The Peaks of the Seven Continents
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I have come home from my attempt at climbing Aconcagua, one of the Seven Summits, and highest peak outside the Himalaya. I’m working on transcribing my notes now from my phone and little notebook into a document to prepare as another book. In the meantime, here are a few interesting key points.

Climbing Aconcagua - view from Horcones Lagoon

Aconcagua from Horcones Lagoon

Climbing Aconcagua: Failure?

I left the Horcones Ranger Station, 9,185′ elevation on my attempt at climbing Aconcagua on the morning of November 26. I spent a cold night at Confluencia, and barely passed the medical check to permit me to ascend to base camp. I left the next morning for Plaza de Mulas base camp at 14,110′ elevation early on the 27th of November. I took a very long time to arrive. The ranger in attendance told me to go to my hut and rest for the night. I was to check in on the 28th and do my Medical Check then.

The next day I checked in and did the Med Check. My results were poor enough that the doctor suggested I wait another day and do a second check. Climbing Aconcagua with the blessing of the doctor at base camp is a requirement now. My original plan was that I would already be carrying loads for my camps. I would be behind by two days waiting for the second check.

Climbing Aconcagua - loading the mules

Loading up the mules to descend after storms.

Others had bailed on their attempt at climbing Aconcagua, primarily due to poor weather conditions above Nido (Camp 2) . They loaded their gear onto the mules and descended before the weather got worse. A large lenticular cloud cap on the mountain brought winds in excess of 100 km/hr (about 60 mph) to basecamp. Conditions were bad enough above Camp Canada (Camp 1) that the rangers “closed the mountain”. They insisted no one go above Canada until Sunday or Monday (four more days).

That would put me about 5 days behind on my schedule, leaving me only 3 days to accomplish the gargantuan task of climbing Aconcagua. I had calculated about 8 days to acclimatize, a very short time actually. I was pretty sure I could not do it in 3, but I hung out for the next Med Check. Finally I went in, and my numbers were even lower. The doctor thought maybe it was the storm system messing me up. She recommended I go another day and decide then. If I’m weaker or sicker, I should descend. If I feel better it was just the weather.

Climbing Aconcagua - 100km/hr winds above base camp

100 Km/Hr Winds above Plaza de Mulas base camp on Aconcagua

Climbing Aconcagua: Grim Reality

I had not mentioned something to the doctor, primarily because I do not want it documented. I was having symptoms very similar to those I had on Denali. With the weather this bad there was no chance of a helicopter evacuation. I had to decide quickly if it was going to get better or not. On Denali I was out of action for 3 days with my team taking care of me. Here no one could take care of me. I called Angie, upset that I was going to let down all those offering Skate For Hope donations. She pointed out that I’d also let them down if I died.

Overnight the symptoms became worse, so I decided to load up my gear for the mules and descend while I was still strong enough. I had to quit on this attempt at climbing Aconcagua. I made it down in time to check out after hours at the ranger station, amid blowing snow and sand with high winds almost knocking me over at times. Others descending were hiding among the scarce boulders large enough to block the wind. I did not see them again.

Climbing Aconcagua - grim reminder of death

A grim reminder along the trail that in this remote environment rescue would be difficult. Mule skull.

I spent a couple days recovering in Penitentes then flew home. I am still very weak, and still having symptoms. But here I know I am among family, and am being taken care of.

Climbing Aconcagua and Skate For Hope

I had asked people to challenge themselves to donate for my attempt at climbing Aconcagua. I did not succeed in the whole project, but I was able to ascend 4,925′ from Horcones to Plaza de Mulas. If you pledged a penny a foot, that’s $49.25. If you pledged for any section of trail other than Horcones to Plaza de Mulas, then of course I did not go there.

For anyone that already donated, or will go ahead and donate anyway in recognition of the attempt I made at climbing Aconcagua in spite of several serious setbacks, I have an offer.

Angie’s Donation Page at Skate for Hope: Click Here

I will be publishing a paper version of the journal I kept, and photos I took from this trip. I will send a signed copy of my book about climbing Aconcagua to anyone who has already, or will before the end of the month, donate $50 or more to Angie’s page on Skate For Hope. Leave your name on your donation, and we’ll get in touch to send you the book when it’s published in the next 60 days.

Thanks, and I sincerely apologize.

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If you’re at all interested in the Seven Summits Quest, you’ve undoubtedly done some homework, and kind of figured that the keystone of the Messner List, Carstensz Pyramid, highest point of the hypothetical continent of Oceania, would be the riskiest, most dangerous of the lot.


Among the obvious and known dangers are cannibal tribesman, porters who are barely any different, the frequent violent insurrections at the mine, random terrorist attacks on Australians, irregular and often impossible transportation issues, local retribution against foreign guides and their clients, having to actually jug a couple thousand feet on ancient unmaintained fixed lines including the elusive and rare Tyrolean Traverse, and a very wet miserable muddy two weeks slogging through a primitive rain forest.

