Climbing Aconcagua

Climbing Aconcagua

A Jeff Shea Adventure in 1993

Aconcagua Notebook

January 20, 1993 Mendoza, Argentina

One of the most basic and telling observations that can be made about the human race is their penchant for taking huge tracts of land and claiming it as their own, giving it a name and drawing imaginary lines around it over which they will pit their lives. Recently it struck me about how limited we are in our thinking. Granted, our need to survive requires us to focus ourselves, yet I momentarily glimpsed the world outside the context of language, custom, rules and even my own way of thought. It later occurred to me that it seemed like what the Taoist philosophers call the Great Tao. ~~~

Mendoza at 7:30 p.m. is hot, light outside, tree-lined, lazy and a fine place for me to sit and have a cold glass of mineral water with carbonation “Villavicencio” – really delicious. Rick arrived yesterday without one bag, which has put us out considerably. Instead of going to Puente del Inca today, we will wait for it to arrive tomorrow at 3:35 p.m. at the airport. Dad finally found out it was in a cargo warehouse in Orlando, Florida and the airlines should now be making up for their mistakes as I write. ~~~

1/21/93 Mendoza The plan is to leave at 4 p.m. from the airport, with or without Rick’s pack. It has caused us tremendous inconvenience to have one delayed bag. Already it has cost us hundreds of dollars. Last night my sleep was troubled. The room was stuffy, even with the balcony doors wide open and my bed next to it. Trucks and cars roared by beneath the balcony until hours passed my bedtime at 1 a.m. After all the details of preparation have become a thing of the past, there is still the mountain itself to face, no small bit of effort. It impresses me how dangerous going that high can be: don’t get lost, don’t extend your limits of acclimatization, don’t get caught in a storm, tie your tent down to survive the high winds. The summit day is what really seems to present the most danger. Three Americans that just climbed it described it as a party. There are hundreds of people. Frankly, I would prefer if there were only a few. When my brothers and I camp in Stanislaus forest we often see no other person in a day, the fishing is excellent, a remedy for the soul. I was told yesterday that the English were going to build a tower 40 meters high in order to bring the mountain to 7000 meters! Ridiculous! ~~~

1/22/93 Friday 12:35 a.m. Penitentes More anecdotes from my book 1. Eating monkey (Kisangani), termites (Nigeria). Entering Iran embassy, reaction seeing Tehran girls in house. Sugar can juice Egypt, Pakistan. Poor food in India, but good orange, hot milk. Sweet potato growing in New Guinea, the computer study showing it’s most efficient. Brushing maggots off monkeys, Kinshasa. Clay tea cups India – throw away. Good food in Syria. Ride in back of truck to Arequipa. Hailstorm in Mendoza diameter size of handball (but not spherical) How Kelly & I got together. The man & woman fighting when I first arrived in New Guinea. Face tattoos in Solomon Islands. Custom of showing newlyweds’ sheets in Kiribati – or chicken blood would be used. Entering Chad no visa – story of my problems there as a result of the baggage fiasco. Rick’s mood improved tremendously after he got his bag. We had a nice dinner here, talked awhile with an interesting Argentine man, and generally had a lot of good laughs. ~~~

I was told by a Peruvian, Martin, in Santiago that the word Titicaca in Quechua means “puma a acecharse? Or “Puma about to leap (on its game),” and that when satellite pictures were taken of the lake, it looked like that! Considering the size of the lake, it is remarkable! ~~~

It seems that the preparation for this moment has been mentally challenging. I am ready now to experience and welcome the physically challenge. A thought of natural philosophy: A hunter has always to be ready to act quickly and directly, therefore he must foresee his opportunities and be brave.

January 24, 1993 7 a.m. Plaza de Mulas 4250m My resting pulse is 68. At sea level it was 50 before I left for this trip. I am surprised it is not higher. I attribute this to clean living, because when I was in the Himalayas it was much higher as I remember – more like 120 or 105 (??), though I can’t remember the circumstances under which my pulse was taken. Last night I waited till 10 p.m. to call Joy as I’d told her if I could call I would call about 5 p.m. her time. I miss her. She is really my little Joy (i.e., joy). Last night we were at the lodge (where I tried to call). They had a fiesta in which everyone was invited to eat. It was a treat. When we left the people, properly inebriated at 4370m, were forming a dancing train to some rather upbeat Latin rhythms. The music reminded me distinctly of Zairian music. I always wonder, did Latin music come from there (or did Zairian music come from the Caribbean, etc.) Today we are going to try a carry to Nido de Condores and come back down to sleep here. It is supposed to be a 5hr walk but our packs weigh about 55lbs + water so it could take us considerably longer. We have been debating quite a bit over how far we should go and how quickly the weather is fine here but the sky is filled with clouds and they blow constantly over the mountain at a very high speed. I am acutely aware of the dangers of climbing this mountain, and I want to take every precaution to augment problems. More anecdotes for my book (2) The hiking in Stanislaus. Story of being left behind at Banos Morales. 64 Pushups on Mt. K. + Mt K II 19,600′ (3″) Shivering man to whom we gave clothes in Burundi Women of the Trobriand Islands who fly at night. Ed and stories of witchcraft cause death + bone tipped arrow human bone. No garlic/onions Nigeria – children of Jos – Leprosy Ghana – beans & fried banana steamed in banana leaves. Mali, Mopti – open sewers Ivory Coast – check points, stolen bread, I finally got angry. Three women clapping their hands. Pakistan police station New Guinea butterfly Zairians Music New Guinea snakes African women New Guinea blue weevil Mono & Lillie New Britain Spiders Mt. Merapi/Vulcanologist Plaza de Mulas Refugio – two for one, free Mt. Wilhelm. meals. Last night we got lost on the way back from the hotel. My feet went in the river. We retraced our steps and found the right trail and made it back. I am taking aspirin and Diamox (everyone is keen on this) to combat the altitude.

