Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Derek and I on top of Cerro Bonete with Cerro Aconcagua, all 9000+ feet of it, behind us. Our route went up between our heads and then up the slope to the right. Basically a gigantic scree field.
Strava - in Penitentes

It is such a blessing to have a son (or daughter) that shares your passion... I do not take it for granted. Derek is a great partner for me, as we are a lot alike. He seems to have only my good qualities and none of my bad ones. He has taken the best from Sheri and I and become truly a wonderful, well-rounded young man.

Derek and I prefer the same food, the same movies, the same intellectual interests, the same approach to mountain climbing. Sure, I've had an influence there, but how often does a teenage son actually listen to his parents? We're remarkably compatible in a tent for days on end. Or were, on our one extended trip when we climbed Denali. He's also quickly becoming the stronger one. Rarer become the days I can surpass or even match him.


Aconcagua means "Stone Sentinel" and indeed this is one gigantic hunk of rock. And rock it mostly is, which is in stark contrast to Denali, which seems to be entirely snow and ice. Loving mountains, I'm sure I was aware of this mountain before I read about it in "The Seven Summits" by Dick Bass, but that was when I  (and the rest of the world) started thinking about it. The "Seven Summits" are the high points of the seven continents. Aconcagua is the highest point in South America and, in fact, the highest point outside of the Himalayas.

Aconcagua is located in Argentina, very near the Chilean border. It is just under 7000 meters (6962) and 23,000 feet (22,841) - a full 2500 feet higher than Denali. I'd read that since Aconcagua is much closer to the equator that climbing it would feel similar, altitude-wise, to Denali. I was counting on that since I was barely able to get up Denali. The mountains are similar in the total mileage and total vertical gain from the last point of motorized transport. Both involve around 50 miles of roundtrip travel. For Denali you land on the Kahiltna Glacier and climb, from 6800 feet, 13,500 feet to the summit. For Aconcagua, you leave from the Horcones Trailhead at 9200 feet and climb 13,500 feet as well.

The standard route on Aconcagua, up the Horcones Valley and then up the northwest slopes, is nearly entirely snow-free during the prime summer climbing time. This is remarkable for a mountain so high, but this area of Argentina is very dry. The mountain was first climbed via this route by Swiss mountaineer Matthias Zurbriggen in 1897.

I don't know the history of guiding on this mountain, but it is big business now. 3500 climbers attempt the peak each year (according to this site) with an average 30% success rate. First, just to climb the mountain you need to get a permit, which, at high season, runs $950 per climber. Denali cost $320. This permit cost is discounted by $150 if you use a local logistics company. This is almost essential due to the 16-mile approach and 2-3 week length of the trip. You don't have to hire guides, but nearly everyone uses a logistics company to get the bulk of their gear to basecamp via mules. It cost $500 to get up to 60kg of gear up to basecamp and back. This also includes your toilet service at basecamp, which you must pay for regardless, so there is another incentive to have a logistics company.

Then there are the guiding services, all recognized by the government of Argentina. On this mountain, it seems, 85-90% of the climbers are guided. Compare that to around 50% guided on Denali. That is a good indication of how inexperienced many of the climbers are. I read a cheap Kindle book on an attempted ascent of Aconcagua where the author had never walked in his mountain boots before. Just one crazy, lazy adventure traveler, right? Wrong. We met two climbers at basecamp, Mustafa and Vinsir, who were out practicing walking in their mountain boots. I was frankly astounded by how many inexperienced climbers are on this mountain. I know that is due to the non-technical nature (it is basically a hike, though a very high one), but it just seems like you'd climb lower mountains first and become a climber. But, no. They just want to have an adventure or tick a goal off. This is perfectly valid and maybe some will become climbers, but they aren't really climbers yet and maybe never will be. My niece is this way. She has a goal of climbing Mt. Everest. When I heard this I was so excited for her and thought maybe it would motivate me to try Everest as well. I offered to take her on a bunch of training climbs, but she had no interest. She didn't and doesn't want to become a climber. She wants to climb Everest. To me these two thoughts are incongruous, but not for her and not for many of the people on Aconcagua.

Traveling to Argentina:

Derek and I didn’t even start our packing until Christmas morning, after opening presents, two hours before we had to leave the house. We did have everything laid out, but we had to measure hot chocolate, pancake batter, Gatorade, organize all our food, decide on our clothes, etc. It’s crazy to leave all that so late, but we did. Afterwards, we were going through our checklist and guess what we almost forgot: our tent! We had it around the corner in the basement drying out and forgot about it. All our bags were packed and zipped and by the door and we had to run down and breakdown the tent and stuff it into one of our duffels. We left with four checked bags of 45, 30, 30, and 22 pounds. We had two carry-ons on as well.

DIA was very uncrowded, thankfully, as the security checking at concourse A was amazingly “thorough”, in Derek’s words. It seemed like they were trainees, as everyone was frustrated with how slow they were examining the carry-on luggage. We were way early, though, and it didn’t bother us.
Boarding the plane to Mendoza on the tarmac in Santiago 
We flew to Dallas, got some fries, and hopped on a Boeing 787 for a 9-hour, 4000-mile flight to Santiago, Chile. We arrived around 8:30 a.m. local time (4 hours ahead of Colorado time) and had to wait four hours for our delayed flight to Mendoza. At the baggage claim in Mendoza, the conveyor belt carrying the luggage had some wider bags and they got jammed at one point and the subsequent bags just kept piling into them, creating a massive pile of bags. No one ever came to rectify the problem and they just eventually shut off that conveyor belt (they had two of them).

Massive bag pile-up in Mendoza
In Mendoza we were picked up by Dario of Fernando Grajales Expeditions. He took us downtown where met with Nicolás, who would help us handle the permitting process. I elected to use these guys because our time was tight, especially with our delayed flights. Once that was accomplished, we headed west.


Dario drove us directly to Penitentes with one quick stop at an Argentinean equivalent of a MiniMart, where we bought a 2-liter bottle of Coke, some snacks, and sunglasses for Derek, since he lost his cherished Foakley's on the flight to Chile. After checking in our gear with Topo, the Grajales muleteer coordinator, we checked into the Hotel Ayelen, which was right next door and the only hotel in Penitentes.

We then went out for a huge and delicious steak dinner with fries, at the only restaurant that wasn't in our hotel. Penitentes isn't really a town. It consists of the hotel, the restaurant, a very tiny Minimart located in what appears to be a single-wide mobile home, and some largely unoccupied dormitories at the base of a 4-lift ski area that hasn't seen enough snow to open in years. Before leaving Argentina we'd spend money at all three locations.
Derek and I with Topo, preparing our loads for the mules.
After dinner we adopted our standard evening practice that we'd use throughout the entire trip, especially in our tent: We watched a movie and I fell asleep halfway through it. Derek would always stay awake to the end and frequently fill me in on what I missed the next day. This helped passed the time on the long hike the next day.

The only concern we had was that both of us had slight headaches, probably due to lack of sleep on the long (11-hour) plane trip down, and that my pulse ox was reading just 86. An oximeter reading measures, via magic, the oxygen saturation level in your blood. Normally, everyone has a reading of 95 or above. Going to higher altitude or exercising will immediatley lower this reading, but as your body adjusts to the higher altitude, the reading comes back up. We were at 8500 feet at Penitentes, which isn't very high, especially for us living in Colorado at 5600 feet. We didn't know why my reading was low, but Derek was at 95/96, so no issues there. Also, my pulse rate was a bit high - in the 60's while lying down. Maybe purchasing this device just added stress to our trip, by giving us information that was worrisome and not accurate. Medicare guidelines allow for supplemental oxygen if your reading is below 88%, so maybe I'd need bottled oxygen to climb this peak.


Climbing this mountain without support would be a cool project. It would take a lot of time and effort, but it's possible. Instead, we used mules to haul our gear to the base of the mountain. This is similar to using porters to climb mountains in the Himalayas. The distances here are not as great, being about 25 miles one way, but still a sizable distance if one is to spend twenty days climbing the mountain. Food and supplies for that many days would probably require doing multiple carries directly from the trailhead. On Denali one avoids immediate double carries by using a sled, but on Aconcagua there is only rock and dust.

Of course you could just climb the entire mountain in one day. Karl Egloff, an Ecuadorian-Swiss superstar, has the speed record on Aconcagua. He's done the 50-mile round trip in just 11h52m. To understand just how mind blowing this feat is requires some familiarity with the mountain. I still cannot wrap my head around it. Fifty miles. 14,000 vertical feet. Up to nearly 23,000 feet. Even then, and I don't know for sure, but I suspect he had support. He must have had a change of boots at basecamp and warmer clothes. Maybe some food and water support.

Trying to climb this peak in ten days, our plan, isn't a good idea. So, I started this trip by planning incorrectly. This would become a point of stress and frustration for me. I thought two weeks was all the time I could spare from work, but I could have gotten more time. Some friends had climbed this peak very fast, though after extensive acclimatization elsewhere, and that influenced me and it shouldn't have.

In order to save time, we were going to hike from the trailhead to the basecamp at Plaza de Mulas (16 miles and 5000 vertical feet) in one day. Most of my friends would think: so? What's the big deal? Sounds like a heavy workout to do before work, but a pretty light one if you have all day. True, but this hike finished at over 14,000 feet and we wouldn't be dropping below that elevation for next nine days. Everyone at Grajales and the park officials warned us against this plan. Strenuously. They told us that experienced guides take 10-11 hours to do this hike and that all of their clients take three days, in order to acclimate. I was undeterred, mainly because we didn't have the time to spend three days doing this, but also because I was sure we'd be okay. Going to 14,000 feet isn't a big deal for us and we'd been there two days before leaving Colorado. The distance and the vertical gain were also well within our abilities.

