As I flew away from Flint
Michigan on New Year’s 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 isn’t 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 – 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 Ranger’s Hut and relaxed, wrote, and read until
dinner. In 1999 this Ranger Hut wasn’t even here. It’s amazing how things
even in this remote area have changed in a few short years. I’m sure the
amount of people climbing this mountain has brought about many of these
January 5 – 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 didn’t 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. It’s Bill,
Cathy and myself. I’m sure as each day passes and another layer of dirt
accumulates this tent will become quite fragrant.
January 6 – We weren’t in a
big hurry to get away this morning since it was a carry day to Camp one, so we
didn’t 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.
SPLASH…………my 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 – Up early to pack
up the rest of our gear and begin our move to camp one at about 9:50. My pack
doesn’t seem as heavy today and the terrain didn’t seem as difficult. We
stopped for a snack to look over the valley that we wouldn’t see again and
enjoyed the beautifully view. We arrive at camp at about 1:10 and begin to
set up our tents. It’s 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. It’s 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 it’s time to put on long underwear, because the temp is definitely
dropping. A couple of my teammates aren’t 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 I’m thankful for this.
January 8 - I’m 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 – 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 I’m not complaining I’m
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 – 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 – We are packed
and ready to move up to camp two at 10:10am. It’s 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
January 11 – It’s 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 – 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. It’s windy as usual, but the sun is shinning and the
temp is 51 degrees. I’m 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 – We are on our
way to carry to Camp Four (19,700 ft.) by 10:30am. Once again we are there by
1:30. It’s 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. I’m glad
I’m on this route. We begin to descend back to camp three and arrive at about
4:00pm. I’ve been excited the whole trip but now that we are so close, I’m
even more excited.
January 14 – The wind is
unbelievable this morning and has been most of the night. It’s 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 doesn’t blow away. We talk about
summit day, it could be tomorrow if the weather cooperates. I’m 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. I’m ready………..let’s just hope the
weather is. I climb into my bag and pray for sunny skies and light winds.
January 15 – We wake up at
6:00am after a night of some sleep but mostly listening to the winds roar.
It’s interesting, it will be calm for a minute and then it’s almost like you
can hear the wind building up and them boom, it hits the tent. I’m afraid
that we might not be able to go for the summit, but soon I hear Heidi’s voice
saying “it’s time to get up and get ready to go”. Yahoo, I can’t believe it,
it’s finally here. After hot chocolate and pop tart we assemble outside our
tents. I feel good, I feel strong, and I’m 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
aren’t 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 can’t 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 “when you are on
top, you are only half way there”. 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
couldn’t have been better. After putting this climb off since 1999, I finally
January 16 – 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 couldn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 “did you make the summit”
and when I said “Yes” 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
January 17 – 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
still plans to become the oldest American woman to summit Everest! Stay Tuned!
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