Sunday January 24, 1993 6 p.m. Plaza de Mulas 4250m We just did an 8 hour 45 minute round trip to Nido de Condores (5560m) with about 50-55lbs. on our backs. When we got there, we put nearly everything we brought in a duffle bag. Rick had carried and we put it in the most secure place we could find. WE secured it and camouflaged it by putting rocks on and around it. Nido is located on a ridge. IT was cold and windy. We were told that fro Nido upwards, it is very windy and cold. One American told us that about fifty people summited yesterday. We were also told that today’s weather was the best in the last four days. Two Argentineans said they made it fro the Plaza de Mulas to Nido in 2 ½ hours with a lighter load. IT took us 6 ¼ hours! They said they made the summit from Nido in 7 hours 50 minutes. I think we will make an attempt from Berlin. Today may be our hardest day besides summit day. When we got to Nido Inferior (or Penitentes), Rick proposed that we leave our bags there, but I wanted to go up to Nido proper. It took us 38 minutes. During that time I had a slight pain in my chest. I asked myself if it was serious and I decided I could go the little extra bit higher. I think it may have been caused by my salami lunch and constricting of my chest by my down parka (which I’d just put on) and the pack chest strap. Later a local man said his friends went down because of a pain in their lungs, being afraid of pulmonary edema. I asked if they had it and he said no, but the first sign is a pain in your chest. I asked if it is in the heart (too) and he said yes. Prior to that I’d been really breathing hard. I’ll have to acclimatize more and watch myself. So far are we had acclimatized as follows. Mendoza Penitentes 2800m Plaza Ancha 3600m Plaza Mules 4250m -Nido -> Playa Mules (Up arrow) 5560 -> 4250m (sleep).

January 25, 1993 Plaza de Mulas Refuges 4370m 3:25 p.m. Rick wasn’t feeling well enough today so we decided to stay here and rest. I am trying to call Joy. It costs $9/minute. Two days ago was Chinese New Year. It would have been good to reach her for that, which is what we were hoping. She has so much tradition in her blood. I really love that girl. I can hear the radio connection – it is very poor. I am taking a very light dose of Diamox, about 70mg. I have to pour out the powder because the capsules are 500mg each. The Americans we met in Mendoza said they had met an expert who said 63mg was enough. Apparently they had been doing research on lower doses and found that to be optimal. I just talked to Joy”¦. She has been such a great friend to me. I feel like, and sometimes under adverse circumstances, she has supported me, even at times when, if she didn’t I could not have blamed her. A lot of the time I cannot but help drawing a comparison between her and my grandmother. They both surprise me by being positive about things I would have expected them to be negative – but not only that – it is in a way that makes me love them both so much. It is an internal graciousness that they carry inside it has something to do with modesty; it is something beyond being reasonable, it is much more than that, it is a divine spark. As I sit, half-lay across this blanketed bench in this very cold room at the Hotel Refugio, there is a speaker a few feet away playing all sorts of uplifting music, including Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It almost makes me feel like I am in the Alps. Now a guy put on Louis Armstrong (a contrast to say the least.) I have been learning a lot from Rick. For one thing that climbers are crazy. Even the best die. The mountains are bigger than we are. It seems either you are lucky or it is a matter of attrition. The risks seem too great. Besides that outburst I want to record the things that I’ve been learning so as not to forget them. 1) Tying a tent fly for wind- – use a bowline to tie cord to fly grommets – use a taut line hitch to tie the other end around a rock – use a [omitted] to tie two pieces of cord together (easier to undo than a square knot) – better to tie long cord at a low angle to a rock than a short cord to a rock close to the tent, better stability in the wind. 2) Sun protection – – use zinc oxide (or lahiasan) for nose, etc. – use a nose guard (clips onto glasses) – make a hat with a cloth sewed onto the back to protect the neck (even ears and sides of face) from sun. 3) Cold protection – – layering more important than bulk. – they sell (REI?) “Toe heaters” which is a small light packet which when opened can be put into your shoes and will provide warmth for many hours. – also sold are ___________ which can provide warmth. – est. 5000 – 6000 calories a day in cold climates. 4) Food – REI sells tops that go on (normally black) film canisters (bottoms) which turn them into spice canisters with holes in the top and a removable cap over the hole. – Make bags separately for meals rather than dump it all together and try to sort out how many meals you have. Example, one bag for dinner will include entrée, drink and desert. 5) Toilet – REI sells toilet paper without the cardboard for compost use. 6) Altitude – – Aspirin thins the blood. He takes 6 or 7 daily. – Caffeine may improve performance. The day before yesterday, I discovered that my new $835 80-200 2.8 ED lens doesn’t work properly. Either it got too much impact when I tossed my daypack across a stream or when I may have smashed it against a rock. The focusing band is jammed in manual focus. This is a real disappointment. I could still use it, but it is such a liability – to focus it requires a lot of strength. I may not have brought it up the hill. Anyway, most important is having my 24mm and 28-85mm, but it still gives me a sense of loss. I would have loved to use it in people pictures if I still get time to tour Uruguay/Paraguay at all. This morning it was all sun but now heavy cloud fronts are moving in all around. My judgment tells me we’ll have a storm within the next two days. I figure we’ll have summit weather in four days. My plan is to go to Nido tomorrow, Berlin (full load) next day and rest one day at Berlin hoping for a summit day four days from now. I plan to go the normal route but will make an effort on the Polish glacier afterwards, time, weather, stamina and desire permitting. I would be ecstatic to have a full week to travel in Uruguay/Paraguay and climb Mirador National (Uruguay’s highest hill.) The sun is shining strongly through the window onto the blanket and this writing pad. It is very homey. I am very glad to have this day to write. I miss writing. I have been thinking (dangerous!) now and then about writing. I have been concentrating on the phrase “writer’s voice” which seems a key for me. I know I have a “voice” of my own which only occasionally bursts like sun through the clouds onto this notebook. When my mind is in the right frame it comes forth. Then, I love my writing. But it seems that it peters out after a short time. I should cultivate that voice. I need a focus. IT is like the question “Who am I?” It is why I get upset with people who cast aspirations on my character. I am tired of being misunderstood and misinterpreted. I want to be able to express myself in a way to have the desired outcome. ~~~

