Weekend Warm-Up: Aconcagua

Alpine style Climbing

In 2017, a team of climbers set off to self-film what it takes to climb Aconcagua. They showed that success is dependent on the entire team. Summitting involves both physical and mental ability, and during their expedition, only three climbers top out.

Aconcagua

At 6,963m, Aconcagua is the highest peak outside of Asia. Towering above the Andean mountain range in Argentina, Aconcagua is one of the seven summits (the highest mountain on each continent). In 1897, British mountaineer Edward FitzGerald recorded the first ascent. It took him more than eight attempts.

Edward FitzGerald.

Aconcagua remains extremely challenging. More than 100 climbers have died on the mountain.

Some have died of heart attacks. Simply put, their body succumbed to the relentless pressure of climbing a mountain. The weather has caught others unprepared. Some fatalities haven’t been recovered, making it impossible to determine precisely what went wrong.

The 2017 season

When the first team of the 2017 season set off to document their climb, they allowed themselves a four-day budget, including rest days. Strategically placing rest days throughout the ascent would aid acclimatization and reduce risk. Those extra days might make the difference between success and failure.

Acclimatization doesn’t discriminate between fitness levels. Even the most experienced ultra-marathon runner can struggle with altitude. However, changing weather conditions forced them to decide between speeding up, or turning back. They chose to alter their plans and target a three-day ascent.

Making adjustments is common. Climbers can’t change the weather but they can respond quickly.

Nieves penitentes, a high-altitude snow formation, on Aconcagua.

Illness and exhaustion

The increased pace prevented some of the team from completing the ascent. A medical exam determined fluid on the lungs of one climber. He turned back. Proceeding could risk high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Researchers believe that this life-threatening condition might affect more than 15% of climbers, usually due to ascending too quickly.

When the team reached 6,500m, there were only three climbers remaining. A combination of sickness and exhaustion had forced the rest of the group to return to high camp.

Through resourcefulness, strategy, and quick decision-making, no one became a statistic. Connected by an adventurous spirit, they were able to work together to determine how and when to proceed safely.

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About the Author

Chasing Dreams Travel

Alex Myall

After 22 years in the exercise industry, offset by long-haul adventures around the world, Alex Myall found a better option a few years ago and has never looked back. She took a diploma in travel journalism, backed it up with travel industry certificates, then launched Chasing Dreams Travel NZ, her own travel agency.

Now she combines her love of writing and world travel with running her business from her home on the spectacular South Coast of Wellington, New Zealand, while simultaneously being mum to a gorgeous baby girl. She maintains a “life’s too short to do things by halves” attitude.

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