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An Aconcagua Christmas
"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive."- Robert Louis Stevenson

Diana Reid in Argentina

The Beginning
I remember how this all got started. I was having brunch with my friend Lynn on a warm San Francisco spring day earlier this year. An avid athlete, she was regaling me with tales of mountain climbing experiences on Rainier, Baker, Kilimanjaro and more. And telling me all about her plans for her next climb; Mt. Aconcagua. At 22,834', Aconcagua is the tallest peak in the western hemisphere. While I couldn't quite pronounce it, I was fascinated. Lynn invited me to go with her. As an athlete, a Pacific Northwest native and a generally "outdoorsy-type" myself, I had read a dozen or so mountaineering books, and was quite intrigued with the sport - but primarily from a "Why do these people do this? What compels them to risk life and limb? What do they get out of such an adventure?" perspective. Sure, I have run a marathon and a couple of half marathons, trekked 450 miles across Spain one hot July with my friend Isolina, done some rock climbing, and headed out into the back country on numerous occasions, but what the hell do I know about mountain climbing? The idea of putting myself on the edge - both physically and metaphorically - was incredibly scary and thrilling.

All of a sudden, not only did I want to do it, I needed to. Within several days I had called Lynn and we signed up. And being the misery-loves-company kind of friend that I am (well, that's not exactly how I pitched it at the time), I convinced Isolina to sign up too.

Fast forward through numerous weekends of carrying heavy packs laden with gallon jugs of water up and down the Sierra, endless early mornings in the gym, countless trips to REI, and an exciting - and thankfully successful - 'practice' summit of Rainier, December 14th arrived, and it was time to put our money where our mouths were. We departed for Argentina.

The journey itself was uneventful - if you count two nearly 6' tall women crunched in coach for 17 hours uneventful. Isolina taunted us from business class. Lynn and I decided we were mentally preparing ourselves for the weeks of pain and small spaces. After a 9-hour layover in Santiago, where Isolina and Lynn did yoga in the Admiral's Club and I amused the local employees by speed-walking laps through the concourse, we finally arrived in Mendoza, Argentina. At 7:30pm the sun was shining, the weather was hot and dry. Ahh, God bless the southern hemisphere in December!
Upon arrival at our hotel for the evening, aptly, the "Hotel Aconcagua", we met our guides and the other members of our team. Over dinner at a local Mendozan restaurant - where of course we consumed large quantities of two of Argentina's most renowned specialties; red wine and red meat - we chatted and got to know one another. Here in summary, is our cast of characters (In hindsight, I had thought of entitling this travelogue "The Real World Aconcagua: 17 days, 8 climbers, 3 tents, 1 mountain, endless frayed nerves" but I thought MTV might get cranky).

Phase 1: The Approach to Base Camp

The next morning, after collecting our permits, heading out to buy -sigh- even more gear, and loading our bags and ourselves into a van, we headed off towards the mountains. As we headed deeper into the hills, following alongside the Mendoza River, which cut fiercely through the hillsides, nearly over-flowing its banks, it really finally occurred to me: I'm in the Andes and I'm about to climb a 22,834' mountain. I spent much of the ride in silence, contemplating the enormity of what was ahead. After a stop for lunch at a roadside restaurant, we arrived at our hotel in Los Pentinentes (8500'); the site of our last bed and hot shower for over two weeks. We joined a number of other teams for dinner and arose early to pack up the mules with our gear and head out. This was also around the time we learned the first of many critical mountaineering lessons we'd learn on this trip:
Lesson #1: When they tell you not to eat the local vegetables before you climb, DO NOT eat the local vegetables!

Needless to say, we dearly wished not to have learned this lesson the hard way. Our roadside lunch the day before had not been kind to Lynn, and she fell quite ill. I too would pay the price a day or so later. Despite the unhappy stomachs, the trek into base camp was beautiful. We spent three days covering the 35-mile journey, gradually ascending from 8000' to our 12,200' base camp destination. Following the Vacas River - which alternated between a trickling stream and a deafening roar - and trekking over green hills and rocky riverbeds, we spent time getting to know the members of our team and other expeditions, baking in the hot Argentinean summer sun (did you know that you can sunburn between your fingers and the insides of your ears?!) and enjoying, what we would dearly miss later, a nearly gourmet diet and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. The trek in was an interesting lesson in patience and anticipation. We walked and walked and walked, but still had yet to actually see the mountain we were to climb, as it remained hidden well up-valley. The suspense had both pros and cons; without actually seeing the size of this mountain, we could pretend in our minds that it would be easily surmountable. But, the not knowing became unsettling and nerve-wracking as well. What would it REALLY be like? Just how BIG is it?

