Climbing Aconcagua Expedition
Dec. 27 – Jan. 12, 2009
Aconcagua Climbing Prices
2008/2009 Price: USD dollars
|Guide: $4,000||Park Permit: 1500 pesos ($450 USD)||Round-Trip Flight from Atlanta to Mendoza: $1,500|
Interactive Satellite / Terrain Map of Aconcagua
– aka “Stone Sentinel”
– Height: 22,841ft / 6,962 m
– Location: Province of Mendoza, western Argentina
– 1st Ascent: 1897 Matthias Zurbriggen
– Atmospheric Pressure is 40% of sea-level at Summit
– 4,500 people registered in 07/08 season, approximately 30% Summit
– Highest peak outside the Himalayas
– 2-3 people typically are killed every year
– One of the “7 Summits”
It shall be punished with a fine up to $500 those who: Do not use the toilets provided by the park or appointed by the Park Rangers. Gather or burned native wood or start a fire outside places appointed by the Park Rangers. Burn garbage. Pollute rivers, streams or waterfalls. Enter either with exotic or domestic animals or plants
It shall be punished with a fine up to $1000 those who: Throw garbage along the park, forget or lose the numbered plastic bags provided by the park. Cross country driving. Camp elsewhere but the appointed places. Carve inscriptions in the stones. Damage wildlife, plants and natural, cultural or archeological features.
It shall be punished with the equivalent of a 2nd permit those who: Go beyond the limits on length or stay allowed in the permit (Short Trekking: 3 days, Long Trekking: 7 days, Ascent: 20 days)
It shall be punished with the equivalent of 2 Ascent permits those who: Go higher than 4300m with either Short or Long Trekking Permit
Please Note – Park Ranger Stations in Horcones and Pampa de Lena are opened between 8 am and 6 pm. It’s suggested to those camping in Confluencia or Case de Piedra to enter the park before 4 pm. Visitors must check in when they enter the park and check out when they leave it. (Horcones and Pampa de Lenas Park Ranger Stations) Ticket fee shall not be refunded under any circumstance and the permit is not transferable.* Rules/Regulations found on the back of the Aconcagua Permit
|Photos of Climbing Aconcagua|
GEAR LIST FOR ACONCAGUA
ACONCAGUA EXPEDITION EQUIPMENT LIST
ACONCAGUA EXPEDITION EQUIPMENT LIST (Not for POLISH GLACIER)
Suggested Gear for Aconcagua
What I took to Aconcagua
3 pair outer socks, thick wool or polypropylene
3 pair inner socks, thin silk or polypropylene
1 pair Vapor Barrier Liner (VBL) socks, (optional)
2 pair cotton socks (for approach)
1 Plastic or leather DOUBLE mountaineering boots
1 Lightweight hiking boots or sturdy tennis shoes
1 Booties, down or polarguard
2 Expedition Socks
2 Liner Socks
2 Running Socks
1 La Sportiva Spantik Double Mountaineer Boots
1 Tennis Shoes (Used for River Crossings and Approach)
1 Sierra Designs Down Booties
1 OR Crocodile Gaiters
Consequences of Climbing can easily be ignored and forgotten.
Aconcagua Patagonicas Climbing Team 2009
||Dr. Greg Nolan
St. Petersburg, Russia
Climbing Aconcagua Expedition Journal
Dec. 26 – Jan. 12, 2009
A journal about climbing Cerro Aconcagua (22,841 ft / 2,692 m). Aconcagua, located in the Andes mountain range on the border of Argentina and Chile, is the highest mountain outside Asia and the second highest of the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, second only to Mount Everest). During the climb in the 2008/2009 climbing season, six climbers perished on Aconcagua, double the usual annual fatality rate. On January 9, 2009 I summited Aconcagua just after 3:00 pm with 5 other climbing partners in one of the worst years for tragedy in a decade. Below is my account.
