Tuesday, March 20, 2012

So what's next...? My schedule for the next 17 months:

A lot of people have asked me what my plans are for the duration of my project. So I've decided to share with you all my itinerary for the next 17 months. The bolded items are expeditions.

Here's my timeline:

March 18th, 2012 – May 18th, 2012: Living and working in Tel Aviv, Israel. I am an intern at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

May 23rd, 2012 – May 30th, 2012: Volunteering trip to Haiti to install solar panels on the Zanmi Beni Children's Home.

May 31st, 2012 – June 13th, 2012: Elbrus Expedition with Penguin Travel. We are going up the South side. A very good friend of mine from boarding school, Helen Guo, will be joining me on this climb.

June 15th, 2012 – July 10th, 2012: Denali Expedition with Mountain Trip. We are doing the West Buttress Route.

August 1st, 2012 – August 10th, 2012: Pre-Carstensz Pyramid vacation in Bali, Indonesia. A much-needed break before the start of my Carstensz expedition.

August 12th, 2012 – August 31st, 2012: Carstensz Pyramid with Adventure Indonesia. We're doing the usual hike-in, hike-out itinerary.

September 6th, 2012 – November 6th, 2012: Political campaign internship in Washington, D.C.

November 30th, 2012 – December 18th, 2012:Vinson Massif Expedition with Mountain Trip. Hopefully with Aconcagua guide Jacob Schmitz.

December 19th, 2012 – March 28th, 2013: Fundraising for The Rainbow Summits Project/The Trevor Project in the U.S.

March 29th, 2013 – June 5th, 2013: Everest Expedition with Adventure Consultants. "The Big E." 'Nuff said.

June 20th, 2013 – August 12th, 2013: CAMES Summer Arabic Program at the American University of Beirut.

September 3rd, 2013: Register at Princeton University as a member of the Class of 2017.

Hope this clears some things up for you all! Let me know if you have any other questions about my plans. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Aconcagua: Mountain Surgery at Camp I

Remember how I said I cut up my hand by falling on a rock and had to use a Swiss Army Knife to cut off the skin? Well here's the video. Watch it and comment on how gross it is. :P

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Aconcagua Awards! (A fun way to recap...)

Funniest moment: Two words: Clint Brewer. This guy—one of my teammates—is amazing. He was one member of the group of five firemen from Fort Worth, TX climbing on the expedition. He looks (a little) like Derek Zoolander and he certainly makes the most of that similarity with numerous hilarious impressions and jokes. Whenever team morale was low, you could count on Clint to lift everyone’s spirits. 

Prettiest moment: The sunset at Camp II. Camp II (also known as “Chopper Camp” because of a helicopter crash there a couple years ago) is at the top of ridge on the North West side of the mountain. From there, on a clear day, you can see the Pacific Ocean. It’s best at sunset, though. As the sun descends behind the rest of the Andes range, it casts brilliant pink, orange, yellow, and red rays across the tops of the nearby peaks. Additionally, it illuminates the clouds and shades them multicolors as well. See the photos on the Rainbow Summits Facebook page for some pics of the sunset. (In fact, the Cover Photo of the Rainbow Summits Facebook page is a sunset pic from Camp II. 

Hardest moment: Descending from the Summit on Summit Day. It’s hard enough to get up to the summit (especially the last two hours—a slow, steep climb up the section known as the Canaletta), but coming down was certainly harder. The weather had deteriorated significantly during our 20 minutes atop the mountain. Visibility was down to less than a meter and it was a “white out” meaning it was impossible to see the snow clearly because everything was white—the snow on the ground and the snow flying into your face—so there was no contrast. Thankfully, our expert guides were able to lead us down safely and without incident. 

Scariest moment: The night after Summit Day at High Camp. The winds were blowing 70+ miles per hour and our tents were flapping so hard I was sure that they would blow away. (Our tents were only rated to 60 miles per hour.) I laid in my tent unable to sleep, both due to the extreme altitude and also the unbearable noise of the tent being ripped to shreds, and I just prayed that we would make it through the night with some sort of shelter. Sometime around 2am I finally fell asleep. When I woke up at 7:30am, The tent had caved in so much that the top was inches from my nose. Closer inspection outside the tent revealed several broken poles and a ripped vestibule. I was just thankful that Pearl and I survived the night. 