It’s amazing to me anyway that anyone anywhere in this modern information age would not know that. Seriously. Alas …

Yet with so much strife in the area, the Dillards say they knew nothing of the danger that awaited them. – News OK (Oklahoman)

Oklahoma City businessman Mike Dillard and his wife were subjected to just about all of the above in their Carstensz adventure. They had previously summitted Kili and Aconcagua, and to be fair, neither has anything near these types of dangers or risks, though if you do Kili during a weeklong drizzle like I did, the trail and camping can be pretty miserable.

Anyway, just read the article and see if anything stands out to give you some ideas about your own potential trip on Carstensz.

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In June of 2009 I had a pivotal experience on Liberty Ridge on a trip guided by IMG guides Mark Allen and Jeff Ward. We barely survived summiting in 60 + MPH winds, wandering along steep cliffs and crevasses in a whiteout to spend the night in a moat (ice cave) 120′ below the surface of the glacier. Over the course of the trip I realized my own comfort level was off a bit compared to “normal” people, including sleeping 6″ overhanging the edge of a 75 degree ice slope:

The camp is basically a couple of tent platforms on a 45 degrees slope, beautiful and exposed; with very little room to move around. Blue-bagging will be a challenge here; but we all do our duties. We cook dinner, and I try to eat as much as I can. Little that I knew at the time, I would not have another meal in 30 hours. We settle again for the night, I am glad I am sleeping on the uphill side; Ann is in the middle and Rick just over the edge. His position does nothing to prevent him to quickly fall sleep and soundly snore throughout the short night. Thankfully I am well equipped with drugs and earplugs. Jeff announces start time for 2:00am. – Dodging Bullets on Liberty Ridge – Claudio Argento – Alpine Lines Blog


I also realized my own comfort level on Alpine Mixed terrain of steep slopey blocks of rock and ice and mud, and shallow (AI 2-3) ice. My climbing friends all say this is not normal. I normally don’t think about this too much, and just take it for granted, but today I received a notification for an article on Outside Online Magazine about the differences in brain chemistry or physiology for abnormal risk takers, quoted here:

There are three major emotional ingredients to risk taking … all driven by individual brain chemistry. One is desire for adventure (“sensation seeking”), in what’s known as the reward pathway of the brain, the mysterious mechanisms where happiness juices flow; high-risk takers may simply get a bigger bang than other people, leading them to seek more intense experiences. Another is a relative disregard for harm, meaning, basically, that they’re not as afraid of negative consequences as regular folks. The third is impulsivity, or acting on your desires without fully thinking them through. — What distinguishes an everyday adventurer from an extreme or foolhardy one lies in the interplay of these factors. Mountaineers may be adventurous and well able to handle stress, but they tend not to be impulsive, often carefully planning their expeditions for months. – This Is Your Brain on Adventure – Outside Magazine

While on my Seven Summits Quest, I have had all 10 fingers nearly to the wooden stage, been stopped dead in my tracks unable to breath, been struck by the static discharge of close lightning, been up all night gasping for breath, had nearly non-stop diarrhea for days, spent the night in a tent with a puking partner, twisted my ankle with a 16 mile hike out, frost-nipped my face so I stopped shaving, lost and blackened toenails, endured bleeding blisters, nearly exploded gall bladder. Yet I persist on this pursuit, and have plans for more summits in the coming years.

While training Mixed Climbing (dry tooling) in Ouray last week, I managed to pop off a very vertical (read: overhanging) cliff face and swung out inverted (upside down) about 60′ from the ground, and as I swung out, still hanging onto my ice tools, silent, I thought to myself “I don’t seem to be sliding out of my loosely-worn harness. Good. So if I can tap the wall when I come back in, maybe I can straighten up and sit right.” It worked and I managed to come back into the wall on a shelf and shake it out. Picture below is just after I tapped my right foot, flagging my left foot as I swung back upright at the end of the pendulum. I had fallen from the left wall under the ice curtain.


Was/am I in denial? Are you in denial? If you’re going to consider the Seven Summits, please consider the risk with an open mind. People die every year on almost every one of the Seven Summits, even the so-called easy ones. I was saddened to hear about some recent deaths on Elbrus, for climbers I met during the Elbrus Race 2010:

Rescuers have found a body of a Ukrainian climber, Maryna Khytriakova, at the height of 4,700 meters on Mount Elbrus – Ukrainian female climber found dead on Elbrus – Kyiv Post

Anyone who climbs for a long time will eventually have lists of friends and acquaintances who were crippled, maimed or killed while climbing. Denali and Everest are particularly notorious among the Seven Summits for annual deaths. Aconcagua has many deaths as well, though not being so much in the headlines. Do yourself a favor and think, consider where you are on these lists, where you could be, and plan appropriately.

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