Thursday, January 30, 2014

Heading Back Down: Sleeping Under the Stars at Approach Camp 1

I spoke to Randy a couple times and caught up on yesterday and today.  Yesterday, after the grueling summit the day before and sleeping up at 19,600, they packed up High Camp 3 and headed back down to Base Camp, Plaza Argentina (13,780 ft).  They all used porters to help cart their gear down, so their packs were not too heavy.  Despite his huge effort on Tuesday, Randy felt pretty good, better as they descended and he could breathe more easily.  He had packed up his satellite phone and sent it down with the porters, so I didn't hear from him until last night.  He called to say they were safely back at Base Camp, had enjoyed a pizza and beer party for a late lunch, and had just had some steak for dinner. His stomach was a little upset, but that's expected when you go from eating dried food to pizza and steak.  I bet it was worth it!  It was pretty chilly out and Randy was standing outside his tent freezing, so I just spoke to him for a few minutes so he could crawl in his tent, warm up, and get some rest.

This morning their old friends, the mules and the muleteers, showed up at Base Camp to take their big duffel bags back down the mountain.  Once they had breakfast and loaded up the mules, the team set off on a long 17 mile hike all the way down to Camp One, Pampa de Las Lenas (9678 ft).  Randy said it was about an 8 hour hike down.  The first two hours were "absolutely gorgeous"  -- he called it the best biking he's ever done.   The vistas were breathtaking, the sun was shining, and temps were about 55 with a very light breeze to keep them cool.   Randy wore a t-shirt all day and felt great.   Those first two hours were "spectacular".  The next two were more technical, still amazing weather and gorgeous views, but just took more concentration.  There were areas of pretty significant exposure so they all had to really focus.  At times the trail winds hundreds of feet above the valley, with steep inclines where falling would not be a good thing.  But they all made it through safely.  The final 4 hour descent to Approach Camp 1 Randy called a real "knee burner".  He doesn't love descending; it's tough on his knees.  But he had a great day and got through the long trek.   Part of the service the Argentinian muleteers offer is cooking up some hearty dinners on the way down.  Tonight they made a fire and grilled steak, chicken, onions and tomatoes.  Randy said the team had a great time sitting around eating cowboy style (aka with their hands), drinking box wine, and telling stories.  He really enjoys this team and I think they've all made some nice friendships as they've persevered through the tough weather conditions together.

Tonight was a beautifully clear night, and they were all sleeping out under the stars.  When I talked to him he was snuggled into his sleeping bag, looking up at Orion and the Southern Cross.  Not too shabby a way to spend his last night on the mountain!

Some pictures of the route down to Approach Camp 1:

Tomorrow they will get up at 5:30am, eat breakfast, pack up, and be walking by first light, around 6:30am.  They should be back by about 10:30am to the small ski town and Los Penitentes hotel, where they had originally slept the night before the start of their climb.  At that point, it will take the guides and muleteers about an hour and a half to unload the mules, sort out all the gear, and pack up the vans to head to Mendoza.  Randy and the other climbers may be able to take a shower in that little hotel while they wait for the vans to be packed up.  I'm sure that will feel great, but Randy said if they have to wait for Mendoza, what's another few hours when you haven't showered in over 2 weeks! Around noon, they will head back to Mendoza and by tomorrow evening Randy will be back in his hotel room.  He may even have Internet so will be able to log back into this blog and fill us in with his version of events.  Perhaps he might even correct a thing or two that I've reported since half the time we were talking the wind was screaming and we'd get cut off mid-sentence 4 or 5 times per conversation!  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Safely back to High Camp (19,600ft), Tired but a Happy Camper!

If you read my previous blog entry, you know that Randy achieved one of the most ambitious goals of his life and managed to stand on the summit today of Aconcagua, a whopping 22,841 ft! To give you a sense of just how enormous this mountain is, here's a picture of Aconcagua from a distance.  It's gigantic, towering over all the mountains in the Andes, the highest point in South America.  In the second picture you get a sense of why they had to trek three days and 23 miles through the Vacas Valley to even get to Base Camp at 14,000 where the real fun began!

Hearing Randy's voice from the summit today was truly one of those special moments in life that I'll never forget.  He was very emotional, thankful for all the support, humbled by how this mountain had kicked even his Ironman-trained butt, exhausted, exhilarated, and mostly just 100% ecstatic.   Back home in the land of abundant oxygen in little old Delaware, I was also ecstatic, proud, shocked (but not totally), excited, and mostly relieved that he was okay.  Also relieved that he had managed to go back and get it done -- achieve this aggressive goal that had been nagging him since he was forced to turn back after 20,000 ft last year with fluid-filled lungs.  And relieved because, well you KNOW Randy, we just might have been in this exact same position next year as he went for round 3.  But here we are and he did it.  Amazing.  Who knows what's next, but right now we'll settle for celebrating this victory!

So now the details.  I spoke at length to him a while back and they had made it roundtrip back to Camp 3 (19,600) in about a little over 12 hours.  They took 9:15 to summit, stayed up there celebrating and taking in the breathtaking views (below) for about half an hour, and then came down in about 2.5 hours.

Views of the sheer south face from the Top

The day started very early for them, still dark at 5am as they plowed through a foot of new snow heading out to the first major landmark at 21,000 ft, Independenzia Hut.  It was bitterly cold and extremely slow going in the deep snow, and the wind was raging.  After about a half hour, the two sisters determined they needed to head back.  The rest of them kept moving on the long traverse and steep ascent up to the "Cave" which marks the start of the notorious Canaleta, one of the most physically demanding challenges in all of climbing .  His teammates, Bo and Randy, made it about 3/4 of the way to the Cave, and then they too determined they needed to call it a day.  So that left Randy, head guide JJ, and "young bucks" Todd and Tom from Miami.  At that point the wind was gusting and with the frigid temps, they couldn't risk one bit of exposed skin. Once at the Cave, it took 1.5 hours to traverse and climb the steep Canaleta (picture below).  Randy thought once they climbed that part, the summit would be close, but he got to the top of the Canaleta, saw how far away the summit was, and his first thought was, "Holy S%#$*  this is going to take forever!"  He said he was definitely "close to the edge".  Well, thankfully, it didn't take forever, but it did take another hour and a half, even though Randy said at this point they were very excited and moving well.  Once at the summit they all slapped five and celebrated, and then Randy took out his video to capture the moment.  He fished out the picture collage he had brought up with him, one of all of us (the 4 kids and me), his parents, our adorable and adored little dog Roxy, and I think at that moment he was full of awe; as if in a moment he comprehended the enormity of his accomplishment and the depth of his gratitude for the love and support of his family and friends.  I know he broke down then and when he called me a few moments later, he was still pretty choked up.  It is rare in life when in one instant in time we have the gift of clarity of purpose and at the same time a wave of pride but also humility and gratitude.  Certainly a very overwhelming experience!

