Hi Everyone! I promise to finish my adventure to the summit of Aconcagua. Right now I’m training hard for Denali. I start climbing May 20. Yay! To the summit! For those of you have been following my adventures thus far. I’m waiting to climb Everest. I’ll explain more later. Thanks for patience and stay tuned! More to follow very soon!
After a wonderful day of rest it was time to leave base camp. We left everything behind that we didn’t need for higher altitudes. This gear went down with the mules and we wouldn’t see it again until we returned to Penitentes ski area.
We tore down our tents and packed up what gear we’d take to higher altitudes as we prepared to move. We’d be doing the same trek we did two days earlier. Theoretically it would be easier because our load was lighter having carried the bulk of our equipment and left it at Camp 1 already.
It was a bit easier than the first time, but still very challenging especially the last portion of the trek where we once again experienced scree from hell – two steps forward and one step back. The good thing was the wind wasn’t blowing and that made a world of difference. The other thing that made a big difference was using my mountaineering boots. This proved to be helpful since they provided a lot of extra traction, but as I also would learn not paying attention to hot spots is very detrimental.
One thing I’ve learned about myself when I’m trekking is that I get into a zone. I am totally focused on what I’m doing and in a complete state of mind of total determination. I actually think of it as a state of zen. I get into a rhythm and am completely present to the task at hand. I wasn’t totally oblivious to my body, I felt hot spots, but I didn’t realize until I removed my mountaineering boots later that day that two huge blisters had formed on the backs of my heels. This is not a good thing in general when you’re on an expedition, but what’s worse is there is not enough oxygen to allow wounds to properly heal. This was a very valuable lesson for future expeditions, but also a huge mistake that I would have to live with throughout the rest of the trek… and we still had seven more days to go.
For those of you who plan to do any climbs that require mountaineering boots, you cannot break your boots in – at least this was the case with mine. You have to break your feet into the boots. So on my next journey I can assure you I will be spending A LOT more time in my boots than I did when I trained for Aconcagua and I will always stop for hot spots!
We arrived at Camp 1 late in the afternoon, set up our tents, grabbed dinner and believe it or not managed to fit in a game of Hearts with three of my fellow team mates before it got too cold and we called it a night.
The next day we would do an equipment carry to Camp 2 (17,500 feet)… inching a bit closer to the summit!
Hello everyone! Yes, I realize I have neglected you severely. My mother told me today I’m a terrible blogger and a friend of mine emailed me that he will make it to the summit of Aconcagua (he’s planning for 2013) before I finish my blog. Point taken!
Before I get to Day 7 I want to share some VERY exciting news. I have been invited to go to the summit of Mt. Everest in 2013 by my good friend Werner Berger who until recently was the the oldest North American to have summitted Mt. Everest. He summitted at age 69 and is going for the world record next year when he turns 75. Words cannot express my excitement so I’ve made a quick video to share with everyone.
Our seventh day was spent at base camp resting and rejuvenating. After a night of partying with the residents of base camp I slept in. My tent mate recently shared her pictures from the trek and while I was catching up on my beauty sleep she snapped a photo. Thank goodness my mouth wasn’t wide open.
During our day off we spent a good portion of the time in our dining tent bonding and enjoying the sunshine. Our climbing group really had a good time together, we enjoyed each others coming and we laughed a lot. I think this was really healthy for all of us as I’m sure we were all a bit nervous about what was a head. Some of that humor entailed three members of our team doing a bit of streaking. It was absolutely hysterical and I’m quite certain the only time in history this has happened at base camp.
I truly think the bond we shared and the fact that we were having so much fun is what resulted in every single person in our group making it all the way to High Camp (19,000+ feet). I don’t know what the statistics are, but I’m sure that is very rare. Laughter and fun truly is the best medicine.
Our day off also gave me an opportunity to call home and send email to my family. I was able to reach my sister who was hosting Christmas. I didn’t realize how much I missed everyone until I heard their voices. I also didn’t realize how much my love for them would play a key role in finding the energy and determination to summit.
