Summit Day on Aconcagua

Posted by: | January 19, 2009
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Aconcagua
Elevation: 22,841 ft.

Last night at high camp, it just didn’t seem like we would get a chance to make the top of Aconcagua… it was snowing and socked in when I sent yesterday’s dispatch. But then, just before darkness came on, the snow stopped and the clouds dropped. During the night there were occasional waves of intense wind that could be heard coming from miles away, but these were short bursts and sure enough, at 4 AM the stars were out and the wind was gone. Our stoves were cooking by 4:15 and we were walking out of camp by headlamp at around 5:15 AM, bound for the summit.

We had crampons on all the way and were lucky to be on snow for about 95% of our journey. Peter mentioned that he’d done the same climb without once touching snow, just loose rock, so we were happy with the conditions. It wasn’t terribly cold and once we found sunshine things were quite pleasant. We lost that sunshine when we began the long, long traverse to the base of the Canaleta. There were perhaps a hundred other climbers going for the top today, but we ended up nearly in the lead by half-way up the steep and direct Canaleta. This broad gulley is about 800 vertical feet… easy at sea level, I’m sure, but beginning at 22,000 ft makes it somewhat challenging. We were challenged, but all did well, the extra nights at high camp had worked in our favor for acclimatization.

We popped out on the summit at noon and enjoyed a sunny and wonderful hour up there. We were victorious and thrilled with the new views… but several of us cried like babies as we remembered our friend Fede and his tragic passing on the summit of Aconcagua all too recently. We left the top at 1 PM and walked quickly into a snowstorm. Not a vicious snowstorm, there was little wind, but a socked-in, steady snowfall. It only took us two hours to make it back to high camp and so we knocked the tents down and set out walking for basecamp. We were anxious to get down and rejoin the rest of our team who’d descended yesterday.

In Basecamp by about 6:30, we had a fine reunion dinner and made plans for our walk down-valley begining tomorrow.

An improbable summit became a treasured moment with great friends close to 23,000 ft above sea level. All are safe, all are down the hard part of the mountain.

The RMI Team at 20,000 ft. The RMI Team Makes their way to the top of Aconcagua. The RMI Team taking a break on Summit Day. Peter Whittaker, Ed Viesturs and Dave Hahn on the top of Aconcagua.

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