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 C√≥lera 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.

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