Saturday, January 7, 2012

Summit Day Summary

Here is a summary of our summit day for January 1, 2012.  The trip itself went really well, there a few times where there was some un-anticipated stress but the guides and the team worked through it very well.

As other posts described we make carryś to a higher camp then the following day or soon there after we make a move of the camp.  We do these steps to lighten our loads and gradually work ourselves into position for the summit. On the 30th we had a rest day at camp 2 which was 16,400 feet approx.  On that day we practiced our self arrest techniques and crampon walking in the lower glacier.

The next day, December 31st, we moved the rest of our gear including our tents and sleepping bags up to 19.800.  The weight was around 40 or 50 pounds depending on how much gear you had to hump up.  3,400 foot move at that altitude is not easy and the prior move was a bit tiresome for me 2 days before.  This time the move was easier because I had already gone up that route and I knew this was the last camp we had to move.

We got there at about 2:30 in the afternoon which was perfect because that gave us time to set up our tents and get organized for our summit bid that was going to happen at 5:15 am January 1.  Eben and the team were going to watch the weather to decide if we got up any earlier for a summit bid.

From the time you get to your last camp you are thinking of everything I have what it takes, will I bonk, will the weather get crazy, how tired will I be, will anyone else need help.  Thank goodness for Nicky, she kept me calm because my mind has a tendancy to run wild, especially since I had been there before.

Eben, Kelly and Martin (Marteen) did a great job setting up our minds for the next day.  We had the traditional big pasta meal and talked about keeeping our heads on and just focusing on our Breathing, Eating and Drinking...not so much the summit.  Eben decided that we will get up a 3:45 am to get our geat together, harness on, boots and get boots to the hill by 5:15.  The weather was looking good.

We all went to "bed" about 6:30 or 7:00, Nicky was smart, she brought ear plugs...they say I snore.  Of course I snore, I have allergies and slight sleep apnea so breathing at night is not the best for me, not to mention that 19,800 really stinks for me.  Basically just about every mountain up high sleeping is almost non existant.  I probably fall asleeep for one hour then back up for another hour.  At those altitudes your body wakes you up if you do not get enough oxygen and you just have to breath through it.

3:45 am January 1, 2012:
Eben walked the camp and got everyone one up.  The guides had been heating water so we were good to go with hot drinks and oatmeal.  I ate my share along with a Hammer Nutrion bar as I got booted and suited.  It was pretty cold.  I had on 3 base layer shirts, a down vest and a Jacket 800 goose down fill.  My gloves were medium weight with the heavy weightes tucked away in an outside pocket of my pack.  Every jacket I was wearing had snacks in their pockets, this way, whatever layer I was wearing had food within reach.  Average summit day you will burn about 10,000 calories according to Eben and the guide team.  Yes do the math, nobody is making a lunch for us on the way up the hill so you are starving yourself to death while you are going up hill...painful diet.

The start of the climb was nice and steady.  Since we move very slowly about 1 hour into the climb the sun was coming up and that is the time of the day when all hope and promise of a summit shine.  The views at that altitude during sunrise are just wonderful.  This was a special day, no wind to speak of, there was a fresh snowfall that evening, it was just pristine.  By the time we moved up a few hundred feet, I looked back to see a few teams right behind us.  Eben was breaking the soft trail as we moved up.  Not much to say for the next few hours except we were all focused, watching our steps, breathing and at breaks eating and drinking.

About a 2 hours into it we started to approach the pitch to camp indepencia.  Just below the ridge we stopped for a break and to put on our crampons along with another layer if necessary, and our goggles. Simply put, we were passing through an agressive part of the mountain.

As we started walking on the mixed rock, snow and ice of the Indepencia area the wind let us know that it was cold out.  I am glad that I got out my heavier gloves, that was a smart move.  The wind was pretty strong, I have felt stronger on this mountain so I could deal with the 20-30 mph gusts, and it was just for about 30 minutes max.

After that section we had to do the traverse across and past devils thumb.  By this time one of the teamates was feeling a little beat up and slow so Kelly stayed with Laura while Eben and Martin kept pushing along with the rest of the group.  At no time did we not see Kelly and Laura, they were only 30 minutes behind us at all times so maybe Indepencia was just a little less kind to Laura.

As all of us pushed onto the area called the Cave, the Hammer of Aconcogua was felt.  Just about everyone was starting to feel the altitude and steps were a little slower.  The sun was still out, winds were light and everyone knew this is when mountaineering decides what happens next.

As we were making our way up the area called the cantaletta, the challenges started to present themselves.  You can look straight up at the summit, about 800-850 above you as you work up a pretty sharp pitch.  Then the call from below happened.

