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ACONCAGUA 07 TRIP REPORT
January 8, 2007 – Aconcagua Overview
Marshall departed Denver for Argentina in order to arrive a day early, on the morning of January 9, 2007. Here is an overview of Aconcagua, including some history and general information on what the climbers will be facing on the mountain. Mount Aconcagua (22,841ft) is located entirely in the province of Mendoza, in western Argentina. Aconcagua is one of the highest peaks in the world and the very highest outside the Himalayas in Asia. The first climber to successfully reach the summit was Mathías Zurbriggen of Switzerland. He reached the highest point on Aconcagua on 14 January 1897, following the northwest trail (Normal Route), which has since become the most popular path to Aconcagua 's zenith. Over the years, the number of expeditions arriving at Aconcagua Provincial Park, eager to face the challenge of height, strong winds and extreme temperatures, have increased steadily, making it one of the most popular destinations among mountain climbers the world over. Aconcagua is part of the "seven summits" circuit. According to some international expert mountaineers that have climbed the Himalayas, the almost 23,000 feet of Aconcagua represent an even greater physiological distance. This phenomenon is due to several factors. The Himalayas, for instance, have vegetation up to 16,400 feet, while in the Central Andes Mountain range the vegetation reaches only to 11,500 to 13,000 feet. The relative ambient humidity is very low and the atmosphere of the Earth is thinner in this region of the globe. All of this makes Aconcagua a terrain appropriate to test and prepare for later expeditions to mountains higher than 8,000 meters. Climbers attempting to climb Aconcagua must properly equipped and in excellent physical condition. From the technical point of view, Aconcagua presents all types of difficulties on rock, ice and snow. And he who confronts the ascent should have a good climbing technique, excellent physical fitness, considerable experience, and most importantly, a lot of enthusiasm and perseverance. All participants fly into Mendoza, Argentina, which is 690 miles west of Buenos Aires and is at 2,500 feet above sea level. The best climbing season for Aconcagua is between late November and late February, when the weather is warmer and more stable. Aconcagua generates its own weather. There can be a wide range of temperatures, from warm days (50 to 69º F) to freezing nights (-4 to -13º F), depending on the altitude. Large snowfields; strong winds, which are very common; and major snowstorms, in particular above 13,000 feet, are a possibility. The humidity is extremely low, but humid winds blowing from the Pacific Ocean, 100 miles to the west, generate most of the bad weather of Aconcagua.
January 9, 2007 - Arrival in Mendoza and the Route
Marshall arrived safely in Mendoza, and greeted several members of the group: Nancy Bristow, Louise Cooper, David Ferris, and Terri Schneider. Frank Fumich and Richard Shear will arrive on January 10th. Unfortunately, due to a recent biking accident that resulted in some broken ribs, Mick Donoff (who was a member of the Kilimanjaro 2006 climb through Stray Dogs Adventure Travel with a Purpose) had to cancel at the last minute. Marshall was sorry that Mick couldn't be a part of the group, but looks forward to future adventures with him. Marshall reported that Nancy, Louise, David, and Terri are all fit and healthy, and ready for the climb! None of them have been above 20,000 feet before, so it will an exciting challenge for all. Here is an overview of the expedition.
The approach to base camp is by a three-day hike up the Vacas Valley. The group will spend two nights at the intermediate camps of Pampa de Lenas and Casa de Piedra before getting to the Plaza Argentina base camp. Once in Plaza Argentina, the group will spend the next six days for acclimatization and rest. During the acclimatization period, the group will practice using their equipment and working in teams. While harnesses and roped travel are not required on this route on Aconcagua, Marshall will be teaching these techniques to those who are interested for several reasons: first, for general knowledge; second, so that the group can travel roped together if anyone is unsure of the slope/terrain higher on the mountain; and, third, because several of the members of the group may go on to climb other mountains where these skills will be required, and it's never too early to learn (and practice)! By going up, then back down, the mountain, the climbers' bodies will be given the opportunity to adapt to the new altitude. As a group, they will also be transferring equipment and supplies up to the higher camps, so that they will have wellstocked camps when they arrive. On the mountain the group will set up two altitude camps. By experience the local guides know that a third camp (after Camp 2) would be too high and extremely windy to rest and sleep properly. They have also learned that an intermediary camp between Camps 1 and 2 is not necessary. Maintaining a third camp demands too much energy on the part of the climbers and is a waste of mental and physical energy. After leaving Camp 2, the group will head for the summit, traversing the mountain to reach the Normal Route, just below Camp Independencia. The local guides (1 guide for ever 3 or 4 climbers), will be responsible for leading the climb, along with Marshall, paying special attention to the safety of everyone in the party. Guides will also be in charge of various chores, such as cooking and providing hot water. The expedition also includes two extra days to get to the summit, in case the guides judge the weather to be too rough to continue.
January 10 – Mendoza
The remaining members of the Stray Dogs group - Frank Fumich and Rich Shear - arrived in Mendoza today. The local guiding group, Aconcagua Adventures, also added two “non Stray Dogs” (although I'm sure they'll be initiated!) to the group, a man from France (Fabris) and one from Russia (Demetri). So, they now have a group of 9 climbers: Marshall (who will be assisting the local guides), Nancy, Louise, Terri, David, Frank, and Rich; plus Fabris and Demetri. Marshall reported that everyone was doing well and ready for the climb. He spent some time with everyone sorting through gear and assisting with packing to ensure that each member is prepared – at least as far as gear goes. Terri reported on her blog that they have already enjoyed some excellent food and wine, and enjoyed the warmth of the sun in Mendoza before heading off the mountain tomorrow. David posted that they have had some trouble with the satellite phone, but that he hopes to be able to do audio postings during the climb. Here is a day-to-day schedule of the climb via the Polish Glacier Traverse Route.
The Polish Glacier Traverse Route
This route, also known as the False Polish Glacier, is an excellent path up Aconcagua. This beautiful, non-technical route is “the road less traveled,” with much fewer visitors than the Normal Route (which is the route the Marshall climbed in 2003 as a part of his successful climb of all Seven Summits). Climbers from all levels in excellent physical conditions can climb Mount Aconcagua by the Polish Glacier Traverse.
