A big congratulations to our second Aconcagua team of the season for reaching the summit on January 12, 2014! 100% of the group made it to the top of South America and back safely. For Bob, Joe, and Joey Szalkiewicz this climb also marked the 3rd of their continental summits having previously ascended Kilimanjaro (African continent) and Mt. Elbrus (European continent). Joey and Gianni Scuncio were the youngest on the team at 16 years old. The climb was a new altitude record for everybody. Impressively, Gianni’s previous altitude record was San Gorgonio in Southern California at 11,499’/3505m.
Aconcagua requires a 3-day trek into Base Camp. Most of the team’s gear for the 2+ week expedition was brought in on mules. Joining us on the trek into Base Camp was Kym and Brittany Szalkiewicz who rode with our “arieros” (Argentine mule drivers) each day. Kym and Brittany remained with the climbing team while they acclimatized at Base Camp (13,747’/4200m) for four days then rode out and stayed in the sleepy city of Mendoza soaking up the summertime sun and sampling delicious Argentine cuisine until the climbing team returned.
The expedition began with the weather being clear but windy. As the team moved above Base Camp they set in three higher camps at 5060m/16,600’, 5480m/17,978’, and 5970m/19,586’. After the team reached their highest camp on January 11 a snowstorm came in during the afternoon dropping 6-12 inches of new snow. The team was undeterred though and during the night the storm left leaving a clear day in its wake.
Lead guide Kurt Wedberg woke at 3:20am on January 12 and looked out of his tent. The night sky was void of clouds revealing a huge blanket of stars in all directions. The team was woken up and preparations began for summit day as stoves were lit, breakfast made, and water bottles were topped off.
One of the joys of early morning starts on summit day are the views as the sun crests the horizon. Today’s sunrise didn’t disappoint as Aconcagua’s shadow was cast over the Andean foothills far below. The team put on crampons at 6188m/20,300’ to gain extra traction in the new snow and frozen dirt. At 6400m/21,000’ the team caught up to a few others parties on the mountain. After an efficient rest break and no other parties eager to venture off into the lead the team set off ahead and ended up breaking trail for the last 1841’. As the air got thin the team’s progress slowed to a rhythmical pace of 2-4 deep breaths per step. With clear weather and no wind the team stepped out on the summit of the highest mountain in South America at 1:30pm. After some congratulatory pictures and hugs for a job well done the team ate and drank then descended back the way they came.
The rendezvous back in Mendoza brought the entire team back together where celebrations ensued. The highlight was dinner at the famous 1884 Francis Mallmann restaurant.
Congratulations to everybody on a great accomplishment!!
A few pictures are below. The entire photo gallery can be found here.