Steep traverse on the way up

The descent from the summit was very steep, slippery, and snowy and Randy had decided he was not going to trip and start sliding, so he took his time and stopped when he needed to.  Even though Randy knows he was the slowest of the 4, JJ said it was one of the fastest descents ever.  Back at Camp 3, Randy was feeling "a little tired, a little dehydrated, but overall really good".  For the first time on this trip, I heard a bit of a cough, a "mountain hack" Randy called it, but that is pretty par for the course up there.  The day had been really cold; in fact one of the other climbers, Tom, did get a bit of frostbite on his face.  But our old faithful, Randy, at 56 years of age, managed incredibly well, didn't he?

Tomorrow they will pack up and head down to Base Camp around 10.  It should take them about 4 hours to get down to Base Camp, even though it took 9 days to get from Base Camp to Camp 3!  Funny how gravity works.  Randy said it will feel so good to descend back to the land of thicker air and back at Base Camp tomorrow they will have a big dinner and maybe even a beer to celebrate.

Randy took a ton of pictures and videos.  So now you've read the book.   I know I can't wait to see the movie!  : )

A Beautiful Call from the Top of the World!

Randy did it!!!!!!!!

I just answered the phone not knowing what to expect and heard a pretty choked up "I did it" on the other end!  I couldn't believe it!  He was on top of that monster mountain, and I can't even tell you how excited he sounded.  The amazing thing is the only he, the two 30's year olds, and JJ the head guide made it up there.  Randy said the rest of his team and a lot of other teams turned around because of the extremely tough conditions.  There was pretty deep snow, unexpectedly high winds of 50 - 60 mph, and it was bitterly cold.  The two women turned around about half hour into the trip.  And then later on Bo and the other Randy decided they couldn't go on.  In fact, Bo had to be roped to the other guide to head down because he was weaving and unsteady.  So that left Randy and the head guide and the two "young dudes" from Miami.  With just those other three, Randy was concerned because their pace was pretty quick at first. He knew he could do it, but not necessarily at their quicker pace.  He even offered to head back because he didn't want to hold them up.  But JJ and the other guys said that they would go at bit more measured pace so he could summit with them.   JJ just looked at Randy and said, "No way; you got this dude, you're coming up with us!"

And come up he did.  He was standing at the top of the world, one of the 7 summits, the highest point in South America.  Unbelievable, but not really unbelievable for those of you that know how Randy can really dig deep when he puts his mind to it.

I couldn't be happier or more proud.  It took them 9 hours to get up there, and probably will take about another 4 or so to get back to Camp 3.  He sounded so exhausted, it's hard to imagine he has to work out strenuously for another 4 hours, but somehow I think the adrenalin of this accomplishment will carry him through!

I'll fill in more later when he calls and isn't freezing and gasping to breathe at 22,000 ft.  Can't tell you how great it was to hear his voice.  Yay Randy!

Monday, January 27, 2014

If these guys get it, they really deserve it! More unmerciful weather!

The head guide from RMI, JJ Justman, just posted a team update.  Here it is:


Posted by: J.J. JustmanSteve GatelyMike King | January 27, 2014 
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Aconcagua 
Elevation: 19,600'
Unrelenting! That is the word that describes our weather on Aconcagua. Last night we received 10 inches of snow. When we awoke this morning the winds had scoured most of that snow off the mountain leaving several deep drifts around camp.
Thankfully the weather settled down a bit and we were able to break camp and pack up. The scene looked more like Denali in Alaska than Aconcagua in the Andes. The team did great in the harsh conditions. It would have even made The Godfather of Denali, Joe Horiskey, proud as the team worked together in cold, blustery winds.
We are now sitting in silence at high camp enjoying the sun at 19,600 feet. The team has run its final days. Tomorrow is our only shot. Then we have to head downhill. As luck I believe has it, the forecast is for light winds on top.
We will touch base tomorrow, keep your fingers crossed, it should be from the top!

And here are some just amazing pictures of what it's like up at Camp 3 (19,600), the highest camp on Aconcagua.  


So the key will be the stability of this new snow, and of course, the health of the team as they move higher and higher into the land of rarefied air.  Randy had said that even sleeping at Camp 2 (16,000 ft), he would wake up at night gasping for air now and then as his body was adapting to the lack of oxygen.  Tonight they will camp at 19,600, a level which both Anders and Randy have said is really, really tough to sleep in.  At that level, they just can't escape the awareness that breathing is tough and labored. I might as well be talking about walking on the moon because this just all sounds so painful to me.  I don't get panic attacks, but simply thinking about struggling to breath just about gives me one!  And remember, they are going to have to climb over 3000 feet to reach the summit at an incredible 22,841 ft.  That's 2.5 very slow, very taxing miles each way.  Hopefully, Randy will be able to get through on his satellite phone tonight; if so I will post another update. 

LAST MINUTE UPDATE:  Just as I was about to send this, Randy called in from Camp 3.  We had a nice long talk and I'll try to summarize his take on recent events:
1.  Last night sucked.  No other way to put it.  The snow was relentless and came down so hard that it was covering the vents in the tent.  They literally couldn't breath. I was sort of kidding about panic attacks above, but Randy said it almost felt like drowning, that they were really close to having anxiety attacks from lack of oxygen.  So he had to stick his head out and shove the snow off the vents.  Then they opened up the vents so they could breath.  Problem was, those all-too familiar winds came back and overnight snow came in through the open vents. They woke to 2ft of snow in their rear vestibule and 6 inches in the front.

2.  After that horrible night, the snow finally stopped around 5am.  The guides told them to stay in their tents till winds calmed down cause all the fallen snow was literally whipping around.  Finally they got up, cleaned out all the snow, took their tents apart, tried to dry off their wet gear, and set off for Camp 3 around 11am.  The good news is that Randy felt really good, really strong on this 4 hour ascent today.  So even though they were slugging through new snow at altitude, he had no problem at all with the pace.  

3.  Another of their teammates, Lew, had to call it a day and head back down the mountain.  He hadn't been feeling great, plus hurt his ankle.  That means they also lost a guide, because one of the junior guides, Steve, had to escort Lew back down.   So tomorrow they'll have 7 climbers and 2 guides for the summit attempt. 