One of the reasons we'd be able to this, though, was because we'd be carrying hardly any weight, just light daypacks. For Seven Summitters, adventurers trying to climb the highest mountain on every continent, Denali is considered nearly as hard as Everest because on Denali you have to carry your own gear. There are no porters, no sherpas, and no mules. Aconcagua is different. Bless the mules.

I still get disgusted at the trail damage and poop and piss that I see from the mules in the Grand Canyon. I try not to curse them too harshly as I know all those mule riders appreciate the incredible grandeur of the Canyon and will help protect it in the voting booths. If only rim-to-rim-to-rim hikers loved the Grand Canyon, it wouldn't be protected. But I disdain those mules. Not so here. Watching these mules run, yes, run, which they do on the way out at least, while carrying over 120 pounds of weight, I was impressed. Horsepower, literally, is what spurred one of the greatest efficiency jumps in the history of humankind. Horses are twice as efficient in plowing fields than oxen. And yet, plowing is not their forte. These are amongst the greatest runners on the planet and by far the best runners when carrying a load. I was in awe of the lowly mule. I appreciate them as endurance athletes of the highest order.
Awesome, useful, athletic mules
The mules are run by muleteers, called arrieros, and these guys (all are guys) have the toughest job on the mountain. Everyday they go to basecamp and back - a round trip of 35 miles with five mules per arriero. The mules themselves don't go everyday, thank goodness. The Grajales company owns about 120 mules that they use on the two major approaches to Aconcagua. These mules, when they aren't working, are free to roam over a vast area and need to be caught again before they can go to work. Because of this, as we'd find out later when we hiked out, one needs to schedule a mule at least 24-hours in advance so that they can go catch another mule.

It isn't just the mules that help climbers on Aconcagua. One can even use porters. These are included in a standard guided climbing package, but one can pay extra to get porters to carry all your equipment up the mountain from basecamp to camps I, II, and III. More about this later.

Starting the approach from the end of the road. Note the light packs.
This photo above reminds me of my sophomore year in college. I was on an intramural six-foot-and-under basketball team (which meant there was no one over 6'2" tall as there was a lot of slumping before the game started). I was taught by my dad to always tuck in my shirt and when I got out onto the court my teammate and friend Rob gave me a look and said, “Bill, I’m not going to pass you the ball until you untuck your shirt.” Ah, what a nerd I was. Still am, apparently. Derek is the cool, hip (at least in my mind, but he’s also studying engineering) kid and I’m the nerdy dad. I’m okay with that.

Trail sign heading into the Aconcagua National Park
We started hiking at 9:30 a.m. The path is very well marked up to the Confluencia camp, where most guided climbers spend two nights. The first trail sign we saw said "Confluencia - 3 hours". Forty minutes later we saw a sign that said "Confluencia - 2 hours". Thirty minutes after that: "Confluencia - 30 minutes." It took us 1h40m to hike to Confluencia. Our guidebook said it was six miles, but my watch only recorded 4.5 miles.

The rangers checked our permit and then gave us a medical check. My pulse ox was 95%, heartrate in the 60's and perfect blood pressure. The same for Derek. The rangers at the entrance to the park said that these rangers would try to stop us from continuing to Plaza de Mulas, but they didn't even mention it. Maybe because our medical check was good.

We checked in with Eve (pronounced Ev-ay) at the Grajales tent, mainly because we forgot to pull our sunscreen out of the bags we sent with the mules. Not only did Eve solve that problem, but she gave us glasses of orange juice and chocolate-covered peanuts. Delicious!

After a thirty-minute stop, we continued on. We dropped into a deep cut, crossed a small metal bridge, and then climbed out the other side. On the other side was the next sign: "Plaza de Mulas - 8 hours." Nowhere did we find any signs that told us the distance to anything. I thought this was so strange. How did they know how fast we hike? Or why would they assume that everyone hikes the same speed? Wouldn't it be more useful to list the distance and let hikers decide for themselves how long it will take?

Hiking up the bleak Horcones Valley to basecamp. Most of the miles are like this - somewhat difficult hiking because of the rocky, semi-trailless nature.
Soon we entered a very bleak valley. Or rather, the valley we were heading up became very bleak. If you have an appreciation for scree, the Horcones Valley is Shangri-la. Your Mecca. Everywhere you look are scree slopes of massive proportions. It's gray everywhere as well. Once you get to this point in the valley, almost nothing grows. There doesn't seem to be any moss or lichen on the rocks either. The trail becomes faint, despite the passage of so many mules. This surprised me. The mules didn't trample the trail down into a huge rut like in the Grand Canyon. The ground is too hard here, apparently, and too rocky. Alas, it isn't like you'll lose your way. You head up the valley. Period. Nothing obscures your view, except for the occasional dust storm, which we thankfully did not experience on the way up, though we passed through some minor ones, coming from our backs, on the way down.

The climbing is so gradual as to be unnoticeable. At least until you get within a couple of miles of Plaza de Mulas. Then the trail starts to climb, but it doesn't get really steep until the last mile. During these last few miles we met and passed Bruna. She seemed to be in her mid-to-late 20's. She was attempting Aconcagua all by herself - no guides. Of course, she used a mule service, like us. What an adventure for her. For us, too. Just below camp we passed three Asian climbers and then met Mustafa (how can you forget the Lion King!) and Vinsir. They were out for a short hike in their mountain boots...

The weather, which had been nearly perfect for the entire approach, broke down as we started the final climb to Plaza de Mulas. Clouds appeared, the wind picked up, and it started to snow. After checking in with the rangers and showing our permit, we proceeded to the well-marked, huge, Grajales dome tents and asked for Pablo. Pablo was great basecamp manager - gregarious, friendly, with a great memory for names. He made everyone feel like they were his favorite client. He pointed out where our bags were, told us where we could get water (drinkable without boiling or treating) from large barrels fed by glacier melt above camp, and which pit toilets to use. He directed us to an area nearby where we found a reasonable site for our tent. Everything up here is dirt and rock so leveling out platforms is a bit difficult. We didn’t even try. It wasn’t level, but it was level enough. Plus, we were getting cold.
Instead of tying up the mules at Plaza de Mulas the arriero's just put a hood over their eyes. If the mules can't see, then they don't move.
Before putting up our tent, we changed into long pants and long-sleeved shirts, which we’d wear for the next four days. On this trip we wore four total outfits over the 13 days we were gone: 1: our shorts and shirts for the travel on planes and vans. 2: shorts and shirts for the hike into and out from basecamp. 3: long pants, long-sleeved shirts, light jackets for basecamp and acclimatizing ventures. 4: alpine bibs, long underwear, pile layers, and big down jackets. We used outfit #1 for parts of five days, outfit #2 for two days, outfit #3 for parts of five days, and outfit #4 for parts of four days.

After collecting our four bags (two duffels and two large packs), we erected our tent and crawled in to get out of the weather. The hike to basecamp, which we’d be warned repeatedly not to do and that the guides take 10-11 hours to complete, took us 7h20m and that included our 30-minute stop at Confluencia. I say that not to brag, as the entire mountain has been climbed in much less than double that time. Only to say that we knew what we were doing.

Despite our claims that we could go directly to 14,200-foot basecamp in one day, I did have a headache the next morning. Getting up to 14,000 feet and then dashing back down is one thing. Living at that altitude is another. Also, my pulse oximeter was giving me a reading of 35% the next morning. 35! Normally, people are above 95%. I wondered how low one’s reading could go before you die. I cursed myself for having this device and not knowing what the readings really meant. I just assumed my readings would be high all the time.


Derek and the now-defunct hotel near Plaza de Mules
How fast the body adapts to elevation is independent of your fitness. Unfortunately. The only way to train for it is to be at the elevation. Hence, I cheated. I used my buddy Dave Mackey's altitude tent for a couple of weeks before heading down here. And Homie dragged us along on his final winter 14ers, Eolus and North Eolus, just two days before we headed down here.

With my headache we decided to take a rest/acclimatization day. Plaza de Mulas - the Plaza of Mules - isn’t a very proud name for a basecamp, but perhaps it is apt. Mules do come into basecamp, but there is absolutely zero mule droppings in camp. I don’t know how they prevent this, but somehow they do or clean it up quickly. The camp is like a tiny town with different boroughs composed of each guiding company. Each company has their collection of big service tents with various storage rooms, kitchens, two or three dining tents. Some companies had bunk rooms.

We met Ricardo and Fernando in our wanderings. They were unguided like us - a rarity - and both from Central America. Fernando was from  El Salvador and Ricardo was from Costa Rica. Apparently they are the only mountaineers in their respective countries and had to go international to find a partner. They were very friendly, as would be everyone we met. They had just done their second carry to Nido de Cóndores (Camp II) that day. Their plan was to then rest the next day before moving up to Nido and then taking another rest day there before carrying to Colera (aka White Rocks), which is the highest camp normally used on the mountain. It was surprising to hear that they made two carries, as most teams do one carry and then move up. They wanted lighter loads, though, and their tent was already up at Nido, erected and ready to go. I asked where they were sleeping the next two nights and they pointed to a bunk tent. One could rent a bunk in another company’s tent for just $20/night, which is remarkably cheap given that one tent, sort of a restaurant tent, was offering hamburgers for $35. So, when these two moved up, they’d just be carrying a sleeping bag and some clothes.
Cooking in our vestibule and using our very handy blow-up chair.
One unusual aspect of the Argentinians, at least the ones we dealt with, was delayed payment. We'd hired Grajales to pick us up at the airport, take us to Penitentes, and then haul our gear into and out of Plaza de Mulas. Yet, I'd been at basecamp for a day now and yet to pay these people a single peso. It struck me as so odd that they'd do all this work without any assurance that I even had the ability to pay for it. We did finally settle up this day, but that was also strange. Why bring over $800 in US cash 14,000 feet up to basecamp? What can you do with this paper money here? Don't they immediately send it back down the mountain on a mule to put it into a bank? Seems like quite a risk. Maybea gang of bandidos would form, specializing in robbing the mule trains.

