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  Climbing Mt. Aconcagua Ė Nancy A. Norris


Copyright©Eugene Owens

As I flew away from Flint Michigan on New Yearís Eve I was excited and a little nervous.  You see I had been to this big bad mountain in 1999 and the outcome had been less than I had expected and desired, but now I had a few years of climbing experience and maybe this, along with good weather would make the difference.

January 1 Ė Arrived in Mendoza Argentina at 11:00 am.  Tom, Bill and I had been on the same flight, and big smiles crossed our faces as we watched our gear come off the belt, what a relief.  Our guide Heidi was there to meet us and we traveled to the Grand Balbi Hotel.  After checking in, we had lunch and then went back to the hotel to begin sorting gear and having Heidi check it out.  After a couple of hours we were sure we only had what we needed and nothing extra.  Cathy had arrived by 6:00pm so our whole group assembled at dinner.  Heidi, Sierra (assistant guide), Cathy, Tom, Bill and myself.

January 2 Ė We stored extra gear at the hotel and grabbed our duffels and were off to get our permits.  Permits certainly have increased in price since 1999 when it was $100.00, now it is (for the Upper Vascas route) $500.00.  After getting our permits we climbed on the bus for our  three and a half hour drive to Pennitentes.  It is a beautiful drive, now getting closer and closer to the mountains, so the time went by very quickly.  When we checked into the next hotel, we packed again.  This time we needed one duffle that would be loaded on a mule for transportation to base camp.  Our packs for the first three days would be light.  After a nice dinner, we retired to our rooms where I dreamed of summits and prayed for good weather and good health.

January 3 Ė We finally got underway at about 10:45am and we took off at the same trailhead where my 1999 climb had begun.  The first day isnít too long, only about 8 or 9 miles, but in the 90 degree weather and above 7,000 feet, we still felt it.  I was excited to finally begin.  At about 4:50pm we arrived at camp 1 (Papas Lenus) after about six hours of walking.  We were at 9,200 ft.   We found some shade and just sat, relaxed and drank for a little while.  Everyone was feeling good except Bill had a pretty bad cold and I had a little one.  We all had a pretty good nights sleep and were anxious to get going again.

January 4 Ė We got up about 7:00am and started on our way about 8:20am.  We had just walked a short way and then we crossed the river via a bridge.  There was no bridge here in 99 and back then we had crossed by mule.  It was another great day, walking about 12 miles.  It was 90 degrees and not very windy in the beginning but as our day progressed it became extremely windy.  After six hours and 20 minutes we arrived at camp 2 (Casa du Piedra) 10,300ft.  On our way today we saw two beautiful  Juanacos.  The only Juanaco I saw on my last trip was a dead one, so this trip was proving to be better already.  After setting up our tents I found a patch of shade by the Rangerís Hut and relaxed, wrote, and read until dinner.  In 1999 this Ranger Hut wasnít even here.  Itís amazing how things even in this remote area have changed in a few short years.  Iím sure the amount of people climbing this mountain has brought about many of these changes.

January 5 Ė We began at about 8:20am again this morning and knew this would be the longest day so far as we would travel about 14 miles.  I think my body is beginning to acclimate because today didnít seem as long and hard.  It took us about seven and a half hours.  The winds were pretty fierce today but the temperature was only about 82.  Heidi went ahead of us so she could help unload the gear from the mules, so Sierra was our fearless leader for the day.  By the time we got to Base Camp Heidi had our tents set up and we were pretty much alone.  This is one of the reasons I chose this route.  I wanted it to be a wilderness experience and not be in the heavy crowds of the normal route.  We saw three more beautiful Juanacos today.  After dinner we retired to our three-person tent.  Itís Bill, Cathy and myself.  Iím sure as each day passes and another layer of dirt accumulates this tent will become quite fragrant.

January 6 Ė We werenít in a big hurry to get away this morning since it was a carry day to Camp one, so we didnít leave until about 10:15.  Earlier this morning I went down to the river to fill my water bottles and thought the rocks just looked wet but it was actually ice covering the rocks.  Well, as I stepped on a rock to begin filling my bottle I never dreamed that I would be taking a bath, but I did.   SPLASHÖÖÖÖmy foot slipped off the rock and I was in the freezing cold river.  I was up and out of the river in no time, squishing my way back to my tent.  Everyone had a good laugh about that, including myself.  We traveled for more than three hours over some pretty rough terrain, but the amazing and beautiful views along with the great feeling you have of carrying that heavy pack made it a great day.  After stashing our loads, filling water bottles, and eating, we began our descent back to base camp.  While we were gone another group has moved into base camp. After filling my belly with a big pasta dinner, I very happily climb into my bag to read and then sleep to ready myself for tomorrow.

