Aconcagua December 2013 Wrap Up

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!!






















SMI/BCM Aconcagua Climb DEC 2013

The TEAM is safely down and on their way back to MENDOZA as I write. They should be in direct contact with all Family and Friends some time this afternoon here in CONUS.

Again, a hearty well done & congratulations to all SMI/BCM TEAM Members on their amazing accomplishment and success of climbing Aconcagua.



SMI/BCM Aconcagua Climb DEC 2013

The TEAM SUMMITS on the 15th!!! 100% success on a picture perfect morning …. no wind and clear as a bell. They are all safe and sound and on their way down to Base Camp. Should all be back in Mendoza either on the eve of the 17th or morning of the 18th. Photo’s to follow!!!

Congratulations to:

Natalie Bybee
Brandon Kibby
Nathan Fletcher
Ed Saenz

And of course SMI’s Kurt Wedberg and April Mayhew!!




SMI/BCM Aconcagua Climb DEC 2013

Image Aconcagua#100_sm

The SMI/BCM Team led by Kurt and April, has made it successfully to Base Camp and have been doing some acclimatization hikes the past two days. They are all doing well and are very excited to begin the actual climb tomorrow. They will be headed up to Camp 1 and will remain there for the day early in the morning. The weather has been stormy and windy. That has not deterred them what so ever. Onward they go. They all send their love to all the families and friends back here in CONUS.

Our New Web Site is Live!!

Mt. Whitney (14,508’/4422m) in morning alpenglow.

Greetings from Bishop, CA!  We hope this finds everybody well and enjoying the fall season.  After a busy summer and fall we have been hard at work planning for 2014.  We have also launched a new web site for your viewing pleasure.  We invite you to have a look and come with us on a trip!

As of this writing SMI guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg are off to Argentina for an Aconcagua expedition.  Back home in the Sierra the weather is getting cold and we’ve seen some of our first significant snowfall.  We’re gearing up for winter time activities including ice climbing, backcountry skiing, and avalanche courses.

Basin Mountain and surrounding skyline on Sunday November 24, 2013 after our recent snowstorm.

Here is a brief listing of some of our upcoming offerings for 2014.  We hope to see you on a trip with us in 2014!

Aconcagua:  Trip #1:  November 29 – December 17, 2013,  Trip #2:  December 27 – January 17. We still have a couple openings on both of our upcoming expeditions to the highest mountain in South America.

Mt. Kenya:  February 1-10, 2014.  A technical rock climb up the second highest mountain in Africa.  The climbing ranges from low 5th class up to 5.7.  It’s in a beautiful, remote, and wild setting overlooking the beautiful East Africa jungles.

Kilimanjaro and Safari:  February 11-25, 2014.  A 7-day climb of the highest mountain in Africa combined with a game viewing safari where we see some of the most spectacular wildlife on our planet!

Mt. Whitney:  Winter/spring 4-day climbs and summer 3-day climbs of the highest mountain in the contiguous United States.

Ice Climbing Courses:  Ice is forming now in Lee Vining Canyon and June Lake.  Come up and discover the exhilaration of climbing ice in these premier destinations.

Avalanche Classes:  Learn essential skills to evaluate snow conditions in backcountry travel.  We also include rescue training using transceivers and probes.


SMI off to Aconcagua (6962m/22,841′), Argentina!

Morning alpenglow on Aconcagua (6962m/22,841')

On December 28 SMI guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg met Alan Bagley, Andrew Burg, and Scott Evans in Mendoza, Argentina where they staged for an expedition to the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.  They spent the day securing climbing permits, packing gear, and organizing trip food.

On December 29 they started off from the trail head at Punta de Vacas at 2400m/7874′.  It will be a 3-day trek in to Base Camp at 4200m/13,747′.  Here is their planned itinerary:

Dec 29: Hike from trailhead at 7874 feet to Pampa de Lenas at 9514 feet

Dec 30: Hike to Casa de Pierdra at 10,630 feet

Dec 31: Hike to Plaza Argentina at 13,747 feet.  This is our Base Camp.

Jan 1: Rest day, take small acclimatization hike

Jan 2: Acclimatization hike, prepare loads for higher camps

Jan 3: Carry load to Camp 1, return to Base Camp

Jan 4: Move to Camp 1 at 16,732 feet

Jan 5: Rest and acclimatization day hike

Jan 6: Carry load to Camp 2, return to Camp 1

Jan 7: Move to Camp 2 at 19,127 feet

Jan 8: Rest and acclimatization day, prepare for summit bid

Jan 9: Summit bid

Jan 10: Extra day built in for weather/acclimatization

Jan 11: Extra day built in for weather/acclimatization

Jan 12: Extra day built in for weather/acclimatization

Jan 13: Return to Plaza Argentina Base Camp

Jan 14: Hike to Pampa de Lenas

Jan 15: Hike to trailhead, spend night at Los Penitentes

Jan 16: Drive to Mendoza

They will be calling in updates via satellite phone.  We will try to post reports as we hear from them.