Derek has some unique climbing abilities, such as great mental perseverance, physical endurance, and handling being tent bound for days. But the quality I'm most jealous of is his ability to sleep about anywhere. He slept on the plane. He slept on the van ride. He slept so soundly at basecamp and above that I could get up, spray my headlamp all over the tent, fumble with the zippers, get out of the tent and let in tremendous wind, and he'll sleep right through all of it. I think I was like that once...

Derek cranking some V17 boulder problem at the base of Aconcagua


At basecamp we met a number of climbers. I was always most interested to talk to the climbers descending from the upper mountain. I'd query each one to see if they had made it and what conditions were like. I was so jealous of all these successful climbers, especially because of the dismal weather reports we were getting. A storm was coming and afterwards there was going to be sustained high winds. Stress weighed heavily on me.

One climber we met, John, had made the summit using porters to high camp, but a member of his team who didn't reach la cumbre told him:

"It doesn't count if you use porters"

Really? I wonder if that teammate's ascent counted because he used mules and guides. Who decides "what counts?" For decades, all expeditions to the Himalayas involved massive teams of porters, sherpas, and support climbers to put just one or two members of the team on the summit. Did these ascents "count?" Their ascent was built on the backs of everyone else.
At Nido de Condores
This reminded me of a letter-to-the-editor in the Daily Camera, Boulder’s local newspaper. It was just after I moved back to Colorado in 1994. The author was complaining about snowmobiles on Vail Pass. She was a cross-country skier staying at the Shrine Mountain Hut and didn’t like these motorized vehicles. I’m not a fan either, but everyone has to have their place to play. I could have complained about having a hotel (Shrine Mountain Hut) in the backcountry attracting wannabe adventurers like her. There were (and are) plenty of places to get away from snowmobiles in Colorado’s backcountry. So, to go to a snowmobile-recreation area and then complain about the snowmobiles was more than dumb. It was her desire to set the proper level of wilderness interaction exactly at her level. Anyone below her level of interaction was just not worthy. The problem with this type of thinking is that there is always someone doing things better than you, so be a bit more considerate.

It was the same with this climber claiming that using a porter invalidated John's ascent. Only in this climber’s case it was also a shocking display of ignorance (for a mountain climber) when it came to the history of mountain climbing. No one carried John to the summit. He climbed the mountain. And he didn’t lie about how he did it. That should be sufficient for anyone. It certainly was for me.

On our second day at basecamp we decided to carry some gear up the mountain. We packed up three days of food, fuel, crampons, an ice axe, our big down jackets, etc. and started climbing up the route. We had hoped to make it to Nido de Condores, which is Camp II, but were prepared to stop at Camp I if we weren't feeling well enough to continue.

This is how most of the climbers on Aconcagua move up the mountain, since most of the climbers are guided. The guide in front sets the pace and it is a very slow pace. It's so slow that the weakest member of the party has no trouble keeping up, which is why they can maintain such a tight formation.
We started up at a super slow pace, yet soon caught a porter with a big load. Everyone is cool on this mountain and he tried to step aside to let us by, but I insisted he stay in front. We had no desire to try to move fast. We wanted to avoid getting out of breath and bringing on any altitude issues. We did catch and pass a couple of big guided groups, but only because they stopped more than we did. People would comment about how fast we were, but we weren't really moving any faster. We were just moving at a rate where we could go a full hour without stopping.

We took a ten-minute food and water break after an hour. In another hour we were at Camp I, where we loungned for a bit. The wind prompted us to get moving and we moved on. The entire ascent of this mountain is a hike. The highest hike in the world. A trail leads from the park entrance to the very summit and most of this trail is loose gravel. By moving slowly we avoided any slipping.

The trail seem to split above and we didn't like the look of the trail that went hard right, through a snowfield, and instead went more directly uphill. The snowfield right was the correct trail and we had to cut across some hard snowfields. It all worked out though and we arrived at Nido after 4.5 hours. It was windy and cold there and we quickly found a niche by a big rock to cache our gear. We left it in our cloth duffel bag but then put that inside a plastic trash bag to protect it from any moisture.

We toured around Nido a bit, checking out the two main campsite locations. We looked for Fernando and Ricardo, without any luck. They were supposed to be moving up earlier this same day. We'd pass them on our way down. They had overslept, which may be the most amazing thing I heard on the entire trip. I felt like I slept in ten-minute bursts for a week straight.

With empty packs and gravity on our side, we flew back down the mountain. The loose scree enabled us to surf down and save our knees. The entire descent from Camp II back to basecamp took us 59 minutes. At the bottom we met a couple of really friendly guides. We chatted with them a bit and told them of our tentative plan to go for the summit from Nido. They recommended against it, saying that the summit day is much harder from that low. We politely listened and it did give us pause, but we had been doing pretty well and remained committed to the long summit day.

We pulled a pad out of the tent and relaxed in the sun. It wasn't perfect weather, but we needed as much time outside the tent as we could stand. We'd spend a lot of time in our tent by the time this trip was over.

While resting on our pads we met Michael Rowe and his partners. I didn't recognize him, but we got to talking and found out we were both from Colorado. When I introduced Derek, it clicked in his head. We'd met in March of 2016 in the Bell Cord Couloir the day he climbed Maroon Peak and the day before Derek and I did. He'd been following our adventures on my blog. That's cool. He made the summit the day before and that same day came all the way down to basecamp. Impressive!

Michael told us about the bad weather coming. We'd heard a bit about this from the mountain-forecast.com reports we could see on Pablo's laptop, but now it was more concrete. We stressed over this. Our window to summit was Tuesday at the absolute earliest and Thursday at the absolute latest. Not for the first or last time I rued my decision to allow for only two weeks to climb this mountain. A snowstorm was due in two days and then high winds would continue for days, past out window for the ascent. We prayed the forecast was wrong.


Cerro Bonete is the pointy peak in the far background of this photo, just slightly left of center. Plaza de Mules is the tent city and you can just see the hotel at the base of the mountains on the left.
While waiting out the dismal weather report, we decided to continue our acclimatization by climbing the nearby Cerro Bonete. This is apparently a common thing to do and Sheila pointed it out to us and Mustafa had climbed it the day before. He'd taken four hours to go up and four hours to come down. One of the rescue personnel told us that he'd done the peak in three hours, roundtrip, from the rescue hut. We figured to be somewhere in between.

We hiked over the to the hotel on the right path this time and it only took us 17 minutes versus our 40-minute trip on our first day in basecamp. We continued by the rescue hut and towards the first very steep, loose slope and inched our way up, trying not to slip back too often. Just after we crested that first hill a rescue ranger came by us, carrying nothing at all. He was obviously on a mission to get a fast time. We fell in behind him, but he quickly put distance between us.

Walking through a section of penitentes
We followed a rising little ridge for a bit and then cut across a snowfield of penitentes. These were the famous penitentes of the Andes and where the town of Penitentes gets its name. This was one of the two or three times we had to walk through them. These were relatively small and each time it took us less than a minute, so they were more of a novelty than a nuisance.

At the base of main slope of the mountain we caught up to two more climbers. An Asian woman and her Argentine guide Luciano - Luco. They were taking a rest and we moved up and followed the switchbacking trail up the loose slope.

The top 500 feet of the the peak are rocky and the climbing changes a bit as the trail zigzags past ridges and faces and even has a bit of 3rd class scrambling. We arrived at the summit after two hours. The weather was so nice and we had nowhere else to go, so we stayed on top for two hours. I read my book and Derek watched a movie and we just relaxed and acclimated. Ninety minutes after we topped out Matthias, from Germany, arrived. He was here unguided to give Aconcagua a shot. Thirty minutes later Luco and his client arrived and we headed down shortly afterwards.
Derek approaching the rocky summit pyramid of Cerro Bonete
We rested the remainder of the day. So much of climbing high mountains is waiting around to acclimate. To a point we are okay with that, but there are limits to even our abilities to act the sloth. The next day was the schedule storm and the forecast was, unfortunately, correct. It snowed off and on for most of the day, though not that much snow accumulated at basecamp. It just wasn't cold enough. We spent a pretty miserable day in the tent and eating most of our remaining rations. If we didn't go up the following day, we'd have to start conserving our food.

Storming in basecamp
The following day we waited again in basecamp. The report up high once again didn't look good and it was supposed to snow again in the afternoon. For exercise, we hiked up to Camp I. Everything we'd done on the trip so far was in our La Sportiva Crossover running shoes. These babies, with their built in gaitors, were the bomb for hiking around in this loose scree, as we got no stones in our shoes.

We made it up to Camp I in about 90 minutes, carrying nothing, and hung out just for a bit, as the weather started to turn again. Frustrating times here, waiting for the right time to pounce. The right time to make our summit bid.

Derek atop the "Camp Canada (Camp I) tower"

Starting Our Only Attempt:

One of the huge advantages of being guided is you never have to make any decisions for yourself. The guides, with vast experience on the mountain, do all that for you. Of course that is also the biggest disadvantage. We wanted to be free to make our own decisions and move at our pace, but had little information about the weather and what we got we didn’t trust very much. It seemed clear that a storm was coming and, hence, we stayed put at basecamp. And that report was accurate. But the next day we were in decisive. Some guided teams were moving up, but that only meant that they were starting their 8-day summit assault, so they were timing it for good weather a week in the future. We were hoping for a two or three-day summit push. We waffled, but eventually made the decision to move up. Derek pushed things in this direction, but we were both anxious to start up, even if weather wasn’t going to be perfect. If we were going to huddle in a tent any longer, it might as well be higher on the mountain. And an even bigger consideration was that we were nearly out of food at basecamp. Our remaining food was up at Nido.