January 7 Ė Up early to pack up the rest of our gear and begin our move to camp one at about 9:50.  My pack doesnít seem as heavy today and the terrain didnít seem as difficult.  We stopped for a snack to look over the valley that we wouldnít see again and enjoyed the beautifully view.  We arrive at camp at about 1:10 and begin to set up our tents.  Itís only 79 degrees today.  We can see the summit of Aconcagua from this camp and it looks like there is a big storm up there today, you can even hear the winds.  Itís sounds like we are sitting by a busy highway.  After the tent is up and water bottles filled we just relax for a while, then itís time to put on long underwear, because the temp is definitely dropping.  A couple of my teammates arenít feeling well today and one of them has been here before as I have and neither of us want to come back for a third go at it, so I hope we all make it to the summit.  Had a big dinner of mac and cheese with tuna, one of my favorites and I am full.  I have never lost my appetite at altitude (always asking for seconds) and Iím thankful for this.

January 8 -  Iím up about 8:45 and Heidi decides that today should be a rest day.  No one argues.  After breakfast I went down to the river and washed out a few things and aired out my sleeping bag as well.  The sky is clear and its sunny with just a little chill in the air.  It looks like a perfect day for those that were ready for a summit attempt because it looks calm on top.  After lunch Bill and I decide to take a hike to the top of the ridge behind our tent.  We are only gone about an hour and a half but it feels so good to be doing something.  After a great day I climb into my bag, excited about the carry up to camp two tomorrow.

January 9 Ė We get up about 8:00 and have breakfast and begin to load our pack for the carry today.  We begin about 10:20 and my pack feels very heavy, but Iím not complaining Iím just happy with the good weather, good health and moving up the mountain.  It takes us a little over three hours to get to Camp two (15,300 ft) and the terrain is really tough.  So much scree to deal with on Aconcagua Ė you take a step up and then slide back down a few inches.  It is another beautiful day.  After we stash our gear we have lunch and enjoy our new scenery for the next hour and a half.  It took us only an hour to get back down to camp one, and I am so happy that the weather is remaining good and that I am feeling strong.  After dinner we are so full and we decide to have dessert in about an hour.  The temp is dropping so Heidi brings our evening hot drinks to our tent, and we stay in our bags to enjoy them.

January 10 Ė We are packed and ready to move up to camp two at 10:10am.  Itís another beautiful day on Aconcagua, sunny and 68 degrees.   It takes us three hours to move up to our camp.  My pack is lighter today so the climb seems easier even though it takes about the same amount of time.  We get our tents set up again and make them feel like home moving in our gear.  We also take a walk up on the ridge above us so we can get a good look at some of the trail we will be on to carry to Camp three.  We have a nice water supply close by as we have in our other camps, so gathering water is never a problem.  Certain times of the day the water is cleaner than at other times when it can be very muddy.  At 9:00pm it is 47 degrees so we get comfortable in our bags for the night.  We hear there are about 13 people at camp three, but they will probably move up before we do.

January 11 Ė Itís 10:45am and we are packed and ready to carry to camp three at 17,200 ft.  We arrive at camp three at about 1:50pm, but all of us agree that it seemed harder today  than the carry from one to two.  There is this huge rock on the ridge before the final approach to camp three that never seemed to get any closer every time I would look up.  Finally I just stopped looking at it.  The temp was 50 degrees when we arrived at camp three, sunny and windy.  There were four other tents there, but no one around, so apparently they were carrying up to four.  My skin is so dry that my thumb split a couple of days ago.  Today when I pulled off my glove part of it stayed in the wound.  Oh well.

January 12 Ė After breakfast we pack up the rest of our gear and are ready to move to camp three at about 10:30.  It takes us about three hours again and by 3:30pm we have camp all set up and are relaxing.  Itís windy as usual, but the sun is shinning and the temp is 51 degrees.  Iím still traveling well and feeling strong in spite of a little sore throat.  By 7:00pm it is starting to feel cooler so I move into the tent to get warm.  The tents that were here yesterday are gone so they have moved up as well.   

January 13 Ė We are on our way to carry to Camp Four (19,700 ft.) by 10:30am.  Once again we are there by 1:30.  Itís sunny, 41 degrees and only a slight wind.  There are about 10 tents at this camp.  A  man from Boston tells us his son tried for the summit today and had to turn around because of altitude sickness  He also tells me that another high camp using the normal route has over 100 people.  Iím glad Iím on this route.  We begin to descend back to camp three and arrive at about 4:00pm.  Iíve been excited the whole trip but now that we are so close, Iím even more excited.

January 14 Ė The wind is unbelievable this morning and has been most of the night.  Itís so bad that you actually feel like the tent might blow away, even if we are in it.  We get our gear packed and are ready to move to camp four at 10:15.  The wind continues to blow so hard that sometimes I am knocked off balance as I walk and other times I actually have to stop and brace myself against the force.  The temp is much colder today as well.  Surprisingly, we arrive at camp four in about three hours.  Everyone we saw yesterday has moved down so it is just our group and one other.   It is so windy that it is hard getting the tents up.  We need more hands to insure the tent doesnít blow away.  We talk about summit day, it could be tomorrow if the weather cooperates.  Iím getting even more excited.  After dinner I prepare for the morning so there will be less to do to get ready.  I have everything ready for my pack and put on two set of long underwear to sleep in and then will just have to put gortex pants, fleece jacket and gortex jacket on in the morning.  Iím readyÖÖÖ..letís just hope the weather is.  I climb into my bag and pray for sunny skies and light winds.