4.  Randy is clearly sleeping around on this expedition.  He now has a new tent mate, Bo.  Bo is a big, strapping guy who works in Silicon Valley.  He is the one Randy originally thought was in his 30's, but is actually 48 and very fit!  After Lew left, the guides decided to put the other Randy back with his sisters, so now Randy has bunked with almost everyone on his team.

5.  They all feel the altitude up at 19,600.  Randy said even setting up the tent takes awhile.  They tie off a guideline and have to sit awhile. Everything takes patience and perseverance.  

6.  Guides don't seem worried about avalanche risk tomorrow.  A bunch of teams went up to the summit today so they will have assessed any instability and packed down the snow a bit. 

7.  The plan is to wake up by 3, eat breakfast, get ready, and get going by around 5am.  The first part of the trek will be in the dark, so they will use headlamps.  Sunrise is about 6 or 6:30am.  

8.  He is going to try to rest early tonight, putting his water bottles and boots in his sleeping bag with him so when they wake up in frigid temps at the crack of dawn, everything is not frozen.  They will leave a lot of their gear back at Camp 3 and summit with just the essentials (food, water, warm clothes).

9.  He's READY!  In Randy's words:  "I couldn't be happier with where I'm at physically and mentally. I'm just going to keep going tomorrow as long as I can unless the guides tell me I can't go anymore.  I know tomorrow will be really tough for me, tough for everyone, but I'm ready and I'm confident I'll at least climb higher than I did last year (that was 20,300 ft!"

10.  It was a little emotional saying goodbye to him knowing what he has in store tomorrow, knowing how very, very much he wants to summit this beast and how disappointed he was last year in getting sick and not making it to the top.  He's fully prepared and now, besides a little luck, he just needs to dig deep and put one foot in front of the other.  Jenny is home in Delaware, so we wished him luck, told him we loved him, to stay safe, and to go get it!  


For those wanting a little more info about what's in store for them tomorrow, here's a description of summit day from the International Mountaineering Website:  Summit day can be divided into three sections. First, the steep path to Independenzia, second, the traverse across the “Gran Acarreo” and third, the very steep and arduous climb of the “Canaleta” and the final approach to the summit.

Until Independenzia the journey is a fairly straightforward task to many climbers, albeit at a very high altitude. However above this point, progress becomes much harder. Steps are much harder won – 1, 2, 3, even 4 breaths per step. The traverse takes longer than it first appears. Distances are dramatically foreshortened. Sometimes an hour or more is needed to reach El Dedo “The Finger”, a distinct rocky spike that marks the start of steeper ground. “The Cave” marks the start of the “Canaleta” and is ascended on the right before joining a low angled traverse back left. This is often easily spotted from below as it is usually choked full of hard packed snow. In some seasons crampons and ice axe may not be required until here, however in most years these are donned after arriving at Independenzia Hut.
Managing the final traverse is a slow and laborious process. Conditions are often difficult – high winds, driving snow and cold temperatures are not uncommon. Given the slow speed they’ll be moving at, this combination can reduce core temperature and make the climbers very cold indeed. The summit plateau is protected by a short rocky steepening that is quickly overcome on the left. At 6962m, the summit is the highest point in the Americas and not a place to linger. A prompt descent is vital.

Here's a picture of what the terrain looks like on the way to the summit, so steep they need to traverse back and forth:

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ready for the final push: Demanding but Exciting Next Two Days

Randy filled us in on the carry day up to Camp 3 yesterday.  It was a major effort in this increasingly scarce air, taking the team just under 4 hours to reach the 19,600 ft. encampment.   Randy still feels like he is acclimatizing well, although definitely feels the impact of the extreme altitude.  It just gets harder and harder to climb, but he and the team are still making great time on their ascents.  Camp 3 is unusually crowded right now, jam-packed with all the teams that had reached that level but been on hold due to the high winds and just biding their time hoping for a summit window.  The summit has basically been shut down for a week with these merciless winds. One team had been up at Camp 3 for 7 long days, holed up in their tents trying to stay warm and protected.  Many of these teams were planning to try to summit today or tomorrow.

Randy and team were just up there for about an hour, long enough for them to cache their gear and hang out at the altitude a bit to help with the acclimatization process.  Randy laid down on his pack and took a nice nap in the sun, then the whole team hiked about 1 hour and 20 minutes back to sleep at Camp 2 for one more night.  Hopefully, many of the teams already at Camp 3 will have their chance to head up the mountain, and Camp Three won't be quite as crowded when Randy and team climb back up there tomorrow.

Here's a couple pictures of Camp 3 at 19,600 ft, their goal for tomorrow:

Once again, there was a little excitement last night, nothing as dramatic as a few days ago with tents being torn apart by the 70mph relentless wind.  Randy was getting a drink during the night from his Nalgene bottle and spilled his water on his jacket. This was seemingly minimal, but actually a bit of a hassle.  When it's below freezing and staying warm and dry is imperative, this has to be dealt with.  He had to bring the wet jacket into his sleeping bag so his body heat would start to warm and dry it.  When they got up this morning, he and the ladies did a bit of housekeeping, airing everything out and moving their gear around so everything was dry and ready for the big move tomorrow. 

Hanging out at Camp 2 today, the acclimatization continued as they rested, read, hydrated, ate dried meat and cheeses and other energy foods from their dwindling food supplies and contemplated their major task ahead. When Randy last checked in around dinner time, they were getting some snow and even some thunder and lightening.  The forecast calls for about 4 inches, but you never really know what to expect at those heights.  A few inches wouldn't be a big deal and may even help with traction on their ascent.  But a lot more could be an issue. 

So this is it: next two days are the 'make it or break it' days.  They will move up to Camp Three tomorrow, leaving around 10 am.  The trek back up will take longer if they get a lot of snow, but hopefully they will arrive by mid-afternoon and set up camp.  Then they'll basically spend their time prepping mentally and physically for their big summit push the next day.  That'll be a grueling +/- 12 hour round trip affair, so they will try to rest, hydrate and fuel up for the herculean effort. 

Now we all need to hope they get lucky with the weather, stay healthy, continue to display the body's remarkable ability to adapt to thinner and thinner air, and find the tenacity to dig deep and put one foot in front of the other.  And let's also hope those of us back here at the more saner altitudes who are just a little bit worried about this whole event can also stay positive and calm during these next two challenging days! 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Quick Update and Some Amazing Vistas!