I owe my summit to…: So many people… First of all, my parents, who funded the expedition and without whom I a) wouldn’t be here and b) certainly wouldn’t be climbing mountains. Also, Jacob Schmitz—my lead guide—and his amazing guide team of Eliana Caamiano, Pablo Borjas von Bach, and Travis Williams. These guys (and girl) were amazing in every way and I give all of them a big thumbs up. If you ever get the chance to do an expedition with one of these guys, take it! You won’t regret it. 

Biggest mistake: Tripping at base camp and ripping up my hand… that was just so stupid. It’s difficult for one’s body to heal itself at altitude—the immune system really takes a hit when you go above 4000m. So gashing my hand open was probably not the smartest move…luckily, my hand healed. For more on this, see the video of my cutting the skin off of the wound on Facebook. It’s not as gross as it sounds…I promise.  

Proudest part: Staying positive. It’s very difficult to maintain a positive and optimistic attitude on the mountain, but I feel like I managed to do it. My personal philosophy is that if you can’t genuinely smile at any random moment, you’re doing something wrong. I tried to live this philosophy and the mountain and I’m very proud that I was able to do so. 

Most annoying part: Having to use a water bottle as a pee bottle at High Camp the night after Summit Day because the weather was too bad to go outside and I had already filled up my other pee bottle! 

Best part: Calling my family to tell them that I summited successfully down at Plaza de Mulas Base Camp. 

Reflections on the Stone Sentinel

Wow. What an amazing expedition. First of all, for the record, I summited Aconcagua at 3:10pm on February 24th, 2012, on Day 12 of the expedition. But this trip was so much more than that brief moment at the summit. I’d heard that Aconcagua was considered to be one long, ugly slog uphill but in reality it was so much better than that. The mountain is beautiful in its own way. As you ascend the mountain, the red rock of the hike in gives way to magnificent glaciers and some epic alpine scenery. It was not as difficult as I expected, though I had the benefit of having a porter, Mariano (who is climbing Everest without oxygen this spring!) help me carry my gear. Compared to the Machame Route on Kilimanjaro, I would say that Aconcagua is only noticeably harder if you don’t use a porter. The two summit days are equally hard in my opinion, for different reasons. Whereas Kilimanjaro is difficult because the first ~7 hours are spent hiking uphill in the dark, Aconcagua is tough because of the extreme cold and the Canaletta, which is the hardest part of the whole mountain.

And now back home...

We hiked out from Base Camp to Penitentes two days ago and drove back from Pentitentes to Mendoza yesterday. Last night we had our celebratory team dinner in Mendoza (typical Argentina meat and wine, of course!). It was so delicious and we were all still on an endorphin high from the expedition. I am sad to be leaving all my teammates who now feel like family to me. They are great guys and girls. I’ll miss them a lot. Hopefully we will get together again the future and climb another mountain! I’m heading off to the airport now to catch my flight home. I can’t wait to see my family!

A great group picture of the team as we hike out of the national park. What an amazing expedition!

Descent to Plaza de Mulas Base Camp (February 25th)

The weather only got worse. After a terrifying night of 80+mph winds (our tent got totally shredded), we packed up our stuff quickly in the morning and began to climb down to Plaza de Mulas Base Camp. The weather had not improved at all and visibility was still low. The only thing better about today was that we were getting more and more oxygen as we descended. (It’s amazing how much of a difference 1000ft can make.) Also, going down—after 12 days of climbing up—is not easy on the toes. I think many of us will lose several toenails by the end of this expedition… We made it down to Base Camp after 4-5 hours. Everyone was exhausted yet ecstatic. An amazing dinner (and cold beers!) awaited us. I called my parents for the first time on the entire expedition and told them I summited. They were very proud! I am so happy!