Thanks once again for your patience! As many of you know I often like to burn the candle at both ends and this year that just what I’ve done. I started a new job the day after I arrived back from Aconcagua. I started school with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition a week later. I’m loving both of my new challenges… but as if that wasn’t enough excitement I decided to refinance two properties this past week since interest rates are at an all time low. I keep wondering if they are ever going to stop going down! This is great news for real estate investors so I am not complaining at all!!
Before we get to Day 6 I want to give a quit shout-out to my friend Bryon who has committed to doing Aconcagua in December 2013. I am SO excited for him and you bet your butt I am holding him to this!
Just a quick story about Bryon. We used to work together at a software company in Boulder. Sadly, he and his wonderful family, who I grew totally attached to, moved back to Australia several years ago. I keep trying to get them to move back… someday!
Bryon was actually a catalyst for a piece of body art I will probably have for the rest of my life. I distinctly remember Bryon mentioning one day that he was going to get a tattoo. I said “oh I’ve thought about getting one someday as well”. Next thing I knew we were booked at the tattoo parlor! That was about 10 years ago so I’m thrilled that I can now return the favor and support him in doing something he’s always wanted to do and something that will be with him for life (clearly in a very different way… but nonetheless…).
Okay, let’s get to day 6 already!
Day 6 – Time to find out what you’re made of!
The night before we started out on Day 6 to the next camp our guide Martin told us it would be the second hardest day of the trek… second only to summit day. He wasn’t lying. We were now starting the “expedition” portion of the climb. Up until this point it had been a cake-walk. Mules carried most of our gear. We were at a lower altitude. We still got to enjoy meat and wine every day! From here on out this is where all the training and preparation from the previous six months would prove itself out.
The next several days of our journey involved “carries” and “moves” to help us acclimatize and help us get all our needed gear and supplies to the next camp. We had the option of hiring a porter to carry some of our load, but I decided to carry my own gear. I have aspirations of doing more challenging climbs someday so carrying my own gear got me mentally closer to that goal.
Christmas Eve was our first carry day. We moved our equipment from base camp to Camp 1 – 16,300 feet. We weighed our packs before heading out. My pack was over 60 lbs. I was aiming more for 50 so I removed a few things and chose not to weigh it again. Based on what little I removed I’m guessing it was 50 to 55, but I honestly didn’t really want to know.
Before we started off we heard a loud engine in the distance. It was a helicopter bringing supplies to the camp and removing waste. It was also picking up and dropping off passengers (more on that later).
When you’re hiking at 14,000+ feet it becomes a lot harder to move. Every step is an effort especially with a 50 lb pack. I took very few photos on the way up to Camp 1. All my energy was focused on making it to camp. As if it wasn’t hard enough already, the wind was howling and periodically it would catch my pack and it would take all my strength to keep from falling over.
One of the things I really like about the treks I’ve been on is it’s a fantastic test for what thoughts you let go through your mind and figuring out how to trick the mind (or keep the mind quiet) to focus on positive things. When I did Kilimanjaro in 2010 I learned this first hand on summit day. I truly experienced that every thought we have has energy. It can either propel you forward or it can suck you dry of your energy. I knew I couldn’t let myself think for one second that I couldn’t make it to Camp 1 no matter how challenging it was. I knew I was physically capable and I wasn’t going to let my mind chatter tell me otherwise.
To get through the day I used mantras, I thought of happy thoughts, I thought of people I love and I told myself that when I made it to Camp 1 there was no stopping me from getting to the summit.
The last 1 to 2 hours of the trek to Camp 1 is a scree field, a sloping mass of loose rocks at the base of a cliff. Hence the reason they call this section of the mountain Diarrhea. In my experience this is definitely the most appropriate name. I think hell is a pretty close second. For every step you take you slide backwards. It’s easy to slip and fall. It was also quite steep.
