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Summit Stories

Aconcagua, the Walt Disney version – a harsh character

February 6, 2013 by

Pedro_and_Aconcagua-205x300Walt Disney released a short film (‘Saludos Amigos’) in 1942, where a segment features Mt Aconcagua and its encounter with Pedro, the main character.

It is the first of the six Disney “Package films” made during WW2, when many members of the production staff were drafted into the war. Due to the scarcity of resources, only multiple shorter segments were produced instead of full stories. ‘Saludos Amigos’ was popular enough that Walt Disney decided to make another film (eventually more popular amongst Disney followers) about Latin America (‘the Three Caballeros’), to be produced two years later. The film was made partially because several Latin American governments had close ties with Nazi Germany, and the US government wanted to counteract those ties.

One of the segments of Saludos Amigos features ‘Pedro’, a small anthropomorphic child-airplane that lives in Chile with his mother and father, large airplanes who deliver mail. When both his parents are incapacitated due to technical defects, Pedro is forced to embark on his first journey in their place, picking up post from the city of Mendoza. His flight is perilous and dangerous and he is nearly killed in a storm on Aconcagua on his way back, but manages to make it to Chile unscathed in the end.

My toes hated me, I still love (and have) them

January 31, 2013 by

wind ColeraAfter 3 days of ascent in the snow to Camp 1 Canada and Camp 2 Berlin, we had finally arrived to at the high camp (Camp Colera, 6,000 mt/19,690 ft ). We spent 2 nights there to allow a full acclimatization and the best weather conditions. Since we left base camp, we experienced worsening conditions with snow and stronger wind. We regularly check the forecasts, even if for Aconcagua they have to be taken with a grain of salt:differently from the Himalayas for example, the relative proximity of the ocean causes very sudden weather changes and very strong winds.

January 24 is finally summit day and we spend the whole day before pretty much in the tent (the temperature and the wind, plus the fact that there is really nowhere to go keep us inside counting the hours to go and prepping our gear).

“Morning guys, let’s get ready!” it is our guide Ulysses who runs the trumpet in swiss-like style at 5am. We immediately realize that the strong wind that kept banging (literally) on our tent all night long is probably on a different time zone and has no intention to go rest. We decide not to look at the temperature, yet tacitly acknowledging that the -10c we registered in the tent the night before would be a happy occurrence.

A good buzz (or a frozen mumble) arises from around the camp and as greek warriors getting ready to march into the field (wow that is a strong one!), we wear our high-altitude weapons (heavy-duty boots, triple or quadruple layers, headlamps, crampons) and after a couple of sips of hot tea, we jump out of our tents and congregate outside.

The sun is still hiding behind the horizon, with a very feeble orange light emerging. The wind is already painfully strong (we estimate it blowing at 50-60kph) and the cold bites every inch of the body it can reach – In absence of any espresso, it quickly boosts my alertness. These few extra minutes waiting outside to fine tune the preparation and get the troops ready, will eventually prove to be that famous extra drop.

“ok, let’s go” and our disciplined upward march begins. The wind is so strong that at times I must stop and anchor myself well to the steep ground not to be thrown down (and i am not really a tiny person). We know that the next 2 hours will be a silent proof of mental strength and we march on step after step.

Suddenly I Realize that my feet are pretty cold. It’s normal at this elevation, i’ve lived it before. The best remedy is to start moving and stretching as i move up to improve the blood circulation and make them warmer.

I work meticulously for the next 30minutes to get everybody moving and to regain a comfortable temperature. When it seems to be working on one foot, it is short lived or the other goes sideways. It is really frustrating, because i feel really good physically and mentally. It is still damn cold, but the rest of the body is very responsive.

I know that i am very soon getting to the undesirable decision: at this elevation and under these conditions the obvious danger is represented by frostbites.

Frostbites happens at very cold temperatures (starting at or below 0C/32F), and is caused by a reduction of blood circulation to the exposed areas (typically extremities). The most severe case of frostbite involves the death of the tissue and the need to amputate the toe or finger. To be taken seriously.

After consulting with Tendi Sherpa, one of our two guides, i decide to give it a few more minutes & meters to regain control of my toes. I frantically keep moving and stretching my toes and feet, in the hope that I will overcome this moment.
Unfortunately, it seems a lost battle as the temperature gets at best stable (that means cold).

“Ok, i will turn back” I communicate and with no further hesitation I make my way back to camp.

My obvious immediate focus is not to lose control of my toes and reactivate the circulation as soon a possible. I keep moving my toes, feet (now out of the boots) and leg, in the warmth of the tent, while drinking liters of hot water.

After a good 30minutes of work, the sensitivity if finally restored and I am out of the danger zone. Fiuuu. That was creepy. I know it will takes a few days to get my toes back to normal, but the worst is over.

Obviously, This also means that my summit bid is over and that slowly sinks in.
It is really disappointing: after all the time, preparations and efforts and being overall in very good shape, having to turn back few hours away from the summit, which is in sight, is really hard. It’s that difficult decision that every mountaineer has to face once or several times in their career.
Even if hard and mind-crushing, there is no doubt in my mind that it was the right decision.

Well, the game is still open, Mr Aconcagua, I will see you at the end of the year! Time to find or invent a solution for this toe inconvenience.

By the way, the rest of the summit day was about other frostbites episodes, a full white-out, attempted and successful rescues, some dramatic news… This is the topic of another post.

Ready to push up to the Summit!!!

January 20, 2013 by

DSC00492 copyWe are about to leave Base Camp on a beautiful sunny day (though we had some good snow yesterday, which bodes well for our push up with good solid terrain).

we will head to Camp Canada (Camp 1) at 4950mt, then push to Nido de Condores Camp (at 5400mt), then Cholera Camp (5950mt) and after few hours of sleep we will move towards the summit during the night (and it seems we will have a clear skies with a full moon). we are all well and full of energy.
the member of our team who had to be evacuated by Heli is now safe and well in Mendoza (we hear enjoying Malbec and the hot weather…).

Wish us success, and I will check back in about a week with excellent news.

In the picture the view of Mt Aconcagua and at the bottom left is the base camp.

We are at Aconcagua Base Camp (4350mt)

January 16, 2013 by

DSC00462 copyWe arrived last night at Aconcagua Base Camp (4300mt/14400ft), where we will acclimatize for 2 days. we have a magnificent view of the glacier on one side and the Aconcagua massive North Face, with a snippet of the summit.

Conditions are great, it’s very sunny and temperature favorable. we are hoping in some more snow on the top to help the push to the summit. starting tomorrow we will climb to 5000mt for an acclimatization trek and then move up to Camp1 to set camp. Very exciting.

the only bad news is that one member of our team has been diagnosed with pulmonary edema, and depending on the medical check this afternoon, may need to be helicoptered down. everything is closely monitored and under control. Fingers are crossed all will go well and safe.

here is a photo of Mt Aconcagua (summit is on the top left) from Base Camp.