Sitting above P. de Mulas waiting for the sun to illuminate P. de Mulas 7:30 p.m.

The mountain in my eyes is tremendously beautiful. Rock stratified vertically, thousands of crests and columns, grey, red, yellow, black, brown, tan, all in bands across it’s face. Wisps of clouds, curtains of nebulae foray in and about the columns, sunlight heightens the depth of color. Fingers of snow perch in crevices on the windswept panorama. ~~~

Back in the lodge  8:20 p.m.

I just spoke with some guys who tried the Polish Glacier. They said the winds were relentless for a week and so they bagged it (abandoned it) and went up the normal route. They said that Alex Lowe just did it in four hours but most people are taking 12 hours and some so long as 16. They said it had “opened up” and upon questioning did that mean crevasses, they said yes but the only sank up to their waists (!) [Ed: why are mountaineers so eager to die?] [I think if I had the will I could be pretty good at it.] They said the Direct Route was better than the Traditional Route. The Direct goes to the Right. To gain the ridge they said (they heard) that you (Full Page Diagram page 28) have to climb a couple of patches (70′ rope O.K.) of 65-70º ice. But it was “no problem,” save the bad weather. Most of the glacier was 30º good neve. Then another American piped in that to gain the ridge one climber had to do some class 5 moves up rotten rock. The other Americans (who had started on the Polish G.) rebutted that the guy they talked to had one hand on the rock and an axe digging in with the other (mostly this is hearsay.) The traditional route requires a traverse over to the Piedra Bandera (They called this “flat rock” but I think it means striped rock.) It seemed like the route required several pitches of 40-45º ice, pitches meaning you could use 70′ rope. I just had a dinner of delicious pork ribs with pan-boiled potatoes, salad of green peppers, tomatoes and red cabbage, bread, tang (orange drink). When the chef asked the table close to me if they wanted more I said, “I do.” She said to go get it. Later he asked them again are you sure you don’t want more? He said “do you?” I said yes, so I went to the kitchen and they gave me a big slab of ribs and another potato. I saved a lot of the last helping for Rick. I feel like a million bucks the more I eat and drink. The left (along with a lukewarm cup of Walnut coffee I made) I am feeling is elating and reassuring. These Americans just told me that the French Doctor who died probably died form edema. Also, he was 60 and his group was going down and he decided to go it alone to summit. They said some people took 12 hours in full conditions to summit. Others (in better weather) took 7 ½ hours round trip Berlin – glacier- summit – Berlin.