On this last stretch a thought popped into my head. Although I don’t have children I thought this trek must be like giving birth. It’s hard, it hurts and you have no idea where you’re going to get the strength to do it, but you know you can’t give up and somehow you figure how to push through. My intention is not to offend any mothers or under estimate the process women go through, but this is probably the closest I will ever get to experiencing what child birth must be like. I later confirmed with a woman I met on the mountain that climbing is indeed like child birth only she said Aconcagua was harder. And, interestingly when I came back to Colorado my sister, who has two children, shared an article with me about why climbing is like haven’t children. So, I must have been on to something. Amazing the epiphanies you have under extreme mental and physical pressure. Let’s just say I have a whole new respect for women who give birth. You are truly amazing!
When I finally arrived at Camp 1 I was elated, but also spent. Somehow I still had energy to unpack the gear we would leave at Camp 1 until we officially moved, but then I crashed hard. Fortunately, so we could acclimatize, we stayed to rest at Camp 1 for about an hour. Long enough to eat, drink and have a recuperate before heading back down to base camp.
Let me tell you, even though we had about a 2 hour trek back down to base camp my backpack was empty and it felt so good! And I had energy to snap some photos.
When I finally arrived at base camp I felt such a huge sense of accomplishment. I was totally psyched and ready for a celebration. Luckily there was a BIG party planned at base camp that night for Christmas Eve. Daniel Lopez who I mentioned in a previous blog (best shower at base camp!) was having a party that night. It was all locals, but they had invited our group to join them. Even though the “gringos” are always invited to their parties they apparently rarely attend so I think we made quite a scene.
It was great a party… unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. First, I had just completed a very challenging part of our trek and was now finding the energy to party at 14,000 feet. Second, there were community drinks being passed around everywhere. I kept telling myself alcohol kills germs, alcohol kills germs…. Third, there was wonderful Argentinean music and people pounding on drums (really they were barrels being used as drums, but the improvisation worked beautifully). And, last but not least it was the first time I had ever seen Santa wearing a thong. Who would have guessed?!?
Immediately when we arrived the community drinks make their way to us… something that tasted Sangria and was served in half of a melon and some Italian alcohol, that was supposed to be good for digestion, served in a sawed-off half of a plastic coke bottle. I rationalized my alcohol consumption because a) red wine has loads of antioxidants, b) I was drinking something that helped digestion, c) I had burned somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 calories that day and d) our lead guide and declared Christmas Day a rest day so I knew I could sleep in and chill out the entire next day!.
About 1am the party began to fade, even though I tried my best to give everyone the day off, there was still work to be done. What a great way to spend Christmas Eve and what a great way to celebrate the day’s accomplishments!
Hi Everyone, We’re finally to day 5! Life has been busy and wonderful. I am actually in the process of hatching an idea to organize a women’s trip to Denali in 2013! I was recently introduced to an amazing man who lives in Denver and is a business leadership consultant, author, speaker and documentary filmmaker named Stephen McGhee. He also organized a mens trip to Aconcagua in January 2011. This is where my idea for a women’s trip came from. I have many, many details to work out so stay tuned!
Now… on to day 5.
We awoke to a brisk morning and got ready to embark on a trek that would take us to base camp. As we started out, the first order of business, besides eating and packing all our gear, was to cross the river. We were given two options: ride a mule across the river or walk across the river. Although I grew up riding horses I had never ridden a mule so it appealed to me, but I also wanted the experience and benefits of walking through the freezing cold river. My thought is that this would be great for circulation… and of course all part of the adventure. I got my wish. Our guide, Martin, had arranged for me to ride the mule to the river and then hop off and do the river crossing on foot. This was reminder of “ask and it is given.” Thanks Martin!
The river was definitely cold. It was probably ice earlier that morning and let me tell you it was very effective at getting my circulation going once I could feel my feet again!
It was a beautiful trek through the canyon as the trail wound around above the river and we enjoyed the beautiful flowers that were growing in such a harsh climate. It wouldn’t be long before we didn’t see anything growing and really no life at all.
