Update - 19 Feb 2013
Back in the very comfortable and warm beds of our respective homes, we have had some time to reflect on the expedition and our time away on the roof of South America. We have also had time to start putting on the weight that seemed to melt away over the weeks of climbing hard and becoming quasi vegetarians (at least for a while). Alas, our appetites are turbo charged and we must stop eating soon!
Prior to our summit attempt of Aconcagua, we initially acclimatized by climbing Cerro Vallecitos, a nearby peak in the front range. This was especially fun and considerably warmer than Aconcagua. With our home base at San Bernardo Refugio, we spent five days scaling Vallecitos in near perfect weather. The rocky peak is quite spectacular - the pinnacle has a vertical drop of about 3000ft into the valley below that ensures you keep focused on your footing and the 12 square feet of the summit. Following Vallecitos, we moved over to the main range and the entrance to Parque Aconcagua.
The blog covers most of the blow by blow steps to Nido and generally what was happened from day to day during our ascent. On reflection of our time in the tents at Nido, it was an interesting period where we all needed to make a very important and personal decision as to whether we would attempt the summit. Should we wait for the weather to get better, or to head down and wait for another attempt in the distant future? In mountaineering, Mother Nature and personal safety are inextricably linked – bad weather means additional danger, and generally the relationship is exponential. This means the worse the weather, the greater the danger that you and your team potentially face. Our dilemma at Nido was that we could not move to High Camp (Berlin) with the gale-force winds that were forecast in the short term. (Our tents were starting to fail with the wind conditions at Nido.) The forecast, however, showed the winds dropping for an 18-24 hour period on the Thursday, and then turning very ugly after that with winds predicted to be over 115 kph. This left a very narrow “good weather window” in which to get to the summit and get down fast before the wind became a bigger issue. Losing a tent at this altitude, and in this kind of weather, could have tragic consequences and
there is no safety net to rely on.
Noting the weather on Wednesday morning had not significantly improved, the only possible way to attempt the summit was to leave Nido very early in the morning and time the final leg of the summit attempt for the approaching good weather window (hopefully!!). This effectively required a 10-12 hour climb followed by 3-4 hours of
descent back to Nido – a long day even when you are not at 20,000 ft plus. The bulk of the team decided that this might push their own endurance too far or perhaps leave too little room for error. Gaspar, Jen, and I (Adam) decided to make an attempt, knowing that it is always possible to turn around. The consensus was that we would try to get in position for the better weather if it came, and otherwise
get back down the mountain if it did not.
In the light of our headlamps, we started out from Nido at 3 a.m. with a view to being on the summit before 2 p.m. The wind was still howling through camp and to be honest the group was not entirely hopeful. The traverse of the Gran Accoreo was perhaps the most testing period enroute to the start of the Canaletta - the wind was blowing up the 3000ft snow slope at 45 degrees and at 80 kph - enough to freeze exposed skin in minutes. Careful consideration was given to whether we continue our move upwards or retreat back to our camp. In the end, the weather did moderate and we made our way up to the cave at the start of the Canaletta. At this point, Jen had become so cold from exposure that she decided to stop, and sadly, head back down. She is a strong climber but unfortunately the weather had taken its toll.
Gaspar and I made preparations to head to the summit – we lightened our loads, drank some tea, fuelled up with food and started the last and very steep leg to the top. Through the clouds and the wind, we climbed for 1.25 hours to reach the summit in quick time – the wind had dropped to 5-10kph but the clouds still covered the mountain. At 1.47 p.m., 14 February 2013, we had climbed till we could climb no further – the summit.