I haven't heard from Randy yet, but his guide from RMI just updated their blog with the following good news:


Posted by: J.J. JustmanMike KingSteve Gately | January 25, 2014 
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Aconcagua 
Elevation: 18,000'
Progress on these big expeditions always feels good and after spending much time at Camp 1, being able to link up two days of forward momentum sure has the team excited and feeling good. Today was our “carry” toCamp 3 (19,600ft). The team did excellent managing the new altitude. We made it up in great time dropped off a few items for our summit attempt and made it back down to Camp 2 just as some clouds were rolling in. Tomorrow we rest and prepare for our move to Camp 3!

Randy did tell me he was running out of minutes on his satellite phone, and that if I didn't hear from him to figure out how to get him more minutes.  So I think I figured that out, and hopefully we'll hear from him sometime tonight and can fill in the details.  
In the meantime, here are some picture of Camp Two: some of these are from last year when Anders and Randy were there.

Looking out from Camp Two 

Rocky Terrain and view from  Camp Two

Panoramic Vista from 18,000 ft - I guess this is why Randy does this!

A room with a view

Camp Life

Sleeping at Camp Two: Heading to Camp Three

This is Judy (Randy's wife) checking in again with an update from Randy and his team.  I've been traveling with limited Internet so sorry this is a day behind, but hopefully I will try to stay very up-to-date over the next few days, as this is game time up on Aconcagua.  These next few days are what all the planning, training, hoping, and praying have all been about --- will the weather finally cooperate and will each of their bodies continue to adapt to the progressively thinner air so they can get in position up at Camp Three for the physically grueling and mentally demanding summit attempt?  Only time will tell, but that time is certainly approaching.

To catch us up, there was another eventful overnight on Thursday night when the team was sleeping at Camp One.  The winds were howling all night again, gusting up to 70 mph, as Randy was hunkered down in his tent with the other Randy, trying to get some rest.   If you remember, Randy is the climber that is traveling with his two sisters, Denise and Diane.  In the middle of the night, the wind was ripping so strongly that it literally tore apart the sisters' tent.  This is quite dangerous as the temperatures are so frigid, it's pitch black, and they had to move quickly to secure their belongings and try to get warm.  They cannot afford to lose any of their gear at those altitudes; they need everything they have to keep safe and warm on the mountain.   The guides helped them and the two sisters split up, one squeezing in with her brother and Randy, and the other sister jamming in with other teammates.   The next morning, they all realized the tent was beyond repair, and they knew they had no time built in the schedule to go back to Base Camp for a new tent.  So the guides talked it over and split everyone up according to size.  Now here is the amusing part:  Randy (our Randy that is, not the brother) is now the proud new tent mate of Denise and Diane!  I guess the rationale is that the other Randy (the brother) is smaller and can more easily fit in with two other men.  When Randy called me to report this, I happened to be out to lunch with a bunch of my girlfriends, and, well you can just imagine the joking about Randy camping out at 16,000 ft with two women!  The reality is I am relieved about this because I've been worried about Randy doing this trek without his wingman, Anders, watching out for him.  So now I am hoping Denise and Diane watch over Randy in this hugely taxing last part of the climb, and vice versa, and they all stay strong and safe.

Friday morning they packed everything up and climbed up to Camp Two at 18,000 ft., where they spent last night.  The climb took them about 4.5 hours, about an hour faster than Randy and Anders did the same route last year.  Randy said this group of climbers is really strong and they continue to move at a pretty brisk pace.  Thankfully, Camp Two is on the other side of the mountain, and Randy was thrilled to report that the winds had died down and they might finally be getting a break in the weather.   Here's a picture of Camp Two, definitely high up in the middle of nowhere.  You can see the climbers approaching and tents in the distance.  Camp Two is not really much of a "camp", really just a somewhat protected spot to set up their tents and settle for the night.

They continue to revise their plans based on the weather, and this is their new strategy:
Carry to Camp Three today (Saturday)
Descend and sleep back at Camp Two  (Saturday)
Rest day tomorrow at Camp Two (Sunday)
Climb back up and Move to Camp Three (Monday)
Summit Attempt (Tuesday)

As you can see below, Tuesday looks like a perfect summit day: sunny and clear with very low winds.  They are cutting it close as they will have no extra rest or weather days built in, but the guides think this is their best shot.  If they can't summit Tuesday, they will have to head back down the mountain.

When Randy called to say good night last night, he felt pretty good and was in good spirits, settled into his tent with his new buddies, Denise and Diane.  I just have to laugh as I write this thinking of him up at 18,000 jammed into a tent with these two women.  By now they are exhausted, dirty, and probably all stink, but in April Randy and I will have been married 30 years (yikes), so you can imagine this will give all our family and friends something to tease him about!  Let's send them all positive vibes as they move into the final part of their journey.  Feel free to add any comments on this blog; Randy will love reading them when he returns.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

News from Camp One:

Here's a little bit more info about last day and a half:

Early yesterday morning (Wednesday) Randy's tent mate, Bissel, woke him up to say he wasn't feeling well, had talked to the guides, and had decided to head back down the mountain.  He had started to have chest pains during the night.  So one of the guides, Mike King, escorted Bissel down to Base Camp.  There, the doctors checked him out and determined he was suffering from HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema).  They hoped to helicopter him from Base Camp down the mountain, since HAPE can be very serious, but it was too windy for a chopper.   So they transported him by mule the rest of the way down . Randy thought Bissel should be fine since he is now in Mendoza getting the emergency medical attention that HAPE requires.   He said that Bissel (at 52) was a much more experienced mountaineer than he is, but the reality is that no one can predict when their body just can't handle the extreme altitude.  So thankfully Bissel was smart enough to recognize that he needed to descend and get help.

After Mike and Bissel left, the rest of the team did a very windy carry to Camp Two at 18,000 ft.  They carted a bunch of gear up, stowed it, and hiked back down to sleep at Camp One.  Randy felt pretty good during the hike which took about 6 hours in total.  His only complaint is a mild bout of indigestion, but he attributed that to some pretty unappetizing Indian lentil dish from the night before, and by the time I talked to him tonight, he was feeling better.

He now has a new tent mate, another climber coincidently named Randy (also in his 50's), who had been sharing a tent with his two sisters.  The two Randy's have spent a great deal of time yesterday and today hunkered down in their tent as they wait for the battering winds to die down.  They're passing the time with backgammon, books, rummy and naps.   Last night the winds were "just screaming" according to Randy, and they had to get up twice because the wind snapped their guide rope.  The guide rope is extremely important as it keeps their tent from flying off the mountain.  Randy described his new roommate as the "Kung Fu" of camping, and said thank God he was able to ingeniously repair the rope in the middle of the night, while Randy (our Randy that is) laid in the back of the tent to keep it from going airborne.  I realize as I'm writing this that the Randy and the new Randy thing is going to get a little confusing! Who's on first.....?