As the day wore on we stopped for lunch where I had the opportunity to do a quick video. After a short lunch break we were off again and inching our way a bit closer.
It wasn’t long before we no longer saw plants and there were fewer and fewer birds.
Finally we reached a sign pointing us to Plaza Argentina which meant we were very close to based camp. Very close meant 30 to 45 minutes.
So we made our way through a very large and desolate valley and finally reached base camp about 4pm. Just in time to get to get the tents set up, get settled and to meet everyone in the dining tent for our first meal at base camp.
We watched the sun set from the dining tent and you could see the massive shadow of Aconcagua. I think it was this very moment that I really started to understand the size of the mountain I was climbing.
The next day was Christmas eve and we would be doing our first equipment carry to the next camp. What this meant is that we would carry anything we didn’t need, drop it off at the next camp and then make our way back down to base camp. We were told it was going to be the second hardest day after summit day. And it was…
Sorry everyone! Daily life once again sucked me in and I’m just now getting to Day 4. I’ve had a lot of catching up to do this week and I’m not sure what possessed me to schedule a slide show and lessons learned on Aconcagua for my wellness group 3 days after I got back. But I managed to get it done and hopefully it was inspiring. It seemed to be well received.
I did manage to fit in a night of Christmas on Friday hosted by my amazing mother who made a phenomenal dinner. I think she was equally thrilled as my father to see me alive with all my fingers and toes! I owe my mom a big thank you for more than just Christmas (and keeping the decorations up so I could see them!). I owe her a thank you for the amazing weather we had on Aconcagua. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they didn’t summit due to weather. Before I left I told her to hold the intention for beautiful weather and for everything to go smoothly so we could summit early and enjoy some time in Mendoza. She did an amazing job because the weather was nearly perfect. I think even our guides were amazed. I did learn that my mom had some help (and I should also mention I enlisted some extra help too from my amazing Master Mind group – thank to the beautiful Denise and Mary). My mom enlisted the help of my Grandmother who I believe lit a candle at church and my Grandfather who volunteered his prayers as well. Talk about some amazingly powerful people! Next time I need something I know exactly where to go – Thanks mom, Grandma, Grandpa, Denise & Mary. You rock!!! I love you!
So on to day 4!
We headed out bright and early on day 4, at least it felt early to me. As my mom will tell you and tent mate I am not really a morning person. Though I feel I’ve gotten better over the years I could probably still improve. It was quite chilly before the sun came up, but once the sun hit camp it was a beautiful, warm day.
Our journey for the day was a 6-7 hour hike to Casa Piedra (10,560 feet). We hiked several miles with a portion of the hike through a river bed. The wind was howling and at one point the hat got ripped right off of someone’s head. It blew right into the river and we could see it being carried downstream. One of our guides, Aili, who is a former forest ranger and has also guided several trips up Denali, took off running to retrieve the hat. She got ahead of it as it wound its way down the river and jumped right in, I should mention is was only about shin high, but it was an amazing save that definitely deserved a huge high five!
Along our route we caught our first glimpse of Aconcagua. This was the first time I’d seen the mountain. Though I flew over it on the flight from Santiago, Chili to Mendoza I never saw it out the window and I can tell you that seeing it for the first time gave me huge butterflies!
When we arrived at camp the sun was still shining and it was still quite warm so we quickly got the tent set up and our things unpacked for the evening then we headed to the dining table for some appetizers which became a nightly tradition and really hit the spot… olives, fermented veggies (sometimes), meat (you shouldn’t be surprised), cheese, crackers and sometimes cookies. We also had the option of wine all the way up to base camp (after what I’ve told you so far about Argentina you shouldn’t be surprised!). There’s nothing like a good Malbec while you watch the sun set in the Andes!