|ARRIVAL: DAY 1 – December 26, 2008
Stayed up all last night to catch a 9:10 am departure. I was in South Carolina and left around 4:30 am to arrive at the Atlanta airport around 7:00 am. After saying goodbye to Ashley, I went inside to check in at a Delta kiosk. After inputting my conformation number into the machine, the screen kept displaying: “Earliest check-in is 3:00 pm”. What!? My flight is at 9:10 am, less than 2 hours away. I panic for a second and head over to Delta’s international flights line to talk to a human representative from Delta, with 30 people already standing in the line. I waited for an attendant to tell me my flight wasn’t until 9:10pm tonight. Disheveled, I sat down from carrying my duffle bag (loaded with 45 lbs of gear) and thought what would be the best use of my time for 14 hours. I tried to call Ashley, but no answer on her cell phone. I headed out to the taxis and took a taxi back to Smyrna to stay at my home. I got dropped off at Ashley’s house, and I ended up walking the 1 mile between our homes to find her at mine. I almost scared her into a heart attack as I pounded on the front door. I grabbed breakfast and slept until 4:00 pm. Ashley took me back to the Atlanta Airport around 6:00pm. It’s 7:00 pm now, and my flight to Santiago, Chile has changed gates, but the change is not official right now.12:30am – Plane was delayed; and we end up leaving just before 11:00pm. The plane is layed out in a 2-3-2 seating arrangement. I’m in a window seat half-way between the rear of the plane and the wing. I’ve lucked out. I got an empty seat beside me.DAY 2 – December 27, 2008
Had a very hard time putting away five hours of sleep on the plane. The plane touched down with 50 minutes to my next flight. Made it on the Mendoza flight, and ended up sitting with a mother and daughter from Puerto Rico. The flight is only 35 minutes across the Andes which is spectacular (3 hour bus ride). I think the Andes may top all mountain ranges I’ve seen (Alps, Cascades, Whites). Each mountain is an individual, they are not ranges, but each one is its own castle starting over and over again, and stacked next to one another.Made it through Argentina customs and learned my first Spanish: “EXTRANJEROS” meaning foreigner. That’s the line I had to stand in through customs and it was 3 times as long.
Found my driver from Patagonicas and met another hiker from California. We were driven to the 5-Star Park Hyatt just outside Independencia Park in Mendoza. I checked-in and ended up with a letter waiting at the front desk, and a single room. There was a message waiting for me at the front desk that stated someone would come by my room at 4:00pm to check my expedition gear and that I needed to have 1500 pesos for the park fee. After standing in awe of the amenities at the 5-star hotel, I tried to go get my US dollars turned into pesos, but banks, and the town are closed from 1:00pm – 4:30pm for their daily siesta. I ended up taking a shower and walking around town trying to find a restaurant that would take USD. No luck, so I came back to the hotel and ate some of my snacks that were meant for the mountain. I received another phone call stating the gear check would be closer to 5:00pm. I fell asleep waiting. A knock on the door, an I am introduced to my lead guide. All my gear seems to check out. Following the gear check, I went down to the casino in the Park Hyatt and got a 3.3:1 ratio on my money. I cashed in $700 USD for 2310 pesos. Dinner with everyone from the group is at 8:00pm tonight. It’s 6:00pm now and I have to be packed for the mules and our 3 day hike into Base Camp by tonight.
We had a team meeting outside in the front of the hotel from 8:00pm – 9:30pm about things we should expect on the way into base camp. A group dinner was held at Francescos, an Italian restaurant. Everything here so far seems a bit expensive. Tomorrow we are leaving the hotel at 9:00am to walk 5 blocks to claim our park permits (1500 pesos). Then it’s a 3 hour mini-bus ride to Penitentes (an old ski resort where we will have our last hot shower and a bed for two weeks).
DAY 3 – December 28, 2009
Checked out of the Park Hyatt just before noon. We packed up the trailer on one of the mini-buses and headed toward Penitentes. The bus ride featured great scenery on the way here. The drive reminds me a lot of the drive from Nevada, through Donner Pass, to California where the Mendoza River runs a lot like the Truckee River along Interstate 80. We were told of a story about why we kept seeing piles of plastic 2-liter bottles along the Highway. The story of a mother with her month old baby went searching in the hills for her husband who was hiding from the police. The mother ended up dying, but the baby survived living off the mother, and the people heard the story and began to leave caches of filled drinkable bottles of water along the highways for anyone in need.