So here's the plan.  Hopefully tomorrow the weather gods will be kind and the winds will have abated somewhat.  If so, they plan to move everything to Camp 2 (Friday), rest a day there (Saturday), climb up to Camp Three (Sunday) and potentially attempt a summit on Monday.  Randy is planning to use a porter again for both carry days, as are a few other members of his team.  They had 7 "weather days" built into their schedule, and so far they have used 5 of them.  So they really need to catch a break and make some progress up the mountain.  You can see below how the wind forecast looks for the week, still blustery the next couple days, but ebbing a bit by Sunday.  Actually Tuesday looks like the best summit day, but Randy said that head guide JJ doesn't think they should wait that long if they get a chance on Monday.  They only have so many days they can wait around, with a set amount of food and inability to stay at those altitudes indefinitely.

Good news is that the 3rd guide Mike is rejoining them in their ascent to Camp Two tomorrow.  Randy said that will be really helpful, as Camp Two will be crowded with all the teams that are waiting for wind to die down, meaning they will probably have to dig out an area for their tent sites when they arrive.  Other good news is Randy continues to feel pretty good and strong and is staying in a positive frame of mind!  So time will tell if they get a chance to try to summit!

Quick Update: Holding Pattern at Camp One

Just a very quick update and I'll fill in more later:
Randy and team successfully carried up to Camp Two on a very cold and windy day yesterday, left some of their gear and descended to sleep at Camp One.
It is still extremely gusty, so they are unable to move up to Camp Two today as planned.  Right now they are holed up in their tents, hoping the winds calm down a bit for a climb to Camp Two tomorrow.  They are keeping busy, playing lots of backgammon, reading etc.
I'll provide more details later on!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Blustery, gusty, brutal winds and unwelcome ice

Freight train wind conditions prevail at Camp One today, making last night and today "freakishly" cold according to Randy.   With sustained winds of 35mph and gusts up to 50 or 60mph, the team is now hunkered down in their tents, trying to stay warm.

Last night was a pretty eventful night, the kind that makes me want Randy to call it a day and head back down the mountain.  His team slept at a slightly higher Camp One (at 16.6) which is just about 1/4 mile up the mountain from the regular Camp One (at 16K) where some other teams are encamped.  Around 3 AM, Randy said there was just a deafening noise which woke him, even with ear plugs.  No one knew quite what was going on.  They heard loud crashing noises and the wind battering their tent, but being pitch black and bitterly cold, he and Bissel just stayed in their tent.  Everything settled down after a while, and they rested on an off.  Early this morning, they woke to many hundreds of pieces of ice all over the camp.  One giant piece, around 50 lbs, had actually torn into the vestibule of their teammates tent (the two sisters and brother), but miraculously hadn't touched any of them.   Randy's tent was torn at the apex, as was a third tent.  As we spoke, two guides were repairing those two tents, and one had descended back to base camp to get a new tent for the siblings.  Thank God no one was hurt at all, but they basically had one of those extremely rare ice falls assault their campsite.   Evidently, higher up in the mountains, a huge chunk of ice had broken loose, shattering into pieces as it crashed down the slopes.  

After much discussion about the ice and wind, the guides decided the team should still try to carry to Camp 2 at 18,000.  So they packed everything up and set up onto the frigid slope.  For the first half hour, they were slipping so much, that they had to stop to put their crampons on.  This was a tough task as they had to sit down on a pretty exposed side wall, secure their packs, not let anything drop, and attach their crampons.   They managed this with gloves since it was too cold for exposed hands and  persevered on.  But even with crampons, the wind was literally knocking them off their feet. They had climbed about 700 ft vertical of the 1500 ft vertical to Camp Two, but the guides had them head back down to Camp One.  Once back down, head guide JJ at first said it was okay to camp in the same higher spot, that the ice fall had been a freak occurrence, and they would be fine.  So with the wind battering them, they set their tents back up, got organized and crawled inside to get warm.  Unfortunately, after a while, JJ noticed some more ice falling in the distance and decided it wasn't prudent to remain there.  So, he had the team get back up, pack everything up again and haul everything down closer to the "normal" Camp One.  Randy said you just can't imagine what goes into moving camp even that 1/4 mile.  Unlike when they carry up to a higher camp, lugging half the stuff up one day, and then the rest the next day, today they had to transport all the tents, equipments, stoves, clothes, food, etc.  So Randy had a full pack plus two full bags in each hand, stumbling down a trail pummeled by the frigid wind.  Once again, they had to set up all their tents and stow their gear.  Randy called me after they finally were settled, wedged between two big boulders so he could talk above the howling wind.   Is someone secretly paying him to do this, or is this really something fun?

So, what does this all mean?  With no forecasted abatement of the wind, Randy thinks their summit chances are going down.  They will probably have to wait at Camp One at least a couple days before trying to climb again.  And they can't stay up there forever, so they need a break in the weather to move forward safely up to Camp Two (18k), then Camp Three (19.5K), from which they would be poised for a summit attempt of this 22.8K beast.  He's still doing well though, feels very strong and very physically prepared to keep moving ahead if they get the chance.  He has a little shortness of breath, but that's expected as they acclimate to the higher altitudes. He's not worried about the cold as he says he has the warmest boots and clothing of the whole gang. This is when I am thankful he is such a gear guy and definitely biased towards high end equipment!   

I probably won't hear from him again tonight as it's too cold as the sun sets to venture out and find a protected spot to talk, so let's just hope that ridiculous ice assault was in fact a freak thing, and that they all stay safe and as warm as possible while they wait out the wind.
Views of the mountains above Camp One

Camp One

Monday, January 20, 2014

"Best Day Ever"

Randy had another great day, calling in to say they had ascended back up to High Camp One and set up camp for the night.  So this will be the first night the group is sleeping up at 16,650.  To put that in perspective, that is higher than any mountains in the US except for a few in Alaska, including of course, McKinley. It's a bit daunting that they still have about 6000 feet to climb!

The good news is Randy continues to feel strong, in fact, he said he feels better every day.  So he seems to be acclimating really well and not having any stomach or lung issues.  So keep your fingers crossed that this continues!

