Tuesday, March 13, 2012

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...

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