We got our answer at around 11,000'. This was the day I was struggling with my own personal understanding of Lesson #1, and each step had been a battle over nausea and exhaustion. Ana had diligently followed closely behind me as I fell farther and farther behind my team, and gusting winds threw dust in my face and threatened my already precarious balance. After 6 hours of struggling, and a brief streamside nap, just when I thought I would never even make it to Base Camp, let alone to where we were camping that night, we came around a corner and there it was. The glacier-covered south side of Aconcagua peeked above a band of clouds that hovered near the summit, taunting any would-be summiteers for that day. It was breath taking. It was massive. And oh my god, it was still so far away.

We arrived at Base Camp late on Day 3, after winding our way through the green, and often marshy, Guanacos Valley - where our guide operation's website had promised we'd see "hundreds of guanacos" (llama-like animals). Well, not counting the skeletal remains of several we passed along the way, we found this claim to not exactly be truth in advertising. Approaching Base Camp, the green hills gave way to incredibly steep snow-capped mountains, many covered in transparent, blue, glaciated slopes, and the temperatures rapidly dropped.

Phase 2: Base Camp and Beyond
Base Camp (~12,200') itself was very amusing. I had had visions (fueled by reports from other climbers and of course, by my own 'climbing knowledge' provided by "Into Thin Air" and such, of team cook tents, showers, base camp doctors, etc.) of a bustling base of climber activity. (And of course, I found out later, these things did exist on Aconcagua - but only on the other two main routes up the mountain). What we had, however, was one small dome tent - in which we could just about squeeze all eight of us (only if Ana kept half of her body outside the window) - and the biggest, most desolate, rock laden, wind-blown, depressing campsite I've ever seen. And, by now we had separated from all of the other expeditions (who traveled instead up the neighboring Relinchos Valley) and were traveling along side only another small sister expedition, so we were sort of lonely too. In all honesty, our rest day here could not pass quickly enough. We were ready to move on and up. This was also about the time we encountered:
Lesson #2: It only takes about 5 days of not bathing before you start dreaming about showers and 5-star hotels.

Having done a lot of camping, I'm quite used to being dirty for days at a time. But for some reason my sub-conscious (and Isolina's) struggled with the thought of 2+ weeks un-bathed. We amused ourselves with the daily, "Did you dream about showers again last night?" discussion. And we decided that Handi-wipes are your friend. Except when frozen.

Base Camp was also the site of some heated team discussions. You see, we had, as a team, signed up to climb Aconcagua via the Polish Glacier; one of the mountain's technical routes. On our way up the valley however, we had encountered a number of teams of climbers who reported the Glacier un-climbable - and highly dangerous - in its current, wind-swept and massively icy state. Our guides now had the task of 'breaking the news to us' and trying to drive for team consensus on another route. Given what I'd heard first-hand from these climbers who'd recently attempted it, I had no interest in even considering the Polish Route. I certainly was up for a challenge, but not complete idiocy. Interestingly enough, Tom and David - our hard-core, experienced climbers - quickly agreed that we should abandon any Polish attempt and instead maximize our chances for a summit by traversing over and attempting our summit bid from the Normal Route's high camp. However, Gernot, our "well I swam a few times as training for this trip" teammate, was adamant we not abandon what he'd signed up for and been promised. His tales of how he'd managed to summit Denali and Elbrus began to frighten me - while incredibly ambitious and determined, I wouldn't necessarily condone the means. It ended up being a very long evening of discussion. Ultimately, we agreed to head towards the Normal Route (although the topic came up for G just about every day, and at one point we had a shouting - and near fists - match from the neighboring tent) on the north face.

Decisions made, after our rest day, it was time to begin the climb in earnest. As we ascended out of the rock pile we called Base Camp and rose above the valley floor, we scrambled over steep and loose scree slopes, and struggled to get comfortable with our packs, now loaded up with about 50+lbs of community gear for a carry to Camp 1. As we slowly adjusted our breathing and footsteps to the increasing altitude, we developed a fairly comfortable rhythm. That is, until we began to enter the vast fields of what I now know to be called "pentitentes"; essentially, inverted - and massive (up to 8 or 9’ tall) - icicles.