Midway down the descent from the summit. I'm in red second from the front.

SUMMIT DAY! (February 24th)

What a day! I summited Aconcagua (6,962m above sea level) with 8 of my teammates and 3 guides at 3:10pm on February 24th, 2012. This was the 12th day of the expedition, and a couple days ahead of schedule. Thank goodness for lead guide Jacob’s plan to push up early because as soon as we reached the summit, the weather started getting really bad. We are all safe at High Camp again now with no injuries or sicknesses. Here is a recap of the Summit Day itinerary:
We woke up at 5am (the guides woke up at 3am to boil down snow for drinking water) and left just after 6am. The sun doesn’t rise until after 7am, so it was very cold starting out in the darkness (approximately -20 degrees Fahrenheit). I slept in my clothes to make departing the warmth of my sleeping bag easier. We put on our crampons (some of my teammates were putting them on for the first time!) and started up towards the summit. After about an hour and a half, the sun began to rise and it started to get warmer. Up until that point, I had to kick my boots into the snow with every step in order to maintain feeling in my toes. One of the things I’ve learned about mountain climbing is that you only get frostbite or things like that if you don’t pay attention. My coach in New Zealand, Lydia Bradey, once gave me a lecture on frostbite that went something like this: “If your toes or fingers get cold, I’ll tell you to wriggle them. You do NOT stop wriggling them. If you complain they get cold and you aren’t wriggling them, you’re just asking to get frostbite. Cason, you don’t understand, you do NOT get frostbite. Getting frostbite means you failed.” So I used a lot of energy to keep my appendages nice and warm (my great gear—the Scarpa Inverno boots and Black Diamond Guide Gloves—didn’t hurt either…). By midday, we reached the Gran Acquiero, which is a long, exposed (read: steep) traverse that can get really dangerous in high wind conditions. Luckily, our conditions were turning out to be perfect…barely any wind, few clouds, bright sun, so that wasn’t an issue. The traverse was when most of the team really began to feel the altitude. Our pace slowed a little and people began to breathe very heavily. We finally reached the end of the traverse, a place called “the cave” because of the large overhang that shelters the location. We took a long break there and Jacob told us we were only 2 hours from the summit. Then began the hardest part of the day: the Canaletta. We were only 2 hours from the summit—so close—yet so far as well. The Canaletta is a very steep section that is relatively short but, at over 6,800m, becomes extraordinarily difficult. This is when I began thinking of my family and of my coach Lydia and how proud they would be of me when I summited. I began to cry as we took our last break, only 10 minutes from the top. It was truly only just sinking in that I was actually going to summit Aconcagua. The final push was easy (since we were all operating on adrenaline then) and suddenly we stepped up and onto the top of the Americas, 6,962m high. Three crosses mark the summit—dedications to climbers who have passed away attempting this “Stone Sentinel.” We spent about 20-30 minutes celebrating and taking pictures before beginning our descent. Now, when you climb a mountain, you’re only halfway done when you reach the top. If I didn’t understand it before, I certainly learned this lesson on Aconcagua. The weather had gotten much, much worse while we were on top, and going down took supreme effort from each one of us. Due to very low visibility, we climbed down very close to one another so that no one would get lost. After an hour of tense climbing on steep terrain, we finally made it back to “the cave.” We rested there before continuing down to High Camp. As we descended (at this point, we had been climbing for over 12 hours), we began to struggle from both the conditions and from dehydration, since we each only had 2 liters for the whole day. Thankfully, we all made it safely back to High Camp and immediately began resting. Tomorrow is our last real day of the expedition! I can’t believe how quickly it has all gone…

Our expedition reaches the summit! 6,962m above sea level. What an amazing feeling...