The approach to its base camp is by the Vaccas Valley, an amazing valley where it is possible to see wild guanacos (similar to llamas, but unique to the Andes). The itinerary follows the principles of correct acclimatization before starting the climb. It has also been designed as an expedition-style climb, climbing high and then returning to a lower base camp to sleep. This is a non-technical route similar to the Normal Route, but longer. Due to the altitude, it can be very tiring and very challenging. There are some brief treks on the glacier, but neither rock nor ice climbing is involved. After Camp 2 there is a traverse to the Normal Route from which the group will approach the summit of Aconcagua. Expedition members will carry packs (30 lbs average) for multiple days. The Stray Dogs are following this itinerary for the Aconcagua '07 climb. Jan 10 – Arrive in Mendoza 2,500 feet Transfer from airport to hotel - Lodging Jan 1– Puente del Inca 8,900 feet Aconcagua Park permit purchasing. Drive to Puente del Inca - Lodging Jan 12– Pampa de Lenas 9,100 feet Transport to Quebrada de Vacas (trail head). Hiking to Pampa de Lenas - Camp Jan 13– Casa de Piedra 10,500 feet Hiking to Casa de Piedra - Camp Jan 14– Plaza Argentina 13,700 feet Hiking to Plaza Argentina Base Camp Jan 15– Plaza Argentina Rest day at Base Camp Jan 16– Plaza Argentina Carry to Camp 1 and back to Plaza Argentina Jan 17– Plaza Argentina Rest day at Base Camp Jan 18– Camp 1 16,240 feet Move to Camp 1 Jan 19 – Camp 1 Carry to Camp 2 and back to Camp 1 Jan 20– Camp 1 Rest day at Camp 1 Jan 21– Camp 2 19,000ft Move to Camp 2 Jan 22-24– Summit 22,841feet Camp 2 to Summit (traverse to Normal Route ) and back to Camp 2 Jan 25 – Plaza Argentina Descent to Plaza Argentina - Camp Jan 26 – Pampa de Lenas Hiking to Pampa de Lenas - Camp Jan 27 – Puente del Inca
Hiking to Quebrada de Vacas (trail head). Transport to Puente del Inca - Lodging Jan 28 – Mendoza Drive to Mendoza . Lodging. Jan 29 – Mendoza Transfer to airport and home
January 11 – Mendoza to Puente del Inca
Good news! Marshall reported that Terri and Dave were able to find someone to repair the satellite phone (having it completely torn apart at one point was a bit nerve-wracking, I'm sure!) and they believe audio postings should be available during the climb. After a morning of last minute packing and errands, the group made the 113 mile drive from Mendoza from Puente del Inca, including a stop to pick up necessary park/climbing permits. After they crossed the Andes, it was about a two-and-a-half hour drive to Puente del Inca at 8,900 feet. David reported that they drove along the muddy, turbulent, and fast Rio de Quiva river and arrived in dry mountain country with sage and buttes. He described it as looking like “something out of an old western; or like New Mexico.” Marshall reported that the Hosteria Puente del Inca has hostel-like rooms with 5 people per room, hot showers, and good food. This is the last night the group will have indoor lodging for about 10 days so, despite “smelling of diesel,” David reported that it's otherwise “quite nice.” Puente del Inca is the launching point for all climbers approaching the mountain from the Vacas Valley, and David reported that there were lots of climbers around. While the group enjoyed "eating and drinking like it was meal,” as described by Terri, the guides were busy organizing mule loads to carry most of the equipment to Casa de Piedra and then on to base camp at Plaza Argentina.
January 12 – Puente del Inca to Pampa de Lenas
I was not able to talk to Marshall today, but did get information about the group from an audio posting on The Ferris Files. The group moved from the hostel at 8,000-foot Puente del Inca to the Pampa de Lenas camp at 9,100 feet. It will be tent camping from here on out. David reported that they had a very easy 4.5 hour hike up the Vacas Valley along the river. It was a clear, sunny day and the group traveled with the wind at their backs (isn't that part of an Irish blessing?). They arrived at the camp of Pampa de Lenas – a camp in a wide, beautiful valley with huge, beautiful peaks all around – about 4 p.m. The group must have moved quickly, as they arrived at camp 2.5 hours before the 17 mules that were carrying their food and gear. Once the mules arrived… so did the mules from other groups, creating a bit of chaos in the camp with 45 mules, 30 campers, and number of “muleteers.” David reported that the muleteers are a “breed of their own that appear very hearty and shout a lot. They wear strange little orange berets and wide-brimmed hats with the brims turned up.” An interesting picture for certain. David said that it has been mostly clear with just occasional mist. He reported that they enjoyed “a beautiful light show” on the surrounding peaks, especially as the sun was setting. Wish you were there? I do!
January 13 - Pampa de Lenas to Casa de Piedra
Information for this posting was again obtained from audio postings (by David and Frank) on The Ferris Files. The group moved from 9,100-foot Pampa de Lenas camp to the camp at Casa de Piedra at 10,500 feet. So, now Marshall is just a bit higher than our home here in the Colorado Rockies at 10,200 feet. Acclimation shouldn't be a problem for him… yet… although you never know with altitude.
The group made the 6 hour hike to Casa de Piedra with good weather: bright, sunny, clear skies, and a cool breeze with temperatures around 80° F. Frank said that “if it wasn't for the breathtaking mountain vistas” he would have thought it was "just another day at the beach." David said that it was “a long pleasant hike” although they were filled with anticipation at being able to actually see the summit of Aconcagua as, thus far, their view has been blocked by a series of ridges. About 5 p.m. a huge ridge came into view, and they dropped their jaws in awe at how tall, majestic, and scary it looked. Cameras came out and photos were taken. The funny part? It wasn't the summit! After they traveled a bit further up the Vacas Valley they got a view further south down the Relentos Valley and actually saw Aconcagua, with the summit shrouded in mist. David said it was “much higher than what they had seen,” which makes me wonder where their jaws were then! While they couldn't see the top, they could see black spires, icy cirques, and the base of the Polish Glacier where they will be camping “six days from now” (so, I assume 16,240-foot Camp 1 is at the base of the glacier). The group arrived at camp and set up their tents just before a brief period of rain and thunder. Hopefully Frank and Rich got their tent up in time, as Frank embarrassedly admitted that he had never actually set up a tent before, and reported that his tent mate, Rich, was not that much more proficient than he. Apparently they had spent a good deal of time at Pampa de Lenas rolling around on the ground laughing at themselves while fighting with the tent. I'm guessing a few other members of the group had some fun with that as well. The rain stopped before dinner, a great sounding feast of ravioli and honeydew melon. David once again described the camp as beautiful with the valley even wider than before with a wide, rocky river bed. Frank reported that it is “an incredibly strong group,” and David reported that "everyone is in good health and good spirits" and that they are ready for “the real climbing” tomorrow – a 3,200-foot climb up to base camp (Plaza Argentina ) at 13,700 feet.
January 14 - Pampa de Lenas to Base Camp
Much of the information for this posting was obtained from an audio posting on David's site. Today the group moved from 10,500-foot Casa de Piedra to base camp, Camp Argentina, at 12,700 feet. The general information for the climb says that this is the hardest day of the approach, starting with by crossing River Vacas followed by a 6 to 7 hour hike. Aconcagua Adventures maintains permanent base camp facilities at Camp Argentina, including a dining tent and toilet tent (very luxurious, I'm sure). In addition to a base camp manager there is also a doctor and a ermanent satellite phone. I believe the mules do not climb any higher than base camp, and thus the guides will organize the campsite and the equipment left by the mules. The group will spend a total of 4 days at the base camp for proper acclimatization and rest. During the “rest day” tomorrow, Marshall and the guides will instruct the group on crampon use, self-arrest, and roped glacier travel. The next day, they will make a carry to 16,240-foot Camp 1, returning to base camp the same day in order to “climb high, sleep low.” An exploratory trek of the surrounding area is also planned. The last day at base camp prior to the climb, Marshall and the local guides will look through everyone's personal equipment, which should average about 24 pounds total, and suggest what can be left behind to lighten their load. From base camp to Camp 1 and Camp 2, climbers will carry personal equipment plus their sleeping tent. Climbers will only carry a summit pack (enough for the day) for the summit attempt. David reported that it was a “good, hard hike” that it definitely got his attention and that he could feel it in his legs. It did take the anticipated 6 to 7hours, and David said that he and some other members of the group arrived feeling tired and had a bit of a headache. However, after “dinner, good conversation, and a little bit of wine” everyone was feeling pretty good. I spoke very briefly to Marshall after dinner, and he reported that everyone was doing well.
David described base camp a desolate landscape devoid of plant life (with the last plant life about 500 feet below) with tents scattered among a field of stones and boulders. The camp is surrounded by gray and red jagged ridges creating “quite a singular and memorable scene.” I wonder if the group has been lucky enough to see any guanacos, a big mammal similar to llamas, or the king of the Andes, the condor?
Approach Route Map
Thanks to David for posting this map of the approach route on the The Ferris FIles.
The approach route to the Aconcagua Polish Glacier Route via the Vacas Valley from Puente del Inca to base camp at Plaza Argentina.
