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. 

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