Aconcagua Summit, 6962m/22,841′, December 15, 2013. From left to right: Kurt Wedberg, Ed Saenz, Nathan Fletcher, Brandon Kibby, Natalie Bybee, and April Mayhew.
Our first Aconcagua expedition is safely down after a 15-day expedition that saw us reach the summit on a beautiful windless day.
After flying to Mendoza, Argentina the team began the 3-day trek into Base Camp carrying light packs and being supported by mules. The team battled through many days of strong winds and some snowy days early on in the trip but were able to keep forward progress inching closer to a high camp that put us in position for our summit bid.
Climbing Aconcagua does not require any “technical skills”. It’s challenges lie in dealing with high altitude, changeable weather, cold temperatures, carrying heavy loads, and taking care of yourself in the mountain environment. As the team moves higher the strategy is to keep acclimatizing and staying healthy in the increasingly rarefied air.
After spending a few nights at Base Camp (4200m/13,747′) the team slept at the following elevations: Camp 1 – 5090m/16,700′, Camp 2 – 5480m/17,979′, Camp 3 – 5970m/19,586′. We kept the schedule steady and methodical trying to not exceed averaging a faster jump in elevation than 1000’/300m in a 24 hour period. We were turned back on our first attempt to sleep at Camp 1 when a storm brought fresh snow and high winds during our climb. We retreated back to Base Camp, took a rest day to regroup and get back our energy then moved up to Camp 1 on the following day after the storm cleared.
Strong winds high on the mountain revealed themselves day after day with big snow plumes blowing off the Polish Glacier that decorated our skyline view. They didn’t prevent us from moving into position for a summit attempt though. As the team’s health remained good we kept to our schedule and hoped when we were ready for a summit attempt the weather would settle down. Our patience paid off and we found ourselves settling into Camp 3 with only a light breeze and clear skies on December 14. The team prepped for the summit day, had an early dinner, and got into their sleeping bags before it got dark.
Waking before sunrise SMI guide April Mayhew started the stoves to make hot drinks and breakfast while Kurt checked on the group and made sure everybody was ready for the big day. The sky displayed a vast array of stars and no clouds while the weather was crisp and calm. As we started out at 5:30am the horizon showed the first hints of light from the sun rising casting an orange glow over the far reaching skyline.
The thin air required deep breathing in the cold air in a steady rhythm of 1-2 breaths per step. By the time we would reach the summit it was 3-4 deep breaths per step. The team took breaks at regular intervals where they ate, drank, and took in the spectacular views Aconcagua offers. Eventually we found ourselves taking a break at “The Cave” at 22,000’/6700m. Above is the Canaleta Chute making up the last 841’/250+m to the summit. The route weaves it’s way through boulders and snowbanks culminating at the summit.
The team did a great job showing tenacity and lots of sticktoitiveness over a very respectable 7 1/2 hour climb to the summit. Calm weather allowed the team to relax on the summit to enjoy the views, take photos, eat, and drink. After a generous 45 minutes or so on the summit the team began packing up and then retracing their steps back to high camp.
The following day they descended to Base Camp and took advantage of the opportunity to hire a helicopter to fly directly back to their hotel in Los Penitentes where much deserved showers awaited. On December 17 the team was back in Mendoza celebrating at 1884 Francis Mallmann, the nicest restaurant in Mendoza and the perfect way to put the icing on the cake of a great expedition.
Congratulations team on a job well done!!
A few pictures are below. The entire photo gallery can be found here:
Aconcauga December 2013
December 2: The team at the trailhead ready to start the 3-day trek to Base Camp.
Our mules at the end of the second day’s journey en route to Base Camp.
Our arrieros (mule drivers) preparing an Argentine “asado” over a wood fire on the evening of day 2 of our approach to Base Camp.
Traditional Argentine cuts of meat over a wood barbecue make up the centerpiece of a tasty “asado”.
Natalie finds a natural lounge chair en route to Aconcagua Base Camp.
The team at Base Camp (4200m/13,747′) ready to move to Camp 1.
The team traversing an iced over glacial pond en route to Camp 1.
The team at a rest break during a failed attempt to reach Camp 1. After reaching approximately 15,500′ the decision was made to turn back to Base Camp and try another day.
Ed leading the pack on the final steep slope below Camp 1.
Afternoon downtime the team enjoying a hot drink at Camp 1.
A beautiful day at approximately 17,600’/5365m while climbing to Camp 2.
Afternoon snacks are essential as the team rests and “fuels” up in preparation for summit day the next morning.
December 15, 2013, 5:35am it’s “go time” as the team shoulder’s their rucksacks to start summit day!
Brandon psyched at a rest break with the early morning sun starting to crest the horizon.
Aconcagua forming this beautiful penumbra as it casts its shadow across the Andes at sunrise.
Early morning long shadows on summit day.
Looking up from 22.000’/6705m at the Canaleta Chute and the summit of Aconcagua.
SMI guide April Mayhew psyched in the middle of the Canaleta en route to the summit.
The team negotiating the terrain high in the Caneleta a short distance below the summit.
Last rest break before reaching the summit.
Nathan topping out on the highest point in the Western Hemisphere!
Natalie and Brandon with SMI guide Kurt Wedberg posing at the summit cross on Aconcagua with flags from Big City Mountaineer’s. Both Natalie and Brandon raised over $8800 to help underprivileged youth experience the outdoors and learn critical life skills. Thanks you two for raising money for such a great cause!!
SMI guide April Mayhew reaches the summit of Aconcagua for the 4th time in three years. Great job April helping guide another successful SMI expedition to the top of the Western Hemisphere!!
Nathan Fletcher put forth a strong effort on summit day breaking his previous altitude record of Mt. Whitney (4422m/14,508′) by 8333’/2540m!! Great job Nathan!!
Long time SMI veteran Ed poses for another summit photo in front of Kurt Wedberg’s lens. After climbing all of California’s 14ers, Kilimanjaro, and peaks in Peru this was his toughest challenge yet. He accomplished it with flying colors. Another awesome job Ed!!!
Back at Base Camp the team loaded into two helicopter flights off the mountain. Base Camp to showers before we knew it!!!
December 17, 2013: Celebration dinner at 1884 Francis Mallmann. This is arguably the nicest restaurant in Mendoza and the perfect way to cap off an awesome expedition to Aconcagua!!