Wed 1/27/93 Nido de Condores When we arrived here last night I felt like I was going to die. The dinner I heretofore described gave me a sleepless night, gas in my stomach. I was half-shot by daybreak to begin with. I felt OK during our walk. We spent three hours debating at camp Canada whether to move up. I finally suggested “let’s just go.” Later I wanted to stop at Nido Inferior but Rick suggested we go the extra little bit to Nido. By the time we set up the tent, I was completely zonked. I had a headache, gas in my stomach, I was tired. It was a godsend for me that Rick volunteered to make the supper. First we had Kippers and crackers (herring = kippers). It felt fortifying. Later we had wild rice, soup, butter and chunky harm all mixed together. The more food I poured into my stomach, the less room there was for gas, and I burped many times and gradually felt better. It was lights off about 9:30 p.m. and I slept well, so glad to be in my warm bag, in a war tent. The hot food kept me toasty warm all night. I woke up about 3 times to pee. We have increased our Diamox dosage from about 70mg twice a day to 250mg twice a day. This is based on talking to various climbers that have made it to the summit. As of last night I was feeling I didn’t even want to climb this mountain but at this moment I a feeling so what cheered. There is some dispute as to what our altitude here is. Most American literature states we are at 17,300′ but the predominance of Argentine literature places us at about 18,300′. My resting pulse today is about 63 beats per minute. I am very surprised by this. My recollections from the Himalayas was that it was 100+ at altitude. Right now I feel a little lazy but really quite fresh warm and good. Earlier before the hot soup I was beginning to feel chilled, but then I said to myself. “I’ve got all this gear, why not put it on?” I think I may have a tendency to test myself rather than pamper myself. So I put on some fleece pants and down booties and I begun to warm up right away. I have a hard time keeping myself resting as long as I am feeling good. For one thing, I am concerned that the relatively good weather won’t hold out. They say that storms here take 5 days to die out or move on. I am hoping we can summit between Friday and Sunday. I can’t help but feel that I will be very happy if I summit and come down with 5 or 6 days to bomb over to Uruguay and still catch my plane in Paraguay. I am seriously considering that even if I am in a position to, I may wait to completely abandon any plans to hike up Mt. McKinley with Fred. After talking with Rick somehow it all begins to seem sort of silly to pursue the Seven Summits. What leads me to this conclusion? It seems all too much of the motivation of people is to gain glory. They either want to talk about it or be talked about. Or, is this just the altitude and lack of comfort talking? I don’t think it is. What really concerns me is the objective dangers: edema, avalanche, crevasses, dangerous weather, hypothermia, freezing, getting lost, falling, etc. Rick told me stories about men at the top of their field who died in crevasses, etc. I could be putting myself in great danger. And for what? There are thousands of treks and trekking peaks if I desire to see breathtaking scenery. There are so many things I want to do and see – I do not know if it is worth it to risk losing a lovely life for an artificial glory. I do not intent to demean the achievements of so many who have tested fate, I merely mean to say my life is very important to me. I can never help but believe that I have some important influence to make. As much as I am disillusioned with my race of humans, I suppose I am a humanist after all, only, that I hold the belief that what is right for the land, the animals, and our home Earth in general is right for mankind. I want so much to hold onto my life at least until my destiny is accomplished, that until I fulfill at least most of what I really want to do. By my own accounting, I have barely begun my work. I am not averse to taking risks, provided they are reasonable. Traveling presents risk, but they can be minimized. I am scared to death by thoughts of edemas which are immeasurable and can sneak up on you. There is so much study I want to do, travel, photographs to take, loving, shaving, being with family. I don’t want to take undue risks. I will decide later about what to do or not to do. Perhaps I will feel better after I, and if I, make a successful summit attempt. Sometimes all this waiting is agony. Just sitting, waiting. Sometimes, it is more agony anticipating fatigue & discomfort than the reality itself. From my tent window, I can see camp Berlin or rather the vicinity of camp Berlin. I know the summit is far, far off from there.