Mendoza has a population of approximately 1.2 million making it the fourth largest province in Argentina.

Fountains light up La Plaza de Independencia, the largest plaza in Mendoza

Aconcagua Summit Success for The Last Well!!

January 11, 2011 at 22,841' on the summit of Aconcagua

Greetings from Mendoza, Argentina!!  We are happy to report that our latest expedition to Aconcagua was another great success!  On January 11, 2011 nine members of our team stepped out onto the highest point in the world outside of the Asian continent.  We want to offer a big congratulations to Brandon Bowser, Andrew Good, Jason Lund, Phil Murphy, Rebecca Radcliffe, and Jon Schumacker along with SMI guides Lindsay Fixmer, April Mayhew, and Kurt Wedberg.

After last updating our progress from Camp 1 many events took place.  Among other things the battery on our satellite phone went dead preventing us from making subsequent updates.  Thank you to everybody who kept us in their thoughts and prayers during this time even though we didn’t get a chance to continue updating this blog.

After acclimatizing at Camp 1 our team packed up to move to Camp 2 at 19,127 feet on January 9.  The weather made several dramatic changes on this day starting off windy, then turning sunny, then it settled on producing a snow storm that remained with us the rest of the day and evening.  The team rose to the occasion and did an excellent job of staying focused with the task at hand.  We moved from Camp 1 to Camp 2 in a very respectable 4 hours 45 minutes.  We then pulled together and got everybody’s tents set up while battling winds of over 40 mph and snow blowing constantly sideways while we worked.  The team cleared spaces for tents then settled in laying out sleeping bags and pads plus organizing their gear.  Everything needed to be anchored securely or brought safely inside tents to avoid anything getting blown away by wind or covered in fresh snow.  Meanwhile SMI guides Lindsay, April, and Chris prepared hot water and dinner for the crew.  We served hot drinks and dinner in team member’s tents so they could eat and drink in relative comfort.

During the middle of the night winds finally subsided and on January 10 we woke to clear skies and snow drifts of over 1 foot that had blown in and around rocks and tents while leaving other areas completely scoured.  The team remained strong and healthy in spite of a few headaches during the night, which is not uncommon for somebody’s first night sleeping at this elevation.  We took a leisurely morning organizing our camp and personal gear while taking the time to hydrate and continue eating food, which is the fuel that will power us up on our summit attempt.  In the afternoon the team took a walk out on the Polish Glacier.  We took the time to give our gear a final tune up including examining the fit on crampons and climbing harnesses while t aking a walk to the “Edge of the World”.  Mid afternoon we were back at camp making final preparations for our summit attempt.  The weather was looking promising in spite of snow plumes prevalent on the high flanks of Aconcagua.  The plumes would indicate gusty high winds above but the guides believed the weather trend was moving in the right direction so the decision was made to prepare to go and if they deemed conditions less than favorable lead guide Kurt Wedberg would make the decision to postpone the summit attempt the following morning.

During the night Kurt poked his head out of the tent to examine the weather and seeing conditions looking favorable decided the summit attempt was a “go”.  The guides prepared hot water and breakfast for the team.  Donning crampons on our boots and ice axes in our hands we began the steadily and methodically pacing as a team from our high camp en route for the summit.  A slight breeze was present but visibility was completely clear.  A dramatic colorful sunrise offered a beautiful backdrop to our climb.  Taking breaks at regular intervals as we moved increasingly higher on the mountain as the weather remained stable allowing the team to keep making progress higher on the mountain.  By early afternoon the team found itself at “The Cave” at 22,000′ taking a break looking up at the final 841′ that leads up “The Canaletta” to the summit of Aconcagua.  After refueling ourselves we set out up the 25-30 degree chute that will bring us to the summit.  The Canaletta was full of fresh snow that allowed for some of the finest conditions we’ve seen for climbing in recent memory.  The snow resembled styrofoam allowing our crampons to gain excellent traction offering us excellent footwork and pacing.  In the thin air at 22,000’+ we were taking 4 breaths for each step we took uphill.  Finally at just after 4 pm there was no higher point to climb as the team stepped out onto the highest point in South America.

A few pictures are below.  The entire photo gallery can be found here:  Aconcagua January 2011

The team on New Year's Eve day poses for a photo upon getting their first views of Aconcagua.

The SMI guides left to right: April Mayhew, Kurt Wedberg, Lindsay Fixmer, and Chris Werner. "The best bunch of people to spend a couple weeks climbing a mountain together with!" ~Kurt Wedberg

SMI guides Lindsay Fixmer, Chris Werner, and April Mayhew having fun cooking up a New Year's Eve feast for the team.

