Climbing Mt. Aconcangua

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By Christine Chan

Over a jambalaya feast with my friend Marcus Andrews, I am treated to stories from a three year romp in South America. Marcus describes black sandy beaches, hitchhiking across the continent and getting his pilot’s license in delicious detail. He has brought over 1000 gorgeous photographs that would increase my envy if it were possible.

The highlight of his trip was climbing Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina. At 22,900 feet, it is the tallest mountain in the world outside of Asia. As I examine pictures of Mt. Aconcagua, I can’t understand why anyone would want to spend two weeks of their lives climbing a dusty pile of rocks. Picture after picture capture an endless expanse of deadness with the occasional patch of snow. Yet there is something dangerously alluring about it. This is his story.

“I met this awesome guy from England who wanted to climb the mountain too. On the first day, we took a short hike to get ourselves acclimatized to the elevation, because that’s the hardest part. As luck would have it, my friend slid on some rocks and broke his leg on the way down. I should have taken that as a sign but I decided to go by myself anyway.

It usually takes 12-13 days to climb to the top. The first few days looked like a big dust bowl. The winds are so heavy that they can blow you over. The temperature is below zero. We dodge rocks carrying 80 pounds of equipment. The most frustrating part are the walls. After 12 hours of hiking, you can spend another four hours climbing a 400 foot wall. Some days you are so tired that you spend the day at camp. You sleep, walk around, play cards, melt snow for water, spend an hour cooking each meal, and allow your body to acclimatize.

I know you don’t believe me, but it is absolutely beautiful up there. The sunsets take an hour and half to set because you are up so high. We have to wear special goggles to block out the UV rays. After the 10th day, you can see both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. It gives the phrase “on top of the world” an entirely different meaning. The stars were the best part. They were so close I swear I could grab them. You can actually see the Southern Cross. When I got down, I wanted to go up again for that very reason.

On the last day, we saw a snowstorm forming. We were just 1000 feet from the summit – a four to five hour climb – and we knew this was our only opportunity. The scary part was if you fell, you’d probably die. We consumed sugar constantly to keep us moving. We had nothing but an ice axe, crampons, and two walking sticks to get us up a wall of ice. While I was attaching my crampons, my glove blew away in the 120 m.p.h. winds. I had worked so hard that I didn’t want to turn back despite the temperature being around -90 degrees. I lasted about an hour more before I decided that losing my hand wasn’t worth it. Turning back was the easiest and most difficult decision of my life. When I got back, I found out that the guys I was with went missing. Helicopters searched for them for two days before finding them frozen and barely alive.

Upon returning to Buenos Aires one of the guys that made it to the summit gave me a rock that he carried down from the mountain’s top with the request that someday I return it to its rightful place. With some luck I plan to reattempt the ascent next summer with my dad who will be in charge of bringing extra gloves.”

After hearing this story, I considered going with him for about 30 seconds. Then I decided that I prized my fingers too much. After all, if I lost my fingers, I wouldn’t be able to become a writer and thus have to sell my liver for money on the streets of Sri Lanka.

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