On February 2, 2015 a man, whose name is unknown to me, began his summit bid of Aconcagua. During this attempt he felt that he could not continue. The guide found him shelter and had him sit down as he continued up the summit with another team member. When the guide returned a few hours later the man was dead. In everything that we do or don’t do there is a cost. This travel journal is dedicated to all of those that test their limits and explore their world.
Before I get into the journal about my Aconcagua Expedition I thought I would spend a few seconds explaining how I got here. I mean how an ordinary guy, software engineer, decides to take an expedition to the southern and western hemispheres highest mountain. Well it was not out of the blue and better put it was a progression. It started years ago as I continued my education, a move where I did not stay focused on one area, but I expanded my education across many disciplines. Upon doing this, it occurred to me that I knew nothing about the world in which I lived.
So, when I got the opportunity I started reaching out. I learned to fly – talk about changing perspective. I travelled to; Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. It seemed that the more I travelled the less I understood about everything. With travel not providing answers I continued education and then looked to more exotic travel; camping in Antarctica, Touring flooded forests on the Amazon, tracking lions in Kenya while on business with the UN. Still, I found no great meaning. I then climbed MT Kilimanjaro (Kili). It was cool, the world’s highest free standing mountain – it was great.
I noticed climbing Kili that the challenge was the meaning. The shared journey with people was the meaning. With this lens I looked back and I realized that I was always trying to go somewhere and that was not very important. The more important part was the friendship – completing the climb with team members. As I climbed Kili much became clear. Not that a mountain or a challenge can change someone – although it can, this was not my experience. For me the mountain brought things into focus.
As my life came into focus on the mountain it was imperfect, there were things that were like thorns, these things were feelings, emotions, or memories that just did not fit in my world view any longer. On the mountain an amazing thing happened, these thorny thoughts or better put memories that I would not let go of somehow got left behind on the mountain. Much like meditation when done the climb it was like my life was realigned in a positive manner.
After Kilimanjaro I continued climbing; small mountains in the white mountains of NH, mountains in New Your like Black Mountain, The great wall of china (The Hard One) the Tiger Mountain Great Wall bordering North Korea, and many more. Not that I was a junky or anything or a mountaineer – I am not. What I found however is that an ancient Chinese proverb is true: You cannot add water to a glass that is full. Climbing the mountains and/or other adventure travel provided space for new understanding by doing some mental housekeeping.
The next big trek that I did was in Nepal, to Mt Everest Basecamp (EBC) . This was an interesting trek because it was Nepal – Starting with Katmandu. I had no gear (It went to Istanbul) and none of my comfort items – But I had a credit card and lots of stores to buy knockoff gear in. Of Interest, I wore my boots so I had them. The trek was at the end of the season and it was long and constant. I will not forget the day that we made it to basecamp, the prayer flags and the sense of team accomplishment. When I got back to New Hampshire I had no immediate plans of doing anything but getting better. You see at EBC I got a terrible cold, a broken toe, and a lost nail or two. So Lots of Theraflu and well, I did nothing for my toe. I did nothing because on New Year’s Eve (2014) my friend Brian (whom I did Kili with) called me and said hey man, want to do Aconcagua. I answered immediately yes. Training started immediately and my toe healed really funny in 6 months.
Having said yes I immediately started training. I ran a lot, in; Paris, Beijing, Changchun, Shanghai, Dalian, New Hampshire, San Francisco – Wherever I was I just ran. Before the Aconcagua Expedition I was up to running at least five (5) miles a day and in the end did one marathon two weeks before the expedition. In addition I did free weights and hiking with a pack loaded with 50 pounds but made the horrible mistake of only going up to elevations of 4000 feet – I say it is a mistake because I should have done more very high altitude to better condition myself.
So, that is how I got here and this travel journal explains my experiences in my own words – massaged a little by an editor. I hope you enjoy the journal as much as I enjoyed the expedition.
Most of what we do starts with a series of steps calculated plans and organization. In this case it was January 21 and I was near the time of the start of my expedition. We were staying at a hotel in the Penitentes area. In a pseudo warehouse next to the hotel was where all of our gear was stored for the expedition. It was getting very real now, the expedition, and the team had begun to go through a bonding process. This was important you have to understand that most people only knew one other person at best and we all had to somehow get to know each other. So on the previous night we all sat around talking about this and that and getting to know each other. From the beginning, the first dinner in Mendoza, I have believed that we had a great team – sure little blips here and there but a group that could work together on this expedition.
Now Argentina is known for its beef. On our first night in Mendoza we had beef, on the second day we had beef and on day three on the way to where we were at we had beef for lunch. By beef I mean imagine a ¾ pound steak. On this, our last night, of choice people were ordering the fish and pasta! One of the team did mess up and order a steak soaked in Malbec. There was much laughter surrounding this error. You see you have to be careful with the menus if you are depending on translations, sometimes they are not as they appear.
In the dining room there was a group sitting by us that by appearances they had just completed a successful summit, I say this based on their general demeanor and the fact that they were popping a bottle of champagne. I tried not to look over or pay much attention. There are some things that you don’t even dare to whisper because you may jinx yourself, and the potential of a summit is high up on that list. I did scan the group and I saw age groups spanning what seemed to be 35-65. When it comes to mountains capability matters but the will to complete is not far behind.
My friend Brian, whom I climbed Kilimanjaro with had invited me to take this expedition with him. Tonight at Dinner I sat next to him. We discussed this and that and mainly focused on the start of the trek. We would be doing 4.5 hours through the Vacas Valley. Everything I read said the heat and dryness should be the biggest stress, I focused on this but I would come to find the heat and dryness was not such a big deal, there would be other trials. On this our last night it was clear that we all had jelled to a good starting position. Now we were ready to spend 21 days together. It was time to sleep because the expedition started with the next wake-up.
Seven AM came early, and on this morning, I had arisen first thing with the goal of putting some stuff in my duffle bag that would be carried to Basecamp, versus all of the intermediate camps, by the mules. When I got to the room I searched about for my bag and I found it, the problem was that it was not tagged so it would most likely never reach me. I was able to fix that easily by talking to some people, I weighed and tagged my bag and then I weighed myself, 98KG. It was time to begin the journey.
As always, on first days, I was not very hungry at breakfast and I felt a bit sick in the stomach. It is amazing how your thoughts can travel so quickly between; friends, family, professional and of course loved ones that have passed away. For me, I always think of the forever present thought – How did I get here? It was now game time, no time to think of the celebrating team from last night. You simply switch to focusing on your expedition team members because as of now they will be the ones that get you through, Now, it was time to sit in the warehouse and wait.