Which brings up one of our biggest failures on this trip: food. We were so pleased with ourselves on Denali for bringing a skillet and pancake mix that we repeated that success here, but that was our only bright spot. We had lots of good meals from Mountain House, but we brought some new ones and some bad ones. But our biggest mistake was our lack of protein and fats. We had almost entirely carbs and quickly realized our mistake. We brought one tiny can of nuts and no cheese at all. Our limited beef jerky was quickly devoured. We’d end up having food cravings so strong that it motivated us to hike out without our gear.

Of course once we made the decision and starting packing and taking down our tent, the weather turned again. We stowed all our non-summit gear in our remaining duffel bag and stowed it in the Grajales storage tent. Then we started up, laden with semi-heavy packs.

Moving camp is always a stressful time. Once the tent is down you no longer have any shelter and you won’t have shelter until you can find a flat place to re-erect the tent. And conditions on big mountains can quickly change dramatically. We didn’t have anything to worry about, but it did snow on us twice as we took nearly five hours to get up to Camp Nido and get our tent up. It was cold and miserably when we arrived and we chose the first site suitable for our long tent. It turned out to be a bit more slanted than we originally thought, but we made do.

Once the tent was up, I went and shoveled snow into our plastic "snow bag." At this camp the only water we'd get would be from melting snow from the nearby snowpatch. Once back at the tent, I started up the stove to start melting water. Derek had a significant headache and couldn't eat that night. We ruled out a summit attempt the next day. It wouldn't be wise with Derek's headache and lack of calories. We needed another day to acclimatize to 18,000 feet. I ate dinner and we fell asleep without watching a movie for the first and only night.

The next morning we slept late, as we weren't going anywhere. I had to pee, of course. I usually have to pee for a couple of hours before I finally get out of the tent. We had a pee bottle with us on this trip and I used a number of times to avoid the cold, dark wind of the outside. Derek never used it. Derek seems to be able to hold his pee for an extremely long time. His bladder must be huge. He wouldn't have to pee until mid-morning.

Speaking of human waste, this mountain is an extremely clean mountain. I'd heard from other climbers on Denali that Aconcagua was disgusting, with poop everywhere. If that was ever true, it is true no longer. Regulations are strict on this mountain and every climber must contract with a poop service at basecamp. Every climber must poop in one of the outfitters toilets, at basecamp, and they must pay for it. These toilets are emptied periodically and all human waste taken out. This was included in our mule fee.

When we arrived at Plaza de Mules and checked in with the rangers, we were issued two red plastic bags -- one for each of us. This was for our poop above basecamp. These needed to be returned to the rangers before they'd sign out your permit. Without that sign out, you'd have to pay a fee at checkout. This proved just a bit problematically for Derek and I, since we didn't poop above basecamp. Yes, we were up there for parts of four days, but mostly just two full days and we didn't need to poop. We did our business just before heading up and after we came down, though the rangers didn't believe us. They wouldn't sign our permit. Later, when leaving the park, it seemed like they were going to force us a pay a fine, which would have been pretty frustrating: a fine for not pooping. Thankfully, we convinced them and all was good.

We brought lots of water purification tablets on this trip, as I had read that all water needed to be purified. With all the mules around, that sounded reasonable, but we never used them. We carried what water we needed on the hike in and out. At basecamp we used the water from the glacier-melt-fed barrels of Grajales. Above basecamp we melted snow. In most of that water there was a fair bit of sediment and it could have benefited from a bit of filtering, but we didn't do that either. We just generally tossed out the last bits of water from our bottles and pots.
Hanging out at Nido de Condores
On our rest day at Nido, we ate, drank, rested, hiked around the area for about an hour, read, and watched a couple movies and even educational videos. We had a lot of sun and it made the inside of the tent comfortable without being inside our sleeping bags or big down jackets. This allowed us to use both of them as backrests and we could watch our shows more comfortably. It was a lazy day and allowed us to conserve energy for the big day ahead. We had a hearty dinner that night and prepared our packs, though we wouldn't be carry much in them.

Summit Day:
Strava Summit Day - no relive here, as the watch goes a bit crazy

It was very windy that morning, but we were by now used to the wind somewhat and committed to giving it our best despite any conditions we would face...

If you had
One shot

Or one opportunity

To seize everything you ever wanted

In one moment

Would you capture

Or just let it slip?

The boots we used on this mountain are to the left of my foot. On my foot you can see chemical heaters on the tops and bottoms of my feet.
We decided to not use stiff, double mountaineering boots on this trip. The only reason to use such boots on this mountain is the warmth they provide. Since the mountain is non-technical, the excellent snow and ice climbing ability of these boots are wasted and the completely rigid soles make for more difficult walking, which is all you do on this mountain. Instead, we brought soft-soled, comfortable, single boots. We bought them 1.5 sizes too big and wore two pairs of heavy mountain socks. These boots are so comfortable and so roomy. The roominess adds warmth because you always have good circulation in your feet. For summit day we also used chemical heaters on both the bottoms and tops of our feet. This strategy worked great and I’d highly recommend it for this mountain. Not only are the boots so much lighter and so much more comfortable, but our Keen Mountain Boots cost us $160 at REI versus a minimum of $600 for a modern, double mountaineering boot.

We put chemical foot warmers on the bottoms and tops of our feet. We wore our gigantic down parkas from the tent to the summit. We wore big down mitts with big chemical heaters in them. We didn't even take sunglasses and would only use our goggles for extra face protection. We know our limitations and cold is one of them. One of my best friends, Homie, wondered how we'd ever function on Denali, which we climbed in 2016, because of our failed attempt on La Plata in brutal wind and spindrift. It was a valid concern. Learning how to deal with the cold has been a learning process for me my entire life and I've paid the price a couple times. But learn I have.

I was somewhat pleased to see so many other climbers similarly dressed and there were more than a few climbers in down suits. Despite that I couldn't help wonder if my buddy Danny Gilbert would be in shorts and if the incredible circulation machine that is Homie would even be wearing gloves. Those two would trot up this mountain in winter, no doubt, if they lived down here.

The clocks run out, times up, over, blaow!
Snap back to reality, oh there goes gravity

Gravity indeed. Despite our efforts to acclimatize, it hit us hard. Every day we were there, the helicopter ran, rescuing someone from the dangers of going too high, too fast. Indeed, this is a mortal danger and people die because of HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema - water in the lungs) and HACE (cerebral edema). My good buddy Stefan Griebel, a mountain athlete of amazing ability and accomplishment, attempted this mountain a bit too fast. Instead of the summit, he got a helicopter ride due to contracting HAPE. We were acutely aware of how easily this could happen to us, and it guided our approach to the mountain.

Just like on Denali, it was so humbling to have to struggle and suffer so much to gain so little. But all you can do, is what you can do. I set the early pace, but soon Derek took over and led most of the way. He was great at setting a sustainable pace, which was tremendously difficult for me. We both like continuous movement, as much as possible, for speed, yes, but mostly to stay warm. For most mountains, this means not climbing in a huge down sleeping bag, but our pace was so slow that it was possible for us to wear these jackets and not overheat.

It was windy when we started out, but out jackets kept us warm and with our hoods and googles we had little skin exposed. We moved slowly from the start, knowing we had a long way to go and not wanting to exhaust ourselves. The slow pace allowed us to move pretty continuously in the early going. We’d stop every thirty minutes to drink and after 90 minutes we started to eat a bit at each break.

This was the first time I’ve ever climbed a peak from tent to summit (and nearly back) in a down parka this huge. And I’m known for overdressing due to my overly sensitive aversion to freezing. In a jacket this large any physical activity more exerting than reading a book will cause you to overheat, yet how did I wear it for over ten hours straight? The key was that we moved so slowly and stopped so often and for so long that I wasn’t fit enough to overheat in it. This is also an excellent example of how the best gear can overcome physical shortcomings. If it wasn’t for such impressive clothing advances only people like Homie would be climbing mountains like these.
At Berlin Camp
We made it up to Camp Berlin first and found just a single tent there with an un-guided couple getting ready to move up. We took a short break here and when we headed off for Camp Colera, they fell in a short ways behind us.

It was just 100 vertical meters to Camp Colera. There was a bit of easy rock scrambling just below the plateau of the camp and I was surprised to see some steel cables installed here. I grabbed the cables at one point, hoping it would aid my ascent, but using the rocks was easier because the cables were so thin. Derek scrupulously avoided touching the cable and would tease me later that he managed the ascent all free.
Camp Cholera
There were many tents at Camp Colera (19,500 feet), but we only saw a couple of climbers. Anyone going for the summit would be long gone. We knew our friends Fernando and Ricardo were going for the summit today and I wondered if we’d catch them. We later found out they left high camp at 5 a.m. It was 9:15 a.m. when we passed Camp Coolera, one third of the way to the summit, and we were thrilled at our progress. Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad, I thought.

We continued trudging upwards. All this is just walking. There are no spectacular photos you can take of the ascent since none of the climbing looks any different from a gentle hike. It’s all about the altitude. And the cold, for us. We caught and passed a team of four climbers and crested a notch where the Independencia Hut (the highest refuge in the world, at 20,800 feet) is located.