January 15 - Rest Day at Base Camp
After posting the information below based on the audio posting by Rich Shear, David did another audio posting to The Ferris FIles. He reported that the weather today started out sunny and warm – almost 60 ° F at 13,700 feet! By 6 p.m. clouds had rolled and by 8 p.m. it was snowing. David also discussed preparing to do the carry to Camp 1 tomorrow, sorting through his gear to take his crampons, ice ax, and warmest clothes with him to Camp 1. He also explained the importance of this carry in the acclimation process (getting used to higher altitude) and the need to carry, or ferry, not only individual gear but group gear and food to the next highest camp in more than one single load. David reported that the Stray Dog clients felt some anxiety when they talked to another group that had just returned from high on the mountain, but were unable to summit due to cold weather. The group reported that temperatures had been about -10° F and that they encountered problems with their water bottles freezing even inside their tents. Hmmm… makes me wonder if they had their water bottles properly insulated, and if they kept their water bottles inside their sleeping bags, especially at night while sleeping. Certainly Marshall faced temperatures this cold on Everest, and much colder on Mount Vinson in Antarctica, yet he was able to keep his water (and his quart of Red Bull for summit day on Everest!) from freezing. Being prepared and taking all necessary precautions are certainly necessary on every mountain. Of course, that doesn't eliminate all problems, but it can certainly go a long way.
But, I digress. David noted that they thought it might take 8 hours to do the carry to Camp 1 tomorrow, and wondered if he was ready. I'm sure he and the other Stray Dogs are ready, prepared, fit, and healthy to continue their climb of Aconcagua! Information for this posting was obtained from an audio posting by Rich Shear on David's site. Today was a scheduled rest day at Camp Argentina, although Rich described it as a bit of an "anxious day" after they were instructed at breakfast to sort through their gear to determine what to leave and base camp, and what should be carried tomorrow up to Camp 1. Rich explained that this is really only his second excursion into the mountains, having been a part of Marshall's group to the Mexican Volcanoes in October 2005. I'm sure Marshall, the other guides, and some of the more experienced members of the group helped him - and each other - out with every decision. Often times being in such groups reminds me of women in the kitchen (guys, maybe for you it would be like being the garage changing the oil in the car?). If you are alone in the kitchen (or the garage) you know exactly what to do - how long to put the turkey in the oven, how much corn starch to put in the gravy, and how to tell when the pie in done. However, if there is another woman in the kitchen with you (oh, goodness, especially your mom!) you start to doubt yourself (or just want reassurance?) and ask, "How long does the turkey have to stay in, again... and to what temperature?" Or, "Does this pie look done to you?" Same thing on mountains. You may "know" what clothes to wear and to take along in case of changing weather, but you'll probably ask someone else if you're making the right decisions... just in case. Of course, this is not a bad thing to do. Especially at altitude, when oxygen to those brain cells is not ideal. A double check on decisions is a very good thing on any mountain! Of course... I'm not sure about the kitchen, as maybe there "too many cooks do spoil the broth?" Anyway, back to the mountain! I can picture the team, everyone next to their tents, with backpacks and equipment strewn about, asking each other, "Are you taking your ice ax up tomorrow, or are you going to wait until we actually move to Camp 1 on Thursday?" Or, "Are you taking your long underwear up, or leaving them here, just in case it gets cold?" Tomorrow the team will make the carry - with all of the right equipment, I know - to Camp 1, then return to base camp to sleep.
January 16 – Carry to Camp 1, Return to Base Camp
I heard from Marshall today via satellite phone. Marshall told that in a couple of days, there will be a change in the Stray Dogs group. Rich Shear decided that spending two weeks on a mountain was just not for him. He was feeling fine, and thus his decision was not based on health or any problems, but simply a personal (and sensible? ;-} choice. Marshall and I discussed how proud we were of Rich for being so aware of his personal desires and making the right decision for him. Of course, Marshall will miss Rich, including his Mick Jagger impressions (that's another story), but he understood and respected Rich's decision, which he will announce to the group before they depart for the summit push. The rest of the group made the carry to Camp 1 and returned safely to base camp in only 6.5 hours – much less than the anticipated 8 hours, which attests to the group's strength. The weather was snowy, but calm, so traveling was safe and tolerable. Marshall said that the route traveled through pentitenties (ice formations that look like “praying hands”) and was breathtakingly beautiful. He said that he had a slight headache when they reached 16,200-foot Camp 1, but it wasn't serious and, in fact, is very typical. A bit more water and the hike back to base camp and he was fine. Marshall also reported that the Stray Dogs had their blood oxygen levels tested, with Louise topping the group with an O2 level of 94. Marshall was a close second with 92, and the rest of the group came in around 85; all acceptable given their altitude and is an indication that their bodies are starting to adjust, or acclimate, to the higer altitude. David also had an audio posting on The Ferris FIles describing the carry and their first encounter “up close and personal” with the pentitenties, which reached up to 10 feet tall. While they are beautiful, he said that they can be difficult to maneuver and climb through, especially with a 50 pound pack! Now, of course, David didn't have 50 pounds of personal gear; but he had some of his gear (crampons, ice ax, and some of his warmest clothes) plus about 20 pounds of group gear and food. Remember, they are
moving up to Camp 1 for three days, plus one day at Camp 2, and a summit day (and two contingency days for a summit attempt). That's a lot of gear and food for eight climbers plus guides. In addition to their packs and maneuvering through the pentitenties, the route was steep and David said they were “breathing like steam locomotives.” After hiking up through the snow, they dropped their gear at Camp 1 and “scooted back down” to base camp in time for dinner.
January 17 – Rest Day at Base Camp
Once again I heard briefly from Marshall and also listened to audio postings from both Marshall and David on The Ferris FIles. During their rest day at base camp the weather was snowy but pleasant, with temperatures ranging from the 40s to 55° F. Marshall reported that Team Stray Dogs is “healthy, fit, and very well matched.” He said that everybody gets along and that, physically, everyone moves at about the same pace and is doing well. So, weather permitting, he fully expects a successful summit for all. Marshall passed along a special hello to his three children, Elaine, Taylor, and Ali ; and a kind and loving greeting to me as well. He thanked everyone at home that has supported him throughout the years. He knows how fortunate he is to have been able to travel all over the world and meet such wonderful people, and to call them friends. He expressed his sincere gratitude for such wonderful friends, such as those he's currently climbing with “on this beautiful and lofty mountain named Aconcagua,” saying that he thinks of all of you as his extended family. He closed by saying “I love and cherish you all and thank you for checking in on the progress of our climb.” David said that yesterday, during their carry to Camp 1, they got a view back down to the rubble strewn base camp, with 50 yellow and orange tents strewn about. In addition, there are long white and blue mess tents for the various outfitters on the mountain, and two permanent buildings: one for the doctor and one that serves as the ranger station. He said that base camp is actually quite comfortable, noting that you can buy satellite phone time if you're not fortunate enough to have your own (as he does, and we are all grateful for his audio postings!), that each outfitter has their own (locked) latrines, and that you can even buy a shower for ten dollars – and that several members of Team Stray Dogs took advantage of that luxury. David said that the meals have been incredible and that the cook tents are a source of continuing music selected by the cooks and guides. He said the Stray Dogs have been enjoying the time to gather together in the large mess tent, passing the time drinking tea and playing cards. Tomorrow the group will move to Camp 1 and they will be limited to individual tents. On the 19th they are scheduled to make a carry to Camp 2, then return to Camp 1 to sleep. The 20th is a scheduled rest day at Camp 1, with the move to Camp 2 scheduled for the 21st. Weather permitting, the Stray Dogs should summit Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America, on January 22 (or 23/24), 2007. We wish them all safe climbing!
