Acon-Part IV, Summit Day
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Months upon months of training and preparing all came down to this day, and it was finally here! We got up at 3:30am for a 5am departure but I was up most of the night between the wind, anxiety, and the freeze-dried lasagna in my body wanting to make a quick exit. We heated water to add to our bottles, stuffed some food down, packed and double checked everything. Amazingly enough the wind died down at some point before 5am and we were on the trail shortly after 5am. It was pretty cold, but not as bad as it could've been. I was wearing a wool/fleece hat, balaclava, neck warmer; polypro top, fleece top, heavy shell top; polypro bottoms, heavy shell pants; heavy mittens with hand warmers; liner socks, heavy socks, toe warmers, plastic boots, gaiters. That system worked real well for me and could easily be adjusted with zippers and various vents. Just in case the shit hit the fan I had fleece pants and a down jacket in my pack, along with food (mostly gu's), almost 3 quarts of warm Gatorade (should've brought more), crampons and ice axe, extra socks and gloves, camera and plenty of film, first aid kit and tons of sunscreen/sunblock, handwarmers, glacier glasses and goggles, plenty of TP.
The sky was clear with tons of stars out, the horizon was starting to get a bit light already and the sun a few hours later would be very welcomed. The familiar squeaking sound of boots and poles in the hard pack snow was all around and our world was just as far as the headlamps would shine. I was real glad that Bob, Laurie and I hiked to Berlin the previous day, we were much more comfortable with the first couple hours of hiking099-summit day sunrise.jpg (144334 bytes) this morning in the dark. The eight of us were at Berlin this time in just over 1.5hrs. Of the eleven that started, two stayed in camp and one other decided to take the day at a leisurely pace and get as high as he could. At Berlin (19,500ft) the shadow of the earth arced over the horizon as the sun cast awesome shadows on the surrounding peaks, even the shadow of Aconcagua could be seen in the distance. We were feeling great at this point, the weather was fantastic, and as Rich put 100-summit day sunrise.jpg (141210 bytes) it, "it's not a matter of making the summit or not, it's now a matter of how long we feel like spending on the summit." We donned crampons and ice axes since the terrain got steeper from here on out. It was light out, but we weren't quite in the sun. Every step above here was a PR for me as well!!! At this point you start moving slower with each step, but that's fine as long as you keep moving. We went up a couple hundred vertical feet and were in the "White Rocks" area around 20K ft. A teammate asked a special favor in return for beers later, his foot was getting dangerously cold and he asked to put it on my stomach to help warm it up, a couple sessions of this and more toe warmers helped. We could see the sun on the top of the ridge that we were heading towards, didn't take too long to get there and man, did it111-summit day gran accareo.jpg (186493 bytes) ever feel nice! After a nice long break and a clothing adjustment we hammered on towards Independencia at 21,00ft. Still no signs of adverse weather so we kept switching back and forth towards the "Gran Acarreo", the giant scree field that the trail traverse across towards the Canaleta. Spirits were high knowing that we were getting so close! Up on "windy corner" we could see several parties ahead of us along the traverse and heading up the Canaleta, looked pretty slow going. We were taking frequent (and much needed) rests and soon caught up to the bottleneck area. The mid-day sun beating down on us and the lack of atmosphere to stop it was taking its toll. It was warm but you want to keep 115-summit day gran accareo.jpg (162026 bytes) covered up to prevent burning instantly despite layers on sunscreen/sunblock. A Korean team up there looked like lepers with hunks of skin falling off of their faces from some serious burn probably a few days before. There is no where to pass anyone and one wrong step could send you down several thousand feet towards Nido! Some folks along the trail were looking like they had no business being up this high and were in bad shape. We were able to regroup and take a break in a shady spot under a rock ledge, food and water were key. Some folks cached stuff not needed for the last 1000ft push to the summit, it still seemed a far, far away place. The Canaleta117-summit day canaleta.jpg (109933 bytes) is ~35 degree slope right before the summit, usually no problem...but at 22K ft it's a different freakin' story! Luckily there was snow in it that made it easier than just broken rock and scree that typically fills it. Everything is in slow motion and you are basically fading in and out of sleep and consciousness trying to stay on your feet. I stayed towards the back of the pack with a teammate that was having a hard time and occasionally directed him in the right direction with the straps from his pack. The entire length of the Canaleta probably took us around 3hrs, its a real ass kicker and there 121-summit.jpg (178298 bytes) were plenty of teams who did not summit due to this last obstacle. Eventually we were on Cresta del Guanaco, the last traverse and knew we were good as there. Looking behind us was the imposing South Wall and more of the Andes Mtns separating Argentina from Chile. Wayne was just below the summit with a shit-eating grin on waiting for Rich to step foot up there first! God it was awesome. Bob, Laurie and I all held hands and summitted together since we went through so much together to get here. It is a very emotional experience and hard not to get choked up. Hugs, handshakes, pictures, and congratulations all around. The highest point outside of the Himalayas, and we were standing on top!!! 
After 9.5hrs to get up and a mere half hour on the summit we had to get out of there and back down the124-summit.jpg (178686 bytes) mountain, the wind picked up and clouds weren't far off. Alex fought through sickness all day and practically collapsed once on top, he needed to get down. Going down the Canaleta wasn't exactly easy either. A combined glissade and careful walking worked best for me. On the Gran Acarreo we were enveloped in clouds and visibility dropped real fast. Going so slow it seemed like we weren't getting anywhere, I confessed to Bob later (and he was thinking the same exact thing) that I thought we were going to be spending the night up there. Soon enough we saw Laurie along the trail and 5 of us found all the landmarks we needed to be on the correct trails. It's only a couple left turns, but if you miss're fucked. Took 4 hours to get back to Nido and we barely crawled in hoping someone had some water, nope. So after 14hrs of climbing the first thing we had to do was melt snow. That gave us something to do while eating the celebratory can of Lays potato chips. It took awhile to really sink in what we just accomplished, but it was a great feeling. Now all we had to do was get down the mountain and celebrate in the next couple days!!!!!

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101-summit day sunrise.jpg (127947 bytes) Sunrise near Camp Berlin 102-summit day sunrise.jpg (145756 bytes)

103-summit day berlin.jpg (162571 bytes) Getting on crampons for the rest of the climb; Bob near Camp Berlin 104-summit day berlin.jpg (146556 bytes)

105-summit day above berlin.jpg (177683 bytes) Working our way above Berlin; Above White Rocks 110-summit day above indepencia.jpg (94781 bytes)

107-summit day above white rocks.jpg (113104 bytes) Getting close to Indepencia 108-summit day above white rocks.jpg (141335 bytes)    109-summit day above indepencia.jpg (165081 bytes)

113-summit day gran accareo.jpg (169891 bytes) Alex, sick as a dog but still going; One of many break around 22K feet 114-summit day gran accareo.jpg (149632 bytes)

116-summit day canaleta.jpg (144625 bytes) Me sleepwalking through the Canaleta; The South Face 118-summit day south face.jpg (137406 bytes)

120-summit day south face.jpg (212118 bytes) Near the summit looking at the South Face 119-summit day south face.jpg (159173 bytes)

Summit shots: 122-summit.jpg (157501 bytes)    123-summit.jpg (167502 bytes)    128-summit.jpg (187769 bytes)    125-summit.jpg (181455 bytes)    126-summit.jpg (190398 bytes)    127-summit.jpg (186048 bytes)

129-summit day descent.jpg (127526 bytes) Us practically crawling down in a whiteout; Finally back at Nido after 14hrs 130-summit day nido.jpg (138181 bytes)

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