We were surprised to see Fernando here. He was wearing an emergency, foil bag (space bag) and sitting in the sun, out of the wind. He recognized us right away, which must have been solely based on our red puffy jackets. We asked if he was okay and he said yes, but had forgotten his crampons and the way ahead required them. He was waiting there, hoping to borrow some crampons when climbers started to descend. This seemed unlikely to me. He was too low and climbers wouldn’t be back down to here until it was too late in the day for him to head up. He was in good spirits, though. He has such a naturally friendly, upbeat personality. He told us that Ricardo had continued on solo.
I say solo, but the higher we got the more climbers we saw. It wasn’t crowded and no one really had any spare breath for talking, but we could see climbers ahead of us. Above the Independencia Hut, we switchbacked up a steep slope and just before we hit the ridge above, Derek stopped and sat down to eat and drink. When I got there I joined him, thankful to be sitting down. He could hear the wind above and was steeling himself for the pummeling to come.

 spent about 50% of my time on summit day in this position. Seriously. Half the time I was moving, barely, and the other half of the time I was leaning on my poles gasping for breath.
After five or ten minutes we moved on into the wind on the ridge. From there we could look across the traverse to the Canaleta. It looked intimidating, frankly. I’d read that the traverse was across steep terrain, but the traverse itself was nearly flat. That was not the case, the rising, rightwards traverse looked steep and it was covered in snow. I worried that our Microspikes wouldn’t be enough, though I didn’t worry much. The reasoning behind not bringing the crampons was valid. Nearly everyone up here could barely walk in their boots and if they were safer in crampons, it was only marginally so, as, while their grip was more secure, they were also more likely to trip. We pressed on.

The going up to “the cave” was brutal. The altitude was hitting us hard and our pace got slower and slower. We were both well above our altitude record already and we’d have to stop every ten to twenty steps to breathe. We weren’t down to the mountaineers step, where you lock your back leg after every step and breathe a few breaths, but it still seemed awfully slow. As slow as that was, we were still, clearly, the fastest on the mountain. No one else had started as late as we did. No one else had started from Camp Nido, either (actually, we found out on our descent this wasn’t true. A solo American climber had started out from Nido after us). We both had absolutely zero interest in speed or competing with anyone. People that know me will seriously question this statement, but it is absolutely true. I was at my limit doing ten steps. If I pushed myself to do 20 steps I just had to rest twice or three times as long. Taking 15 breaths rest after taking just ten steps when you have 1500 vertical feet to go is…mentally challenging. I never considered giving up here, but if the weather was worse or if I was cold, I would have. We really had to concentrate on setting small goals: let’s just get to that rock; let’s just get to the next switchback. Each small goal would involve 4 or 5 rests to complete.
We're heading for the bottom of the buttress in the middle of this photo, on the skyline. That's where the "Cave" is.
When we got to the cave, it was sunny and sheltered and we collapsed there. I could have easily fallen asleep. I was so tired. An Asian woman was there, waiting for her group to come back down. She’d had enough. Probably six or seven other climbers descended passed us up to here. No one had made it to the summit and back down to us at this point. Above us was the infamous Canaleta…

The Canaleta is rightfully known as the mentally crushing, physically exhausting crux of the ascent. My buddy Mark said he was constantly slipping back on this final 1000-foot section, as the scree was steep and loose. We couldn't claim that difficulty. The new snow had made things more stable. Our problem was the lack of oxygen. But we made small goals and kept going.

For maybe the top 300 vertical feet, Derek was my task master. I was still leading the way, but apparently I was taking too many rest breaths on my breaks. He tapped my leg with his pole to get me moving and said, "Only 15 breaths on breaks." I got moving. Did my 10 or 15 steps and then slumped forward onto my poles, letting the handles dig into my shoulder sockets so that I could dangle my arms. A couple of people asked me if I was okay. Apparently this resting position looked a bit pathetic. But it worked for me.
Looking up the Canaleta from the Cave
I'd be resting on my poles until Derek tapped my leg. I'd then slowly look up, put my hands back on the poles to stand fully erect, and then take my steps until I had to rest again. We continued this rhythm clear to the summit. The final obstacle before the summit is about 20 vertical feet of class 2+ rock scrambling. I rested twice doing this last section, but then we were on top. As soon as you crest this steep section you are at the very summit. I was so grateful there wasn't a false summit or an additional ridge to climb or plateau to traverse. It's an excellent finish to the climb.

We hugged, expressed our love and appreciation for each other, and tears were shed. We're both pretty emotional and much more so when we are beyond tired. We had no energy left to control our emotions. We peered down the South Face, took photos, and rejoiced. While we stayed positive the entire summit day, the week before was peppered with lots of doubt about making this summit, mostly around getting reasonable weather. Hence, the relief and joy to be standing on top made it one of my most memorable summits.
Closing in on the summit...
On top we found our friend and Fernando's less-forgetful partner, Ricardo. He took our summit photo. He had been up there for around 30 minutes and was elated to have succeeded. We stayed maybe 20 minutes before heading down at the same time as Ricardo. This went quickly to begin with and then I fell and slid a bit. I had some minor bangs. I was just trying to go faster than my coordination would allow. The descent, for both of us, was much more physical than we expected. Since there was really no scree to surf down, we had to be very careful and painstakingly reverse ourselves. Of course, we were going about four times as fast as the ascent, but when we did stop, I felt just as wasted as I did on the ascent.
On the summit! This one of those rare instances (only instance?) where I appear to look cooler than Derek. That is, if one can even use the word “cool” when climbing in what is basically a sleeping bag. I’ve buckled my pack strap below my jacket while Derek’s is across his jacket. He looks like Santa Claus with his pack strap bisecting his red suit. He certainly acted like Kris Kringle, bringing me the summit of the Southern and Western Hemispheres in his bag of toys.
Other than fatigue and a couple of early stumbles, the descent went fine. We took an extended break at the Independencia Hut to recover our breathing and eat and drink. We continued down to Camp Colera where we found Fernando's tent and coaxed him outside for a photo. We were way ahead of Ricardo at this point, so we told in Fernando about Ricardo's success. We found Bruna - the woman we met on the way into Plaza de Mulas - here at Cholera as well. This would be her highpoint. We'd see her again the next day, on the hike out, just like we saw her on the hike in.

After visiting for 15-20 minutes, Derek and I continued down to our camp at Nido. Just before we got to camp, I was having trouble maintaining my balance. Early on in the descent I had some nausea and a headache and then I coughed a bit. I didn't say anything to Derek because I knew those were signs of AMS, but I wanted to be sure. When all the signs went away, I figured that was it, but just before camp, my nausea came back and I ended up dry heaving my stomach lining for a couple of minutes. It was very unpleasant, but over soon and then we were both back in our tent, warm in our sleeping bags, after 11.5 hours on the move.

Neither of us ate or drank much that night. We knew we should do both, not only to regain lost strength but to help prevent AMS and/or HAPE. We did get down one Mac and Cheese dinner and some water before, surprisingly, our stove ran out of fuel. This created a bit of an issue in the morning when a couple of our water bottles were frozen solid and so was the water in our pot and I wasn't able to even chisel it out with a rock the next morning. We ended up carrying the ice down to basecamp where Sheila put it on her kitchen stove to defrost it.

Once down from the summit, we could then discuss the future. What mountain was next? Sure, it was on our mind, but uppermost was: when are we getting to a shower and a bed? Closely followed by eating food not out of a foil pouch and sitting in a chair or couch at a table. I read one account of an Aconcagua climber who was so excited to get back to basecamp where he could sit in a chair. That sounds ridiculous, but it was true for us too, only we didn’t have a chair back at basecamp. We needed to get out to Penitentes before we could enjoy these amazing inventions. Chairs! Tables! Oh, what great inventions those are…

So, we decided to wake up at 7 a.m., pack up our camp and descend to basecamp before 10 a.m.  I figured if we got there by then we’d be able to schedule a mule to bring our stuff out that day and we’d also hike out that day, getting us to our longed-for shower a day early.

That night was probably the worst wind yet, but I was by then somewhat inured to the wind. At least I didn’t worry about the tent shredding. I didn’t sleep much better due to the noise, but, hey, we'd just climbed Aconcagua. We could deal with anything now. And all we had to do was go down.

Strava Descent - started the watch a bit late and it was whacked again

The next morning my Garmin watch malfunctioned again, so I'll take this opportunity to give my standard rant on Garmin devices, which have the worst software ever written. I've posted that many times and never heard anything but agreement on it. I keep hoping that someone from Garmin will read my rant and ask me how they could better test their software. Or offer to let me be a beta tester. Alas, the tens of readers of my blog do not include any Garmin employees... Seriously, I'd love to work on their software instead of just complain about it.

In this case, it was a new defect, for me anyway. I think it had something to do with the cold, though I wore the same watch on Denali and winter Colorado 14ers. I had it off my wrist at night (apparently a mistake) and it was dead the next morning. I plugged it into a charging brick and all it would say was "0% charged" after being plugged in for a long time. I put it inside my down jacket and eventually got it turn on and sync to satellites to get the correct time, but it had our elevation at over 65,000 feet. Where's the software to check for ridiculous numbers and do something about it? Anything, even just saying, "Something's wrong and I don't know your elevation." The watch then seemed to slowly correct from 65,000 feet down to 14,000 feet, while we were still above 17,000 feet. Amazing. The software is just so horrible that it seems like you'd have to try to write software this bad. I mean, as your goal, like those chess programs that try to lose (against another program trying to lose, this is as difficult as winning chess, maybe more).
Derek using is BUFF to protect himself from the dust storm.
The tremendous wind we had during the night, if anything, increased in the morning. I'd estimate the winds at 60 mph. Derek's 18-hour hand warmers, the ones he opened on the summit at 4 p.m., were still warm and we supplemented these with others. We packed as much as we could into the tent and vestibule, but we had to get out of the tent to pack it...and that was a dicey, freezing ordeal. One of us had to always be top of the tent to prevent it from becoming a thousand-dollar kite. We couldn't wear our big mitts while breaking down the poles and packing the tent and our hands were completely wooden before we were able to plunge them into those toasty confines.