January 18 – Move to Camp 1
David provided an audio posting on The Ferris FIles about the team's move to Camp 1 today. It started out as a beautiful, sunny, warm day with a cloudless blue sky at base camp as they packed and prepared to move up to Camp 1. The surrounding mountains gleamed with the freshly fallen snow from the previous evening. Before leaving, the were surprised to hear a helicopter that was bringing someone up to base camp and ferrying someone, as well as trash collected by the rangers, off the mountain. As they started out, David led the way setting a slow steady pace. Today they could see the vast buttes at the base of the Polish Glacier, and watched the snow melt as the warmth moved up the valley – quite a contract to two days ago when they did the carry to Camp 1 while the snow fell. After they arrived at the 16,240-foot camp, the weather changed, marking what Dave called, “a new phase of our climb” – a colder and windier phase. When David called he and Terri were inside their three-
person tent with all of their belongings. David said the “walls are trembling from the wind while snowflakes are crackling against the rain fly” and they could hear an occasional roll of thunder. A thunder-snow storm. David thought is was about 25°F outside, but said that despite wearing fleece gloves, fleece hat, two layers of clothing top and bottom, and having his legs in his sleeping bag with a hot water bottle in between, he still felt cold. He said he “always wondered what it would be like to be in a tent on a mountain in a storm,” and, now he knows. Hmmmm… think he's still enjoying himself? Seriously, the team is safe and (relatively) warm, and David reported that he has two books, an I-Pod, photos of his girlfriend and, of course, his tent-mate Terri to keep him keep him company while they wait out the storm. May it pass quickly and good weather follow. Tomorrow, weather permitting, the group will do a carry to 19,000-foot Camp 2, then return to Camp 1 to sleep. I can only hope that the zipper on Marshall 's tent is working. Why? Because I remember him writing from Everest about zippers. Here's what he had to say: Zippers...they can be a thing of beauty or an item to be cursed. It seems that the focus of one's life can be diverted from the things that are important and reduced to everyday things that we need to survive. For instance, as I mentioned to my wife, some of the hardest things about climbing Mount Everest are dealing with the boredom of just waiting for good weather, hoping for good health, or coping with a lack of sleep. But by far the hardest part is being away from my loved ones and dealing with the frustration of not being able to contact them for long periods of time. And then, just when I think that I am going to drive myself crazy obsessing about this whole situation, I climb out of my tent and, like clockwork, the zipper sticks. Maybe there is a reason for that zipper sticking. Perhaps to bring me back to the reality of where I am, remind me of the comforts of home, and ensure that I remain focused and have safe passage. The safe passage to enable me to return home to the most important things: my wife and children. Nothing else really matters in the whole scheme of things. I am blessed with my wife and children…those children will be the legacy that I leave. It will not be the accomplishments, such as climbing Mount Everest , that I leave behind which will be remarkable; it will be my family. So, today as I sit writing, I am thinking of Alex and the other four members of our team who are headed down from ABC to join the rest of us at BC to wait out the raging wind on Everest. I am also thinking about the fact that three of the tents were destroyed at ABC over the last two days. Those are all things that can be fixed. Even more so, I am thinking about my family. About those who are dearest to me. I am hoping that that all is well with them and wishing that they are able to bear the upcoming storms—and jammed zippers—in their lives. May you all stay safe and warm... and have zippers that work.
Thanks to David for posting this map of their route on the The Ferris FIles.
The Polish Glacier Traverse Route up Aconcagua from base camp at Plaza Argentina. (see the map of the approach route in the January 14th posting)
At breakfast, before departing for Camp 1 and the summit attempt, Rich Shear made the announcement to the group that he will be heading down. David said in his audio post that Rich is "homesick" and ready to go back to Wellsville, NY to his family and friends. Those who are dearest to him. David said that the group listened with great regret as, "Rich brought a huge heart and a sense of humor to every day with us. We will miss his... down home stories and his harmonica. Rich, we already miss you." Rich will travel down the mountain by mule tomorrow and will catch an early flight back to the States... and home. Safe travels, Rich!
January 19 – Carry to Camp 2, Return to Camp 1
I obtained information for this post from an audio posting by David on The Ferris FIles. My sincere thanks to David for making these posts which have been key to keeping us all informed about the progress of the Stray Dogs climb of Aconcagua. As planned (the storm must have stopped, although David did not give any specifics about the weather) today the team made a carry to Camp 2 at 19,000 feet. They carried 40 to 50 pound packs containing crampons, ice axes, very warm clothing, and food that they will need at Camp 2 and for their summit
attempt. Except for Marshall, who has climbed Mount Everest (29,035 feet), as well as Aconcagua (22,841 feet) and Denali (20,320 feet), this carry approached the highest that the rest of members (David, Frank, Louise, Terri, and Nancy; and Fabris and Demetri) have ever climbed, as each of them has reached the summit of Kilimanjaro at 19,340 feet. The big difference is: on summit day on Kilimanjaro, you only have to carry a small day pack with food, water, camera, and extra clothing for yourself; enough to keep you going for the day. Just a few pounds – not 40 to 50 pounds! In addition, the group did the round trip in about 6.5 hours which is very impressive considering the fact that David reported that sometimes just the trip up to Camp 2 can take 6 to 7 hours! Yet another testament to the strength of the members of Team Stray Dogs. So, it is no surprise (to me, at least) that David said that he “expected it to be hard, but not this hard.” He felt that, for some reason, his "lungs just are not adapting to the altitude as quickly as others in the group," and felt like he was taking three breaths for everyone else's two. He found it very frustrating that he was the last one to arrive at Camp 2, as on other days he was typically the first one to arrive at the new, and higher, camps. David said that this carry was “one of the hardest things I have ever done.” And rightly so, David! Certainly David should be proud of himself, keeping up with the rest of the Dogs and local guides, carrying a 50 pound pack up to 19,000 feet, turning around and returning to Camp 1 at 16,240 feet… making the entire round trip in the same amount of time it takes most other climbers just to go up. No wonder it was difficult! David said that he “trained diligently for this trip” and quite obviously that's true! “Good show” all!! After returning to Camp 1 and getting some rest and food, David felt “confident that I will make it to Camp 2 and the summit, although I may need to move more slowly than I had planned.” Tomorrow, the 20th will be a rest day at Camp 1 then, if the weather holds, the team will move to Camp 2 on the 21st, and should may their summit attempt on the 22nd. Of course, that's if the weather holds. As Marshall reported on the 17th, weather permitting, he fully expects a successful summit for all. Certainly it is a strong and capable group! Good weather... and safe climbing!
January 20– Rest Day at Camp 1
Too Much Time on Our Hands
David provided another posting about their rest day at Camp 1, including some weather information. He said they had clear skies and that the clear weather was predicted to hold for the next couple of days. However, they are also predicting high winds at the higher elevations which will certainly make their summit day colder but, hopefully, doable (and safe). So, tomorrow they should be able to move to Camp 2 at 19,000 feet, and hopefully on to the summit on Monday, January 22, 2007. In a health update, David said he and three others (he didn't say who) were having some problems with diarrhea. They met in Marshall's tent and discussed which medicines they might take to deal with this situation (Marshall, who has spoken at the Wilderness Medicine Conferences has diligently researched the appropriate treatments and has medicines available for members of groups that he is leading). Hopefully they struck on the right treatments for everyone. In addition, some members of the team are feeling the effects of altitude, which is certainly common: lack of appetite and, for Demetri, a bloody nose. Despite the clear skies, due to the cold and wind, going outside to do anything is a major decision, and everything is done slowly. This, of course, is also due in part to the affects of altitude. They are trying to stay interested in their books and other distractions, but they have been in their tent with “too much time” on their hands.