We stopped for a rather large steak for lunch at La Estancia de Elias. We arrived to Penitentes around 4:00pm where we unloaded the gear from the trailer and stored it in a basement bunker outside Ayelen’s Hotel. After checking in, and spliting to two climbers a room, we had free time until dinner; while our guides were in the gear room weighing the bags for the mule transport. After dropping off my bag, I decided to head down and see what goes on behind the scenes, and ended up being able to offer a hand with the labeling and weighing of the groups’ gear.
I assisted with the gear as much as I thought I could, and went to check out some of the slopes across the street from the Ayelen Ski Resort. After hiking for two hours up the ski slopes, it was time to come down for dinner at the hotel. The Ayelen Resort gets a 1.5 star rating in comparison to the Park Hyatt in Mendoza. The TVs in the rooms will only display one channel, no air conditioner, but the views are great out of your balcony window.
Dinner tonight is the first time we didn’t have to pay for our meal. We still had to pay for our drinks and waiter’s tip. So for $4000 USD, – you don’t get free food from Mendoza to Penitentes, that’s at least 2 days worth of money you will need to provide. Plans for tomorrow have us eating breakfast at 8:00am, then heading out for a 15 minute drive where we begin our 3 day (40 mile) hike to Base Camp (13,800’) through the Ameghino Valley & Upper Guanacos Traverse where the first two days is a walk in the Vacas Valley along the Vacas River.
TRAIL: DAY 1 – December 29, 2009
Today’s hike was only 10 miles, and tomorrow should be another 10 miles. We’re going to get woken up by 6:30am tomorrow to start packing and eating. The mules will head out by 8:00am, and we will leave shortly after. So far, so good, but for how long? They did say you can’t tell who will be able to summit, sometimes “the strong don’t and the weak do…you just can’t tell”.
I think I can actually see Orion in the sky, or at least his belt.
DAY 2 – December 30, 2008
Breakfast for me is dry generic chocolate Krispies and canned peaches and pears. We left camp slightly after 8:00am after moving our 30 bags into a pile closer to the mules. The walk today is clear, and again scenic, continuing to walk along the Vacas River. I have a little sunburn on my arms and neck.
Lunch today was in a dry riverbed along the Vacas River. I went ahead of the group again with a quarter-mile to camp, and arrived to Casa de Piedra (camp) at 1:00 or 2:00pm. Camp is going to be overflowing tonight, so the secondary guide and I tried to claim spots early, but the mules weren’t here, and it’s hard to claim a spot without the tents. We were left waiting another hour for the mules to arrive. As we set up the 6 tents as a group, high winds arrived. It’s 4:00pm and I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep outside because of the relentless winds.
Dinner tonight was held outside, though a little cooler than last night with strong winds still blowing in. Dinner was ravioli, oreos, and hot chocolate. I have a tent-mate tonight; I’m sleeping with the “doctor” – he is an Australian surgeon.
DAY 3 – December 31, 2008
We soon begin to climb. Climbing our first real climb of the trip was up switchbacks. Reaching the top, our guide alerts the group not to follow too closely to him…the guide states he has different muscles and spends 11 months a year guiding. Me being one that followed right behind him, I back off and found it difficult not to catch up to the guide. From this point, we have unobstructed views of Aconcagua. The walk today was a 3000 ft. – 4000 ft. climb with increasing elevation.
I’m now getting made fun of about how I am not as impacted as others to the elevation gain, and hiking in general; It probably doesn’t help that I don’t talk much and don’t push myself to chat with others. Again the walk was extremely scenic and I finally got the Canon E-40 out out of my backpack and started carrying the camera on my front hips with my Gregory’s top pouch. Base Camp (13,800′) has “permanent” tents for each guiding service. Here at Plaza Argentina there are over 10 different guiding services. Each guiding service has 3-4 permanent tents housing everything from a mess hall, to an internet / telephone satellite connection tent, showers, etc. Outfitters at Base Camp include: Aconcagua Express, Fernanado Grajales, Daniel Lopez, Inka. Inka seems to have the largest collection of girls, though I’ve chatted with no one outside my group. Our mess hall has tables and chairs for 16, sliced fruit, hot water (tea, hot chocolate). At Base Camp there is a permanent staff of 3 girls who cook and clean strictly for us the entire time we stay at Base Camp. Generally there are two climb teams staying from our guide service, but we are the only team here for a few days. I stayed awake lounging in the mess hall until 11:30pm, just shy of New Years here. There is a party going on in the camp next door.