Having spent less than 15 minutes at the summit, we returned to the cave and prepared for the long descent. At this point we made the decision to get down to Base Camp at Plaza de Mulas in one long haul – 5 to 6 hours if we packed all our gear at Nido quickly and moved. Heavy snow had started and we figured the high winds would come sooner than later. We roped up in order to avoid losing each other in the whiteout or to avoid falling down any of the drop-offs that we could no longer see! Moving past Independencia and enroute to Refugio Berlin, we came across two climbers who had both lost contact with their teams and had no idea of their location or the way to their camp at Cholera. It’s hard to imagine what
might have been going through their minds (one was Russian and the other
Polish, so we have no idea), but it can’t have been good. In any case, we showed them out of the storm towards Cholera and sent them happily on their way. As for
us – we tracked back over the ridge to the other side of the mountain and to the
relative safety of Berlin and its mini shelter. From there, it was a short hour to
Nido, load up and then a speedy 3 hour run to Plaza De Mulas (14,300 ft).
We would like to thank Gaspar and Rodrigo for their great leadership and guidance during our two climbs – these guys were awesome and thoroughly on top of things throughout. It was a pleasure climbing with you both and we hope we can do it again in the near future.
On a final note, I’ve been asked on several occasions which climb was harder, Denali or Aconcagua? Denali is certainly a challenging mountain and potentially more dangerous but in my humble opinion I think Aconcagua can easily be underestimated. In particular, the weather can make conditions extremely tough. In fact, many experienced climbers consider Aconcagua“the little 8000 metre peak.” I guess I may have been lucky with regard to weather on Denali…………
Adam's SPOT, and therefore Adam, made the summit at 10:47 am CST. I (Emily aka Basecamp Steinbach) received the following message: "We made it to the summit. We are now heading down." The SPOT tells me that at present they are down around 6000 metres (19,600 ft) and descending rapidly. Congrats and wishing you a safe descent.
I just spoke with Adam--he and Gaspar made the summit together. They are doing well and have now reached Berlin and will continue on to Nido. Adam commented that he is pretty "done" and plans to sleep for a week when he returns home next week. The weather at the top was gorgeous with winds at only 5 km/h. At present it is snowing and it looks like the weather has turned for the worse looking up at the summit.
As noted earlier, howling winds, often at 85 km/h, factored directly into the success of our trip to the summit of Aconcagua. The relentless wind speeds have made it impossible for our group to reach High Camp (20,000 ft), from where we were going to make our final summit push. As a result, three members of our team, David, Heather, and Jimmy made their down the mountain this morning. The plan now is for Adam, Jen, Santiago, and Gaspar (our leader) to head for the summit directly from Nido. We plan to wake up around 2 a.m. and head out of camp by 3:00 or 3:30 a.m. We expect the climb up to the top to take 10 or 11 hours -- this is based on some practice climbs that we've been able to do despite the poor weather conditions. After reaching the summit, we will spend another 5 hours getting back down to Nido. Our hope, at this point, is to rest for 2 or 3 hours, and then keep heading down to Plaza de Mulas. Whatever the case, we will be off the mountain by midday Friday. Thankfully the skies have cleared and the winds are dying down. I (Adam) went for a walk in gorgeous weather this afternoon. After days in a tent, this was a wonderful break.
You may be interested to know that oxygen levels at the summit are a third of what they are at sea level. This brings to light the critical importance of the acclimatization climbs. For example, a person taken directly up from sea level to the summit would be unconscious in approximately 5 minutes and dead in 30 to 60 minutes. As a result of our acclimatization on Vallecitos and the time we've spent on Aconcagua, I am thankful to report that I feel strong and healthy. The upcoming climb will be long and difficult but I have a good deal of confidence in our leader, Gaspar, and the rest of our small group.
High winds made for a difficult night last night as it became nearly impossible to keep the tents up. We remain safe and most of the team stayed at camp during the day today rather than make an attempt at Cholera Camp. Three members of our team--Adam, Jen and our leader Gaspar--climbed up nearly to the height of Cholera Camp today to check out the conditions. Now we are watching the weather and carefully weighing up our options. The wind is expected to slow down Wednesday afternoon/evening.