We shouldered the heaviest packs of the trip for the 4000-foot descent to basecamp. We'd done two carries to get this gear up to Nido but would now carry it down in one. Yes, we had less food and fuel, but we made up for some of that with the frozen water we carried down in our pot and water bottles. With these loads and the wind, the descent was tiring and chilly, though we didn't need to wear our down jackets. We nice scree surfing we had done that first time we descended from Nido was no longer. It was mostly frozen in place now and made for more difficult going. I slipped a fell a couple of times here, forgetting to land squarely on the big pack on my back and instead giving myself a couple more bruises.

We great joy we strode into basecamp and dropped our packs. Pablo and Sheila asked if we made the summit and when we answered they embraced us and Sheila even gave us a kiss on the cheek. I love the overwhelming compassion here. We immediately asked about the mules and got disappointing information. Mules have to be scheduled 24-hours in advance, as I mentioned earlier. We were undeterred. Food, chairs, tables, showers, and beds beckoned below and, like the mules heading out, we could smell the stable.

Negotiating for a free lunch

Hiking out was long, but we were motivated. I listened to a book most of the way and Derek could listen as well, provided he was close enough. We almost got stampeded by a large caravan of mules, which drove us nearly up the slope despite the valley being a half-mile wide at this point. We stopped in to say hi to Eve at Confluencia, arrange for Topo to pick us up, and to get some more of those delicious chocolate-covered peanuts. We then continued down to the trailhead, arriving there at 5:50 p.m. -- ten minutes before our scheduled arrival. Topo then arrived and drove us back to Penitentes. Unfortunately, Derek left his poles here at the trailhead. He went back the next day, but to no avail.

Writing in my journal while waiting for Topo to pick us up.
This is me in the photo to the right. I'm writing in my journal, back at the trailhead waiting for our ride back to Penitentes. What am I writing? Something existential about the need for challenging oneself on big mountains? About the power of nature to restore a suburb dweller to appreciation of the vastness and beauty of our world? About the importance of family and having a loving bond with one’s offspring? No, I was working out the velocity of a falling satellite from GPS orbit (46,000 kilometers above earth) to 100 kilometers above earth, using conservation of energy (because I kept failing to correctly integrate the changing gravitational force). I mean, doesn’t everyone do something similar after fighting against gravity for over a week?

We checked back into the Hotel Aleyen. I highly recommend staying here both before and after your Aconcagua climb, as Steve, the owner, is so generous, so accommodating, and the restaurant has tremendous food. After a shower, we went big, with tenderloin steak for our celebratory dinner. It tasted like...victory.


Yes, we climbed this mountain fast. It was a bit stupid to try to do it this fast and it looked like we would not get the summit for most of the trip. All the guides were saying that January 6th or 7th was the weather window they were shooting for -- too late for us. I felt foolish for traveling so far and spending so much and not giving the proper time to climb the mountain... but luck shined on us and we, thankfully, acclimated well enough, though barely.
Aconcagua from the window of my plane from Mendoza to Santiago. It was a great way to say goodbye to this mountain.
Aconcagua is not a beautiful mountain. Of course I wish it was, but it's not. The south face is an impressive alpine wall, but we did not visit it. The north face, where we were, is just as steep, but hardly has any snow or ice on it at all. It is an 11,000-foot scree and talus field. Seriously. But, at least for climbers, an 11,000-foot anything is impressive. The route we did is much steeper, on average, than the route we did on Denali.


Everyone is so friendly and so physical. I love this, as I'm "a hugger." Sheila and Eve even gave us kisses after learning of our success. Every time a guide (or porter or support person or client that they know) meets another guide, they embrace, lingering and warm. I loved seeing it and wanted it for myself as well. Here it is all about supporting others and helping them achieve success. The guides, experts to be sure, are so humble and I detected really no competition from them or among them. Everyone I met on this trip was so warm and helpful and it truly was one of the highlights. Here is a list of the people we met, in order of meeting them.

Nicolas - our initial contact with the Fernando Grajales Expeditions
Topo (Juan)
Ricardo and Fernando
Luciano, Rodrigo, Miguel - guides
Arvin and Amy
Michael Rowe and team
Mustafa and Vinsir

Derek's Report:


Another mountain down. Wowee.

Aconcagua is, I guess, a natural next step from Denali. Denali was very thought out, very conscious, and planned. But after we got it, Aconcagua was just there by default. It is the next closest if the 7 Summits, which translates (maybe incorrectly?) to next cheapest. It also seemed much more doable than Denali. Everyone does Aconcagua before Denali. And we’d already done it. In that way, it seemed natural.

There wasn’t a ton of discussion about when or where or how or what on this trip. I was away at college and much more focused on my most busy semester to date. Of course we’d go over my winter break, because that makes it summer in Argentina, but no dates were set. That is, until it got to be pretty close to the deadline. I wasn’t pushing it, being ensconced in school life; Pops wasn’t pushing it, understanding the large amount of planning and work needed to organize a true expedition. Also we’d be alone. Tom and Charlie, our go-tos, had already had an amazing month-long adventure this year, and committing to another one was too much. Dave Mackey was another in the list of potentials, but he was too busy.

Despite all the reasons to just let the time slide by and push the trip to I-don’t-know-when, we booked it. The reason for this was my mom. She found the flights, and made the call: “Let’s book it!”

We flew out on Christmas; missed New Year’s. This is without a doubt one of the most family-centric times of the year. Yet she still booked it. Why? Well it’s obvious of course: because she supports us and wants the best for us, regardless of her own most-warranted wants (be with the family!!). That’s pretty incredible to me.
Weighing our gear for the mules.
This, incidentally, and at her own expense, is the reason I have recently been pushing Rainier so hard on her. I think we are away from her too much in adventures. She is so modest but self-deprecating, saying that she’s too old for some things. That’s simply not true. She’s still fitter than almost everyone I know at college (exceptions of course), and has so much experience and so many skills in the mountains. Then there’s Rainier, which hangs over her as the only 14er in the lower 48 which she has not stood atop. With the goal-oriented people in our family and our circle, this simply can’t stand. So I will continue to push push push for Rainier. She absolutely can do it. She absolutely HAS to do it. And it would be a great adventure and goal that the whole family can share. That’s what she has sacrificed to me and my dad over the last years. She has stepped into the role of support (and amazingly so; she does a ridiculous good job of it!), but it’s not fair for her to always be there. She’s got other goals like the CO trail and John Muir trail as well. I’d like to support her in all of them, as a small token of reciprocation. More on that later!

Back to Aconcagua. We were now going! Having the tickets purchased is the biggest step, of course, and we could then be psyched about it. But there is still so much to do. Learn the mountain, learn the logistics surrounding it, and then organizing everything for a smooth trip.

This was done in the last week or so before leaving. I was crazy busy, and didn’t even know WHICH route we were doing! Let alone the camps up the mountain. In contrast, I knew the route, the camps, the reason behind named landmarks (a squirrel lived at 12,000 up there!!) months in advance of Denali. Furthermore, I didn’t even know for sure how many days total the trip was (14, 12, 10...?)! We hadn’t laid out food either, a rather important aspect. Largely, we used our routines from Denali to guide us through this part of the trip. We’d bring the same clothes (as well as some shorts for the start; not on a glacier the whole time), most of the same gear (ice ax, crampons, no rope or gear). Still there was much to do! How would we get from the airport to the trailhead. Where would we stay? How much weight did we have?

So many questions, but I don’t remember being very worried... we’d just go out there and figure it out! We are pretty good once we start walking, so all we had to do was get there.

I got off school and there was about a week until departure. In that time I was able to use Dave Mackey’s hypoxic tent (Pops had been using until now) to try to acclimatize to higher altitude. Hopefully this would give us a head start on the 22,841 feet we’d need to reach. We also made a 3-day dash out to Chicago Basin.

Getting there was largely determined in the last few days before our flight. Pops had talked to a gym friend, Brad who used to guide the big A, and got a name of a service in Argentina. After landing on doing the Normal Route, as we only had 10 days to get ‘er done, we talked to Nicolas from Fernando Grajales Expeditions, booked a mule to carry 60kgs up to 14,000 feet, as well as a shuttle from the airport to Los Penitentes, a town off the highway through the Andes, a little bit away from the park and trailhead. We also it a night at the hotel to stay before we started in. Great!

Oh wait, one more thing to go wrong. We spent 3 days of the week leading up accompanying Homie in finishing the winter 14ers with Eolus and N. Eolus. We hiked 10 miles in with overnight gear. The next day we had a 20-mile summit day, and my knee flared up on me really bad. I was dropped and in pain, but resolved to hobble up one summit, N. Eolus, without bending my right knee.

This happened to me before Mexico this year and seemed to begin after my CU Amazing Race push, resulting in a disappointing 3rd... but I now think I’ve experience this before: the first training day for Denali. Keplinger’s Couloir. I was hilariously out of shape then, but I was eventually turned around by terrible knee pain and had to navigate the long way back trying not to bend my knee. Same thing here. I can stand in it, but bending the knee is excruciating at times. It flares on and off, and isn’t very predictable. Lisa G tells me rubbing helps, and I found that to be very true.

So: leaving for Argentina, flying 12 hours, 3 flights, with a bum knee and 13,000 vertical to gain wasn’t that encouraging... but we were committed of course and would see how it would go!