DAY 4 – January 1, 2009
Clouds and winds arrive in the late afternoon over Aconcagua around 3:00pm providing light snow with no accumulation here at Base Camp.
DAY 5 – January 2, 2009
Tomorrow is a rest day, and I’ll have time to wash and sit around and do really nothing; then the next day we’ll move to Camp 1 with our final load, where the real adventure begins.
DAY 6 – January 3, 2009
This is the last night in a semi-civilized camp with pit toilets, glacier water, dining tents. Tomorrow we start carrying our pooh in a state-issued plastic bag with a serial number of our permit. We are required to turn the pooh-filled bag in at the ranger station at Base Camp before we leave the mountain. I went over to Inka’s internet/phone tent and arrived 2nd in line for the internet and waited over an hour and a half. Ten US dollars gets you 15 minutes, but the internet wasn’t working for me, so I ended up being the second and last in line. The satellite internet/phone tent closed as I left. On the internet I checked PureBound to see that the Spot messenger is tracking me and posting the locations to PureBound. At the Inka satellite phone/internet tent you can phone via SAT phone for $2 per minute.
Tomorrow may be one step closer to an accomplishment or failure. I worry about my hands freezing to the point where I’m unable to help myself. Also I’ve brought no hand sanitizer and worry about washing my hands at such atltitude. The helicopter flew in today to drop off 2 empty barrels and remove the barrel from our pit toilet that was filled with urine and pooh. The pilot flew over 30 minutes later and made a landing at the top of Base Camp. Several bags were dropped off for the park rangers. From a second source; my understanding is the German will be placed into a barrel and pulled down on a sled. We will most likely pass this expedition on their way down. A fellow climber asked that we not let him get stuffed into a barrel to be brought down from the mountain if he were to die up there.
Tomorrow we leave for Camp 1.
DAY 7 – January 04, 2009
Had to jump into the tent by 8:30pm tonight because my hands were getting too cold.
We’ve also been issued our poop bags which we are required to carry off the mountain. Tomorrow is a trek to Camp 2 where we off-load gear and move the following day. The hike to Camp 1 left me less tired than the previous visit at Camp 1, though I did take more time taking photos in the Penitentes. Goodnite Everybody! It’s 10:00pm.
DAY 8 – January 5, 2009
The German was brought down to Camp 1 today by 4-6 park guards and was left laying along stored in a zipped up body bag 300 yards to the left, below our camp across the stream. The German will be picked up tomorrow by helicopter.
Tomorrow we move to Camp 2.
DAY 9 – January 6, 2009
The walls inside were iced over this morning, and snow dropping on my face made for a long night. The winds didn’t stop until close to 10:00am. The larger vestibule on our tent was packed with snow this morning. My backpacks were covered along with my outer boots in snow. Thankfully today was a rest day. Through my hours of being tent-bound, I’ve come to the conclusion even though the vestibule was zipped, not all the teeth were connected allowing over a foot of snow to pour into the vestibule last night. Last night drops of snow continued to fall on my face creating an endless torture that wouldn’t allow me to get much sleep, especially since I slept the entire afternoon before.
I finally got out of the tent at 10:30am to get water and get out of this stinking tent. I only stayed outside for an hour and I’m already back in the tent. A fellow climber doubted I’d be able to find the exact water source we had used yesterday. Even if I was able to find the hole somewhere in the field of ice, I’d need an ice axe to get to the water. I thought it was going to be a hide and seek game I could play for hours to pass the time. I took one trekking pole and found the 5″ round ice hole within the ice field within minutes, and redug the 2′ deep pit. My tent mate and I refilled our bottles and returned to the tent where I find out Aqua Mira does freeze. I had to warm up the Aqua Mira with my body to treat the frozen water, while the treatment mixed, the Aqua Mira froze again. So I ended up dropping the Aqua Mira mixing cap into the water. I got my hands wet and spent 20 minutes warming my hands from this mistake. I then proceeded to have lunch containing crackers, cheese, and assorted candies.
Wind continues to fall mixed in with a stagnant heat when the sun appears forcing you to ventilate outside for 5 to 10 minutes then jump back into the tent because of the cold. I started to worry that maybe we wouldn’t get a chance to summit Aconcagua. Worrying that my fate would be much like my professor’s who was stuck in a tent on Aconcagua for days and never had the opportunity to attempt a summit of Aconcagua.