Penitentes look truly magical and lovely from a distance - like artfully crafted ice sculptures, each and every one unique in size, shape, and height; laid it in labyrinthine fashion. However, up close and personal, they were not so lovely, as my bruised shins, bashed elbows and scraped hands and face would attest. We slipped, slid, and fell our way over and through them. Ironically, as I now look up the definition of pentitentes at dictionary.com, I find the following: "A member of a Roman Catholic brotherhood in parts of the Southwest, of Native American and Hispanic origin, that celebrates the Passion with rites involving fasting and self-flagellation." Sure, self-flagellation - I think I can relate to that.

Sadly, this was also the day that Lynn's earlier fight with the local vegetables became a battle with the altitude, and her dehydration led to some very scary and miserable early cerebral edema, and our guides determined she needed to return home. This is also the day that we learned the truly harsh reality of:

Lesson #3: No one tells you that you really have to climb the mountain not once, but TWICE.


I've always heard and understood well the logic behind the "climb high, sleep low" mountaineering mantra to ensure proper acclimatization. And certainly, acclimatization is a slow and laborious process, and cannot be rushed. But I never truly understood that this meant that for every horrible scree slope you encountered, every icy river crossing, every damn penitente field you ascend over, you have to have to walk back down it at the end of the day, and back up again the next. While one might optimistically say - in the-glass-is-half-full fashion - that this means you get to really know the mountain and have a chance to really 'get it right', my brain and body did not see it that way. Three times through every part of this mountain was far more than I'd bargained for. We grumbled and struggled, but we persevered.

Camp 1
(14,500') was a comfortable camp - thankfully much more scenic than Base Camp - settled in below a steep snowfield and in full view of the summit we were to climb. Oh man, it is so large and still seems so far away. We spent the night here and then embarked on a massive climb to Camp 3; Mike having decided we were in great shape and could skip Camp 2. This was our steepest climb of the trip (sans Summit Day) and we gained about 3,000' vertical feet in about 6 hours, covering one endless icy snow field after another. This is also the day I bonked completely after lunch, and ended up with Ana slowly prodding me from the back of the pack again. I learned quickly that foods you might normally eat for energy - nuts, cheese, bread - do not digest well at altitude and relying on them for quick energy is like waiting for your car to start with a frozen battery – just ain't going anywhere. Gu and chocolate became my best friends.

After a small snow flurry came up, around 500 vertical feet shy of Camp 3 (17,500') we cached our gear and headed back down to Camp 1 for the night. Again the penitentes. Sigh. The following day we moved to Camp 3 and set up camp. Remnants of a crashed helicopter - whose grill we used as weight to hold one of our tents down - did little to make me feel comfortable at this altitude. The pounding headache and intense nausea I felt were not helping matters. I asked Mike, "When do you stop feeling sick?" He said, "When you're back at sea level." I was not amused. This is also when we really knew:
Lesson #4: Setting Up a Tent at Altitude is One of the Most Difficult & Frustrating Things You Can Imagine

By now we had come to accept that the wind patterns on Aconcagua are the opposite of those in most other places in the world. 25, 50, 100mph winds are constant, not just gusts. And the rare moment of calm is beyond rare. This mountain, she does not want you to forget who is boss. You feel incredibly human, and often quite frail. Setting up our tents required an elaborate - and often 2-hour long - process of all five of us working on one tent. As soon as you took the tent out of the bag, someone hurled their body into it to keep it from blowing away, while the other four of us frantically clipped poles in and tried personally not to be carried away, kite-like, as we unfurled the fly. The really hideous part of it all was securing the guidelines of the tent beneath enough rocks to ensure *nothing* the mountain unleashed could release them. This generally required the collection and placement of about 25 or more pounds of rocks per guideline. And, at this altitude, wandering around hefting and ferrying huge rocks for two hours was more than enough to make at least one of us sick. If there is one thing each of us remembers from this trip less than fondly, it is putting up our tents at each camp.

