The Stone Sentinel

Well, Kristine & I are back home from Argentina and we did it! We were fortunate enough to summit Aconcagua (22,841′), otherwise known as “The Stone Sentinel of the Andes”, last Wednesday, January 9. Aconcagua is the summit of the Americas and is the tallest peak in the world outside the Himalaya. Aconcagua is just shy of 7000 meters and its weather & altitude sure pose significant obstacles for any climber on its slopes. Anyone saying the peak is a “walk-up” surely hasn’t been there. Now having been very lucky to have summitted the peak twice in as many attempts, I can honestly say it is one of the most underrated and underappreciated mountains I have yet to experience. I believe the summit success rate hovers at around 30% and now can truly see why. The high winds, weather, extreme altitude, and health factors all conspire against a climber’s determination and will to reach its pinnacle. I think many climbers come to the peak having only hiked Kilimanjaro and again think its just another fairly high trekking peak. I beg to differ here as would Kristine. Aconcagua’s summit is over 3,600′ higher than Kilimanjaro with colder temps and worse weather. That is a significant elevation difference in the 20,000′-23,000′ range. I’ve seen & witnessed several accidents and fatalities on Aconcagua that definitely don’t sit well with me. This mountain deserves a lot of respect.

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Aconcagua's south face as viewed on the flight from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina

Aconcagua’s south face as viewed on the flight from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina

Kristine & I spent a total of 16 days on Aconcagua between the 3 day trek into basecamp, the climb itself, and the 1 day marathon trek out of basecamp. This was the exact same duration of trip as my last Aconcagua expedition in January of 2006 with good friends Lee Hoffman & Rob Schnare. Brett Wamsley, Kristine, & I were sitting pretty up at the high Camp 2 (19,200′) for a summit attempt the next day (Sunday, January 6) when the weather forecast suddenly did a 180 on us and the weather got very bad very quickly that afternoon. We decided to pack up and retreat down to basecamp that evening. Brett’s fiance, Maura, had just trekked into basecamp with us and was  there when we arrived. Brett & Maura together decided that they had had enough of the mountain and hiked out to Penitentes in 2 days and spent 5 great days in Mendoza full of Argentine beef, Malbec, and ice cream. I think Kristine & I were a bit envious. However, we had come to climb the peak and give it our all until the last minute. Kristine was the spark in this last ditch effort most assuredly and she was completely spot on with her planning & effort. Wednesday, January 9, showed very favorable summit weather with essentially zero winds and moderate temperatures. We then proceeded on our 5 day binge up and down the mountain. We moved to Camp 1 (16,200′) on Monday with large backpacks, moved to Camp 2 (19,200′) on Tuesday again with big loads, summitted Aconcagua via the False Polish Traverse route on Wednesday in great weather in 10 hrs roundtrip from Camp 2 at the base of the Polish Glacier, descended the 5,400′ back to basecamp on Thursday, and completed the very taxing and exhausting 27 mile trek out of basecamp to the Vacas Valley trailhead on Friday in about 10 hrs as well. We were done. After some great showers & steaks at the Penitentes hotel, we shuttled ourselves and our gear to Mendoza on Saturday morning, settled up with the mule providers, met up with Brett & Maura, downed dulce de leche ice cream, and made our flight out of Mendoza Saturday afternoon. I honestly couldnt believe we pulled it off, but we did. All thanks to Kristine’s motivation and perseverence on the mountain. Again I was reminded that she is the toughest woman I’ve ever known. If there is a task to be done, she will get it done. I will leave much of the details of the trip and sequence of events to Kristine’s trip report skills, but I just wanted to post this brief description and the following pictures of our climb of Aconcagua. Now, we have climbed 6 of the world’s 7 summits together with only Vinson Massif in Antarctica remaining.

Aconcagua & its Polish Glacier wrapping to its summit towering almost 13,000' above us in the Vacas Valley

Aconcagua & its Polish Glacier wrapping to its summit towering almost 13,000′ above us in the Vacas Valley

A lone gaucho & Aconcagua en route to Plaza Argentina basecamp

A lone gaucho & Aconcagua en route to Plaza Argentina basecamp

Moon over the Ameghino/Aconcagua col en route to Camp 1

Moon over the Ameghino/Aconcagua col en route to Camp 1

Kristine & I at Camp 2 (19,200') for the first time

Kristine & I at Camp 2 (19,200′) for the first time

Brett, Kristine, & I getting ready to move up to Camp 2

Brett, Kristine, & I getting ready to move up to Camp 2

Kristine & Brett working hard at 18,000' with big loads

Kristine & Brett working hard at 18,000′ with big loads

Kristine on our 3rd trip up to Camp 2 with the biggest load yet!

Kristine on our 3rd trip up to Camp 2 with the biggest load yet!

Kristine traversing an ice slope on the False Polish Traverse route on summit day

Kristine traversing an ice slope on the False Polish Traverse route on summit day

Beautiful summit morning views to the north and Mercedario (at top left in picture)

Beautiful summit morning views to the north and Mercedario (at top left in picture)

Big mountains cast big early morning shadows

Big mountains cast big early morning shadows

The Andes from just below Aconcagua's summit

The Andes from just below Aconcagua’s summit

Kristine almost to Aconcagua's higher north summit with the south summit and 10,000' south face behind

Kristine almost to Aconcagua’s higher north summit with the south summit and 10,000′ south face behind

Aconcagua north summit (22,841') - January 9, 2013 at 11:15am

Aconcagua north summit (22,841′) – January 9, 2013 at 11:15am

Our 6th of the 7 summits together!

Our 6th of the 7 summits together!

Aconcagua summit (22,841') with the south face falling away behind

Aconcagua summit (22,841′) with the south face falling away behind

Beautiful summit morning

Beautiful summit morning

Me on Aconcagua's summit for the 2nd time so extremely happy & grateful Kristine & I persevered to reach the summit

Me on Aconcagua’s summit for the 2nd time so extremely happy & grateful Kristine & I persevered to reach the summit

Back with our great friends Rob Casserley & Marie-Kristelle Ross at Camp 2 on their way up. We enjoyed a great evening at Camp 2 with Rob & MK before packing up the next morning and descending to basecamp

Back with our great friends Rob Casserley & Marie-Kristelle Ross at Camp 2 on their way up. We enjoyed a great evening at Camp 2 with Rob & MK before packing up the next morning and descending to basecamp

Kristine & I back at the Vacas trailhead after a 27 mile hike out from Plaza Argentina in 10 hrs

Kristine & I back at the Vacas trailhead after a 27 mile hike out from Plaza Argentina in 10 hrs