I talked to our head guide about upcoming weather. Apparently we should have 15 – 30 mph winds until Sunday which means we should have a chance to summit. After Sunday a front moves in. It feels very lethargic here around Camp 2. It’s too cold and windy to go outside; when the weather looks nice, it quickly fades and within minutes you hunker back down in the tent. The guide is discouraging clients from taking the Polish Glacier route to the summit. The Polish Glacier route is a more extended hazardous, and technically difficult climb to the summit requiring ice climbing equipment (ice axe, helmet, carabiners, rope, etc.). Five out of nine clients paid extra with the intention of climbing the Polish Glacier. I am not sure exactly why the discouragement of ascending the Polish Glacier, whether it is because of the new snow, or the recent death of the German.
I took my first dump above Base Camp and had to use the assigned plastic bag. Pooh seems to fall out of your body semi-frozen. At 17,000ft the pooh freezes within seconds, where you can then bag up your own paper and pooh like you would in a dog park.
It’s 5:15pm and I’m still in the tent. Tomorrow we take a load to Camp 3 and will attempt to summit on Saturday. My smaller grey shuffle (Ipod) is dead, so I’m back to the original shuffle (Ipod) that has an accessory battery pack for extended life. My head, I think, has been peeling the last couple of days, because of the big chunks of half-dollar size peels that have been falling when I remove my fleece cap. I looked at my forearms and they are peeling as well.
7:30pm, I’ve finished my pasta dinner and have been laying in my sleeping bag listening to music and trying to stay awake until 9:00pm for my last piss. So far I haven’t had to use my pee bottle and I am trying to make it the rest of the trip without ever using the pee bottle. Before dinner the head guide came to our tent with an update on weather and being able to Summit. Our summiting options: 1) We could summit on Friday (1/09) in two days, meaning we’ll take a one-way trip with a heavy carry to Camp 3 (High Camp) with all of our gear, while the guide caches extra food for his next expedition in 15 days or so. 2) Summit on Monday (1/12) after a front has moved through on Saturday/Sunday. Meaning we would need to sit at Camp 2 through the weekend. Some guys fly out on January 15th and summiting January 12th would be a push to get off the mountain in two days. My vote was to do what is best. I’m pretty sure all the other climbers voted for an early summit. The guide said he was worried about several clients being able to summit early, but they have agreed to move to Camp 3 tomorrow, before our guide got to our tent to explain our options. To help with the one carry load to Camp 3, our 3 guides have agreed to carry our tents. Two of the guides went up to Camp 3 earlier today to cache ice axes and crampons for the group. It’s a 4 hour hike to Camp 3. We will leave 10:00am tomorrow for Camp 3. Summit day starts at 6:00am – 7:00am on Friday (1/09) and summit day should be a 12 to 14 hour round trip from Camp 3. It’s still cold and snowing at least every hour and is hard to regulate the temperature in the tent.
We’ve also been told that the Polish Glacier is closed and our entire team (9) will walk the traverse of the Normal Route.
DAY 11 – January 08, 2009
I’m having doubts about my chance tomorrow. I am not sure why I’m cold and unable to eat. But I knew that I feel miserable sometimes when my stomach needs to be cleaned. So again I mustered up energy and went away from camp to find a private spot. Being at 19,000′, there isn’t much more to hide behind. I climb up the hill behind some rocks, hiding myself from camp, and try to relax in the snow while I use the restroom. Getting my stomach empty seemed to solve my problem instantly. Though I was rushed to finish because other climbers were coming to Camp 3 off the Polish Glacier and would walk past me within minutes. I scurried back to the tent, and had enough energy to pack my day-pack for tomorrows’ summit attempt.
SUMMIT DAY: DAY 12 – January 09, 2009
Leaving for the Summit:
The slog to 22,841′ is straight over snow. I tried to drink hot chocolate at this point while we finished warming in the sun, but was only able to take sips as I hadn’t added enough mix to my 1 liter bottle for fear of taking other people’s hot chocolate this morning. By this time my hot chocolate is cold, and now is a brown water that has a revolting taste. I am fairly sure the hot chocolate I’ve been drinking is cocoa without any sugar. Up to this point I never added sugar to the hot cocoa, so today wasn’t any different, but when the drink turned cold, I just couldn’t get it down my throat. We head off within minutes of me returning from the restroom.