While we were enjoying our appetizers two guancacos ran across the river bed in front of our camp followed by two more. The guanaco is native to South America. They have grey faces and small straight ears. As I recently learned on Wikipedia that guanacos can run with a speed of 35 mile per hour, often over steep and rocky terrain. They are also apparently excellent swimmers and have an unusual method of survival – licking all the nutrients and dew from desert cacti. Mostly importantly, we were told that seeing them was a sign of good luck. Yay!
At 10,500 feet it gets quite chilly when the sun goes down so everybody was in bed early. The next day we would head to base camp and be a bit closer to Aconcagua!! Stay tuned… more to come this week… I promise!
Yikes! It’s 12:00am and I promised all of you I’d start providing play-by-play details today so this may be somewhat incoherent.
It’s been a whirl wind since I arrived home with the focus being on unpacking three weeks worth of stuff, filtering through mail, getting back to work and spending time with family including a game of pretend with my niece where I got to wear a pink dress over my t-shirt and jeans and attend a ball where she performed a dance and singing number (one song was about the sun, moon, stars and Mars and if I’m not mistaken the other one was something about Aunt Gina… priceless).
Tonight was dinner with my dad to assure him I still have all my fingers and toes… and to give him a preview of my Aconcagua slide show. He underwent knee replacement surgery on Dec. 27th and I have to say he is recovering beautifully and still has his great sense of humor… he thinks it’s hysterical that I’m losing the nails on both of my big toes. Like father, like daughter – although this is one trait I’d gladly live without.
Enough about being completely immersed back into reality, here’s a recap of Days 1, 2 and 3 of our journey to Aconcagua.
Technically Day 1 begins with a group dinner including guides and clients. It’s intended to give us an opportunity to meet, greet and taste the fine Argentinean cuisine and wine. We cheated a bit on the meeting and greeting part. I set up a private FaceBook page including the members of our group so we could get to know each other before hand and begin to bond. If you’re going to be spending 2 weeks together in very intense conditions I think you’d want to know about the characters you’re going with right?!? In all seriousness this was a really great thing to do because it made the team gel much more quickly.
After indulging in meat and wine (if you visit Argentina you will come to find that their world revolves around these two things and that dinner doesn’t start until 9:30 or 10:00pm… and don’t plan on getting to bed until 1 or 2pm) the alarm felt like it went off very early the next day (Day 2).
Day 2 involved getting our permits and getting everything packed to head to Penitentes ski area (8,500 feet) where we’d have more meat and wine and start acclimatization for the big hike. Being in the mountain brought us a bit closer to our destination and everyone was very eager to get started. After all we’d been waiting several months for this.
If you make it to Argentina any time soon and decide to visit Penitentes let me forewarn you that it’s a very interesting resort. As I understand it, it recently changed hands and while I’m told the food has significantly improved it still needs quite a bit of TLC. The owner, or at least the person I presumed to be the owner because he was running around like a mad man, is a Londoner who moved to Penitentes for… yes, you guessed it… a woman. Isn’t it generally how these things go?!? He has a surprisingly positive attitude given the challenges he is facing. Among these challenges is the fact that his water supply gets diverted around 8:00am for mining. You can imagine his guests get very excited when the hot shower they’ve been looking forward to before a 12 to 14 day long trek does not exist. It’s also a bit peculiar that the lights continue to flicker throughout the night even when you’ve turned them off. Despite the issues, the place has charm and I was so completely grateful to be staying there once we finished the climb.
So by Day 3 we finally started our approach to Base Camp which would take us 3 days and include hiking up the Vacas and Ameghino Valleys.
This part of the trek is a piece of cake because mules carried most of our gear, or at least everything we didn’t need access to during the day.
This route was established in 1934 by a Polish Expedition. This is an eastern approach to the mountain and not traveled as much as what’s called the Normal Route. It’s just stunning.
We stopped for the evening at our first camp where we would overnight and enjoy… you guessed it… more meat and more wine before continuing our journey the next day. Are you beginning to sense a theme at all?!?
