Aconcagua summit story

One of my summit-mates has written a wonderful writeup on the trip. Enjoy it!


Aconcagua summit reached!

Just a quick post - all of 2012's hard work and training paid off, as I set foot on the Western Hemisphere's highest point on 17 January 2013!

Until I post a real synopsis of the expedition, here is a link to some of my pictures: Expedition Pictures


Harney Peak Tune-up hike

Before our attempt on Wyoming's Darton Peak, we decided to tune-up on South Dakota's highest peak, Harney Peak.

View from Harney Peak Fire Lookout

The hike is 6 miles round trip, the same distance to our planned campsite on Darton Peak. We assumed this would give us a good approximation of the effort necessary to get to the Darton high camp. That was the plan at least - see the Darton Peak story for details how that turned out. 

The Harney hike was incredibly uneventful - an easy hike up to the fire lookout and an even easier hike back. It did, however, highlight two "concerns" for the main hike:

  1. Difference hiking speed - one member's "cruising" pace was (much?) faster than the other's, which could lead to premature exhaustion. 
  2. Water consumption issues - one member drank all his water before the end of the hike, whereas the other was less than half way through his. Neither condition is good - the former risks running out and the latter risks self-induced dehydration.

Since none of these issues were fatal, we left the mountain confident in our ability to tackle Darton.

As you may have guessed, Darton wasn't about to be tackled that easily.

Harney Peak Fire Lookout
... More Harney Peak & Yellowstone Pictures on Google Plus



2012/2013 Plans

It started with an innocent offer: "If you're interested, I'm leading an Aconcagua trip next January."

Two months later my schedule had changed. Injury rehabilitation dominated the last quarter of 2011 and torpedoed my January/February 2012 plans. Independently my 2013 plans were slowly falling part. Then, just before Christmas, a last chance reminder email - "So, Aconcagua? You in?"

And like that a five month acclimatization plan fall into place:

  1. August/September - South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado - An epic 9 day trip visiting/climbing Yellowstone, Pike's Peak, etc. (Final peaks still TBD - at least one 14,000' will be attempted). 
  2. November - Mexico - 7 days climbing Orizaba (18,880') and Ixtaccihuatl (17,338'). 
  3. January 2013 - Aconcagua ( 22,841') - A 24 day expedition style ascent. 

 As is par with my planning, these plans to may change. For now, however, I am officially training towards these goals.


Smart decisions don't make the papers.

"If you have to call on your last reserves just to get down a mountain, it's the simplest thing in the world to make a simple mistake, like rappelling off the end of a rope in the dark."
- David Roberts & Ed Viesturs, K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain.

A little before noon, I realized it would take all my reserves to make it - so I called it and turned back.

The plan was simple - a winter hike from the AMC's Highland Center at Crawford Notch (NH) to Zealand hut, then mount a day long (~14 hour) hike from Zealand to Bondcliff Mountain (and back).

In August or September (2011), this would have been a simple proposition. September to January focused on rehabilitating a climbing injury suffered the previous June, driven partially by my decision to ignore the injury during my 2011 trips. Given retaining peak hiking form had not been my focus, February 2012 posed a greater challenge.

The whole drive up, my fitness level plagued me - was I sufficiently in shape to tackle this "easy" hike?

The trail was so well packed, I felt comfortable leaving my snowshoes on the pack and going bare-booted (no added traction).

Although the trail was easy, I found myself stopping continuously. My pack weight (43 lbs) was too much for this early in the season. Nevertheless, I continued - employing rest steps to ease the effort - and eventually found my stride. Slowly the trek become enjoyable.

A large bump to my right leg interrupted my solitude - a large dog walked past me.

"Don't worry, he's friendly," called the dog's snowshoeing owners. Not that the dog had even noticed me.

Seeing these snowshoe clad hikers convinced me to (finally) put mine on. Unfortunately, I wasn't ready for the extra effort. Snowshoeing is not easier than hiking - for starters, rest step no longer works. In short order I was hiking in the red again (high heart rate, frequent stops).

Slowly, the plan unravelled - no more Bondcliff, then no more Hale. I was very aware that at my current level of effort, neither Bondcliff's 14 hour nor Hale's 6 hour hikes could be completed safely. Ultimately, Zealand became the only goal, until, shortly before noon, I turned back.

The purpose of this hike was to (1) winter hike in the White Mountains, (2) relax, and (3) test my current fitness level against that of August 2011. Although not the way I hoped, I achieved the first and last goals in the first hour.

Regardless how the weather turned out, I think I made the right choice. The forecast called for a cold front to bring colder temperatures and snow. Given my state, that challenge would have forced me to dredge the depths of my reserves - never a good plan.

In fact the snow and wind arrived at 12:45 and continued for two hours before clearing. The night brought more snow and a blistering wind. The next morning, snow continued though mid-morning. Although a frigid cold front was expected to push the snow away by early afternoon. By that time, I was back home.