As forecasted, the winds had significantly picked up, and Randy was basically wearing all of his clothes, 4 layers on top, 3 layers on the bottom, including his huge puffy jacket and puffy pants.  They must all look like they are walking on the moon.   The wind is expected to intensify over the next few days, making some of their ascents a bit tricky.  So they will have to see how things are and figure which days to rest and which to climb.   Right now the summit is basically shut down due to high winds, but their hope is they take the next 5 or so days to move up to the Highest Camp (Camp Three), and then hopefully the winds will not be whipping around as much.   Here's a look at the forecast at the summit for the next 5 days.  (You can click on it to zoom in).   Clearly, no one would want to be trying to summit with these 60 - 75 MPH winds, and wind chills around 25  below!  They are hopeful come Saturday, Sunday, although still windy, things might calm down enough to allow a summit attempt.  As these things go, you just never know.  As I reported, the team before them had to head back down due to weather and give up their summit chance, so it's out of their control, and Randy's team will just keep moving up the mountain hoping they get their chance.

Speaking of weather, and however insignificant this may sound to you all, I had planned a little girls trip to Florida while Randy is away.  Since Delaware, like Aconcagua, is bracing for a HUGE weather event (accumulation of a formidable 4 - 6 inches of snow) our flight from Philadelphia was preemptively cancelled 36 hours in advance.  So, consequently, I've spent the last 2 hours frantically trying to rebook 11 flights.  Fortunately, you can all breath a huge sigh of relief that we worked it out.  So while Randy braves arctic temperatures, chilling winds,  and grueling ascents, I will be blogging poolside, with margarita in hand, from Delray Beach. 

Back to Randy (I guess this blog is really about him), the plan is to carry to High Camp Two tomorrow (18,045 feet), and then descend to sleep at Camp One.  Of course, this is all dependent on the wind, so we'll see what happens.  Wish him luck and send positive thoughts up to the weather gods! 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Glorious Rest Day at Camp One

Nothing better than a brilliantly clear day and a much-needed 10 hours of sleep to make Randy feel "fantastic" on this 9th day of his adventure!

Here's looking up at the majestic and imposing Aconcagua peak from Base Camp on a sunny day.

Looking out over Base Camp:

After a couple of restless nights and a strenuous climb yesterday, Randy was determined to get a good night's sleep.  He put in ear plugs, pulled his wool hat down over his eyes and ears and crawled into his sleeping bag around 9:45pm.  Next thing he knew it was 3:30 in the morning.  He got up to go to the bathroom, went back in the tent and before he knew it, Bissel was nudging him to get up at 8am. He feels like an new person. Evidently, he missed quite the drama during the night.  Quite a few locals live for long periods of time at Base Camp to market their services to the climbers, such as porters or vendors in tents selling food, showers, even internet.  So they occasionally have somewhat raucous parties, which they did last night, dancing and singing till 2am.  One of the porters perhaps had a bit too much Argentinian Malbec and started throwing rocks at the ranger station, breaking windows and starting a big fight.   The guides and the other team members were complaining about all the noise, but Randy slept through the whole thing.

He had talked to Anders yesterday and determined since he felt so good, he shouldn't keep worrying so much about his O2 saturation.  He would just go by how he feels and not obsess about the percentage.  Well that lasted for a few hours until Randy happened to see his pulse oximiter as he was sorting his luggage.  Being the stat man that he is, he couldn't resist.  The answer: a whopping 96%!  So that did make him happy, and he really does feel completely acclimated, at least at this level.

They spent an easy day lounging around, organizing their stuff for tomorrow, and of course eating.  He and Bissel paid $35 for a pizza from one of those locals.  As Randy said, it's a seller's market!  During the day, the other RMI team (Team 3) which had to turn back on their summit attempt yesterday came down to Base Camp.  Today would have been perfect clear weather for their summit attempt, but they were literally too wiped out from the day before and decided to call it a day.  Randy's team welcomed them and they all hung out a while.  They were pretty physically depleted, but had amazingly good attitudes about not summiting.  Randy said it was good for him to hear their positive perspectives -- "Hey we tried our best, but sometimes the weather doesn't cooperate, and sometimes your body doesn't react well, and there isn't much you can do. "

The team spent a lot of time talking, strategizing about the challenging climbs ahead of them.  They have their work cut out from them as you can see by the elevation profile below.   From Plaza Argentina on, they are climbing, climbing, and climbing.  Added to that, the winds are supposed to get incredibly strong the next few days.  Thank God they were not trying to summit anytime over the next few days because winds at the top are expected to be up to 75mph.  Tomorrow around 8am, they will head back up to Camp 1 and will sleep at that higher elevation (16, 600ft) for the first time. Randy decided to use a porter again, so he'll have about 20 lbs on his back.  One of the guides, Steve, had helped Randy yesterday to optimize what he calls his "rest-step", which is a walking gait used in ascending steep slopes.  It is a pause of motion with the rear leg vertical and fully extended, while the front leg is more relaxed, so that for a moment his weight rests on his skeleton and not his muscles.  He said this significantly helped increase his balance and minimize his muscle fatigue.

Randy said he misses everyone, as we do him, but is hanging in there to get through these next 12 days and try to achieve his goal.   He knows he has some very tough climbing ahead of him and has to stay focused, positive, and strong.  He appreciates all the messages I've passed on to him.  Feel free to comment on this blog; he'll love reading that when he returns.   Thanks for all your support!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Successful Carry to High Camp One

Today the team successfully carried up to High Camp One at 16,600, dropped off some gear, and then descended back to Base Camp.

Here's the spectacular view from High Camp, where they will camp in a couple nights after a Base Camp rest day tomorrow.

After another restless night with little sleep again for Randy, they woke early and set off by 7:30 am.  It snowed all day, which was a bonus in that it's much easier to get traction when the scree (dry, loose rock) is covered with snow.  It took about 5 hours to climb up the 2800 ft of vertical, and only 90 minutes to descend, the joys of gravity.   Randy was tired, but said it was "no problem and went great."  Since he had hired a porter, he was only carrying about 22 lbs, basically water, food, and some extra clothing. Randy had packed really carefully for this trip, about 20 lbs less than he brought last year.  The porter was a set fee ($185) for taking 35 pounds, and Randy didn't even have that much to give him so was able to let a few of his teammates (the two sisters and brother) offload some of their gear as well.  They were very grateful and rewarded Randy with some chicken salad and crackers after the climb.

Randy was very pleased that he felt so good since this is the most challenging climbing day besides summit day.  The difference between climbing this year and last year is significant.  First of all last year the terrain was pure scree so the footing was poor.  And, Randy had a horrible, hacking cough, a very sick stomach, and had described himself feeling "whipped, pushed to his limit, frequently going anaerobic with a rapid heartbeat and feeling like he was doing intervals".  This time he has no cough or stomach issues and said he never went anaerobic the whole day.  So while the steep terrain with its sometimes awkward scrambling and intimidating exposure was taxing, he felt in control and strong.  Go Randy!