Click here to watch to Gina’s video of the first camp on the way to the summit of Aconcagua and a preview of Day 4!
Look for Day 4 tomorrow! Until then big love to all of you and sweet dreams!
Hi Everyone. I learned a hugely valuable lesson this go around which actually built on my experience when I climbed Kilimanjaro… blogging is impossible to do while you’re trying to climb a very tall mountain so next time I will promise to only blog when I’m off the mountain. It only took me two summits to figure this out… ha.
For those of you who are interested in day-by-day details watch this space. I’ll start blogging all the details along with pictures tomorrow. Rather than leave you in suspense and I also suspect many of you will be checking Face Book I reached the summit on 01/01/2012. More details to follow in detailed blogging, but let me just say it was the hardest thing yet that I’ve accomplished – both from a physical and mental standpoint. It’s amazing what you can do when you conquer the negative self talk, train properly and take really good care of your body.
Thanks to those of you who checked my blog on a regular basis. I hope you were able to glean some information from the dispatch report from the climb so you weren’t totally left in the dark.
Some of you might be anxiously awaiting an update! I arrived safely in Mendoza, Argentina on Saturday morning via Santiago, Chile (among other stops). The Andes were beautiful from the air! I was met at the airport by Fernando, our driver, who informed me that my climbing partner had arranged for a wine tour. Who am I to say no to red wine?!? So I grabbed a quick shower and we were off to tour two wineries which also included a 7 course lunch with wine pairing. Not a bad start to my first 5 hours in Mendoza.
We got back to the hotel just in time for a gear check with our assistant guide Elizabeth. Being two Type A personalities everything went smoothly for us and we were out the door in no time to have dinner with our climbing group. We had a fabulous dinner (and more wine) at a place which translates to Seven Kitchens. I don’t have time to translate that into Spanish as our bus leaves for the mountains in 30 minutes.
Needless to say, what you do in Mendoza involves a lot of eating and drinking – two things I don’t usually do… but when in Rome… and given that I’ll lose 10-15 lbs on the trek I’ve been trying to pack on as much weight as possible. Sounds odd for someone who does health & lifestyle coaching, but a little extra body fat when it’s 20 below zero is a good thing.
I don’t know how much I’ll be able to blog, but I’m going to do my best as long as technology cooperates. If it doesn’t, you’ll get full, day by day details when I’m back on line. Our guides will have radios and they’ll be reporting our progress to the office on a daily basis so you can follow the dispatch report for our expedition using this website http://www.patagonicas.com/2011-2012-season-dispatches/. Our group isn’t listed yet, but it’s December 18 group and I will either be in group A or group B… not sure yet, but I’m told our group picture will be online and just in case you don’t recognize me our group has women… the other group is all men. We tried our best to infiltrate it to no avail… their loss!! I did forewarn them that we will be crashing their camp!
Wish me luck and please visualize a safe journey with Debbie and me reaching the amazing summit of Aconcagua. More later, but right now I have to catch a bus to Andes!
Yes! I will be headed on another BIG adventure in just about 6 weeks. I’m heading to Argentina this time to the Mendoza Valley. You may have heard of Mendoza. This is where the infamous Malbecs come from (which by the way is a great source of antioxidants as long as you don’t over indulge). My purpose, however, is not to tour the wineries, it’s to climb one of the seven summits called Aconcagua. Aconcagua stands almost 23,000 feet. I’ve been training rigorously and can’t wait for the adventure!
Honestly, I think something happened when I hit my forties. There was a distinct tuning point because ever since that time something was energized in my being to seize life like never before! Maybe it was the cacao ceremony I did with a shaman in Sedona on the fortieth birthday! Whatever it was, I am LOVING life!
I invite you to join me during my journey. I’m in the process of revamping my website and, much like I did when I climbed Kilimanjaro, I will also be blogging about my journey to the top of Aconcagua! So please start now getting into the habit of checking for updates. I think this is one adventure you will not want to miss! XOXO