Whpssh!… and I think “not again!” (plus a few aconcagua data points)

Do you know what it sounds like to suddenly sink into a meter of snow?  or better yet, what it feels like? It goes something along the lines of:

whpsshhh! Shiiiitttt!    Am I injured?  …and then after the momentary panic subsides, you begin to feel cold snow creeping over the top of your hiking boot and into your sock, the thrashing to pull your leg out of its newly created custom sinkhole commences, and your thoughts turn to the very appropriate obvious question: “why the f.. did I not pack my gaiters???”

After all, it was December.  I was doing my training hikes in the Jura range in France, wearing my double boots to test my home heat-molding job prior to the next big mountain, and I was hoping for snow.  I like walking on snow, especially when I’m sporting the Spantiks, which just are not that comfortable on dirt and rock – they’re built for high, cold mountains and the expectation of plenty of snow and ice. Often combined with crampons. So given all that, how is it comprehensible that I am NOT wearing – or even packing – gaiters?  By the third “sinkhole” experience and as I contemplated the soaked ends of my hiking pants, my thoughts turned to the even more pressing question: am I going to make such a ridiculous mistake as I head to Argentina?

Because next week, that’s where I’ll be: embarking on the thus-far biggest mountaineering adventure of my life. I’ve summited Kili, Elbrus, and Rainier.  I’ve heli-skied Kamchatka, Kashmir and Canada.  But 3 weeks on a mountain, in a tent with someone I’ve never met, at below-freezing temperatures as I fight my way up more than 4000m of elevation gain towards an almost 7000m goal, and with peeing in a bottle one of the required skills for the journey…this is a whole new ball game.  So yeah, I’m nervous. And after my training experience, I’m making lists – using 6 different prep lists and developing a science to integrate them into the optimal, perfect plan. Which will undoubtedly be replaced by the best compromise, reduced-weight plan.  I have brand new gaiters: they’ll feature in both.

A few snippets about the upcoming climb:

  • Aconcagua has a summit elevation of 6962m (or 6961m, depending on source; go figure!)  That is 22,840 ft for you non-metric-educated out there. 🙂
  • It is the 2nd highest of the 7 summits and the highest mountain outside of the Himalaya range
  • Temperatures are regularly between -29 and -39C with wind chill (-8 to -38F)
  • Air density at the summit is only 40% of that at sea level (a little O2, anyone?)
  • We will carry packs of up to 25kg (55lb)
  • Supplemental oxygen is not part of the plan
  • I’ll be sleeping my cozy tent for between 13 and 16 days
  • and you guessed it – sans shower, with pee bottle

With that, I’ll get back to my packing, finalizing logistics, and getting in some last-minute aerobic and strength training.  But I’ll do my best to keep you updated as the adventure unfolds.

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