These reports of tent claustrophobia are familiar ones to me, as Marshall often wrote about them during his over 40 days at the various camps on Mount Everest, waiting out storms or biding time until they could move to the next camp. Here are just a few tidbits… Cold, Lonely, Confining and Desolate So, as I head back to my tent, I am painfully aware of the night temperatures being 15 to 25 degrees colder than below at 17,160-foot BC. The tent is just as I left it a few days before: cold, lonely, confining, and desolate. I slip into my bag, hoping that I will be blessed with sleep that has, once again, eluded me the past couple of days. In many ways, I am almost afraid to fall into a deep sleep as surrealistic frightening dreams are the double edged sword that I must deal with as a consequence. Big Droopy Blood Hound Eyes We tend to look for someone to blame for our misfortunes in life. So we voice our opinions, and later realize that possibly, just possibly, we should have "bit our tongue." It is kind of like sitting in the tent looking at one another, our faces drawn, with, as Alex would describe, "those big droopy blood hound eyes" that come from no sleep and high altitude. In my younger years I would probably have said something to someone about how they look. Now, I look around with empathy knowing that I look just as bad, or maybe worse. It is easy to laugh at others inappropriately and disregard ourselves, thinking that we couldn't possibly be like, or look like, that, etc. etc. Once again, a look in the mirror may reveal a lesson in humility. Claustrophobia and Suffocation One of the things that drives me nuts is having to stay in a tent, day after day. It gives me a feeling of claustrophobia and a sensation – especially being at high altitudes – of being suffocated. There have been times when, in the middle of the night, I just wanted to pack up and leave. Of course, this was totally unrealistic and impossible. I mean, really. Where would I go?
Louise and David
Good news! After doing the "No Worries" posting (see below) I went back to the The Ferris FIles and... there were two postings, one from Louise and one from David directly specifically at his students and clients. So, Steve must have figured out how to retreive and post the audio files even while in Tahoe. THANK YOU Steve! Louise reported what I somewhat expected: that the day was spent "spectulating, planning, and anticipating" their move to Camp 2 tomorrow followed by their summit attempt. She reported sunny weather and said that the area around the camp was very pristine despite the number of climbers that pass through, which speaks well of the individual climbers and the guiding companies that assist climbers on Aconcagua (remember that helicopter that took out trash on January 18th?). Louise said that yesterday was "a heinous slog" up to Camp 2 to drop off group and individual gear that they will need for their move there tomorrow, somewhat echoing David's report of it being one of the most difficult things he has done. Of course, the carry to Camp 2 was also a part of their acclimation process - climb high, sleep low (or, at least, lower - at 16,200 feet!). Louise said that "we're all feeling strong" and that they are "eagerly anticipating" moving further up the mountain. Yes... anticipation seems to be a common emotion. Apparently food on the mountain is quite good, as Louise mentioned something about bread, artichoke hearts, palm hearts, and... I think I heard her correctly... wine. Wine? At over 16,000 feet. Hmmmm... hard to imagine. But, apparently they had carried that all up the mountain; however, Louise said that, had she known, she may have thrown out a bottle or two on the way up. I think her adventure racing past (Marshall and Louise raced together in Eco Challenge Patagonia back in 1999) that contributes to her desire to travel as lightly as possible! Certainly I've
seen it in Marshall, even cutting an inch or two of extra straps on his pack. Louise said that all of her high tech gear has, in some ways, just become "stuff" to organize and reorganize. Something about her Virgo attributes that drive her towards anal organization? Luckily, her tent mate (Nancy, I think) tolerates it all with "raised eyebrows and an occasional shake of the head and a deep sigh." David had a special message for his students and clients noted that certainly the next 6,600 feet to the summit will be "cold and hard, and I will struggle." But he was certain of two things: 1. The he has done the training that he needs to be on the mountain and, 2. The he is living his life to the fullest and is not holding anything back. He hopes that his preparations and struggles will be an inspiration to others to reach their own goals. He asks, "What is your Aconcagua? What is your big goal in life. Think about it and use the answer to get yourself motivated, day to day." Guess I have somthing to think about! How about you.
Today was a scheduled rest day for the team at 19,000-foot Camp 1. While I did not hear from Marshall and was not able to listen to an audio post on the The Ferris FIles, I'm sure the team had a restful, if anxious, day thinking of their move to Camp 2 tomorrow and following summit attempt. Also, "no worries" if you don't hear anything from David on The Ferris Files or you don't see a daily update here for a couple of days. David's friend, Steve, who has so kindly been retrieving David's messages and posting them on The Ferris Files posted today that he will be in Tahoe until Monday, January 22, and thus he's not sure when he will have a chance to update the posts. So, in the meantime, please keep Team Stray Dogs in your thoughts and prayers as they move to Camp 2 tomorrow and, weather permitting, make a summit attempt on Monday, January 22. I will update this site again as soon as I hear any news. THANK YOU so much for following along while Marshall leads the Stray Dogs on their climb of Aconcagua! We are very grateful for your interest, thoughts, and prayers.
January 21 – Camp 2
David reported on The Ferris FIles that the team has arrived safely at Camp 2 at 19,000 feet at the base of the Polish Glacier on Aconcagua. They have a “tremendous view of glaciers and peaks to the east” just a taste of what they should be able to see from the summit. They can also see “spindrifts of snow blowing off the Polish Glacier directly to the west” and the first part of their route: a trail the winds up along the side of the glacier. It was windy during their estimated 5 hour climb (David did not say how long it took) up 2,760 feet from Camp 1 at 16,240 feet, with some “50 mph gusts that nearly knocked us over.” Once again, David reported that the climb was very hard and, after it was over, it “took several hours for me to be able to anything but drink soup and stare into space.” Sitting in the tent with his down jacket on and his legs in his down bag, David said he was pretty warm, guessing that the temperature outside was about 20° F, and about 35° F in the tent. The forecast is for more wind tomorrow; once again with gusts possibly up to 50 mph. If the wind is too high, it will be too cold and dangerous for the team to make a summit attempt, and they will have to wait a day. In fact, there are two summit contingency days, the 23rd and the 24th. If the weather is acceptable, the team will awake at 3:30 a.m. for a 5:00 a.m. departure. They will wear all of their warmest gear as well as mountaineering boots and crampons, as some of the route will be on snow. The will take only summit packs (like a day pack) with some food, camera, and water (bottles will be insulated, and may be carried inside their coats to keep the water from freezing). The climb up is anticipated to take about 8 hours, with the pre-sunrise hours certainly the coldest. David said that “the excitement of the summit eludes me” and that instead he is aware of how difficult it will be. In addition, Anjali, David's girlfriend, wrote a post about a brief conversation that she had with David after the team arrived at Camp 2. Anjali said that David simply reported, “Um, I guess we'll summit tomorrow,” and that she sensed loneliness and dejection in his voice.
Once again, these reports feel all too familiar to me, as I think Marshall suffered some of his most serious personal doubts when attempting to summit Mount Everest (see the “Insecurities and Doubts posting from Everest, below). The mountains– the altitude, the steepness, the weather, the cold, the wind, as well as their immenseness – takes a toll not only on the human body, but on the human spirit. I think every mountaineer – or every smart mountaineer – always has insecurities and doubts. What is it they say? Bravery isn't the absence of fear, but moving ahead in spite of your fear. A healthy respect for the mountain is a good thing. When Marshall was actually able to summit Mount Everest, he was overcome with a sense of gratitude; in part a gratitude to the mountain for granting him safe passage. I know that, for the Stray Dogs, knowing that there are those of you back home, taking the time to keep up with their quest and sending “uplifting thoughts” to each and every member of team, will help to see them through. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for the Stray Dogs. Now.. on to the summit - and safe returns home.