January 29, 1993 Aconcagua Summit Day I hardly felt like getting up! The sleeping pills do not do much anyway to keep me asleep. Spent the night at around 20,000′ of elevation. It is cold as hell here. Originally we were going to get up very early, but were abused against it by the Argentine in the next tent. He is the same guy who gave me some toilet paper in Camp Canada. (Rick says, you never “˜lend’ toilet paper – you give it away). He is some sort of a guide. Even though the British started at 5:30 a.m., he says it is too cold until about 8:30 a.m. or 9 a.m. Early, I woke up and start melting snow so we have breakfast and water. Rick gets up first and I say I need 10 minutes more. I’m groggy. Eventually I drag myself up and slowly put on my clothing. When it is necessary to relieve myself, I have to rush out the back door behind a rocky divider and freeze my tail off until I’m done. What a great view though. Shortly before 8:30 a.m. Fred from Lake Tahoe took off saying we’d soon catch up. The next time we saw him we were 100′ from the top & he was coming down. About 8:30 we were off. I left a few moments before Rick & Glade (a 53 year-old semi-retired Lawyer from Reno who started running marathons at age 42 and ran a 2:57 his first race & later ran a 2:33!). Apparently, Rick had to go back again once he’d started and get his pack because his system of buckling everything to his waist wasn’t working. I was unaware and plodded up and around to where I’d been two days earlier. From there I could see the rocks behind which I was told lay Camp Independencia. By the time I was across the first snowfield and starting up the switchbacks, Glade, then Rick were right around me. We reached Independencia after 1 hr. 40 mins. Rick was psyched up and commented that we were making terrific progress. Camp Independencia is at 21,500′ or 20,300′ I am not sure, but after the Canaleta I wouldn’t be surprised if it was at the lower end of the spectrum. (Rick’s literature said it was at 21,500′.) Rick tends to be rather jovial and called for a song for which Glade did the obligation & rasped out a few lines. I was focusing all my concentration on the climb ahead and I wasn’t overjoyed with their cheer! I put my small water bottle & a can of tuna out of my pack, the water bottle having been all but emptied and the can of tuna I figured I didn’t need (later, on my return it was missing). After a short rest we started up. The ridge alone Independencia has a name referring to the wind. I wasn’t much into picture taking on the way up but there were 5 or 6 climbers coming up to the ridge & it was rather picturesque””you could see the wind forcing their bodies to crouch and spitting up snow. We too experienced the same gusts when we reached the ridge. From there it was pretty much of a sideways traverse to the base of the Canaleta, a journey of 45 minutes or so; at first one reached a rock, a momentary shelter from the wind which blasts you on this first portion. In fact, by the time I reached the rock I was a little concerned that the wind was so cold it might either suck all my warmth from me and render me cold or even hypothermic, not to mention a slight concern with the possibility of frostbite, my hands till now wrapped only in my gortex ski gloves (actually they do a fine job.) (Other than seam sealing, they seem about as good as they can be – if they were seam sealed maybe I’d consider them as real protectors.) Rick & Glade went ahead. I was fiddling with trying to put on my mountain pants. At first I put the wrong leg on first! I felt foolish. I couldn’t button them where I’d had the button put in. I was frustrated. Eventually I got them on. Rick & Glade were across the snowfield by the time I arrived there. I made my way across with my ski poles but without my crampons. Granted it wasn’t so steep, but as someone said, if you fall you could break a leg. (Maybe worse then that.) The snowfield fell away to grand and fell awfully far away. Someone had mentioned something about the hotel being at the end of the line. From the near end of the snowfield, I saw the lodge way in the distance below, I mean, way in the distance. I inched across the snowfield. My boots had collected mud on their bottoms, which I suppose was frozen as well, therefore, instead of a good grip, it tended to make for a rounded bottom, quite slippery. My foot gave way once or twice, and I had to maintain my balance. Once on the other side, I half-hid my crampons between some rocks on the trail and then I continued, this is where the Canaleta begins. Of course there are no signs saying “˜This is the Canaleta’ but you know you are there when you start to go upwards in loose ground. This continues for a couple of hours. Having developed a fear of exhaustion from having raced to Piedra Blanca yesterday, and seeing what a few moments over-exertion can do. I went slowly so as not to tire myself. I kept looking up and saw the progress of Glade and Rick. Rick was stopping & I thought at one point he was waiting for me but then I realized he was just plain tired. After a lot of this upward motion in which, if your feet were placed improperly you would slide back. I finally resolved myself to counting steps. Some of my steps were only a few inches. At ;east O was warm. The Canaleta curved up to the left. I could see once about ½ way up, the ridge where it appeared people were traversing to do left to the top. I resolved 1000 steps to get to the top at the point where I reached the ridge I all but caught up with Rick & Glade. The ridge separates the Canaleta from the South Face. The idea to me of climbing the South Face is unbelievable. That is, it would but mind-bending-ly hard. As Rick later put it, he had developed a new respect for that achievement. Across the traverse I met up with Rick & Glade for a moment. I stopped because I really had to urinate. This was a major chore. Even though my mountain pants & Denali pants essentially are designed to go together, tight together they make for a very cumbersome pair, for the Denali pants have no zippers in front &require pulling them to the side. Since these ride underneath the mountain pants, I had to unsnap them too. Maybe there is a better, more sensible way to do all this, but believe me at the time it was a difficulty 10 times greater than it sounds. For another factor is you can’t take off your gloves or your hands will freeze. With the gloves on you can’t feel the buttons, etc. So in frustration, I left the right side of my bibs undone (the shoulder strap and the button. Another thought on my mind was the weather. I could imagine I should get so far, within 3000 feet of the top and the weather should move in. I had talked with an Argentine at Piedra Blanca who said he was 50 meters from the top of the Canaleta and he had to turn back because he was too tired!!! I can’t imagine doing that. After all that work!! Anyway, there were clouds covering the view of the South Face and the occasional clouds moving quickly in the sky in our vicinity. I could tell I was in the vicinity of the top because there were people just standing around on what appeared to be a bluff. They would not appear so relaxed unless they were on top. The trail continued to traverse left, then up, finally it went right. I could tell I was nearing the top. A few more steps and I could see the top of the well known silver cross. There was Glade and Rick resting. Rick was flat on his back. In addition to normal bring-alongs, Rick had hauled his pack””they weigh about 7 lbs., a good 5 lbs. more than my day pack. There was a strange looking plastic figure of a man – It looked different then the notation the Dutch team made regarding a “˜crystal globe.’ – not far from the cross. The silver cross was more upright than I’d seen in pictures. It had many decals on it from around the world. It stands about 2 1/2 feet height, it’s base surrounded by stones. We took mutual pictures. Glade didn’t have a camera so we took a few shots of him to send him. He took a picture of Rick & I arm in arm over the cross. I got them to take a photo of me hugging the cross. That, by the way, was the first thing I did when I’d reached the top. I sort of fell on the cross and wrapped my arms around it, so glad to covet it at last! After the started down, I stayed on top awhile longer. I took out the salve tin Joy had given me. I dropped in a crack between the rocks at the back of the cross then I shoved a small rock in the crevice to keep it there. It should remain there a long time, probably until it rusts and turns to dust. Then, in the book lying between the rocks, I wrote a few lines. To Joy my most lovely and beautiful wife & to Gammy who taught me to care &Love.” I took a photograph of the book & of the book and cross. I also managed a few scenery shots before I’d left to top, during this whole time. It wasn’t till later that I realized the configuration of the traverse and the South Face when I later saw a picture of it. I thought coming down would be easier. I never have been down a trail that was so hard to come down in my life. I had to stop and rest on my ski poles every ten or twenty steps. I was surprised at how slow the descent was, in fact it made me wonder how I could have come up as fast as I did (relatively speaking). By the way, our total ascent time was (8:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.) 5 hours 50 minutes from Piedra Blanaca. I was now in a picture taking mode although I didn’t take a lot, I retrieved my crampons and put them on for my walk across the snow field. I thought I might as well enjoy the security. I wore the crampons clear down past Independencia. My can of tuna (as I mentioned beforehand) was missing at the camp. I never saw any sign of the dead French doctor, for which I was thankful. There was a tent there and I wondered if they put his body in that tent. Apparently there had bee n a question of who would pay to haul him down. I heard mention that it required 8 men for the job. Later, I heard that they had already moved him down. They must have passed him by us somewhere on the mountain. Prior to getting to Independencia on the way up the mountain, I had braced myself for the sight. Someone had told me that he was sprawled out virtually on the trail, the plastic bags ripped by the wind exposing his bloated stomach and part of his face! It sounded gruesome. Apparently, there was some debate over whether he’d died of a heart attack (*generally proposed) or acute pulmonary edema. Though I’d not seen her, I was told his wife was across the room the first night I was at the lodge. After the snowfield below Independencia I took off my crampons and I walked slowly downhill back to camp. I think I came in about an hour after Rick did. I went immediately into my sleeping bag and slept. Rick woke me to give me some soup or noodles. He was good about doing more than his share of the mutual work. I was a goner for the rest of the night. I woke up and went to the toilet. Rick suggested he’d invite Fred over for the balance of dinner. We couldn’t finish. I told him I didn’t mind but I was in no spirit to socialize. Basically, I was wasted by the effects of the altitude. So instead he went to talk to Fred. Apparently Fred wasn’t feeling too well. One thing about this mountain is that it is so easy to climb so high so fast, that most people probably don’t get acclimated properly before summiting. It was a miserable night. The wind was worse than any other night. The tent was flapping loudly. The cold penetrated everywhere. There was ice on the inside of the tent and the outside of my sleeping bag. I took a sleeping pill at 11:30 p.m. and woke up at midnight! The doctor had said they were mild but that is too mild!! I didn’t sleep to well. Ever since the meal the night before our ascent, I’d been feeling greasy in my stomach and I had had excess gas in my stomach which was only relieved by burping which often didn’t happen. Next climb I’ll bring alka-seltzer. The next morning, we broke camp, went to Nido, repacked all the bags with the supplies we’d left there, walked across the snowfield to Lower Nido (I wore crampons for ease), and upon reaching Playa de Mulas hauled our loads over to the lodge. Going up the grande to the lodge was like Canaleta II. I had planned to take a helicopter out to save time, but the helicopter we’d seen taking off in Playa de Mulas was not going to return until Tuesday. I stayed up late making arrangements for mules, eating , visiting with people at the lodge guarda paique station and writing in the scrapbook. Fred, Rick and I shared a room. As it turned out, it was fortunate the helicopter wasn’t available because the next day’s walk out was amongst the best days I’ve had in recent memory! Jan 30, 1992 6:48 P.M. Yesterday we summated at about 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon. I came up the last little ridge and I practically fell on and hugged the silver cross. Now I am sitting in a canvas hut in Playa de Mulas. Unfortunately the last helicopter until Tuesday left just in our sight as we walked down the hill and came into sight of Plaza de Mulas. What timing! Later, I hope to describe yesterday’s ordeal, but right now I am engrossed with the task of getting to the bus station in Mendoza by 6:30 p.m. tomorrow. The purpose of this is to arrive the next morning in Uruguay. The best laid plans of mice and men. Somehow I will get there even if I have to walk it out. Last night I had a horrible sleep. The wind flapped the next incessantly. It was freezing cold. I had a headache to the point that if I turned, sat up or did anything, it hurt. I should feel jubilant now, but I have years to feel satisfaction over climbing the peak. I have learned something on this adventure and that is how magnificent are my achievements. When I think of what others have done it expands my imagination well beyond its limits. To think how can people climb this mountain’s south face!! How can people endure the discomfort & risks involved in climbing 8,000-meter peaks? There is a high level of endurance & discomfort involved in high altitude climbing but the greatest involved in this perform technical super-feats at these extreme places. It is a comfort to me to have climbed this mountain, and I would respect anyone who has reached the summit, but it is an average feat. The day before yesterday we broke camp at Nido and moved up to Piedra Blanca, about 40 minutes up trail from Berlin. The trip to Berlin took 1hr 40 minutes more or less.