Martin, who is 30 years young, has been on the mountain since he was 15, a guide for about 6, years, knows absolutely everyone on the mounatin, is a fantastic cook, skilled climber...he calls up for Eben to come back down to him at the back of our group.  We all knew something was wrong.  Eben says to us "you are all safe right where you are, just stay there"  I get our another layer, snacks and drinks thinking there is something going on but I just better keep taking care of myself.  After about 5 minutes Eben turns back around from the rock and says with a clear voice "Martin has Cerebrial Adema, he is going down"  To a climber that means certain death if you stay at altitude and also at any time you could just fall over.  As we find out, he had numbness in his arm, could not speak, and was just losing it.  It was Martin that told Eben that he was going down alone.  I have know Martin from the last time I was here and you can change a mules mind easier than his.  Martin was radioing as he want down and kept saying he was getting better so the worry faded.

As we stepped up the mountain everyone was getting slower, finally about 250 feet from the summit you can see that Eben was about to make a decision.  He looked at Nicky and I and said if you want to go for the summit go ahead, so Nicky and I pushed on.  More impressively Dan Talbert came out from just behind Nicky and I and basically ran up the the summit, I kid you not, he was flying.  Nicky said "he is a billy goat".  When we got to the summit, there he was smiling from ear to ear and said "I dont know what happened, I just felt great.

We spend our 20 minutes of glory on the top, took pictures and were getting ready to go down.  This was now about 1:45.  The next part was interesting.  As you know the summit is half way and of course this is Aconcogua.  Yep, that means there was storm upon us.  Mini ball bearing snow pelting your face, light winds, lower visibility.  Eben asked that Nicky and I start people down as he waited for Kelly and Laura where were about 100 feet below the summit.  I took the lead and brought people down about 350 feet to a landing where we regrouped and waited for Eben.  Then Nicky took us down to the cave where Eben left a dromedary bag of water for us.  By this time there is a good inch or two on the ground.  People were moving slowly down the mountain and there a few minor slip and falls causing some concern.  At the cave, everyone looked like they were just in an MMA fight.  Nicky and I flilled up water bottles for everyone that could dig a bottle out of their pack.

Eben wanted us to keep moving but you could see they needed a break.  There was another team coming down with us and Eben asked if a few of the team can leave with them.  They offered but said if some one does not keep up, they will leave us at the next major point on the mountain.  Eben asked who wanted to press on, and Nicky Dan and I immediatly said yes, Chris later told us that about 250 feet after the cave he felt like superman.  With the mountains I feel that there is an imaginary line for everyone, every day that is the crushing point.  In other words, you could be super strong, but when you cross that line your body just plain hates you.  The storm was full on by this piont.  The guide looked us dead in the eye and said "you can come as long as you are sure that I will leave you if you do not keep up and you will be completely on your own and it is not my problem" We looked at the guide and at Eben and said we completely understand and accept the consequences.  Off we went.  For the next 2 hours it was very interesting.  The guide temporarily got lost, then again found the trail.  One guy on their team was sitting down and his helmet just fell off and went rolling down the hill, as everyone just stood there and watched.  Because we were moving quickly and since we did not know these people we just pressed into the white darnkess with blind faith.  My face was getting hammered because we left so quickly that I did not get a chance to adjust my clothing.  Myself Dan and Nicky did not wat to ask fot he opportunity to adjust since we just wanted to get out of the storm.  They got lost again but pulled out their GPS to get a bearing which got us there.  No kidding, 50 feet was max and you could not see a single contour of the hill.

When Nicky Dan and myself got to our camp we found Martin in the tent making water.  Of course I yelled at him and said to get down, but he said he was OK now, which I still do not belive.  We tried to contact Eben but there were no coms with the storm that was going on so we had no idea when they would get back.  The three of us got our water bottles and crawled into our tents to wait for their arrival.  It was only an hour later when they returned.  Eben told a story of their challenges returning to camp and it sounded similar to our trip back down.

The guides scraped together a mash potato meal which I gladly ate, then we all went to bed.  The next morning, the storm had stopped and we were all looking at each other saying we just summited on new years day...pretty cool New Years.

We packed up camp and actually had a few porters come up to take some fo our loads.  This is a luxury that I did not take the last time but I thought why not make it easy on my knees this time.

We dropped from 19,800 to 14,410 in 2hours 30 minutes, record time according to Eben.  We were all happy to be down and kicked back with some wine and beers in base camp.

I was pretty happy that it was over and I cannot thank the group enough for a great climb.  Special thanks to my tent mate Nicky who is not only a good tent mate but an accomplished climber.  When you are with someone who has skills you automatically have to raise your skills so I know she was a great help.  We were also lucky to  be tenting next to Chris and Dan, two really cool guys with great spirits.

See everyone soon, after the 10th in DC.

Sorry for typos, the spell check is in Spanish so every word is underllined.


  1. You guys are truly amazing... great recap - I take it Martin is ok?

  2. Yep Martin is fine. Going for a cat scan to double check

  3. Yep Martin is fine. Going for a cat scan to double check

  4. Congratulations Bob! Sounds like a succdssful, fun trip! Look forward tfo hearing your stories when you catch your breath back in DC