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January 2003

February

 

Greetings folks! We're back from the highest point in the Americas, Mt. Aconcagua! It's a big, cold mountain, nearly 23,000 feet. Just where I'm the happiest! There's not a better mountain to prepare for climbing Everest.

Jan. 07 - 10

Cerro AconcaguaOur journey took us to the beautiful Argentinean city of Mendoza, full of great plazas, restaurants and, of course, the ultimate life style choice - afternoon siestas! Although our 3-week expedition started in Mendoza, our destination was the highest mountain outside of the great Himalaya - Cerro Aconcagua. Our plan was to establish 04 camps on the mountain, summit and return to Mendoza via Playas de Mulas on the other side, therefore making a circumnavigation of this great mountain.

We departed Mendoza taking the north route on our three day trek through beautiful desert valleys, Vacas and Relinchos, dramatically enclosed within the mountains of the Andes. Mules carried our gear as we acclimatized. The muleteers, or "gauchos", brought great life to our trek. These hardened cowboys rode and maneuvered the loads with great skill and precision. Watching the gauchos on horses in full gallop negotiating these winding and narrow canyon trails was like a scene from the wild west - an amazing and unbelievable site.

As we finished our second day, the dramatic East Face of Aconcagua finally appeared. Too beautiful! The Argentine Base Camp, situated at 13,776ft, was a welcome site after the 30 mile trek-in. On our approach, we experienced windy weather, nothing too serious, but we generally had clear, blue skies. We heard from returning climbers that they had summited with little wind and had hours-long stays at the top of the mountain. We were pleased to hear this, but knew that Aconcagua never stays wind-free for long. We had a rest day at Argentine base camp and prepared for our ascent further up the hill.

Jan. 12 - 14

PenitentesAs mentioned, our plan was to establish 04 camps on the mountain:
Camp 01 at 16,075ft, Camp 02 at 17,700ft, Camp 03 at 19,200ft and half night at Camp 04 at 20,600ft on the North Ridge. This schedule would allow for the best possible conditions to summit, provided, of course, the weather cooperated.

We established Camps 01 and 02 with little difficulty, although the Penitentes (ice spires) were a little tricky to negotiate. Winds pounded us on occasion, but we still had time on our side and were optimistic about the days ahead. We prepared to make our move further up the hill.

Jan. 15 - 22

We established our Camp 03 just below the Polish Glacier as quickly as possible. I had made an ascent to Camp 03 days ago with a load of future provisions. The wind had not diminished since that load carry. We strengthened an old rock wall that would hopefully give us some relief from the great winds. Wrong. From here on out, we were simply pounded by the wind, sleet and snow.

The following day during a few hours of clear weather, we were able to The Andes from Camp 03traverse to Piedra Blanca (White Stones) and establish Camp 04 at 19,600ft, lower in altitude than planned. We knew, however, that if the weather gave us a break, we could summit from this camp. En route to camp 04 in the short window of clear weather, we enjoyed lovely views of the Andes, the surrounding valleys and the Polish Glacier.

We were tired and wind blown, but generally felt healthy. We had strong determination, but most importantly, we needed the weather to cooperate. Throughout the night, we continued to boil water to stay hydrated, and enjoyed a pretty good meal. But the weather just got worse.

The storm on the mountain hit us hard during the night with 80 mph winds. We were secure and safe for the time being, but we had to make a tough decision. We gave it until mid morning the following day, but decided that we had to take the safest course of action, which was to break camp and descend to Playas de Mulas at the very next relief of the pounding winds. When the break came, we began our long descent. The hot drinks and the great food was surely enjoyed when we arrived at Playas de Mulas. The next day, we loaded the mules and began our trek out via the Horcones Valley, arriving back in Mendoza late in the evening.

Jan. 23

Gary in Horcones ValleyThis year, unfortunately, the weather was not on our side. Our summit goal was not reached, but we faced a great challenge making the circumnavigation of Aconcagua. We returned safe, strong, healthy and well-fed, though tired. Sometimes the mountain just wins. We had great laughs together and we'll be back soon enough.

I thank all our TE '03 friends for your support during this expedition. Also thanks to my colleagues and business friends - there were some truly good folks on the mountain this year - it was nice seeing you all. We'll see many of you on Everest in a couple of months!   Cheers, Gary Guller

 

 

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