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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Aconcagua recap #2: climbing the beast fast and light

Preamble and apology

Hey all,

Sorry for the long-delayed post.  I had horrible internet access in Mendoza and then in Chile.  Each picture took about 10 minutes to upload.  I gave up with that futile effort and decided to concentrate more on drinking beer.   Without further delay, I pick up where I left off from recap #1.  

Climbing Aconcagua solo

I made it to basecamp and readied myself for a quick attempt at the summit.  My rationale for the quick trip was two-fold.  First, I wanted to be familiar with the mountain before my family arrived and started climbing.  Nothing beats climbing the route for familiarity.  Second, I wanted to test out my revised acclimatization method.  Remember, I opted to sleep lower and exercise higher instead of the reverse "Live High, Train Low" method used by most others.

Getting familiar with the route

Up to Camp 1 - Canada
 I immediately wanted to get out of basecamp and start getting some acclimatization climbs under my belt.  Climb 1 was to Camp 1 - Canada - a quick 1500 foot (500m) vertical ascent up a scree field.  That climb would tell me a ton about my acclimatization.  I did a quick ascent and get there in about 1.5 hours with little effort.  So far, so good.  I felt great and was ready to head back down, get some rest before the next day when I would go back up to sleep.  
Not sure where I was on the hill but at 15,577 feet - higher than any mountain in the continental US
 Climbing high and feeling great - nothing like it in any other activity.  Camp 1 was pretty desolate.  I arrived just as a storm started moving in so I spent little time at camp.  My aim was done so I could move back down, eat, and then head back up.  Oh, if you are asking yourself why go up and down a mountain the answer is simple.  Acclimatization requires "climbing high and sleeping low" - at least successful acclimatization.  Some push the envelope and I had every intention to do just that but the first few days needed to be gradual "bites" up the hill.  
Camp 1 - pretty desolate on this day hike.
 I spent a little time snapping some pictures though.  Here (below) is a great shot of the huge glacier on Cerro Cuerno.  That peak looked so majestic compared to the giant scree pile of Aconcagua.  

Cerro Cuerno.  How about that glacier?
 The view from above PdM was pretty nice.  See how small the tents look from 1500 feet above?  So the day hike (1.5 hours up, 25 minutes down) gave me plenty of good shots.  Once I get home and situated, I will post a huge photo album with all the pics; for now, I am composing this post in the Admiral's Club at Miami Int'l airport.  Only 6 more hours before I return home and see my family.  Below is the basecamp view from the scree field below Camp 1.
A view from above.  
 Upon my return, we assembled to get our medical checks and ran into Kilian again.  Below is a picture of my new pal Ravi and Kilian.  Our collective spirits were high and the docs gave us the thumbs up to continue on.  Just to give you an idea of how the medical checks work, the docs take our blood pressure, pulse-oximetry data, and then ask us a bunch of questions about AMS (e.g., headaches, nausea, vomiting, etc.).  I was so wary of the docs interfering with my climb that I said nothing of the growing sinus infection that was killing me at the time.  More on that later.

Kilian Jornet and Ravi
 That night after the med check was hell on wheels.  The wind darn near blew my tent down and I had a raging sinus infection that made drinking painful.  Yep, another sinus infection.  I hate sinus infections but get them so regularly that I should now consider them a trusted friend.  They don't make good climbing partners though; the altitude wreaks havoc on my head when I get one.  OK, enough about my head.  I slept poorly and took off right away to get to Camp 1.  Here I am below relaxing before my next day push to Camp 2.  
Not a bad view from my sleeping bag at Camp 1
A panorama shot from Camp 1
 The night at Camp 1 was just as horrible as the previous night at basecamp.  Now I had a sinus headache that affected everything and I was starting to get really run down.  The climbing efforts were really easy but the combination of acclimatization and sinus infection made it really difficult to discern how I was faring on the climb.  My head hurt around my eyes - even to the touch - but my body and head felt great while I was climbing.  A quick night of fake sleeping as my cousin calls it and then I headed up to Camp 2 (Neto).  Once there, I quickly recognized a familiar tent - occupied by none other than Kilian Jornet and his friend Emelie Forsberg.  They were there to set ascent records up the mountain.  For those interested in how they fared, check out this article; others might just like to know that he crushed the record.  Read the article.  You'll be impressed without question.

A familiar neighbor
It was nice to see a familiar face in this desolate place but I was really struggling at this point.  My head ached with the darn sinus infection and my spO2 plummeted to 72%.  Yeah, I know.  That was really low.  I wanted to see if I could shake it off and continue up the hill.  Alas, the summit attempt was not in the cards this time around.  I noted the date and when I wanted to be back in Mendoza to greet my family.  The arrived in 3 days and I needed a quick weather window and better spO2 numbers to warrant an attempt.  Time ran out and my head refused to cooperate.  I awoke to a raging headache and the cold now heading to my chest.  Since I had another month to tackle the mountain, I opted to head down and recuperate in Mendoza rather than push the envelope and remain sick over the next month.  

The retreat

Time to get off this hill and head back to Mendoza for a brief recuperation session.  Below is what I looked like at Camp 2.  Life was hell.
Feeling horrible at Neto.  Life ain't great with a sinus infection at 19,000+ feet.  I want  
 Just before heading off, I grabbed a nice panoramic shot of Neto.  These shots help me remember the terrain so I can communicate the route clearly to the others when we start round 2 on this hill.  

Camp 2 is desolate to say the least.
 Feeling lousy also had an impact on my water and food consumption.  By the time I got back to basecamp, I was feeling horrible and the lack of water/food just made it worse.  Each step down the scree pile was paired with some choice words not appropriate for my blog.  One thing I continually thought about though was how good a Coke would taste at basecamp.  Boy was I right!  I purchased two Cokes from the Lanko folks - $5 each - and they tasted divine.  I could barely contain myself as I slowly consumed them and felt the rejuvenating power of sugar and caffeine.  
Best $10 investment ever
 The Cokes helped me shake off the 4,000 foot ascent, descent, and dehydration - at least sufficiently enough to power me through the next day's long trek out to Penitentes.  That trek is just a slog.  
Feeling great after the Cokes.  I'm ready to descend now.
 I woke up at 6am the next day and ran down the hill toward Penitentes.  My aim was to make the 2pm bus and be in a nice hotel room by 5pm.  Life would get better with a few days sleep at low altitudes.  I spent 5.5 hours descending the route to the Horcones ranger station.  When I got to the bottom, I was so spent, I darn near cried...or rather crawled into the ranger station to check out.  Life would get better but that was pure hell.
Heading down now...

The trail goes on forever.

But I'm rocking out and just moving forward.  The rest in Mendoza made the hard push worth the effort.

I shared the trail back with some Mules.  Go guys...go!

Nirvana!  I knew I was home when I saw the pond.  Rest is coming soon.

I got back to Mendoza thanks to the Lanko folks and my new friend Eduardo Urbani.  He drove me down in his van and only charged me what I would pay on the public bus and cab.  Eduardo is a gem.  We spent the 3 hours chatting along the way.  I doubt I made much sense because I was beat.  Once down in Mendoza, I booked a room, crawled into bed and slept for the next two days.  It was heaven.  

Post 3 - coming tomorrow - contains the lead up to round 2 on the mountain.  Stay tuned....