-day trek to base camp. We continued to follow the Vacas River, which proved to be the main obstacle of my day. River crossings are always interesting. I remember crossing many rivers in Alaska years earlier or last summer in Colorado with my friends Pam and Robert, but this was different. The river is wide and shallow but runs fast.
The mules are used to the routine as the muleteers drive them across the river. I wanted some shots of them crossing so I took off my shoes and socks and waded across the river gingerly stepping on the smooth rocks but whining and wincing as they poked into my soft soles. Tough mountain climber!!!
The trek took about five hours but the time flew by as the scenery was outstanding. The valley walls rise sharply and it seemed that the scrub was greener than yesterday. Everyone took their time and arrived at camp in the early afternoon. The primary order of business was to enjoy our afternoon siestas.
The best part of the day was our first view of Aconcagua. It always seems that in spite of looking at pictures and doing all the research before a climb, that the first site of the goal is inspiring and intimidating. This time was no different. We stood at 10,470 feet looking at the 23,841 foot summit knowing that we all would do our best to stand there next week.
I spoke with three climbers from Sweden who had just returned from our proposed route. They reported very cold conditions and the Polish Direct route having ice at 65 degrees. We will see for ourselves next week!
Unfortunately, the satellite phone batteries are already running low and the adapter that came with it has broken so I will try to send one dispatch at least every other day.
For all the friends and family of my teammates, everyone is doing well. We will be in base camp tomorrow. Alan
February 8, 2005 - Trek to Las Lenas
The trek to base camp is 30 miles and takes three days. This
was day one.
February 7, 2005 - Mendoza to Los Penitentes
We spent four hours traveling the small roads from Mendoza to the Los Penitentes ski resort. No, we are not here to ski, but are using this area as the final night in "civilization" before starting the three-day trek to base camp at 13,800 feet.
One interesting area of Los Penitentes is the Cementerio de los Andinistas - the Climbers' Cemetery. This is a bold reminder that this mountain, any mountain, is dangerous and should always be approached with respect.
The natural mineral baths were a nice treat as the team "bonded" in preparation for our climbs. I, however, didn't join them since I continued to work on the satellite gear. After way too much time and $'s with the GlobalStar help desk (yes, I found one) everything seems to be working.
We also took a nice day climb up about 2500 feet to 10,500 for some great views including our goal. Lorenzo, a local hound, followed us up. Actually, we followed him.
We are all ready to get started tomorrow. Alan
February 6, 2005 - On the Road to Aconcagua
I just received this picture from Alan. There is no attached text. I am assuming that he has gotten his transmission capabilities to me up and running. I will post any text as soon as I receive it. I believe that is Aconcagua just over the ridge to the right of the picture. The boy does look like he is having some fun!!! I do believe he needs a little more sun on those legs!!! The first picture I receive on these expeditions is always the hardest for me because I realize how far away he is and how much I miss him. Cathy
February 6, 2005 - Los Penitentes
Alan has arrived in Los Penitentes. This is the ski village where the team will be staying for two days to acclimatize and then will be starting the trek to Aconcagua. The team will be taking the usual day hikes to higher elevations while in Los Penitentes to help with their acclimatization. Unfortunately, Alan has been unable to get the PDA to communicate with the sat phone so he will be calling the dispatches into me. I will continue to try to get support for Alan and the sat phone from Global Star. Cathy
photo courtesy of Field Touring Alpine
February 5, 2005 - The Journey Begins
Stepping into the car for the transfer from the Buenos Aires International Airport to the domestic one, the flashback came suddenly. With a heavy sigh and drooping shoulders my old 8th grade Spanish teacher called on me. With very low expectations, she asked me to read from the text book to check our reading and pronunciation skills. Nervously I began... "Me nombre es Alan." A smile crept across her face with the knowledge that I had learned something. 35 years later, the taxi driver started with gusto asking where I was from, where I was going. When he finally understood that I did not understand he smiled graciously and drove. But he tried again, desperately wanting some conversation. "California?" Shaking my head no "Colorado" I said. "Bueno!" and it continued. Finally, after looking at me in his rearview mirror, he asked while knowing "Aconcagua?" "Se, Se!" I replied and the bond was complete.
The trip via Washington Dulles to Buenos Aires to Mendoza was uneventful but long. The most exciting part was the taxi ride to the hotel in Mendoza. It seems that traffic lanes, signs and signals are more of a guideline rather than the rule. Mendoza has a large population of 1.5 million people spread over a very large area. While flying across the middle of Argentina, all I could see was endless views of farm land and open country. A single highway bisected the land into north and south. The Aerolinas Argentina 737 made a smooth landing into the simple airport. I walked onto the tarmac towards the small terminal building to see if my climbing gear had made it. The gear had arrived in excellent shape. Since TSA in the US cuts off locks, the bags had traveled unsecured the past 18 hours.