Move to High Camp! (February 23rd)

So our lead guide Jacob came up from Base Camp late yesterday with good news and bad news. The bad news is that a massive storm with very high winds (NOT good) was coming in starting the 25th (in two days) and lasting for five days after that. The good news is that we have options. He gave us two options: first, to wait out the storm at Camp II and try to summit after. This would mean that at least one of our group would probably miss her flight. The second option—which he recommended—was that we expedite our itinerary, move up to High Camp then summit the next day, on the 24th. The group decided on the latter option unanimously. We are all very excited to be moving up and to summit, but we are also kind of nervous because this means we will not have as much time to acclimatize. We are up at High Camp now and already one of our teammates has to go down in the morning and a couple more are not feeling 100%. I myself am paranoid about getting altitude headaches. None yet, so hopefully I’ll be ok. 9 of the 12 of us that started are pushing up to the summit at 5am tomorrow.

The going starts to get tougher... 

Rest Day at Camp II (February 22nd)

We’re really getting into a rythmn now. We moved up to Camp I, carried half our gear up to Camp II, then moved up to Camp II with the rest of our gear yesterday. Now we’re taking a rest day here because one of our teammates—a great Aussie guy named Chris—had to go down to Base Camp last night. He had serious facial edema (swelling) and his blood-oxygen levels were very low, meaning he was not acclimatizing to the altitude. We are very sad to see him go down. We have now lost 2 of our group of 12. Hopefully no one else will get injured or sick! On an entirely different note, the view from Camp II is unreal. It’s at times like this where I feel the majesty of nature and the extraordinary beauty of our earth. I can’t wait to upload pics.

The group taking a break mid-mountain. I'm in blue second from right.

Second Rest Day at Base Camp (February 18th)

After our carry up to Camp I yesterday, one of our teammates—Jake, a firefighter from Fort Worth, TX—was not feeling well (he vomited on the way down from Camp I) and had really low blood pressure. The doctor gave him some medicine but unfortunately he has not improved so he will be medevac’d out by helicopter tomorrow. We are all very sad to see him go. On a slightly more positive note, the teammate who got hit by the rock slide yesterday is in good spirits after some rest (and painkillers). Her leg is starting to bruise up really badly, but she is going to soldier on with us.

Carry Day to Camp I (February 17th)

Today we carried up half of our group and team gear to Camp I, where we cached it and returned down to Base Camp. This format—climb high, sleep low—is a technique we will utilize throughout the entire expedition. It was a pretty uneventful day until the descent to Base Camp. About halfway down (it is a 7 hour climb up and a 3 hour climb down), two of my teammates were traversing a steep scree (loose rock) slope and one of them slipped a little, causing several relatively large rocks (about the size of a melon) to come rolling down. As I watched, these rocks picked up speed and then slammed into one of my teammates. Suddenly we all heard screams of pain as she crumpled to the ground. Luckily for her and all of us, the rockslide did not get any worse. However, the injured teammate was not in good condition. A big rock had struck her right leg above her knee. She could walk (barely), which meant it was not broken. One of the guides assisted her down to Base Camp while we went on ahead. Not sure whether she will be able to continue with us. I certainly hope so! She is a trooper and has a very high pain tolerance, so I’m confident in her ability to summit. What a scary way to end the day though. I hope no one else is injured.

Rest Day at Base Camp (February 14th)

After a beautiful and relatively relaxed 3-day hike in, we’re now at Plaza Argentina base camp. This is one of two base camps on the mountain, the other being Plaza de Mulas (where we will end the expedition). Plaza Argentina is much smaller than Plaza de Mulas and it’s practically empty now since we are one of three expeditions left on the mountain (the commercial season ends at the beginning of February). Base Camp offers several amenities to those already needing a piece of home. Most notably, there is internet and phone access, cheeseburgers, showers, and—the popular favorite—Coca Cola. The food at Base Camp is unreal. There is a kitchen tent and the cooks served us some delicious stuff. Today, we ate pizzas with pepper and olives on top. Yum! For dinner is a traditional Argentine steak. I can’t wait… Also, a funny story… Last night I refilled my water in the kitchen tent and discovered a couple of the guides, some porters, and the kitchen staff playing drinking games there! For those of us new to the mountain (i.e. all the clients), alcohol is not recommended since it can hamper one’s ability to acclimatize. But I guess it’s ok for the others to drink!