Day 9 – To the top of the Americas, Aconcagua

January 7th

I slept on and off restless for this day to come. I was worried that we might have to turn back part way from exhaustion or symptoms of HACE (high altitude cerebral edema) or HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema) or any other number of issues.

The morning came early 4:30am. We were reluctant to climb out of our cozy warm sleeping bags but needed to start boiling water. There seemed to be a strong wind pounding the side of the tent but I could hear others rousing in their own tents getting ready to go. The water seemed to take even longer this morning. I guess a watched pot does take longer to boil.

At 7:15, with the sun just rising, we desperately choked down some granola bars, and with the water bottles filled and bags packed with snacks, extra warm cloths, crampons and a few other odds and ends we headed out. It was a bit later start then we planned but thankfully we both felt strong, headaches had settled and we were on our way.

From camp, the route immediately starts at a steep angle upward and just kept going up. It zig zagged back and forth over scree and ice and snow with the summit not visible over the multiple rises ahead. It didn’t seem overly difficult except that we couldn’t breath! Each step used a breath and setting small goals – to the next rock, to the beginning of the snow – allowed for us to slowly move forward, reach our goal and take a short rest while we mentally created our next objective.

Two groups of two passed heading back down just at this point. First group stated “they didn’t have enough time to acclimatize”. Second group complained about frost bite. Both of these rattled our nerve. First, we hadn’t had a lot of time to acclimatize and second as it didn’t seem like a cold or windy day we wondered of what was to come for above and the warm cloths we needed. The later seemed less concerning as we had extra cloths and a full down suit which had sufficed on Everest – it could not possibly be that cold? Not likely, but you never underestimate a mountain and what it can throw at you.

We went through locations referred to as White Rocks, Black Rocks, each a very exposed camp location with only one tent set up between the two of them. After this, another steep incline up a boot kicked snow/ice section, brought us to an abandoned camp Independencia. Independencia is where people used to camp for a high camp. It is on small plateau with a falling apart hunt that is used in emergencies. Not many climbers choose to sleep here anymore due to the height and wing exposure. For us, it was a rest spot. I had started to develop a headache at this time so forced water down. Here we also put on our crampons as there was more snow sections on the steeper slope ahead.

We rested for 10-15min before heading off again, overhearing as we left that it was another 6 hours to the summit. 😬😳😥😤 Not encouraging as We were both already gassed.

From Independencia, the trail made a small incline before going over another ridge and traversing uphill. This wasn’t overly steep incline but if you fell on the traverse you would have the slide of your life.

The traverse was a mix of scree and ice/snow. Crampons work great on ice and snow but have minimal grip when it comes to rock and we always had to be careful where we put our feet. Another thing I have learned from crampons over the years and I tell myself as I walk is “walk like a man.” This just means spreading your legs apart when you walk. Not one infront of the other. If you have your feet too close together, you will likely trip yourself on your own pant leg or boot.

There was a steeper section of scree before the route came up to a large overhanging rock. Here everyone was using it as a shade and to get out of the minimal wind we had. We also rested here (any chance we could really). I tried to eat but didn’t feel hungry. Drinking was also difficult as it tasted terrible (like burnt water) and I just didn’t feel like drinking either. I did however force some water down knowing I needed it to continue as well as my headache had started to get worse. Logan also stated that he had a mild one. I was worried about the headaches knowing we still had a ways still to go. It was closer as now we could see people reaching the summit as well as returning down who had started ahead of us. So we pushed on.

The section after the overhang was much steeper. Still rock/scree mixed with ice and snow. Here the rocks were larger and placing your foot became more challenging. About an hour after leaving the rock shelter when I literally felt like we weren’t moving as the top seemed the same distance away, I vomited! Bile came up with water as there was nothing else to come. Thankfully, I felt better after that. My head still throbbed but I was able to continue going…up, up and still further up.

I remember hearing my fathers voice in my head and how he never thought he would reach the top of Everest until he was feet away from being there. For me, that was this mountain. Until we were on the final rocky section only feet away from the summit did I believe that we had made it!!!!

On January 7, 2017, I competed my goal of reaching the seven summits!!!!!! It was an incredible feeling. I still can hardly believe it. Tears streamed down my face as Logan and I touched the cross monument holding hands.

It was beautiful and a perfect day. Hardly any wind and people were lounging at the summit soaking it all in. My head still bothered me so didn’t want to push it. Of course we took some pictures, a video and yes my underwear was left in my final summit…if you don’t know the story it’s a long one but it all began with my first summit and limited items available.

After 25min we decided to head down. Still with tears in my eyes I mentioned to Logan that most accidents happen on the way down and at this point we were both very tired. We watched as others were brought down the mountain tied and held behind by their guides. They were likely exhausted beyond their awareness and should they slip or stumble they would be in serious trouble. Due this their guides lead them down the mountain like a pet on a chain.

We took our time and did not rush, resting where needed. We stopped again on the way down at the large rock overhang. On the traverse down, light clouds rolled in but it was still warm. Back past Independencia, black rocks, white rocks and finally after 11.5hours we reached camp. Both exhausted, we collapsed in our tents. We managed to boil some water and eat something small before we were both fast asleep, dreaming of what just really happened.

Laura