Insecurities and Doubts
I have one more day, Sunday, to rest before we go back to base camp and start thinking about the summit attempt on Everest. Not that it hasn't been ever present on my mind! My sickness seems to have left (dodged a bullet there), and I am feeling more and more rested. I didn't even get up until about 9:00 this morning after sleeping about 10 hours. Still I have great insecurities and doubts about whether or not I can actually get to the top of Mound Everest. David and I hitch hiked to Xegar again today and we hiked to the top of the mountain above town, which is over a thousand foot climb. It felt pretty good, but I guess I was expecting it to be easy. So the mind games continue. Questions such as: am I recovered, do I feel strong, will I be able to perform at altitude, and on and on. How does one shut the mind off? I think the answers will unfold as we go along and, more than anything, I need to be accepting of myself, know my limitations, and not talk myself out of anything. Ultimately all I have to do the best that I can…with safety being my top concern. One thing is for sure, when Heather (my wife) and her father arrive at base camp it will be like a big security blanket for me. This time away from her has pointed out to me how much I love and depend on her. After my kids and my wife, everything else pales. At any rate, I know that she probably worries that she will be a distraction; but quite the opposite, she will be a very motivating factor helping me up the mountain with every breath I take (no matter how thin the air is). What a wonderful feeling it is to have someone love me unconditionally. It brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. The other thing that I am eternally grateful for is the support that I have gotten from home from so many of you. Heather keeps me up on all that is happening, and sends along all of your messages letting me know that you are thinking for me and wishing me well…as well as your support for the children we are trying to help. That is another factor that makes it all worthwhile. So, while I am sitting in that tent, claustrophobic and wanting to scream, I will think about everyone, and that will be the calming factor that will see me through!
January 22 - No Summit Attempt Today
Due to high winds, the team is hunkered down at Camp 2. Summit contingency days are Tues and Wed (the 23rd and 24th), so here's hoping for calmer weather!
Both David and Terri had postings on their sites, summarized here. David - Wind and Waiting
"The mountain huffed and puffed and tried to blow our tents down last night. It was like having someone punch your pillow every few seconds while the room around you shakes for hours on end.” That's how David described the winds during the night of the 21/22 at Camp 2 on Aconcagua . Luckily, because their tents are securely tied down to rocks, the wind failed. But, I'm certain the reports of little or no sleep have to be true! Could you sleep in those conditions? For those of you who have slept in tents in high winds, you also know how LOUD it is… not only the wind, but the continuous flapping of the tent fabric and fly. Restless nights, and days, for certain. At about 4 a.m. the guides notified the Stray Dogs that there would not be a summit attempt today as, “it is almost impossible to hike” in such strong winds. I think back to Marshall reporting that, the morning of summit day on Mount Vinson in Antarctica , temperatures were 20 below, with a 53 mph headwind, making the wind chill minus 75! Burrrr doesn't even begin to describe it and... it makes me wonder… how did they ever do it? Or, maybe more importantly, why did they ever do it? Ha! Seriously, it was certainly a smart decision to wait out the day. As David said, the wind is “not a reason to scuttle the trip… we will wait it out.” Of course, waiting… and waiting some more… can take a toll. David said that when he would venture out of the tent, he was often blinded by blowing snow. But, he was able to see a falcon flying low over the camp (what a marvel of nature… a creature that can still fly in 50 mph winds!) which was quite exciting for him as there is not much wildlife that high on the mountain. The Stray Dogs did have a party in David and Terri's tent with Marshall, Louise, Frank, and Nancy, the guest of honor, as it was her 50th birthday. David and Terri presented Nancy with a block of energy gel with a match stuck in it. “At 19,000 feet, that passes for frills.” Happy birthday, Nancy! While I know you would have rather celebrated at the summit, I also know that you couldn't spend the day with a better group of people. So, the weather Tuesday is supposed be a bit calmer (*only* 30 mph winds) with temperatures in the presunrise darkness possibly as low as -20° F. The skies have been clear, so if the winds are calm enough for safe travel, the team may be making their bid for the summit on Tuesday Let's hope that the “endless, endless wind” does have an end for the Stray Dogs!
Terri - Tough and Determined Women in an Amazing Group
I just read a new postings on Terri's blog site that the team did not make a summit attempt today due to high winds – up to 55 mph. Terri said, “We are not safe going higher on the mountain so we're hunkering down at Camp 2.” Sounds like a smart decision! The team has two summit contingency days, and Terri said that the weather is supposed to improve over the next couple of days, so hopefully they will be able to summit tomorrow or on Wednesday the 24th. Terri said “most of us are determined to give this our best shot so hopefully I'll have some good news for you in the next day or so.” With winds up to 55 mph during the night, the team didn't get much sleep, wondering whether the tent would still be standing come morning. Terri also reports that there is “enough snow and spindrift to make going outside to the bathroom quite an ordeal.” I can imagine. Terri took this opportunity to provide an update on the team: One of our teammates, Nancy, has her 50th birthday today and we were hoping to celebrate from the summit but we'll have to make due here at camp two. I feel fortunate to be in the company of some pretty
amazing people on this climb. Marshall Ulrich organized the core of our group. His ultrarunning, adventure racing and climbing experience has been invaluable. There are three women on our trip myself, Louise Cooper (53) and Nancy Bristow (turning 50 today). We all know Marshall through racing and I must say we are a pretty tough and determined contingent of women. David Ferris (37) is also a very good friend of mine and my current tent mate. David has a similar background in sports and is also posting daily audio posts on The Ferris Files. Frank, in addition to Marshall, is also an ultrarunner. Demetri is from Russia, currently living in the States. Fabrice, from Paris, is also currently living in New York City. We have a strong evenly matched group which makes climbing together thoroughly enjoyable. Let's hope for good weather, with a lot less wind, for Team Stray Dogs and a safe summit attempt for them in the next day or two. Thanks again for checking in!
January 23 – Again… No Summit Attempt
Due to continued high winds, the Stray Dogs are still hunkered down at Camp 2 at 19,000 feet at the base of the Polish Glacier on Mount Aconcagua . David reports on The Ferris Files that they had another sleepless night, sometimes listening to the wind starting in the west, from the glaciers, then ramming into the tent like a gunshot. With the wind shaking the tent, and the anticipation of whether or not a summit attempt would be forthcoming, there was no sleep until Martin, one of their guides, came around camp at 4:30 a.m. saying that they would “wait one more day.” And, one more day is all they have, as Wednesday the 24th is their last summit contingency day. If the weather doesn't break/the wind doesn't die down, the Stray Dogs will have to pack up tomorrow and head down the mountain to base camp (Camp Argentina ) instead of to the summit. Once the “no go” decision was made, David said that he and Terri were able to get some sleep, but had “vivid dreams.” Yet again these reports trigger various memories for me, some a bit troubling. David's description of hearing the wind coming, then ramming into the tent like a gunshot brings back memories of being trapped in an overturned boat in the Bering Sea on January 29, 1990, listening helplessly as wave after wave gathered strength and then slammed into the boat; sounding like a freight train, and having the force of train as well. Mother Nature typically takes care of us, but can unleash her wrath as well, and we have no power to stop her. Similarly, sleep usually brings us rest, but those vivid dreams can invade the peace – as Marshall reported from Mount Everest (see the Fanciful Dream posting below.. and note that Marshall had mentioned my boating accident... interesting...). Maybe I am only building these connections in my mind as a way of trying to stay connected to Marshall and the others on the mountain. Or, perhaps, these connections are a simple testimony to how similar we all are in our thoughts, and our feelings – our responses to challenging situations. We are all more alike than we think… yet each of us unique. But… back to the mountain! David said that they awoke to find the physical conditions they have been experiencing getting slowly worse: lethargy, chapped lips and noses from the dry air, wind burn, swollen hands, and morning headaches. They were glad when, at about 10 a.m., the wind finally abated, and they were able to get out of their tents for an extended period of time for the first time in a day-and-a-half. Time to visit with each other, stand in the sun, see the stunning glaciers all around them, take some photos, and note the spin drifts coming off the glacier about 1,000 feet above them, indicating winds of 50 to 60 mph. Good thing they were still in camp! The team has contradictory forecasts for tomorrow. The park rangers are saying the conditions will be worse tomorrow, while a climbing Web site (accessed by a friend of Terri's who is passing the information along) is saying that conditions should be a bit better. Pray for calmer weather for the Stray Dogs! Terri reports that, “Tent life at 19,000 feet is getting quite interesting. David and I have taken to videotaping some of our tent idiosyncrasies.” Those movies will be interesting to watch… IF they let anyone see them after they're off the mountain. I can only imagine the level of silliness. Terri also repots that, “We're all quite tired from doing nothing for so long.” Remember… this is a group of ultra runners and adventure racers – turned mountaineers – so they are used to being on the go, go, go. Marshall has always said, since first summitting Denali in June 2002 (the first of his Seven Summits, which he
completed in March 2005) that patience is, perhaps, the hardest part of mountaineering… at least for people that can't sit still like him… and Louise… and Terri… and… Terri also reports that, “We're hoping tomorrow is our lucky day. Wish us luck!” And, I know that you will all do just that.