Three of the team members are struggling with coughs and/or stomach issues, but they all still got up and down today, and I'm sure are looking forward to their rest day tomorrow.  When they returned to Base Camp today, they had a quick snack and a nap.  When I just talked to Randy, about 6pm his time, they were getting ready for a 7:30pm steak and lasagna dinner.   He wanted me to tell Anders that he had just run into Pete, their IMG guide from last year and had a long chat.  It turns out that Pete's group will probably be making their summit attempt the same day as Randy's team.

Speaking of summiting, about 5500 people try to summit Aconcagua each year, 5000 from the other side, known as the Normal Route, and 500 from the side Randy's RMI team is climbing, known as the Polish Traverse.  I'm not exactly sure why he chose a route only 10% of people attempt, but perhaps I don't really want to know that answer! The overall success rate for summiting is about 30%.  With guided attempts like Randy's, the success rate is about twice that.  So far this season, 2 RMI teams have made the summit, each time 5 out of the 9 teammates were able to summit.  Right now a 3rd RMI team is high in the mountains and tried to make a summit attempt today but was forced to turn back.  In case you are interested to read about what can happen up at those volatile frigid altitudes, here's the hot-off-the-press blog from their head guide. Let's hope Randy's team has better weather on their summit attempt!
"It's a cold, cold world.  We woke up and fired the stoves at about 3:30 this morning and things were looking good: clear skies, bright moon, and calm winds. We scarfed a quick breakfast, had a quick cup of coffee, packed up, and hit the not so dusty trail. The consistent snowfall of the past week has blanketed the mountain so what is normally a gravelly trail out of Cólera was a very snowy sendero. Our team moved well, per the norm, despite the large number of other climbers clogging the route and before too long we had climbed past the Indepencia Hut (ruins) and hit the traverse into the Canaleta. At some point along the way we found ourselves no longer enjoying the clear skies but instead traveling under consistent snowfall. In fact it was snowing heavily and visibility was poor. Despite the worsening weather the snowpack seemed ok until we reached the center of the traverse. Walt and myself headed out further without the group and found the normally gravelly trail under several feet of snow. In fact the whole Canaleta was smoothed over with the storm snow. Every other team on the mountain had already turned around due to avalanche hazard but we hadn’t seen anything worth turning around until the deep storm layer that we encountered in the lower Canaleta. While the snow didn’t seem super reactive the steeper part of the Canaleta was surely more dangerous and there was no way to see without exposing ourselves to the hazard. With worsening weather and continued snowfall we decided that the dire consequences of an incident were too much for us to shoulder. We weren’t willing to bet our lives on it so we did the smart thing and turned around at 21,500’. Now we are back at high camp and the weather is still crappy. So much for the forecasted sunny day…"

Rest day tomorrow so I'm sure we'll have more news and "stats" from the slopes.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Day in the Life at Base Camp

I spoke to Randy a couple times today; all good at Base Camp and ready to head up to High Camp One tomorrow.

Last night Randy's tent mate Bissel slept all through the night, but Randy tossed and turned, got up a couple times to go to the bathroom and clear the 6+ inches of new snow off the tent. He slept about 2 hours.  His heart was pounding a lot which happens as they adjust to altitude, so he just rested, taking a lot of deep breaths to speed along the acclimatization process.  One advantage of his restless night was the unexpected gift of a stunningly clear sky at 3AM, with a full moon, tons of stars, the northern lights and Orion in full view.  He wished he had thought to take a picture but it'll have to be one of those spectacular snapshots in his mind.

This morning his oxygen saturation was 93%, later today they had a medical checkup to ascertain their fitness to continue up the mountain and his O2 sat was 85%, still within acceptable range to continue his ascent.  Unlike at this point last year, Randy has no cough, no fluid in his lungs, no stomach distress, no headache.  So he is feeling really strong and ready to take on the mountain.  The whole team passed their physicals, so all gearing up for the big push tomorrow.  A couple of them have various issues like stomach upset and a hacking cough, but no real issues at this point.

Plaza Argentina (Base Camp) is basically an amphitheater with steep towering slopes all around.  After all the snow yesterday, there was a foot or two of snow in the mountains above them, causing lots of avalanches all day today (not in areas where anyone would hike).  Randy said it was really awesome to hear the powerful rumble of the approaching avalanches and see the snow cascading down the steep slopes in the distance.   Today was in the 40's so most of the snow in their immediate area had melted, which helped them to all get organized and sort their gear.

In relative terms, Base Camp is full of amenities for the weary traveler. Instead of the guides cooking on their portable stoves, there are tents set up with cooks and even china and silverware.  So they dined like kings:  scrambled eggs, onions, and potatoes for breakfast and later quesadillas and homemade pizzas.  They even had showers courtesy of large trash bags of water warmed up in the sun.  Sounds a little crude, but I'm sure cleaning off felt good.  If anyone read this last year, you know that Randy got very sick at Base Camp, he thinks from taking a shower that some local vendor had set up and possibly getting some of the water in his mouth.  You can be sure he didn't get one drop of garbage-bag water in his mouth this time!

Good news is that Randy decided to hire a porter to help with the carry to High Camp One.   His view is that getting help when he can is a good thing.  They had already had help from the mules getting to Base Camp; they are all planning to use porters to help with the descent from the summit, so it's never been about having to carry everything the whole time.  Since porters were available tomorrow and Randy's back had been so bad a couple weeks ago, he decided to hire one.  That means he'll have about 15 - 20 lbs on his back instead of 50.   I know this steep climb up to High Camp One is really tough -- only 3 miles, but over 2000 elevation gain.  The terrain is mostly loose rock which is tougher to navigate than packed snow with crampons.  They will carry everything up, drop it off, then descend back to sleep at Base Camp.

Here's a couple of pictures of the route they will take tomorrow:

A big day ahead for Randy and crew!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

They made it to Base Camp, and so did the weather!

Randy called in reporting that it wasn't an easy day, but it was "an awesome" day, and they had made it safely to Base Camp (Plaza Argentina) in 6 hours.  This third approach is a tough one, traveling along the north side of the Relincho on narrow ledges that at times climbed several hundred feet about the river. This is definitely a no fall zone! The terrain is mostly uphill along this route, but they sometimes have to descend to get to the next part of the trail, so they actually climbed 4100 ft. and descended 1000, to have net elevation gain of 3100ft.  They are now at 13,678 -- what most would consider a very high mountain in Colorado.  And yet they have about 9000 more feet to climb!