After a 20-30 minute break in the sun, mine on a cliff, we headed on with 2 guides and 6 clients. The slopes seem to turn even steeper, and I now try to implement the “Rest Step” to help me reach the summit, but I just can’t get the technique. I equate the “Rest Step” to a swimming stroke that I just never did quite comprehend. The “Rest Step” saves you from the “Splash and Dash” – where you take several steps, then are forced to stop and rest with your heart and lungs pounding through your chest. The “Rest Step” is an all-in-one motion which controls your pace and reduces fatigue. In a Rest Step you’re locking your back leg each step and resting the weight on your bones instead of your muscles. I think most in the group get the “Rest Step” but I just continue to push my way through by putting one foot in front of the other. I am also in the back of the group, and pushing myself onward to keep up.
As we slog up Aconcagua, I think it novel to try and eat a cereal bar, but find the cereal bar extremely hard to chew, and swallow. Any portion I put into my throat, only left me waiting for it to come back up through my mouth. I tried to eat the bar and give myself something to do as we climbed up switchbacks, but eating, or slowly shoving the cereal bar down in small pieces into my mouth, turned into more work and more thirst. I had to convince myself to try and get the bar into my body. I took a task that takes less than 30 seconds on a normal day, and turned it into a 10 minute ordeal. I was scared to drink much water with the cereal bar because I only have 1 liter of water left. Though I was still carrying my cold liter of watery hot chocolate that I couldn’t ingest.
Other climbers are coming up behind us, in front of us. We play leap frog with a couple from Oregon as we climb. I remain second to last and third to last in our group of 8. People are coming down from the mountain as well. Just before we reach Independencia (Highest refuge in the world), another climber is being brought down, head first, in a half-barrel sled where it takes 5-6 park guards to drag his body down. We think the person is still alive as climbers talk to him and pat his body. We step off to the side of the trail and let the rescue team pass, but we continue onward with little hesitation. As we reach Independecia, we take a break to don our crampons. After having a fairly easy installment of my crampons, I pull out my 5 oz. tube of sunscreen to only find it frozen. I didn’t get the lotion thawed until half-way up to the summit.
For me summit day is so demanding, and group dynamics play a bigger role than they have anywhere else on the mountain. As an individual in a group setting, you are told when to stop, where to stop, and for how long to stop. You don’t have the option of stopping for long periods or slowing down without making an impact on the group. Not knowing how long, what’s next, how hard in comparison to what we’ve already accomplished seemed to leave me questioning my abilities more and more as I struggle in my mind to decide what I have left inside me each and every step I take forward. Time to think and struggle fill my thoughts wondering when this struggle might end. I think not knowing what lay in store left me in more agony. I look back on this struggle much differently today. Knowing what’s next makes all the difference.
An individual falling behind, or not staying at pace with the group causes a guide to fall behind and stay with that individual. The lead guide now must attend to more climbers which are behind him. An individual may need a break at one point, but as a group you won’t break until the lead guide pulls off to the side. This is where the guide must make the decision for the group and be able to assess climber’s ability accurately. Waiting for one climber can cause a group to fail. Climbers can get mad at guides for making a decision to push on without them, but it may be in best interest for the groups’ overall success. Reaching the summit requires you to continuously place one foot in front of the other for hours with a constant pace for at least 6 to 8 hours to make it to the summit. Waiting here for 5 minutes for one climber, and there for 5 minutes for another climber- adds up, and now the group won’t have time to make the summit. Then you must make it down the mountain as a group.
The suffering continued and by “the Cave”, the start of the Canaletta, we left our final fellow climber behind to return to Camp 3. Now 5 out of 9 climbers remained, and 1 of the 3 guides are still climbing. The climb from “the Cave” will take 2 hours to continue to the summit of Aconcagua. I left Camp 3 with one liter of water and one liter of lukewarm hot chocolate. The hot chocolate turned cold within minutes, and I was unwilling to drink it; and ended up dumping it at the start of the Canaletta. We had a long break at the Cave, though I’m not exactly sure how long, as I fell asleep. I look back on me falling asleep at the Cave with a little hesitancy. We leave our packs at the Cave and only take what is necessary: an ice axe, jacket, gloves to the summit.