Camp 3
was set on a flat plain overlooking the snow-covered Andes and with an awe-inspiring view of the Summit, and we relaxed here for a day and a half. This is also where we spent Christmas - most of us on the satellite phone, spending $5 per minute to call home and talk to loved ones - and where we realized that altitude makes you feel bad in a whole other way we'd not anticipated; depression. By this time, the temperatures were so cold and the wind so fierce that unless we were hiking, we could not comfortably be outside of our tents for longer than a few minutes. This is also where the daily routing of hot tea, hot soup, pasta for every single meal (well, insert hot cereal on the occasional morning) became more than we could bear. Eating became unwelcome. And, with the altitude wreaking havoc on our pulse rates, sleeping became difficult. Lying in your tent, staring at the ceiling for hours and listening to the wind try to tear your tent to shreds, we had to wonder just what the hell we were doing here. We began to lower our own personal expectations as well. Rather than even concerning ourselves with the summit, we now became hell bent on just surviving until 19,500' and Camp 4 - where we knew we would get to descend down an entirely different side of the mountain (after we'd climbed this side repeatedly, we were pretty well done!).

Our climb to "White Rocks" - Camp 4 - was actually much easier than the journey to Camp 3, so we began feeling a bit optimistic again about the remainder of the trip. The camp was set in a huge, and of course rocky, bowl amidst a nearly circular array of almost Stonehengian limestone rock pillars. Walking across the camp we could view the Normal Route's ascent or, the opposite direction, the Relinchos Valley ascent. All roads lead here. As we contemplated an incredibly stunning sunset, this is the point where we really and truly learned -

Lesson #5: Aconcagua is Far More Beautiful and Magical than the Climbing World Gives it Credit For

There is nothing more amazing than being high atop the Andes, under the brilliant blue Argentinean sky, staring out across Argentina, Chile and all the way to the Pacific Ocean as the sun slowly fades from view.

That evening we got together for a pre-summit prep (and pep) talk. Mike said the weather looked good for a summit bid the next day, so rather than take a rest day as expected, we'd be heading out at dawn to embark upon the final, critical ascent of the trip. He also warned us to dress warm as we slept, as the temperatures would sink well below -20 (and don't even ask what the wind does to that!). We were also advised to sleep with our water bottles, thermoses, extra clothes and gloves, and the inner liners to our mountaineering boots in our sleeping bags - all to ensure nothing froze or was un-wearable in the morning. This sounded like smart advice, but by the time I put all this gear in my bag I barely had room enough left to ball up in the fetal position!|
Phase 4: The Summit Bid

Morning came quickly and with much chaos. Isolina and I awoke to hear Tom yelling, "Girls, we're walking in tend minutes!" "Damn, damn, damn!" were my only thoughts and words. What the heck happened to waking up at 5:00am and leaving at 6:00am? Apparently our guides had deemed it not necessary to wake us other than calling "breakfast" from 200 yards away, in the wind. Of course we hadn't heard them. Dammit again. We quickly scrambled out of our tent, grumpy and groggy. I threw on my gear as quick as humanly possible, and was still pulling on my down mittens and backpack as our team headed out of camp. We hadn't even had time to go to the bathroom, eat breakfast or drink anything. This was not how I wanted to start the hardest day of the journey. The walk out of camp in the early morning light more than compensated for the frazzled way we began. The sky was painted shades of purple, pink and blue, and the sun rose, first slowly and then with lightning speed, rising up from behind the mountains and shining fiercely in the cloud-free blue sky. Climbing higher, we could see parts of the Andes we'd not yet seen, and the valleys from which we'd come. With Mike glaring at me for asking to take a break, after about an hour I quickly scarfed down some gummy bears, water and Gu, and kept pace with the team. I later understood why he was adamant about everyone staying tightly together. Stopping and waiting for anyone, even for a minute, at -20 means severe cold, and potentially, frostbite, sets in quickly.

We slowly, slowly trudged up the mountain, sandwiched between three other expeditions. I pulled my hat and hoods tight to keep the cold out and focused on watching Tom's boots ahead of me. Step, step, step. "Hey Tom, what's the song for today?" I asked. I needed distraction. Tom was of no help at all other than his "One little, two little, three little Indians" favorite, so I took to counting my own footsteps to keep myself company. Oddly enough, I never seemed to start at 1; I always just found myself at 32, or 15, or some other random number. And, being at 21,000', at the time it seemed entirely logical to my oxygen-starved brain. We stopped briefly here, at a tiny little hut called Independencia, and put on crampons and grabbed our ice axes for the next part of the journey. By now Isolina, struggling with some knee pain and not able to keep Mike's drill sergeant pace, had turned back. It was just Tom, G and I, along with Ana and Mike (David had decided not to attempt the summit after feeling quite ill on the way to Camp 4). We continued on; G & Mike ripping up the trail, and me continuing to use Tom's boots as my singular focus in life. I felt surprisingly good. Tom said, "Well, we may not make it up as fast as those two, but I think we're going to summit!" I agreed and was thrilled.