The hotel Horcones is nestled off a busy street in Mendoza. The staff is friendly and the temperature mild. I checked into my small room and heard the phone ring while I was in the shower. Martin Bean, an expedition participant, was calling announcing a drinks and dinner on behalf of the team. Being fairly tired, I passed not knowing what a stroke of luck I had just experienced. I called Cathy on my cell phone since the sat phone did not get a signal indoors. I can only imagine what the roaming charges will be for that call! But it was great to talk to her for any price. And then straight to sleep.
Martin found me at breakfast with the proud announcement that everyone had just returned to the hotel at 6:00AM after a night of international team building. Hoping I was not the first to be voted off the island for anti-social behavior, I bought him a cup of coffee and shared my breakfast rolls. The big news was that one of our guides, Mark, had a mishap and fractured his ankle and now there were two! Mark soon arrived from the hospital with a new shiny cast on his left lower leg. He looked quite sheepish as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. "Sorry, I let you down team" he said sincerely in his Australian accent. I am sad to see him in such shape since he seemed like a nice person and a lot of fun
Next we were off to the agency to get our climbing permits. A little paperwork and $200 later we were official. A nice smile from the people in the permit office sent us on our way.
I still have not gotten the PDA to talk to the sat phone. A missing cable for the phone arrived an hour before we left for the airport so I could not test it in the US. I wandered to a nearby park here in Mendoza to hopefully get a clearer view of the sky and satellites. I was able to get a brief signal and made a quick call on the phone. I still cannot get the PDA to talk to the sat phone. I´ll keep trying but am not too hopeful at this point.
So here I am listening to Argentina´s best local rock and roll radio station at full volume along side 200 (no joke) other internet surfers. This internet cafe (and games) is near the hotel. They charge 80 US cents an HOUR!! The place is packed. We are having dinner as a full team tonight since Stu, Luis and Garth arrived today. I think the party boys have had enough so it will be a calmer night ... or maybe not for some of them! We leave for Los Penitentes tomorrow morning where we will spend two nights.
I spoke with our local guide, Martin, who has summited Aconcagua 10 times, including twice this season. He reports that the mountain and routes are in good shape and February is usually OK for weather. Well, OK may be an understatement given that this means winds at only 60 m.p.h., not 100. We have a good team of enthusiastic climbers. If I cannot get the PDA to work, I will call Cathy and she will post the updates. Where´s a call center when you need one!! Alan
February 2, 2005 - Communications
It always happens this way. You think everything is all set but the day before you leave all hell breaks loose! The satellite phone arrived and I spent most of today trying to get it to talk to the PDA. I had to get a new cable and a gender changer (for the cable, not me!) but it ends up I still need a special cable. So after several calls to Globalstar and cable companies, one is being shipped overnight. It is supposed to arrive by 10:30, precisely the time we plan to leave for the airport. The backup plan is for me to call Cathy and she will create the dispatches or she will ship the cable to my hotel in Mendoza. Ugghh!
Also, I packed my duffels. They are heavy as usual since I am bringing my own base camp tent and food for the days above BC. Also the technical gear - crampons, ice axes, 'biners, etc. take up a lot of space and add to the weight. But it will all work out, it always does. The next dispatch will be from sunny, hot Mendoza!
February 1, 2005 - Packing
I took a quick trip to REI and the grocery store to get some last minute items. The big decision has been whether to take my -40F degree sleeping bag or the 0 degree one. I can save about 2lbs with the lighter bag but run a slight risk of getting cold. I have decided to go lite this year in an attempt to keep my legs and back from suffering too much. Since we will only be high on the mountain for 10 days or less, I will take the minimum spare clothing, just enough to protect me from severe wind and temps, and not worry about smelling bad! I am trying to keep my pack under 30lbs including clothing, technical gear, food and group gear.
January 24 - More Training
I took some of my new gear out for spin this weekend and everything checked out fine. I climbed a few thousand feet up my local Longs Peak with my fully loaded pack. I reached about 12,000 with my normal pace of about 1,000 feet an hour. My cold was still bothering me but once I got into a rhythm, I felt good. I will continue to do some climbs, run and lift up to the day I leave.
January 19 - Getting Ready
With only two weeks to go before I leave, I am focusing on getting all my gear ready. Some replacement gear arrived yesterday: new crampons (Grivel G14), MH Shark pants and new inner boots for my old Koflach's. I will use everything this weekend on a training climb. I always try out new gear, especially crampons and boots, before getting to a remote mountain far away from the nearest store. I also ordered a leased satellite phone. It should arrive a few days before I leave. I will talk about the communications in a dispatch before I leave.