2/1/93 Montevideo Uruguay 8:34 p.m. Corner of Avenida 18 de Julio y Ejido (downtown) I admit I am tickled to be here. I am laying down in an area in front of a building, plaza-like, propped up on a step-like border to a flowerbed. It is energy, cool breezy humid air – it is so thick I feel I could cut it with a knife. Evening sets in. They believe in late hours, possibly because it gets dark so late, still quite light now. I am thrilled as I said to be here. I felt so comfortable that I even took a self-portrait with my new Nikon. Feeling self-satisfied? Well…  yes- I remember the words of the Swiss Climber of Ama Dablam – life is twice as valuable after climbing a peak. I feel so safe. After sleepless nights, cold, ice inside the tent and on my sleeping bag. All of a sudden, life is so easy. I can breathe without effort, I can move with pain. There is no fear of a mysterious edema lurking over my head. The highest peak in the world outside of Asia… it is just a lark, but it sounds impressive – and the South Face is impressive. It is the first view I ever saw in a photograph last year. Again I said I would write about summit day, and I will, but first I will ramble until that urge is satisfied. I find it so thrilling to so thrilling to be here. It is country number 79 that I’ve visited, or according to the Traveler’s Country Club, place #99. One more to go in any event before some milestone is reached. Again, another lark, but somehow in folly there is meaning! I feel so free, it is unreal. I love to satisfy the wanderlust. I somehow, shameful as it may be, find myself amazing when I travel, it in truth is nothing more than satisfying my needs one after another, yet I find it remarkable nonetheless that I can take care of myself. I guess that’s it, it sounds funny but that is the point to which I’ve distilled my idea. I am leaning on my left elbow that is cushioned by my 17-year old rain poncho, in its internal pouch with my newly bought wind pants. To show you how irrational (my) happiness is, even this little bit of synchronicity gives me great satisfaction – I just strapped it on the bottom of my oh-so-useful day pack. Thence it just happened to be there to abet me in this mysterious pursuit of writing. I am wearing my favorite black sweat bottoms, any favorite poly-pro gray sox liners, my tennis, and my red capilene mid-weight short sleeve shirt, and to top off this sundae is my blue visor. You know, I shouldn’t even be here. I arrived at the bus terminal in Mendoza within an hour of departure but there were no places on the bus. Damn am I persistent. I patiently said I’d wait and see. After the young man behind the desk had his full of satisfying quips of telling me there were no places, he finally asked the guy who was on the bus if they had room. At the very last moment they took my money and gave me a seat in place #1 and I mounted the modern steed for a 21 hour bus ride- it was contrary to what one might think – very very enjoyable. My major concern was that I smelled so bad; particularly my sox, and feet that I didn’t want to offend anyone. Honestly it smelled so bad it was quite noticeable when I took my shoes off, which I had to do because it was hot. Everyone was so friendly on the bus that the ride was more fun than a chore. There were eight girls and eight boys who were traveling as a folkloric dance troupe to Uruguay to perform (all expenses paid). The “director(a)” was a woman of the ripe old age of 21. They performed for me outside the breakfasting place today. A very amiable maintenance engineer talked with me late into the night and for much for day (we arrived about 4 p.m.) He had a few stories which I found amusing – no, funny. I asked him if there was a (big) difference between the Argentineans and the Uruguayans. He said not really, but there was the exception of the “Porteños.” What is that?? A “Porteño”, he explained, was a person from Argentina’s Capital Buenos Aires. He assumed all sorts of stuffy attitudes to illustrate the problem with the Porteños. He then told me the yarn, “El major negocios en el mundo es comprar un Porteño por lo que vale y vender lo por lo que cree lo que vale.” That is, the best business in the world is to buy a Porteño for what he was worth and to sell him for what he thinks he is worth and sell him for what he thinks he is worth!” Later today he told me a story of the “Gallegos,” claiming them to the Spaniards that settled here. He related one Gallego said to another, “Do you like a woman with big tits?” (Hereupon he made an [inappropriate] gesture.) The other exclaimed, “No, what impresses me is if she has more than two of them!” Last night (and today to some extent) the conversations and joking went all around. The people are very amiable. I’ve never had a bus trip where they had dinner served, drinks, cookies, etc., with, in essence, stewardesses. I am beginning to view things as fate. Still I try as hard as I can to manipulate situations to be where I think they ought to be or want them to be. But as I said or I should clarity, when things don’t go my way, they are beyond my control. Fate is such a strong factor, shouldn’t we merely reflect that what has passed is an experience (that had to be. Reality is so strong, it cannot be denied. Try as I (we) might, it still follows what will be will be and yet we can change what will happen, only we can’t predict what will happen. It is foolish to believe in the validity of predictions. On the walk through the Playa Ancha yesterday, I had one of the greatest experiences of my life. What was that, you may ask. The answer: Walking through the Playa Ancha. For a place to have had such a bad reputation prior to my visits, it certainly impressed me. The walk out was pure heaven. I left at 7:39 a.m. from the lodge (Rick and Fred dozing) and immediately began setting up the tripod and taking pictures. I think it took about 5 rolls of pictures yesterday – about 150-180 shots. I had a “field day.” A whole day to walk and think and take photographs. Everything appeared ultra beautiful (another reason why I must be so high.) I couldn’t get enough of the landscape, changing so beautifully. You take multicolored and shaped rocks, add small green plants, purple and yellow flowers, red pods and a meandering river, flattening into shallow offshoots then regrouping, many frozen ones with ice crystal, imagine the permutations of beauty! Then the grandmaster performer, the sun, steps in and casts ever changing shadow and light in its stoic unmoving illumination of a revealing earth. The end of the trail brought the vision I’d sort of forgotten, the first view I ever had of Aconcagua, the South Face from the (?) Vacas Valley. Green everywhere in the foreground, the ice cliffs presenting a formidable spectacular, and a chill blue canopy, the sky sitting upon the whole of the scene. The weight of the sky do unimaginably great and yet it appears to be weightless in its heavenly push. The air was so dry and I began with a tight sore throat, then my throat became so dry I would near-choke when I tried to swallow. I rationed my liter of water for the 24-mile walk. Even better than I’d planned, almost immediately upon my arrival at the road a man approached me and, as I tried to ignore him – thinking I was imaging his intent stare – he appearing almost angry, accosted me and said- “are you going to Uruguay??” (What a question to ask a total stranger!!) He had expected me some time before. It was Ricardo, the owner of Aconcagua express. A (gleaming – in my dreams) blue minivan awaited me. He rode back to the “guarda parque” tent with the driver, his girlfriend and I and we disboarded. The driver, his (the driver’s) girlfriend and I went to Penitentes where I dropped off Rick’s bag and picked up one I’d left. The day went like clockwork. I arrived about 3:30 p.m., about 8 hours after I’d left. The hike was 6 hours but the photography added another two hours. Freedom is not caring what others think. Even better yet, not being in a position that you should care what they think. That is not a negative but rather a “very positive.” Really! What a freedom to be yourself. The funny truth (the delightful truth) is that it seems to attract people like this. Speaking of which, I was amazed today when one of the young lads, Radamis, (of o-so fame, to be explained later) told an older woman that I’d climbed Aconcagua, she approached me (me being unaware) and kissed my cheek, then wanted her picture taken with me, exclaiming it wasn’t very often someone (she know of) climbs the mountain. After enjoying the celebrity life for all of five minutes I now know why people love it – because things are happening so fast around them that they don’t have (time) to think. This is a real luxury! Know what? I am completely exhausted – and I still haven’t begun to describe summit day. A person starts to become better when they humble themselves; a person starts to deteriorate when they begin to elevate themselves in their own minds. We are flesh and blood. We are not so great nor so small. We are, yet we are merely toys of fate, truly responsible for so little and truly victims of so much, we truly have so little to be proud of yet again so little to be ashamed of. Maybe I never will write the summit day this evening. It is almost 10 p.m. I really want to call Joy and get a good night’s sleep. The city is a warmer San Francisco. Warmer and (note: important) cheaper. It is really cheaper here. You can tell the people are “economically” depressed. I drove around for two hours (it seemed) with a taxi driver for about $11 (although I tipped him 15,000 pesos), about $4 more. (75% of the tip he asked for his waiting time). When I told him I’d climbed the mountain he smiled, said nothing. I asked him why he smiled. Later he commented, “That is why I smiled, to see someone having the fruits (of life), it was smile of pleasure.” Waiting in line at the Antel International, I am next number up. They have seating or a bench for a few but many more customers standing up. When I fell asleep sitting on my windbreaker pocket (what with an eyeshade and visor on) a uniformed woman informed me it was a “public place” and I shouldn’t sit on the floor and shouldn’t sleep. I rebutted I wasn’t sleeping, but I was waiting. Wouldn’t it be more humane of them to get a few wooden boxes for people to sit on?? Honestly, some people’s convoluted ideas of what “society” is sicken me. I looked at my South American handbook upside down. The date read 1661 (instead of 1991.) I thought “how appropriate.” It might as well be 1661. (The) Trouble with “man’s” nature is they always tend toward thinking they are at the apex of development instead of realizing they are as far back on the curve as one’s scope would have them realize. (?!) Tuesday 2/2/93 Montevideo What a ball it is to write (and to drink cafe con leche even though I’ve given up coffee). There is something almost “hidden” about this city and this country. Not intended to demean it by saying this, but it is sort of like it is just tucked away down here in South America. I would guess very few people around the world really have a very strong impression of what Uruguay is like. It is not as prosperous as Argentina. The people almost seem “resigned” – another view is that they are (more) humble and pleasant, down to earth, intelligent folks. It is already 11 a.m. I woke just before 9 a.m. It took me a couple of hours to organize my wash, gear, etc., shave, dress, pack for the day. I don’t really know where I am going. My general itinerary is as follows. 1) Take photographs – finish a roll of color, then I think I will “do” the city and it’s people in “black and white.” 2) I think I’ll check out of here tomorrow and head north (towards Paraguay). 3) Find out about buses today for tomorrow. 4) Walk to the “old city” 5) try to get out to the highest point in Uruguay. (Mirador National or Pan de Azucan or ? in any event it is only about 1,700′ high and you can drive to the top! Probably.) – Which reminds me, I should get a map. My book says there is a good one available.

