Mount Aconcagua wouldn’t let me pass this time
They say that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. In the case of Mount Aconcagua (6,960.8 m; 22,837.3 ft), the highest peak outside of the Himalayas, it’s one slow grueling step at a time.
Every step I took, I felt the 40 plus pound pack on my back weighing me down; every step I took I felt like someone put a plastic bag over my head with a tiny pinhole to breathe through; and every step I took, I felt like someone set my legs on fire.
Well at least that was how I felt during my first carry to camp one. I admit I hated every step of it and was ready to quit mountaineering forever. I couldn’t understand why anyone wanted to do this. I was broken and devastated. This was the closest to quitting I would come to during the entire trip.
But that night, new strength found me and I promised myself I would do whatever it took to make it. That meant focusing on my breathing and swallowing my pride by changing my pace and becoming the slowest member of my team. I began falling behind my team by 30 to 40 minutes on average. My ego would tug at me each time I approached camp last. I felt all of my team judging me, but I was committed to going at my own pace. I was slow but steady. Last but not least.
My confidence was building. I believed I actually had a good shot at the bid for the summit. That is, until we met Aconcagua’s famous viento blanco - the white wind. The night of the storm was damaging. We all went to bed afraid of losing our chance to summit, but since we were so close, we were nonetheless hopeful for the first time, believing that we could actually make it.
As I fell asleep, I visualized my walk to the summit. But soon enough, I was awakened by my tent mates slowly sliding me into the wall of the tent. I could feel the snow under the tent with my shoulder. And then I realized that the wind blew fiercely, slamming dry gritty snow against the tent like a sandblaster.
The gusts were so hard I could feel the tent wall wrap around my body. I spent the night fighting for my floor space, pleading for the storm to stop so I could go out to the bathroom, and kept wondering if one of these gusts would shred apart the tent – our only protection from the assault of the raging natural elements around us.
When daylight emerged, we were all anxious to hear if we would move to the final high camp. Our questions were answered when our guide unzipped the tent fly and delivered the bad news. The trip was over and we were going home. The wind we had suffered was worse up higher and had no intention of letting up. A summit attempt would be extremely dangerous if not impossible.
That was it. It was over.
Truth be told, I was actually relieved. The fear of possibly not making it to the summit was gone. The decision was made for us and the mountain was not going to let us pass this time.
That was then. Now that I have been back home in Boston for a couple weeks, I have ordered a book on high altitude medicine and topo maps of the mountain. This isn’t over. I will make sure I get another chance. Someday, Aconcagua will let me pass and I will be able to see if I can overcome my own personal mountain and make it to the top.
Check out a previous post on why I decided to climb Mount Aconcagua for charity and find out more about my fundraising campaign Expedition Empowerment for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center - there is still time to support it - please consider making a donation!