Last night before I went to bed I looked up at the sky. The moon's reflection on Mount Everest lit it up, making it dominate the horizon. The stars and planets speckled the sky as if in an artificial planetarium. As I snuggled into my sleeping bag for the night I stared at the yellow dome that formed the canopy ceiling and fell fast asleep. I was awoken by a dream that I had about being in an elevator that operated within the Statue of Liberty. I was the only one in the elevator and, as it started up to the top, it rose extremely fast, pressing my feet squarely to the floor and intensifying my weight tenfold. \It came to a sudden stop and opened in the Denver International Airport . There, my wife and a few close friends were waiting to greet me as if I had just gotten off of a plane. I felt confused and wondered why they were all greeting me and why they were all so happy. I continued to be confused, not wanting to ask whether or not I had summited Mount Everest and if that was what this was all about. Nothing was said about climbing the mountain, and I was afraid to ask until everyone left when I turned to my wife, Heather, and asked if I had made the summit. She looked at me strangely and replied, “Well of course you did.” That's when I awoke; again staring at the tent ceiling, wanting to believe that it was all true. These are the type of fanciful dreams that happen at altitude. Trying to make something out of these dreams is pointless. I am just thankful that, most of the time, I have the more benign dreams as I described. I look at it as affirmative programming. The rest of the night was spent tossing and turning, and thinking. About the mysteries of life such as "why are we here?" and thinking about those that are most important in my life, including my wife and children. My oldest child, Elaine, thinks that this (attempting Everest) is the one most selfish things that I have ever done, and she may be right. One can justify almost anything in their mind, as I attempt to justify being here on Everest. Perhaps because of the loss of my first wife Jean (Elaine's mother) when Elaine was three, I understand that every day is a gift. We don't know when our life will cease to exist. Maybe being here on Everest is part of my attempt to make the most of the time I do have? I can say that it is not fair to squander life by "sweating the small stuff." In January 1990 my wife was involved in an accident in the Bering Sea near Adak , Alaska , while working as a volunteer with the US Fish & Wildlife Service. She was in a boat with three others and was caught out to sea in a storm. The boat capsized, and one person made it to shore (although they did not know it at the time) leaving three people, including my wife, trapped in the overturned boat. The other two people died during the night, but Heather survived. Her gratitude for living is now profound. And somehow, on some level, she understands why it is that I am climbing this mountain. Clarity. We are always seeking clarity in our lives. That is what keeps us alive, the discovery process—it does not destroy us; rather, it defines who we are. Two weeks ago on the way to Everest I was stopped in the village called Xegar by a young man. He was holding a rock about five inches in diameter that was cracked around the outside. It looked like any other rock but, when he opened it up, what was revealed inside
was a fossil snail-like creature frozen in time. Tibet , after all, was at one time under water and the fossil came from that time long ago. We are as that fossil frozen in time, here for a finite fraction of time. That shell that encompassed the fossil for possibly millions of years represents our fears which paralyze us, holding us steady, starving us of spiritual and intellectual growth. We have no way of knowing what tomorrow may bring, but owe it to ourselves and those around us to make the most of the precious time that we have here and now. Better not to fear the inevitable. The day is almost gone now and I now have the opportunity to retrace my steps up the trail that leads to Mount Everest and ABC. So, now I must pack and tomorrow will bring that new day that may bring me closer to that clarity that we all seek.
Luck and Success
One closing thought: I always knew that Marshall was incredibly lucky to have completed each of the Seven Summits on his first attempt. This weather delay on Aconcagua brings that point home ever more clearly. More importantly, I know that any mountaineering trip that you return from is a success. In fact, Ed Viesturs - the only American who has climbed all 14 of the world's 8,000 meter (26,240 ft.) peaks without oxygen, and one of only twelve climbers in the world to accomplish this feat - lives by a simple rule: "Reaching the summit is optional. Getting down is mandatory." Here's to success for the Stray Dogs!
January 24 – Summit!!!!
Most of the Stray Dogs made it to the 22,841-foot summit of Aconcagua today! I heard from Marshall very briefly via satellite phone from the summit at about noon Colorado time. He was thrilled to report that Louise, Nancy, Terri, Fabrice, and Demetri were with him on the summit, with Frank just minutes away in the company of one of the local guides. (See January 25th posting for an update from David). Marshall said that the weather was beautiful... and it was calm! After waiting out two days of wind at Camp 2 - and traveling to Camp 2 in quite windy conditions - the weather finally changed, giving them a safe and beautiful summit day. Everyone is safe and doing well. They will be descending this afternoon back to Camp 2, then will return to base camp (Camp Argentina) tomorrow. What an amazing group! Their patience and continued strength carried them to the top, and I'm sure will see them all safely home. Now members of the team can say that they have climbed another of the Seven Summits, the highest peak in South America and, in fact, the highest peak in the western hemisphere/the highest peak outside of the Himalayas. I know that Marshall is proud of, and so happy for, each and every member of the team - dear friends all. Marshall has accomplished much in his life, and now is pleased to be able to help, in whatever ways he can, others achieve their dreams. CONGRATULATIONS ALL!!! After reaching the summit, or making the attempt, the entire team returned safely to Camp 2 at about 7 p.m..... and, I'm sure, got some of the best sleep they've had in weeks!
Saint Lucy's Message
As most of you know, Marshall does fundraising for the Religious Teacher's Filippini whose mission is to “Go and Teach.” This organization of Sisters was founded by Saint Lucy Filippini, who said, "As for me, I long to be present in every corner of the earth..." Marshall has taken Saint Lucy's message to many, many corners of the earth – including the summit of Mount Everest – by carrying a special banner (see the Everest Summit photo below). Now, as I wrote to Sister Mary Beth, Mission Director for the Sisters: Certainly your prayers for Marshall and the team have (once again! :) helped, as I heard from Marshall a couple of hours ago from the summit of Aconcagua . So… the banner (which he did not have the first time he reached this particular summit in Feb 2003) and St. Lucy's message has now been to the top of South America! Lucy is getting to “every corner of the earth” … one step at a time!
To learn more about the Sisters' work and Marshall's fundraising efforts, go to the Fundraising page. If you'd like to make a donation now, you can send a check, payable to the Religious Teachers Filippini Mission Fund to:
Religious Teachers Filippini Mission Fund/Marshall Ulrich 455 Western Avenue Morristown, NJ 07960
As always, one hundred percent of your donation will go to the deserving women and children! Not very many charities can promise that - and it's tax deductible.
Pemba Tenzing Sherpa and Marshall Ulrich with the Religious Teachers Filippini banner on the summit of Mount Everest, May 25, 2004.