We climbed our way up a steep snowfield, carefully navigating with ice axe and ski pole, and trying hard not to think about how high we really were, lest our lungs hear us. The wind howled with the most amazing ferocity imaginable. My hands were freezing, my face was freezing, and my feet were freezing. But I felt so good - no headache, no nausea, I wasn't bonking in any way despite the lack of fuel that morning. Then, after a fairly flat and narrow traverse – now using our ice axes not for traction in the snow, but to stay upright in the wind's furor - we ducked behind a series of rocks and stopped to rest. Mike grabbed my chin and turned me to face him. "Oh god Diana, I think you’ve frostbitten your face!" Then, "Where is your balaclava?" Not really understanding what he'd just told me, I didn't think much of it. I simply said, "Oh, it's in my backpack, I'll put it on now," through a very frozen chin and jaw. I quickly put it on and readied myself to continue upwards. Mike turned to me quietly and said, "Diana, I'm sorry. Ana's going to take you down now." Wait! What? But I'm fine! I'm strong! I feel good. This is where the mountain's most important lesson was really hammered home
Lesson #6: Mountaineering is really only about 20% about strength or skill.

The remaining 80% is comprised of 50% sheer mental and emotional willpower (when your mind makes your body go when it says it can't), and about 30% uncontrollable elements (the weather, the altitude, your body's reactions). You can plan for everything, be physically ready, yet there are ever the unseen obstacles.

I stood stunned, unable to register what had just happened. Go down? Then tears came to my eyes and I realized it's over. I numbly put my sunglasses on and struggled with my mittens. I lost the will to dress myself, and Ana had to help me with pack, coat and gloves. I asked Tom quietly, "What does your altimeter say?" "21,500'", he answered, looking sympathetic. So close, but yet so far. I slowly trailed behind Ana, sniffling and fogging up my glasses, stumbling down the mountain. Back at 21,000' she hugged me as I took off my crampons and teared up a bit more. She took my photo and I somehow managed to smile, and we continued our descent, picking up several other would-be-but-now-turned-back summiteers along the way. Once back at our tent, Isolina and I consoled each other, and then began to realize feelings of great relief. We had finished the hardest part.

An hour or so later we heard Tom's voice at camp. He had encountered significant altitude sickness at around 22,000' and couldn't tell the snow from the sky, which, appropriately enough, scared the crap out of him, and he descended. Streams of people continued to come down the mountain, dejected and exhausted. The wind, Ana said, was too much. The weather was just too cold. I checked my chin, nose and cheeks, and was lucky to find only minor redness. Mike had noticed the frostbite so early that, in the end, after a few days of numbness and discomfort, the worst I faced was a small patch of skin peeling off my nose. I was incredibly lucky. Around 4pm Mike and Gernot descended. They, along with one climber from our sister expedition, were the only summiteers amongst our two groups and 20 climbers that day. And of course, G being G, had summited not once, but twice. He had marched ahead of Mike at one point and made it to the summit, and then, when on the way down, he ran into Mike, who was now guiding Sarah to the top, and decided well hell, I'll go up again. So he did. We cheered his arrival into camp, and all fell exhausted into a very long sleep.

Phase 5: The Descent
The next day began the best and the perhaps worst part of the trip. Coming down the Normal Route we were thrilled to have a new set of territory to cover, but horrified to realize we were now atop the world's biggest gravel pile. Words really cannot describe just how hideous it is to try to walk when there is no solid ground under your feet, you are at 10-40% grades AND, you are now carrying about 75lbs on your back. We scrambled around like Bambi learning how to walk; sliding, skiing, and falling. For 6,000 vertical feet we cursed the mountain, the Normal Route, and mentally derided anyone who would willingly choose to climb UP this particular hideous rock pile of a route. As we continued to fall, we became more and more tired, quads screaming, ankles rolling, and it became harder and harder to get up. I felt like an up-ended turtle at times, my pack so huge and heavy that I couldn't manage to right myself even after five or six tries. Isolina informed us she'd fallen sixteen times. I fell so hard at one point I landed right on the back of my own boots and clubbed my tailbone, making walking (and eventually sitting) unfathomably uncomfortable. Oh god, I almost want to go back up.