Montevideo, Uruguay 2/2/93 11 p.m. dinner My notebook is tattered from rubbing and the sweat of my back. I ran 45 minutes to what I think was Mirador National – the highest point in Uruguay. On the way back to Montevideo I began thinking strange thoughts while looking at the sky.

Sky Tender

I am a sky tender

My sole job is to tend the sky

I am the Shepherd of the Clouds

I never have to oppose their will

For they always move as they should.

Night after night I watch the moon

I never worry as it wanes,

And it never disappoints me when it waxes again …(and now I continue)…

It is remarkable that this my only job.

For I can exert no will over my flock.

I can only watch, accept and

Understand them better.

The sun, the moon, the blue palette of day

And the star studded (obscurer?) of night

I can only say the more I watch

The more mysterious it appears.

Yet I need to do nothing

For all is in order.

Invisible wind, gusty hues (and morrow I try again…)

The animals roam feely in my field I charge them nothing for the use.

(And another morrow I try again.)

Peregrine falcons, hawks, eagles, condors,

Dragonflies, hummingbirds, bats,

Flying fish, seagulls, cranes, the Great migrating ones.

All using the byways, none with names.

Of late I have seen men in flying Machines,

great silver and white,

Mechanical birds, roaring,

Spewing forth,

At first I decried what I saw,

But having no power over my domain

Only to watch, accept and understand,

I realized that all is as it should be.

I tend to the sky,

The never-changing, always-changing Field.

From the land I see billows of Smoke.

Choking, locomotives, red haze.

My first impulse was to stop the change,

But as I sit in objectivity,

Now I only notice the beauty

And the timelessness I see only the balance and the innocence

Of man’s interplay with nature.

No more no less

Than bustling beehives,

And the honeycomb left behind

Are rumbling cities

And the byproducts of his trafficking

There are still rows and dimensions

Of clouds in the heavens

Uncountable beauties

As it will always be

Silver flock, splendid rainbows,

Crystal bright clarity

What a delightful job have I.

Puerto Iguacu, Argentina 2/4/93 1120 p.m. I feel completely exhausted. I guess I have had a long day. I saw as much as I could of the Argentine side of the Iguazu Falls. It is truly a splendid place, amongst a handful of exquisite places I’ve seen in my life. Asuncion, Paraguay 2/5/93 440 p.m. This is the end of the line for me in South America this trip. I haven’t had so much time to write the last few days, have I? It appears so far this trip has been a complete success, having satisfied all of the objectives I set out to do. This is my 80th nation visited. Somehow that number seems like a lot to me. Alas, according to the Travelers Century Club rule, it is #100. (Gabon, Russia and Poland having been in airport waiting rooms only. [Ed: Note, in later years, I traveled across Russia and Poland and spent time in Libreville, Gabon.] Tomorrow I have to be at the airport at 345 p.m., so I have about 24 hours to be “at large.” I may go to a little ways out from Asuncion, as it is famous for lace tablecloths and what not.