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:

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