Climbing Aconcagua Story and Photos
by Theodore Fairhurst, 2006
The exciting thing about high altitude climbing is not really the details from day to day, like the raging river crossings, moving up and down from camp to camp, radical weather changes, equipment issues, etc., etc. These details are, of course, the wonderful stuff that fill up your memory box and photo albums. In my opinion, however, it is the senses, especially anticipation that aspect of living on the cutting edge of new experiences, that weighs in as the real adventure. Of course, all the camp stories, the phenomenal vistas, the blizzards, thunderstorms, high winds come to mind first after a climb. But during the climb it is "anticipation" and all those other senses that keep you fine-tuned to the moment, and motivates you as nothing in normal daily life can come close to.
The river crossings become moments of high drama wondering if a missed foothold will plunge you into the fast current. The anticipation of hoping to find a horseshoe on the long march in to Base Camp to add a little extra luck to your summit bid. Wondering if you can manage hauling the heavy loads of gear and food to higher and higher camps in thinner and thinner air. Preying you won't come down with some virus. High altitude acclimatizing. Managing to twist yourself through the penitentes. It is exciting stuff living every moment on the edge. Perhaps it can be compared to that first teenage date when all your senses are in overdrive trying to look and be your best. Afraid something will go wrong regardless how much you have perfected yourself. Those are the important memories from then and likewise these moments of anticipation put you at your best now.
And so it goes, at camp 3 at 18,000 feet, hearing thunderstorms during the nite below you on the mountain, hoping three days of snowfall will finally stop for summit day, worrying about not getting enough sleep at nite. These are not negative fears. Believe me, they are all your senses coming alive and on fire. Moving up to camp 4 at 19,500 feet and getting into position for the summit. Suddenly, the stormy snow laden clouds open and the last rays of a setting sun slam into the golden rock around your tents. Regardless how exhausted you are at the end of the day, seeing such brilliant firery reds and oranges and almost being able to see the Pacific ocean over the tops of all those snowy peaks below you energizes you as nothing else can. You feel emotions and feelings you never knew you had.
It is 4 am the next morning, the sky is dark but clear, the wind low today is the day 'we are going for it.' You wolf down some cold cereal, step into your crampons, worry about getting your clothes right. Can you make it? You are prepared. You are trained. You know it is 50% physical, but also 50% mental. One foot in front of the next. It is 3,500 feet straight up in thin air today. This is your day. This is judgement day. The world is spectacular all around you. Your senses are bursting inside you. You are alive like never before. This is a drug. And all you have taken is the decision to challenge yourself on a very big hill. The hours go by. There are moments. They pass. It is 4:15 in the afternoon. You have taken your last step up. You are standing on top of the hemisphere. You are the happiest eight people in the world. Goddamn it, you made it. You trusted those senses, you lived on the edge. Every cell in your body is alive. All that "anticipation" sharpened you like a knife...
It has always been my style to just take off alone and go to places like Bolivia, Peru, etc., to climb and when I got there to organize myself with a guide. I've had mixed success doing it that way. Guides and guiding companies normally use the same tents, equipment, know the same routes, but are not all the same. The differences lie with the people and their attitudes. Being positive and passionate about their work and the success of their clients is what distinguishes one outfit from another. It was my personal experience, and what I heard from the others in my group, that sets IMG apart. They made it their business to pay attention to the small things that not only makes for a good trip, but can make the difference between success and failure. Most important, they were positive and fun to be with. Team work and team spirit was the priority.
The Guanacos valley route on Aconcagua that IMG prefers and recommends was not busy at all unlike the other routes. Frankly, we saw only a couple of other international climbing parties above Base Camp during our whole time on the mountain. The last thing I want to see climbing a mountain is a crowd. I recommend IMG from my personal experiences.