Summiting Cerro Aconcagua
When I first arrived to base camp, I didn’t think life was that bad. We had good food and services, and even showers! Most people didn’t use them because of the price; I used the showers once and never used any internet, but they were available. At the end of the night you still crawl back into your tent and sleep in freezing temperatures, so after a while you certainly are ready to move on. Finally on Day 8, we packed up and moved to Camp I at 16,500 feet. Even though conditions are harder in Camp I compared to base camp, making progress really uplifts everyone’s spirits. Above is a photo of Camp I, and below is a shot I took of myself while there.
We spent one night in Camp I which was at 16,200 feet and then moved on directly to Camp II on Day 9. The reason we did not spend time acclimatizing at Camp I is because as the body gets closer to 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) the harder it is for your body to acclimatize. Beyond 5,500 meters, the body begins to get weaker over time regardless of how much you eat or sleep, so some have the opinion its better to spend less time at the high camps. Above is a photo of Camp II at 17,500 feet (5,400 meters). The photo here shows the real Camp II, but we had stayed a few meters higher to enjoy the cleaner environment and less crowded camp.
All this snow by the way is unusual on Aconcagua! We experienced it since we were the last expedition of the year. Most climbers will find a dry rocky environment similar to my photos showing the first days in base camp. The snow does make the climb a bit more challenging, it takes a lot more effort to move through deep snow than it does on open terrain. Above is a photo of our tents in Camp II.
On both treks to Camp I and II we had experienced heavy snows. Once we dug in Camp II another snow storm rolled in which was bad enough to prevent us moving to the next camp as planned. An extra day at 17,500 feet (5,400 meters) was not part of the plan! I remember being silly and foolishly running around in a T-shirt and shorts outside the camp before diving back into my tent. A few hours later I felt sick from the effects of the altitude while my climbing partner laughed at me. In the morning of Day 9, I woke up feeling better. I gave a nice relaxing stretch and looked over at my climbing partner who looked dead. It turned out he was now getting sick from the altitude, so now it was my turn to laugh back at him.
Below is an extra food bag along with our tasty dinner, this food was was reserved in case bad weather kept us on the mountain longer than planned, which unfortunately turned out to be the case.
Finally even though the weather didn’t completely clear up, it became decent enough to move to Camp III at 20,000 feet (6,000 meters). The snow was still coming in heavy and made the climb much more difficult and miserable than it had to be. Our guide who had climbed Aconcagua many times stopped to give us a motivational speech about how the whole climb was much more challenging because of the snow and cold, but that we were almost there. On the left is our group heading to the high camp with me crossing the ski poles.
Camp III was by far the highest I had ever slept in my life. As a matter of fact, unless I climb Everest, this will be as high as I ever sleep! The only other place in the world to higher camps is the Himalayas. Above and below are photos of Camp III. Once again we picked a spot a little bit higher for the cleaner grounds.
Day 10 on the mountain we learned that the weather report for the next day wasn’t in our favor. We had spent forever on this mountain it seemed but the guide came to our tent and recommended we hold off attempting to summit for another day. Reluctantly we all agreed and spent a second day at 20,000 feet feeling miserable, bored and anxious. Because of the high altitude, I didn’t do too much exploring at Camp III. The views from the camp itself were so amazing you didn’t need to leave. Above is a shot of my tent, while below shows a view I call ‘Heaven’s View’.
Something else frustrating about waiting in Camp III is that you could actually see the summit. The pictures above and below show the very top of the America’s from different angles. The summit seemed so close, but we all knew it was a full day’s climb and would be by far the biggest challenge of this expedition.
Like our guide had said, two days later the weather was perfect. We left Camp III in darkness and headed for the summit. The day was very long and split up into certain sections. The first was reaching Camp Indepencia at 20,600 feet, (6,300 meters) which wasn’t too bad. After that, we had a traverse through deep snow to the famous Canaleta at 6,500 meters. The Canaleta is a steep section from 21,3000 feet (6,500 meters) going to 22,000 feet (6,700 meters) full of rock and sand which can be extremely difficult. Often people call the Canaleta the single most challenging part of the climb. For me, the unusual deep snow through the traverse felt twice as hard as the Canaleta, as it took longer and was much windier. With the Canaleta packed with snow, we kind of lucked out and got to avoid that challenge. If you can pass the Canaleta then you can summit the mountain. The remaining 750 feet (200 meters) are still very difficult, but knowing you are so close is all the motivation you’ll need. When I did reach the summit, the lack of oxygen made me feel a bit drunk and I was stumbling around! I was still sober enough to appreciate the challenge I over came and enjoyed being on top of South America and conquering another one of the Seven Summits. The only higher mountains in the world are the Himalayans in Asia, and since I was the last person to come down from the summit and the fact that climbers don’t begin reaching 7,000 or 8,000 meters in Asia until May or June, it is safe to assume I was standing taller than any other human in the world!