David reported at 8:30 p.m. last night that their hopes were lifted by the forecasts, which are now in agreement, and call for 15 mph winds and temperatures in the morning, on the summit, of 5° F with partly cloudy skies. As David said, “That may not sound particularly comfy, but it's pretty good by Aconcagua standards and far better than what we've had in the last few days.” So, if the forecasts are correct, the Stray Dogs may be making their summit today! David said that they are “excited, scared, and intimidated about the ordeal to come, especially considering we get out of breath walking from one tent to another; and (Wednesday/today) we hope to climb over 3,800 feet to 22,841 feet, the highest most of us have ever climbed. If all goes well, we should leave by 5 a.m. and summit by 1 p.m.” With the time difference between Colorado and Aconcagua in Argentina, that would put the possible summit at about 9 a.m. MDT. Right about… now (as I'm posting this). I will, of course, update this site as soon as I can when I hear any news. David once again sent his love to his parents, his family, and Anjali– and I know that the rest of the team sends their love and thanks to all of that support them. It looks like all of your up uplifting thoughts, prayers for calmer weather, and love and support for the members of the Stray Dogs *may* have paid off. Of course, any mountaineering trip that our loved ones return from is a success. The patience, strength, and will of all of the members of the team is certainly to be admired! My note to David's family, regarding the clearing of his throat during the last post. That sounded pretty familiar, too, as it is very common at high altitude due to the cold, dry air. Once the team is able to summit (hopefully!) and return to lower altitudes, that cough will clear up, I'm certain!
Thanks to David for posting this map of their route on the The Ferris FIles.
The Polish Glacier Traverse route up Aconcagua from Camp 2 to the summit.
January 25 – Camp 2 to Base Camp
First, a correction. According to a posting this morning on The Ferris FIles, David did not reach the
summit yesterday, but the rest of the team did. My apologies for misreporting that information yesterday. Unfortunately, I guess short satellite phone calls are not the most reliable form of communication. David did say that his "mind and body are intact" and said that he and the rest of the team did make it, safe and sound, to Camp 2 after reaching the summit on January 24. He did not provide any additional information, but promised more of the story in a later postings. Marshall did call from base camp (Camp Argentina) the night of January 25 but we almost immediately got cut off. However, it was good to know that they had arrived safely at base camp. David reported that it took the team about 5 hours to descend from Camp 2 at 19,000 feet to base camp at 16,240 feet. Once again, my sincere apologies for the mistake in reporting that "all" of the Stray Dogs reached the
22,841-foot summit of Aconcagua yesterday. Marshall, Louise, Nancy, Terri, Frank, Fabrice, and Demetri all DID summit. Most importantly, all are safe and sound. As I posted on the 23rd, I believe very strongly that any mountaineering trip that you return from is a
success. And, Ed Viesturs definitely knows that "Reaching the summit is optional. Getting down is mandatory." My sincere congratulations to David for making what I'm sure was very difficult decision, but the right one for him. I know that Marshall is proud of each and every member of the team for their
individual efforts, strengths, and decisions.
Marshall will be pleased, for example, that Rich Shear called me from Wellsville, NY last night (he's been trying to reach me for awhile). When Rich was preparing to depart, Marshall asked him to check in with me when he returned to the States. A promise is a promise, and I can report "mission accomplished for Rich!" Certainly each and every member of the Stray Dogs is a success!
For information on how to donate the Sisters, see the end of January 24th posting,
January 26 – Base Camp to Puente del Inca
I heard from Marshall this morning as he called from the satellite phone at base camp. He reported that everyone was doing well. He said that they planned to hike out to the trailhead, Puente del Inca, today, thus possibly skipping the stop at the Pampa de Lenas camp. I can understand their desire to get to the trailhead camp, as there the team should be able to sleep in beds at the hostel and eat a good meal at the restaurant (see the January 11 posting for information about when the team first arrived at Puente del Inca). If, in fact, they made it so Puenta del Inca today, the team should return to Mendoza on January 27, one day ahead of schedule. There are additional posting on The Ferris FIles about the team's victorious summit climb, as well as
David's summit attempt. As a summary, on January 24th the team left Camp 2 at about 5:30 a.m. The first group - Louise, Nancy, and Fabrice, with lead guide Pincho, reached the summit at about 2 p.m. Marshall lead Terri to the summit, with Demetri just minutes behind, about an hour later, at 3:00and 3:15 p.m. Finally, at about 3:30 Frank, with local guide Peke, arrived at the summit.
David aborted his summit attempt at about 2 p.m. at approximately 21,000 feet with some assistance from the local guide, Goudy (I will need to get more of this story from Marshall after he returns). with a slight breeze at the summit. Apparently there were about 50 people - and one dog (yes, a dog!) - that reached the summit that day.
It was about 10° F
After the required celebrations and photographs were taken, the team left the summit at about 4 p.m., and everyone was safely back at Camp 2 by around 7 p.m. Talk about a negative split! 8.5 to 10.25 hours up, and only 3 hours down. Wow! Strong folks with sure, downhill footing. I guess all of that ultra running, mostly on trails, and adventure racing really paid off! Thank you again for checking in on the Stray Dogs climb of Aconcagua. I know the team looks forward to returning to Mendoza, reconnecting with family and friends, and finally returning to the States... and the comforts of home!
January 27– Back in Mendoza
I just spoke with Marshall who reported that the team is back in Mendoza. In a hotel. With real beds, toilets, and showers! “After 16 days on the mountain. Whew! I forgot how nice it is it to have such simple luxuries.” Yep! Things we take for granted everyday, including being able to turn on the faucet and have clean water to drink. Those are some of the things you come to appreciate after climbing a mountain. Marshall and I briefly discussed the problems on summit day, most notably Frank, Demetri, and David being left alone for almost three hours almost immediately after leaving Camp 2. Marshall confirmed that
this certainly was not the plan. The local guiding company that Marshall hired had three guides, one for every three clients, which played out like this at the start of summit day: • •
Louise, Nancy, and Fabrice with Pincho; Terri and Marshall with Peke (for the beginning of the climb); and Frank, Demetri, and David were to be climbing with Goudy.
Certainly there were enough guides to cover the group, had everyone done their job. Marshall confirmed that Goudy was absolutely assigned to the sweep position, and never, never should have left the clients alone on the mountain… certainly for not such an extended period. Reportedly, during the three hours that Frank, Demetri, and David were climbing on their own, Pincho, the lead guide, had even radioed back to Goudy to check on the rest of the group, and Goudy reported that all was well. Hmmm…. As David explained in his audio postings on The Ferris FIles, (and Marshall confirmed with me today) Goudy did return to him/them occasionally, but did not provide any encouragement or guidance; he only told them they were moving too slowly and set time deadlines for the next geographic/geologic goal. After some time, Demetri simply moved forward on his own, as Frank also decided to do in order to make the necessary “cut off" times. Because Marshall was guiding and taking care of Terri, Peke descended to check on Demetri (who was moving strongly up the mountain) and then “picked up” Frank and accompanied him to the summit. Marshall confirmed that Louise, Nancy, and Fabrice, guided by Pincho, did reach the summit at about 2 p.m. (“Those women are so [adjective here] strong!” Marshall said, “There is nothing to Nancy, but she is unbelievable!) Marshall got Terri to the summit about an hour later, at 3 p.m. Marshall thought that Demetri was about 15 behind them, with Frank and Peke only another 15 minutes behind Demetri, meaning that they reached the summit at about 3:30 p.m. Marshall reported that Goudy did finally descend to where David was, and that he did guide David back down to Camp 2. With the difficulties that David was having (on summit day, and prior to that) it is possible that he may not have been able to summit, but certainly the guiding situation was not what it should have been. While Goudy has reportedly been guiding for 8 years, Marshall said that he “just doesn't get it.” Marshall had to end our phone conversation as one of the important things he had to do was meet with Pincho (along with David and, perhaps Frank – who was not pleased with being left without a guide for part of day, either; and rightfully so!) to discuss… “What happened to Goudy?” Marshall said that Pincho and Peke were awesome, but certainly something fell apart with the plan of Goudy doing sweep and watching over the climbers at the back of the group. Fortunately, everyone is safe and sound! Thanks for reading the trip report postings from Marshall Ulrich's Stray Dogs climb of Aconcagua via the Polish Glacier Traverse route. My name is Heather Ulrich, Marshall's wife, reporting to you from here at home in Colorado. For additional trip reports, in pariticular audio postings, visit David Ferris' sitw, The Ferris FIles.
Terri Schneider also has postings on her blog site. http://www.marshallulrich.com
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