Our mule support passes the group en route to Base Camp hauling equipment and supplies for our expedition.

The team arriving at Base Camp at 13,747', 4200m on January 1, 2011.

Passing by an icy pond on the glacier at 15,000+' on an acclimatization hike above Base Camp.

On the glacier at 14,900' with Aconcagua looming high behind.

Sunset at Camp 1.

The team on a load carry day at 17,400 feet en route to Camp 2 with Camp 1 below.

Team members packing up from a break in a snowstorm during our move day to Camp 2.

Jon Schumacker (2nd from left) and team en route to Camp 2.

Arriving at Camp 2.

The team at the "Edge of the World" on the Polish Glacier at 19,400' during a hike above Camp 2 on January 10.

Holly Maggio geared up and ready on summit day.

January 11, 7:30am on summit day. The team looking strong!

The first rays of the sun tickling the high peaks of the Andes looking north from Aconcagua.

Beautiful summit weather at 21,200' with the Canaleta Chute behind.

At a break at 22,400' in the Canaleta Chute.

At 22,600' with Aconcagua's South Face providing a dramatic back drop for the final 241' to the summit.

Jason Lund raises his ice axe in the air as he reaches the summit.

Phil Murphy steps out onto the summit.

Jon Schumacker is all smiles at the summit.

Andrew Good looking strong and happy upon reaching the summit.

Brandon Bowser elated as he reaches the summit.

Rebecca Radcliffe joining her teammates on the summit.

SMI guide Lindsay Fixmer looking strong and psyched on reaching a new personal altitude record.

SMI guide April Mayhew reaching the summit of Aconcagua for the second time in less than a month.

Congratulations team!!!

Aconcagua Expedition #2 Update

After arriving safely in Mendoza, the team started the three day trek into base camp on December 30th.

We ushered in the New Year arriving at base camp at 13,747 feet

The team rested over the next day, then began the acclimatization hikes to Camp 1 on Jan 3rd

On Jan 6th the team moved to Camp 1 where we currently are at 16,700 feet

The team is doing well.  And we are looking ahead hoping to move to Camp 2 at 19,127 feet sometime over the next couple of days.

On January 5th, Andrew Pitts and Chris Whytal elected to call 15,800 feet their personal summits for the trip.  They are currently traveling home to Wash DC.

We wish them safe travels and please keep them in your prayers.

Thank you to everybody at home for your prayers and support.

We look forward to updating you on our progress soon.

Aconcagua Expedition #2 Is Ready to Go!!

After our successful climb of Aconcagua in December we have recovered and are now geared up for our second expedition for this season.  SMI guides Kurt Wedberg and April Mayhew from Aconcagua #1 will be joined  Chris Werner and Lindsay Fixmer to lead a very special group when we meet up in Mendoza as a group on December 28.

The members of this next expedition are a group of 11 motivated individuals from The Last Well.  This Washington DC based organization is dedicated to bringing clean water to the people of Liberia and beyond.  Why is this so important?




Yes you read those statistics correctly.  Pastor Todd Phillips of Mclean Bible Church in Washington DC saw those statistics too.  He decided to do something about it and The Last Well was formed.  The almost 4 million citizens of the country of Liberia have been hard hit by the lack of clean drinking water.  The mission of The Last Well is to build water wells throughout Liberia so every citizen has access to clean drinking water so vital for healthy living.  They are currently about half way through with this project and they don’t plan on stopping until “The Last Well” is built.

The Last Well first came to SMI in the spring of 2008 with a group of climbers and through a climb of Mt. Whitney (14,508′, 4422m) raised money and awareness for their cause.  They have since been to Kilimanjaro and are now ready to tackle the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere to raise more money and awareness for this very worthy cause.  These 11 motivated individuals have raised over $100,000 for The Last Well from this climb alone!!

We invite you all to follow our progress through this blog, with your positive energy, and prayers of support.  Feel free to explore the links above to learn more about this worthy cause and the people behind it.  If you feel led to get involved with The Last Well there is information on their web page about how to do so.

The climbing team with SMI guide Kurt Wedberg at a gala fundraiser in Washington DC for The Last Well in October.

Pastor Todd Phillips speaking at the October gala fundraiser for The Last Well.

Kurt Wedberg inspecting the expedition's dining/kitchen tent.

This Mountain Hardwear 18' dome tent will serve as a comfortable place for the team to eat meals and enjoy team fellowship on our way into Base Camp.

SMI guide April Mayhew just stood on the summit of Aconcagua on December 15 and is psyched and ready to go again.

SMI guide Chris Werner at 15,000' on Aconcagua January 2010.

SMI guides Kurt Wedberg and April Mayhew at 19,300' on Aconcagua Dec 14, 2010.