"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive."- Robert
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
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!|
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 youve 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
Lesson #6: Mountaineering is really only about 20% about strength or
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
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
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
The People On
* 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
* 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
Journeys in Hacktreks
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