After a tough time traveling through the night to Chile (stuck in a window seat, and I lost my sunglasses 😩), we flew one last time to Mendoza and the stressful part started. But because we talked to Nicolas, it turned out to not be very stressful! Dario picked us and our 4 bags up, took us into the city, and we met Nico. We printed out the pertinent forms, signed the waivers, and bought the permits. Then we went to a Park office, who signed us off. We then drove 3.5 hours to Penitentes. I slept much of the time, but we did stop to pick me up some cheap anteojos.

Once in Los Penitents, we met Topo. He welcomed us and told us to get settled in the hotel before coming back and repacking. We did as we were told. From out checked bags we grabbed only the things we needed to hike 17 miles into Plaza de Mulas, the base camp of the mountain. Most people stop at Confluencia, at 11,000 feet, but because we are very familiar with 14,000, had just been to that elevation, and we’re on a tight time schedule, we opted to chase our mule in to base camp (mules go in one day as well).

The bags packed up, we had our last dinner at a local restaurant (Note: Los Penitentes is a named town, but it isn’t much. It is about 8 or 9 buildings right on the side of the highway. Three are hotels/apartments, 2 are expedition offices, 2 restaurants, and 1 a mini market). We got a large Argentinian steak with papas fritas and relished our last taste of fresh meat and fat.

We watched a movie that night, and I barely slept (buzzing, beeping, snoring, clicking in the room. Probably also stress/anxiousness). We woke up around 8 — both of us! It was one of the best nights of sleep for Pops ever, he said. We had breakfast at the hotel and then left with Topo to the trailhead at about 8:45. He pointed things out on the short drive and we got our first glimpse of the imposing Peak: The Stone Sentinel. That’s enough to get you excited. We had to go see the rangers at the Park Entrance to get some trash bags and to be briefed on some rules, like checking in and the important potty talk. They also were very resistant to us hiking into Plaza in one day. They strongly suggested 2 nights in Confluencia. But we had no way of doing that now. We were pretty confident. After that we were off. We said bye to Topo and he wished us luck and told us he’d be there to pick us up when we got back.

Cameras primed, we started off; all alone. It took us less than 2 hours to get to Conflu, below the advertised 3. The trail leads right to the guardaparques, who checked us out medically. Blood pressure good, heart rate elevated due to walking. But the great sign was our O2 sats, at about 96 for both of us. They gave us no resistance in moving up more today. Sweet.

We went to the Grajales tents to get sunscreen, which we left in our mule bags, and Eve was waiting with OJ and maní con chocolate (chocolate covered peanuts). Great first impression! Everyone we met so far has been exceedingly friendly. Great service for one mule! We chatted and rested for a bit and after 30 minutes we were off again. The signs warn of 8 hours to Plaza de Mulas.

We just moseyed (Hope we did it right, this was our first time moseying) along at a smooth pace. We passed time by recounting movies to Pops, who either slept through or couldn’t finish on a plane. Not much wind; perfect day actually. Until near the end.

Clouds started forming when we were a couple miles out, and we arrived at Plaza, 7:20 from the trailhead, in a little snow storm. We checked in with the rangers and they told us to come back tomorrow for a medical check.

Base camp is a small little city with different Burroughs based on the guiding company. Each empresa has their own custom dome tents, enough to fit at least 12 standing people. There were also cabin-like tents outfitted with bunk-beds or restaurant-like seatings. There are advertisements for hot showers, WiFi connection, and fresh meals all over. It is much more civilized and established than I had anticipated.

We then met Pablo, the Grajales boss-man at camp. We changed into pants and warmer clothes, got our bags and set up the tent.

Grajales gives us water, toilets, white gas (not free), and more friendly people. Our friends were Pablo and Shiela, the in-camp cook. Pablo gave us weather reports, accessed on his personal computer via WiFi, and Shiela gave us advice on rest days and acclimatization.

Most people we met were surprised we were unguided, as that seems the go-to option for this mountain. I can see why. These guides are so friendly and so helpful and so accommodating it’s incredible! Instead we had to say we were by ourselves and on a 10-day schedule instead of 20, like most trips. That is definitely the way to get this mountain. We’d just have to be fast and lucky.

The second day we didn’t do much. We visited the hotel across the river, getting lost at the crossing and walking way upstream to find a way across. It was shut down, but the rescue crew is right here too and we talked to Fabricio for a bit, telling him of our plans. “Pero tranquilo” was his response. We had to be careful; not go too fast. Trouble is easily found in this mountain. We heard the helicopter almost everyday, flying in to take someone out. Hard to escape the reality of how big and high this mountain is.

After the hotel we found the bridge back and headed for the bouldering area Shiela told us about. We hung out in the sun for a while, reading and watching movies on phones. In the afternoon we voyaged uphill... for about 50 feet. It felt slow.

At 6 we went over to the doctors. Blood pressure good. Heart rate good. Pops O2 was 84, mine was 93. Sweet. That gave us confidence to move up the next day. How far? We figured we can skip Camp 1, Canada — 16,000ft, altogether and head to Camp 2, Nido de Cóndores — 18,000ft. But we said we’d just see how we’re feeling.

The next day we packed up ice ax (only 1), crampons, chemical heaters (lots!), 3.5 days of dinners and breakfasts, and snacks for hiking. It was a good load. We set off, moving very meticulously, trying to keep a maintainable, slow pace. We passed a couple guided groups doing this, but that’s only because they stopped to take a break. We were moving about the same speed. I figure the guides need to make sure everyone is strong and not pushing too hard. We all have all day anyways.

We got up to Camp 1, taking breaks on the hour, in 2:06. After a decent break we continued, feeling good. We kept going smooth, passed another friendly group, and then made a wrong turn going up a steep slope. We were trying to avoid a snowy crossing, and there were switchbacks straight up, but eventually they ran out and we had to cross more snowy fields of Penitentes. We got up to high camp after around 4:30 from Plaza.

I was feeling the altitude big time (I’d only been this high once before on Denali) and had a little headache. We found a big rock that provided some shelter, and packed up our black duffel with all the stuff. We then covered it with two garbage bags to protect it from precipitation.

After the cache we walked around a bit looking for our friends Fernando and Ricardo, who were supposed to be moving up today before us (we left around 9, they had planned on 8). We couldn’t find them though. Instead we found a Grajales team that had summited yesterday. They were in a pretty ragged state and the guides were doing most of the packing while the team rested. We talked to a guy from Colorado who had climbed 17 winter 14ers and only missing N. Maroon total. Good CO resume. We asked them a little about the upper mountain and then started down with empty packs.

Coming down on this mountain is ridiculously more easy than going up. This is because the route is very steep (if you go straight down) and loose. So while ascending has you zigzagging monotonously, pumping nonexistent oxygen into your lungs, coming down is little more than sliding on scree. We got down in 59 minutes. It was fun.

We were feeling great! We had a ton of stuff up there; we felt good moving up; the psych was high. We planned on moving up the next day, to really prime ourselves for a summit. From here we figured we could go for the 5000-foot summit day, or carry/move to high camp and tag it from there. When we got down, though, things changed.

Talking around camp we heard from Michael Rowe, a Coloradan we met in Maroon Peak almost 2 years ago, that the weather coming up was supposed to be “brutal.” We we’re surprised and bummed to hear it since the first three days had been perfect. Pablo confirmed a snow storm imminent, and after: very high winds, not dropping below 50 up high for the extent of our time on the mountain.

We lolly-gagged around for a bit, definitely bummed by the weather. Without a window, we’d just have to weather the conditions, but it definitely hurt our chances of a summit even more than the short time frame and altitude considerations. Briefly we considered going for it from base camp the very next day. It was the last good day for our whole trip. Buzz and Peter did it, and they were fine. Then again, Stefan tried it and got HAPE... 50/50 odds? Not good enough. I have been pretty wary of altitude sickness since my foray into it on The Notch Couloir. Very scary. So that was dismissed fairly quick. We also decided moving up would be sort of pointless with the storm coming up. We’d just move up to be stuck in a tent for a couple days — not ideal. Of course that way we’d still be acclimatizing to 18k.

The plan we landed on was to wait at basecamp. We’d be more comfortable with available water and toilet, but we’d fairly soon run out of food. We’d eventually be forced to move up just to eat! But if needed we could’ve stretched it out for a while.

On the good day, we climbed Cerro Bonete, at about 5100m. Our friend Mustafa did it “4 hours up, 4 hours back,” and said it was a good time with a little bit of mountaineering skills needed. Sounded perfect. We set off around 10, starting the day a little slow. What took us 40+ minutes now took us 17 with the bridge, and we arrived at the Hotel. We kept on moving on the well-worn trail up some steep scree and then into some penitentes. Here a rescue guy caught us and passed us, and we went to school on his route for a bit before he gapped us too bad. This must be like their Green Mountain.

We passed a guide-client duo below the meat of the climb, and we kept moving really slow and continuous. We got to the top after about 2 hours and without really any stopping. At 16,500 or something, it felt really good and gave us confidence in our acclimatization. We ended up staying on the summit for 2 hours, just soaking in the good weather with low wind and acclimatizing.

Matthias joined us in a bit. From Germany, he was here alone. We chatted and he told us about the other S. American high peaks he had done like Chimborazo and Illiniza Norte. He brought 57kg for himself, which was interesting because we brought the exact same amount, but for us two. He is here longer than us, and with a mule, it makes a ton of sense to bring more into base camp. He shouldn’t go hungry!

The guide, Luciano, and his client joined after 2 hours. Turns out he’s Grajales, so we talked to him a bit about our plans and theirs. We bid them adieu and headed back. Descending, again, was expedient. There’s a very apparent gash down the slope that can be seen from Base camp (the switchbacks up can’t), and is the descent route. We slid down that and continued back in a bit more than an hour.