Our first option is to wait out the wind for another day here at Nido and then make a long push to the summit on Thursday directly from this altitude (18,100 ft). The climb to the summit would likely take about 12 hours up (5 hours down) and would make for a long, difficult day. In this scenario, it would be a small team, possibly only three members, who would try for the summit. The others would head down to Plaza de Mulas and wait there.
Our second option is to battle the difficult winds in the morning and try for Cholera Camp (19,700 ft) tomorrow. This would allow for a night of rest before attempting the summit on Thursday in better wind conditions. It would also ensure that more members of the team would be able to go up. (There is a camp near Cholera called Berlin which has an A-Frame which could be used as shelter if required.)
In other news, our team is happy to have Ecuadorian climber and guide, Santiago Quintero with us. Santiago's vast climbing experience is welcome as we weigh up our options today.
We have reached Nido de Condores after a 7 hour slog uphill. It is just a little windy here--we can barely stand upright outside but we are now safely tucked into our tents for the night. We've had lots of snow and the trail was icy on our way up.The current forecast is for lighter winds on Thursday and so the plan remains firm for a summit attempt then. We're doing great and will continue to keep you posted.
Special shout-out to Regena: "Jimmy had the heart of an ox today!"
For those of you interested, there is a web cam at the last camp where the guys stayed -- you can see regular photos of the camp but also a picture of Adam and Dave. If you scroll through the photos and look for the one stamped 11:09, you will see them. Kinda fun. I imagine that after today the photo will have been replaced with others. Check out the website: http://www.aconcaguanow.com/indice.php
Actually, here it is below.
Despite weather reports that say all is "clear" on Aconcagua, we've just had a foot of snow dumped on us! The winds continue to blow but we are hopeful that it will abate enough for us to make the summit this coming Thursday. We are safe and doing well.
Hi everyone -- we are lucky to actually be climbing Aconcagua this week!! After coming down off Vallecitos and having our rest off the mountain, we had to make the drive to Aconcagua Park. At the time we were delayed due to a landslide that had resulted in a road closure. Thankfully the road was opened later that day and we were able to pass through. The passage was short-lived, however, because another landslide hit and everything was closed again. We had come through a nearly deserted ski area parking lot with a handful of cars--this quickly turned into approximately 1000 cars as people were forced to stop due to the road closure ahead (now, thankfully behind us). Reports are that it will be four days before the road is opened once again. We had managed to sneak safely through during a 4 hour window. A four day delay for us would have meant an abrupt end to our Aconcagua dream for 2013.
Today we walked about 20 kilometres up a river valley to a height of 14,300 feet which has left us feeling a bit tired but in good spirits. Tomorrow is a planned rest day where we will organize our gear for the remainder of our climb. On Monday we expect to go to Nido de Condores and then on to Cholera Camp on Tuesday. Here we plan to wait for a good weather window for our push to the summit. We had initially hoped for a summit push on Tuesday or Wednesday but due to gale-force winds, we expect that we are much more likely to make our summit attempt on Thursday. In the meantime, conversations at camp have become mundane, focused on food, bodily function, and the all-important weather. Stay posted and watch the tracker as we continue our climb.
As you can see, if you've been following the Spot tracker, Adam and Dave have been steadily working their way up Aconcagua. They reached Confluencia Camp yesterday and today have climbed to approximately 14,300 feet to reach Plaza de Mulas. Hopefully the weather will be favourable as they head toward summit day -- it looks like they may be experiencing some gale force winds over the next few days.
Basecamp Steinbach is happy to report that David and Adam made it to the summit of Vallecitos this morning after a trek of approximately 5 hours. Getting to the summit involved a bit of hard work, we're told -- evidently the team had to practice their rock climbing in order to make it to the top. This was, however, not quite enough of a challenge for a couple of members of the group... so Adam and Jen decided to bag a second nearby peak while they were up there. The rest of the group were quite happy to rest!! The plan for tomorrow is to get the gear out to a point where they can be met by the mules who will then carry everything the rest of the way while the climbing team hikes. Everyone is tired but happy with their success so far. Keep posted as they head off to Aconcagua.