January 15 Ė We wake up at 6:00am after a night of some sleep but mostly listening to the winds roar.  Itís interesting,  it will be calm for a minute and then itís almost like you can hear the wind building up and them boom, it hits the tent.  Iím afraid that we might not be able to go for the summit, but soon I hear Heidiís voice saying ďitís time to get up and get ready to goĒ. Yahoo, I canít believe it, itís finally here.  After hot chocolate and pop tart we assemble outside our tents.  I feel good, I feel strong, and Iím ready.  We begin our climb at 7:00am and it is 14 degrees.  It feels even colder that that because of the strong winds.  We begin climbing and everything is going well.  Probably an hour passes before we see anyone else.  Now we see a few people coming back down, but we press on.  The winds actually start to calm down a bit and really arenít a problem for us.  As we get higher and higher we start to see more people.  Maybe a total of 75 by the end of the day.  We finally see the candeletta and there are about 20 people taking a break, eating and drinking.  By the time we get there they have moved onward.  We take the same break and decide to leave our crampons here since there is very little snow.  Heidi also tells us we can drop our packs but I decide to take mine because I want my down jacket in case I need it and also I carry pictures of my family, and a medal like the one the Queen gave Edmond Hillary after climbing Mt. Everest in 1953.  We begin our final assent and I canít believe that I am this close.  Moving of course at this altitude slows down a bit, but we keep climbing and at 3:25 pm on Saturday, January 15th we stand on top of the highest mountain in South America.  We are all very excited and share many hugs with each other and take the usual round of summit pictures.  There is a register to sign on top so we do.  After spending only about 30 minutes on top, we decide that we should begin our way down, remembering the old saying that ďwhen you are on top, you are only half way thereĒ.  We begin our descent and as I slide in the scree,  I end up on my butt a couple of times, but we walk back into our camp at 7:00pm.  What a wonderful, glorious 12 hours, it was a hard day but it couldnít have been better.  After putting this climb off since 1999, I finally made it.

January 16 Ė We woke up a little later than usual and after a light breakfast we packed up our things to move down the mountain.  Kathy, Bill and I began our descent at about 10:15 and arrived at Base Camp on the normal route at 1:30.  Even though we were sliding in the scree all the way we often stopped to talk to groups moving up and there were a lot of them.  Many were anxious to hear if we made it to the top, what the weather was like, etc.  We even passed a group of military men out on a training climb, all dressed in either bright red, or camouflage.  When I first got a look at base camp I couldnít believe how many people were there.  This made me even happier that I had climbed the Upper Vascas route.  When we found our way to our destination, we were brought juice and a pizza.  Back home at a restaurant you wouldnít even look twice at a pizza like this, but up here it tasted fantastic.  The rest of our group joined us in a few hours.    Heidi got her sat phone out and I made a call to my daughter Amy in Michigan.  As soon as she heard my voice she shouted ďdid you make the summitĒ and when I said ďYesĒ she was shouting for joy.  She told me she would call my other children in California and give them the good news.  I was so excited to talk to at least one of my kids.  We walked around and checked out several spots in camp and ended up in a little bar and had a drink to celebrate.  After a good dinner we moved the dinning table out and put our pads and bags down on the ground to sleep.  We were awake for a while by people celebrating something, but that was okay because we were on our way down after a successful trip. 

January 17 Ė After breakfast we stood around for a while waiting for the mules, but then Heidi said we could get started after we checked out at the ranger station.  Bill and I started out followed by Tom and Kathy.  It was another beautiful day.  To make this part of the story short, this day seemed to go on forever.   I think we were just anxious to get off the mountain and to our hotel and shower off 2 and one half weeks of grunge.  After 8 hours of walking we finally made it to the trailhead.  After collecting all of our gear we were on the bus and on our way to Mendoza.  Since we would be getting back in town late we decided to stop for dinner.  We were all so hungry.  My first off the mountain meal was salad, French fries and pizza.  It tasted so good.  We arrived at our hotel at 12:30am and after checking in I took a very long shower and then finished it off by soaking in a hot bath.  I spent the next two days emailing family, friends, buying gifts,  and having lovely lunches and dinners.  I was back home on Friday January 21st thankful that I had such a wonderful and safe adventure. Nancy

Nancy Norris still plans to become the oldest American woman to summit Everest! Stay Tuned!

Nancy Norris: What are you waiting for?

Cho Oyu Dispatches Ta-She-Day-Lay from Shegatsi

Dispatch Index; Team Dispatches

 

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