After six hours of this we arrived at Plaza de las Mulas (14,000'); Base Camp and the most amazing tent city you could imagine. Oh, I see now. HERE is where all the cool stuff is. There were massive tents with wooden floors, restaurants and full stocked bars. A tent that held an Internet cafe. Solar showers. Enviro toilets. Music. It was like walking into Oz. We gratefully abandoned our packs - for the muleteers to take down the next day - and ate our way through five hot-and-oh-so-blissful pizzas served up by friends of Ana's, and finally breathed a sigh of relief. We were off the mountain.
We spent the night, joy of joys, at the Refugio at Base Camp. While the building was unheated and the beds were hard wooden bunks, we had roof over our heads, food that didn't consist of dried pasta, and the sound of the gusting wind was far away. The next day we trekked the remaining, and at times exhausting, twenty miles and 6,000' down the valley to the park entrance. The weather became summer-hot again and the landscape greener and more lush. We slogged through more rivers and more gravel, but the knowledge that our journey would soon be complete - and the ability to finally breathe without effort - spurred us onward.

I spent much of the day walking on my own, trying to find closure for the trip and sort things out in my head. Was I sad about not summiting? Was this a successful journey? Was the result worth the toll my body had taken? What had I learned - about the mountain, the country, my team, myself? As I crossed the suspension bridge over the Horcones river, which signaled the end of the trek, I took one last look at Aconcagua. She stood tall, defiant, and strong. I smiled at her - because in me, I liked to think, she'd met her match. I may not have summited, but I didn't back down, and I think we respected each other for that.

Arriving home, many people have asked me how my trip was, and each time I struggled to find the right words. On one hand it was painful, exhausting, excruciating, depressing, and in general, just tremendously hard on my body and my mind. It was also one of the biggest challenges I've ever undertaken in my life. Truly an opportunity of a lifetime. I was inspired, transformed, thrilled, awed by the beauty, and overcome with a sense of tremendous personal accomplishment. Nothing seems unattainable, not possible. And, I am thankful and grateful for all I have here at home. "Would I do it again?" many have asked. Yes, absolutely I would repeat this adventure, as how could I not have had this amazing experience? How could I miss out on something that challenged every part of my being and tested limits I didn't even know existed? Now, "Will I do it again?" is a whole other ballgame though.... I think not, as I sit here, warm and toasty at home in my flat in San Francisco. But, then again, who knows? The human mind is blissfully and naively forgetful, and the body resilient and strong. That said, I think I will keep them both at low altitudes, for now. And I will plan to spend next Christmas at sea level, with my family.

The People On The Climb
* Mike: Our lead guide and a native Seattle-ite. Mike has guided Aconcagua for over 5 years and is an experienced (and extreme) rock climber, skier and snowboarder. Having spent a number of years working in Hollywood as a scenic designer, Mike can also be seen as an extra in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights," and was often the source of some really bad rock music singing during the trip.
* Ana: A native Argentinean, the first woman to ever guide Aconcagua ('86) and Mike's wife. Ana is about 5'1" and 100 pounds and can carry more weight in her pack than most men I know. She was never without a smile - yet was also absolutely a take-no-bullshit leader. She was also the hand that fed us.
* David: A kind hearted, gentle giant sort of guy. David, 45, an anthropology professor in Durango, CO, is s rock climber with some 20+ years experience and several challenging first ascents under his belt. He is also the proud father of a not-quite-two year old little girl.
* Tom: The kid brother of our expedition, Tom, 24, is completing his MD/PhD in high altitude physiology at Columbia. Tom is also a fascinating combination of the quintessential New Yorker and a true outdoorsman. Tom's favorite hiking song, designed to help him keep pace on trekking trips, is "1 little, 2 little, 3 little Indians." We grew to despise Tom for planting this in our brains early on, but we forgave him anyway.
* Gernot: The international representative of the bunch. "G" as we came to call him (much to his distaste), 35, is a German businessman currently on sabbatical. G also recently summitted Mt. Elbrus and Mt. McKinley, so we were much impressed, until he demonstrated much surprise that we all trained hard for Aconcagua. "Well, I swam a little and jogged sometimes," he said earnestly. Ferociously energetic and wildly ambitious, G would have run up to the summit on Day 1 if our guides would have let him. In his own statement of fashion (recall Mike Myers in the "Now is the time on sprockets when we dance" skits on old Saturday Night Live shows), G wore only black - and usually looked to be clothed in his underwear. He became known as the "Poly-pro Ninja" somewhere along the way. Again, he was not really amused.--

© Diana Reid, San Francisco, CA
reid_diana@hotmail.com

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