Leaving the Cave:
At the summit were crowds (10 people) standing around taking photos of one another. With only a cloudy top and no view from up here, I waited for the other climbers to arrive and pull out a set of hand-warmers. 20-30 minutes later, after taking individual photos and group shots, we agree to start heading down. My hand-warmers apparently are not working as my liner gloves are frozen stiff. My fingers are frozen in my liner gloves in straight position. Starting to worry about what my hands will become on the descent, I tell the head guide my hands are cold, and he allows me to wear his gloves for the descent. We were the last two to leave the summit. Again I took the rear, and our guide moved followed behind me to watch the group descend. As the guide follows me down, we get 5 minutes from the summit and start hearing noises behind us. Someone is yelling, but it’s inaudible, again we hear it. It finally becomes clear to me that someone is yelling “We need Help!” But it takes me a moment to put together that this is a real call for Help. Help didn’t seem like something we would hear after our recent triumph. Our guide immediately begins to ascend back to the summit and stops to tell me how to inform the others. At this moment, I am still lost as to what I should do to help. My guide tells me to go tell the others to wait, “You should put on warmer clothes and wait, it may be a while, or if you can find Elizabeth, she can lead you guys down (Elizabeth is an Alaskan guide/cook for two other men who are attempting Everest after Aconcagua).” I race down the mountain to inform the others, but as I descend as quickly as I can, I tire and eventually (regretfully) am forced to take breaks because I can’t physically move. As quickly as possible I resume my run and tire again. I decided to glissade the last section praying that I would not cause injury or an avalanche to myself or those below. I find the others sitting at the Cave with Elizabeth who has a walkie-talkie and has translated bits and pieces she can understand. We wait…
Twenty to thirty minutes later our guide comes down with those who called for our help. We are informed by our guide a person near the summit has died. His pack is brought down by his companions, though he remains, and his body will be removed in a few days by park guards. We collect our stashed gear at “the Cave” and head down to Camp 3. We are at Camp 3 within 1.5 hours.
I fell asleep in the tent for an hour or 2 before dinner. I actually ate a bowl and a half of potatoes with mixed vegetables tonight. I got hot water to drink, though I left it outside because it’s too hot to drink at dinner.
An hour after dinner I start regurgitating my dinner and jump out of the tent to throw up. Just liquid comes out of my mouth, then both my thighs lock up. I try my best to calm down.
I’m now feeling better and hope I’ll sleep thru the night. It’s 9:21pm.
DAY 13 – January 10, 2009
A fellow climber kept falling behind due to pack issues and fatigue. The secondary guide and I stay with the climber and try encouragement. The first break it was 10 minutes that we were behind the lead guide and other climbers. Then 20 minutes on the second break, and the time between the 3 of us and our group continuously kept increasing more drastically as time passed. As we reached the scree field and could see base camp, the group was well over 30 minutes ahead of us. We reached a field of penitentes and I pulled over to remove clothing. As the secondary guide and climber approached, the climber took a break. As we took a break, it was getting apparent that we were turning a half day descent into a full day if we didn’t change our ways; and the decision was made for the secondary guide and myself to share the load of our fellow climber. We took 10-15 pounds from the climber’s pack and began to proceed to Base Camp. Plaza de Mulas (Base Camp) looks like a legitimate city miles away, doubling the size of Plaza Argentina (our 1st Base Camp). As we slowly and carefully descend the last few switchbacks to Base Camp, I had a feeling of finality that I’m not sure I exactly wanted. Our team congratulated us on the success of returning to the most civilized and safest place around. After setting down our gear, removing shoes, and turning in our poop bags, Base Camp provided all the luxuries we could ever need and it felt so good to sit down in a plastic chair, at a table, and engulf hot pizza among friends.
Hanging around sitting in the mess tent for a couple of hours, I decided to take the one chance I had to visit Hotel Refugio Plaza de Mulas, a military base turned hotel 1km away from Base Camp where flags and paraphernalia are posted in the dining hall from past expeditions.
Tonight we are sleeping in the two mess halls in Base Camp on the dirt floor.
DAY 14 – January 11, 2009