The next day we had no plans. It took a while for the snow to come, but it did. But not before we got and stretched our legs to Camp Canada and back, carrying nothing. It was graupel and would melt very quickly upon hitting the ground. It started sticking eventually, but we were in our tent for that part.

The plan was to move up the next day, but when we woke up it was snowing, and upon another weather report from Pablo and mountainforecast.com, it looked like it was going to snow more in the afternoon. We had to decide whether to move up or wait another day and stretch our remaining food. At around 12 we made the call to move up. In celebration, we ate the rest of our pancakes, thus committing us.

We got going around 2 and it wasn’t snowing, but the clouds were still there. About an hour in it started snowing. We entered the clouds soon after and were pretty socked in. We moved more continuously than we should’ve, taking less water breaks than we did on our carry. But we were stressed and anxious moving camps.

We were in the clouds the rest of the time, and even with thunder sounding at times. We got up in 5 hours-ish. We found the first decent spot and set up the tent. Turns out that the site was pretty slanted, but we’d deal. We recovered our cache and slumped in the tent. We had food, but I didn’t eat any. I had a bad headache and was a bit nauseous. Instead I just went to sleep with some music trying to drown out the pain in my head. Pops was doing ok and ate healthily, although he ate some food he doesn’t like(chicken teriyaki).

The next morning my headache had mostly subsided but I was feeling quite tired. The sun was mostly out but it was windy and partly cloudy and cold. We wore our big jackets outside the tent and only went for a short walk around camp. There was no chance we’d try to go to high camp let alone sneak a summit push in. The plan now was to take a rest day and go for it tomorrow. The weather had it for mostly sunny with high winds the last time we checked. But we had some really good wind training on Meeker before we came so we thought we had a shot. We both ate good that night, trying to fuel up for a big day.

That night I must’ve been quite stressed. It was Wednesday after all and unless we could muster two summit attempts back to back, tomorrow would be our only shot. I had a headache all night and didn’t sleep very well, having to slide myself back up the slope we were sleeping on periodically. I was warm though. We woke up at 6, cooked up some breakfast, which I couldn’t really get down. But we had some hot cocoa. We opened up two big hand heaters, two sets of footbed heaters (each). These should last us the whole time. The only things we had in our packs were our shells, balaclava, and some water. We started with goggles, pile later, and big down layer, as well as microspikes on the boots. We didn’t even bring crampons.

Planning for a 10-hour ascent, and leaving at 7:30, we were in for a long day. Most people leave between 2-5am from high camp, but we just didn’t want to start when it was that cold. Light lasts til 9 here and (relative) warmth until 6 probably.

So we started in the wind. It wasn’t too bad starting with goggles and down jacket, and I even got a bit too warm, forcing me to slow down. But it was definitely there. We made high camp in a surprising 1:45. It’s advertised to be 2-5 hours away, and we weren’t stopping there, so we were planning for about 3. This was quite encouraging for us. The slow progress continued, and I felt much better than the day before, altitude-wise. We passed our first people at high camp, having seen nobody else in between camps that morning. Not surprising. We made steady progress up the slopes, setting small goals, and then rewarding ourselves with frequent water breaks. Going from 18, having never been higher (on this trip), had me nervous and motivated to keep drinking. At 6400 m we reached Independencia Hut, the highest refuge hut in the world. We also found Fernando here. They had moved up to high camp and were going for it today as well. We asked him if he was ok and he said yes, but that he forgot his crampons and that it gets snowy ahead. That’s a major bummer. He was waiting for someone to offer some he could borrow, but of course not even we had crampons. We breaked with him for awhile and then kept moving, wishing him luck, and chasing Ricardo.

Just a bit above there we reached the Windy Ridge right before the Traverse over to the Canaleta, the final, 1500-foot scree field to the summit. Here it was very windy, but with our jackets and the sun, we were able to move efficiently across the Traverse to El Dedo, which offers some respite. Continuing from here it got less windy, as we became sheltered a bit more. Here we slowed down considerably. The terrain turns steeply up and on very loose rock. There was some snow, which sometimes helped and sometimes hurt progress. We were higher than I’d ever been, and still had 1500 feet to go.

The next big objective was La Cueva, at 21,800. It was a big overhanging rock shelter. A staging area for the final push. Having talked to previous summiteers, this was also a popular turn-around spot. We struggled our way there and then took a good, long, 20-30 minute break. We drank, ate and Pops even laid down for a micro nap. But we got moving soon enough, resolved to chip away little by little. Very little by very little.

Pops was in front and able to take 10-20 (sometimes more) steps before a break. He’d be able to move faster than me, but it seemed I was able to recover quicker, as I was ready to move again before him. Breath was extremely difficult at this stage. Anything dynamic had us bent over gasping. It took meticulous care to stay marginally aerobic, and only for a short time. But we kept moving up. Above the Cave there was more snow and so sliding back on scree wasn’t an issue. The altitude and grade were still very tough obstacles though.

At the top of the steep part the route turns left across the top of the Canaleta before the last kick to the summit. Here Pops was really tired and resting for quite a long time between 10-20 step bursts. I was very tired as well, but nervous about the altitude, getting cold with the wind, and anxious for a summit. So I started regulating our breaks. I initially gave us 15 breaths between moving. That only lasted one move. We needed more. The next three were 20, and then I bumped it again to 25. Our last two, tantalizingly close, I pushed it to 30. After a cool little scrambling section, we popped out on top of the America’s. The route lands you right on the very summit, and the summit plateau slants down and back from there, where about 6-8 people were hanging out celebrating. This included Ricardo, Fernando’s partner, who arrived 30 minutes previous.

We stayed on the very summit for a bit, letting the emotional strain built up wash out and away. There was so much doubt about this Peak, ranging from the relatively short time frame, to the weather, to my knee troubles, to my lack of decent training during busy times at school. But we got it anyways. We embraced and thanked each other, as always grateful for our successful (more so now) partnership in the mountains. We got Ricardo to take a picture of us, and took some more pictures and even a video capturing our summit experience.

The wind was surprisingly not that bad on top, and we spent probably 20-30 minutes on top (I have no sense for summit time, which seems to be a lot faster than normal time — hey I thought time got slower farther from gravitational distortions, and we were the farthest away we could get in all the Western Hemisphere!! (not true actually, did you catch it?)).

When we started down, some long chains of guided parties were going up and down. This is stressful, as most probably had never used crampons before and were being very cautious. We tried to hustle past, resulting in a fall and slide for Pops, and some long rests afterward for both of us. Descending here was still much much easier, but we were still forced to break and lean on our poles for support often.

Overall the descent was quite hard, and long. We broke it up with breaks and back at camp, where we talked with Fernando and Bruna. Fernando was antsing for another go the next day —this time with crampons. The last we saw the weather the next day looked similar to today, and said “go for it!” thinking he very much deserved a summit like Ricardo. But Bruna had a more recent update and said today’s forecast called for 65 mph winds, and tomorrow’s was supposed to be 75 and colder. We got back to camp after 11:30 of being out. Right before camp, Pops got dizzy and was almost falling over with every step. He promptly hurled and seemed to be ok, but that was scary and I’d keep my eye on it.

Back at camp we didn’t really eat or drink much. We had run out of fuel (takes a lot more energy to melt snow than it does to heat liquid water...), and really wanted to move down. We decided to try to head all the way out the next day, craving a real meal, a real bed, and some real couches to lounge on. Oh, and a coke!

The next morning was crazy windy. We woke up at 7 and started the process of packing up, trying to stay in the tent for as long as possible. Once the packs were mostly packed, we had to move out. It was quite a challenge taking the tent down, and our hands both got very cold. But with some new warmers as well as the residual heat from yesterday’s big ones (those things rock!), we were able to recover. Packed up with heavy loads, we headed down.

We couldn’t descend in 59 minutes this time, because the ground was frozen and less conducive to scree sliding, as well as the heavy loads messing with our balance and forcing intermittent breaks. We had no breakfast that morning and little to no water. But in about 1:30 we were back in the safety of Plaza de Mulas with the sun out. Here we greeted Pablo and Shiela, repacked, and negotiated for a meal because we didn’t use half the white gas we bought, and even had more that some climbers had given us as extra. We packed our day packs, changed into shorts, and ate some lunch. We also learned that Pablo needs a day in advance for mule scheduling, so we couldn’t get our bags out that day. This is usually fine because people usually stay another night in Plaza and then go out the next day. But we were craving so much that we were heading all the way out in one. We would just wait for our bags the next day, seeing as we didn’t need that stuff anymore! For a while, at least.

We said our byes and thanks and started the 17 miles out. It went by ok except the Valley was much more windy than when we came in, kicking dust up and causing me to use my buff as a full face mask. At Confluencia we say Eve again and shared congratulations and hugs. She gave us maní de chocolate again and we hung out for a little bit. Then we were off again, on the final stretch. We soaked in the last bit and met some Swiss people to take our picture. We got to the trailhead at 6, Topo picked us up at 6:08, and we were back in civilization.

We booked another night at Steve’s hotel (the British owner), and had an amazing dinner that night. Rib Eye steak with baked potato and two cokes each. Topped of with a mousse de dulce de leche on top of brownie bits. Mmmmm.

What a great, stressful-but-successful trip. We ticked another 7 Summit and there seems to be a push for a third! Pops gave me a Kilimanjaro book for Xmas. We are 2 for 2 on big expeditions and are gaining confidence with altitude. Ama Dablam is definitely in our future, as are so many things.....

Until next time:
Signing off,
Derek Wright