Randy felt great today, very strong.  During the climb the weather was high 70's to mid-80's; they were all in T-shirts.   By the time they arrived at Base Camp, winter weather was starting to set in.   When I heard from Randy, around 5pm Argentina time, he said it was freezing, snowing very hard, and thundering.   What a change from the summer conditions in the Vacas Valley.  As Randy said,  they are definitely "in the mountains now!"

At Base Camp, they have to make decisions about what to leave behind and what to bring into the higher altitudes.   Clearly, less weight is preferable since the mules can't climb above Base Camp, so they have to carry everything on their backs.  The guides had decided to put 3 guys in each of the tents above Base Camp so they wouldn't have to carry an extra tent.  Having a pretty strong opinion about being jammed in with two other big guys for the next 10 days, Randy had a little chat with his teammates and they all decided they would rather carry the extra tent.  Then Randy had a conversation with the 3 guides and, not surprisingly if you know Randy's persuasive powers, they will continue sleeping 2 to a tent.  Having seen pictures of Randy and Anders in their tent, it is very hard to imagine sharing that space with 2 large men, especially ones he met a few days ago!

The other consideration here is whether they will hire porters to help carry up to the first high camp.  There are a lot of porters hanging around Base Camp hoping to be hired to help in the higher altitudes.  Randy was going to ponder it a bit more, but when I just spoke to him tonight, he was leaning towards hiring a porter.  I remember from last year that this first climb to Camp One is one of the hardest -- very steep, some exposure meaning you can't misstep, and poor footing in areas due to loose rock -- all this while for the first time carrying 50+ lbs on their backs.   Somehow the porter sounds like a no-brainer to me, but we'll see what he decides. We didn't talk long as Randy said he was standing outside in a blizzard and wanted to get some sleep since they would have to get up during the night to shovel off their tents.  Next is a much welcome rest day for the team, so I'm sure we'll hear more mañana!

Some pictures of Base Camp, Plaza Argentina:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A much better day than yesterday

After what Randy looks back on as a rough day yesterday with the dehydration and unexpected rain, today was "like night and day".  He slept well and felt much better after super-hydrating with 4 litres between end of yesterday's trek and this morning.  The 12 team members rose at 7am and were off by 9 to beat some of the intense sun.   The weather was cooler and at the halfway point it was only up to 71.  By the time they arrived at their destination, Casa de Piedra at 10,600, it had climbed to a pretty steamy 82 but never got as hot as yesterday.  They had covered about 9.3 miles with an elevation gain of 1000 ft.  Randy focused on staying hydrated and keeping cool as possible.  He drank 4 liters on the way today instead of 3 yesterday.  And to help get his body temperature down after arriving the climb, he decided to take a dip in the Vacca River.   He walked about a 1/4 mile from  camp, stripped off his clothes and dunked in.  The Vacca, a glacial runoff, is their source of drinking water, which they purify.  Randy isn't exactly sure what might be in the water, so he kept his head out and just dipped in, but was enough to quickly cool his temperature and he felt great.  After walking back to camp and telling a few of his teammates about his "bath", a few were planning to head off and follow suit (birthday suit that is).

They are surrounded by the natural beauty of the Valle de Vacas, and head guide JJ reported in the RMI blog that they were lucky to have a condor sighting which is rare in the towering mountains.

Here are some pictures of the climb to Approach Camp 2.

Below are some pictures of Camp 2, Case de Peidra (House of Stone).  This Camp is named for the small house, constructed with rocks, that is used by the muleteers as a refuge on the way up to base camp and/or down to the trailhead.  As you can see there is not much at this camp besides that little house of stone and flat terrain to tie up mules and pitch their tents.

In the background is the old Stone Casa.

Looking back on yesterday, Randy thought the pace was quite fast, an hour faster than the 6 hours it had taken last year to climb the same route in much cooler weather.  Today the pace was a bit more measured, only 25 minutes faster than he and Anders did the same route last year.   Leave it to Randy to actually remember this stuff!

Another stat?  Guess whose oxygen saturation was the highest on his team after the hike today?  Yup, you got it, Randy with a O2 of 95%.  For those of you that read the blog last year, you know that by the higher altitudes his O2 sat had dropped precariously low, so this is really good news.  His back is feeling strong.  Today he carried about 12 kilos on his back (about 26.5 lbs); his other 26 kilos were carried by mule.  So far, so good.

Tomorrow is the last approach push up to Plaza Argentina (13,780 ft), where they will get set up for the High Camps and have a welcome rest day.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

First Approach Trek to Pampa de Las Lenas

After handing over their gear bags to the muleteers and mules and loading up their own backpacks with water and essentials, the team set off around 10am on a very hot and sweltering day for their first approach trek.  This was the first of their 3 day approach to base camp at 13,780.  Today their goal was Pampa de Las Lenas, at 9,678 ft about a 2000 elevation gain for the day.   Below you can see the terrain while hiking up the Vaca valley to Approach Camp 1.

Randy said it was a scorcher, about 88 degrees, with no shade on the route.   He was definitely dehydrated at the end of the 5 hour climb today, having gone through all 3 liters in his pack and run out of water while hiking.   When I spoke to him,  he had already downed 2 more liters of water at Las Lenas and was planning to keep hydrating all evening.  He was still feeling a bit weak but was sure he would feel better by the morning.   Besides being dehydrated though, Randy said he had felt strong climbing, his oxygen was really good at 95%, and his back was holding up fine. 

They were all getting ready to have a steak BBQ with the "cowboys" (muleteers).    When I first talked to Randy the plan was to have dinner, then sleep under the stars.  Well not exactly the stars since it was overcast, but under the clouds. Randy was looking forward to sleeping outside. There was thunder and lightening in the distance, but the guides didn't think it would rain on them.  
Wrong!  When I spoke to Randy a few hours later, around 11pm his time, he said it had suddenly started pouring, thundering, and lightening, and they had to scramble and get their tents up.  The weather was getting colder and the wind was picking up, which was a good thing because everything had gotten wet and had to dry out.  Also, tomorrow should be cooler for their next climb.  

Randy is sharing a tent with Bissel (whom I guess I had previously called Faisal) and he thought it was cool they are camping in exactly the same protected spot that he and Anders had chosen last year.  

More tomorrow as they head another thousand feet up to Approach Camp Two (10,663 ft).