Viewing entries tagged
high altitude

Oh Aconcagua...

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Oh Aconcagua...

... why do keeping luring me back! It's been three years now since I first set foot on the mountain, and I'm heading back for my third season and my 5th, 6th and possibly 7th twenty-day climbing permit. To say that Aconcagua has been a formative mountain for me would be an understatement.  

Stoked at the summit in 2014, my first time.  I lost 16lbs in 16 days during that particular climb.

Stoked at the summit in 2014, my first time.  I lost 16lbs in 16 days during that particular climb.

But the story of "why Aconcagua" is for another time.  Right now I'm mainly just stoked to finish my 42 hour transit from Potrero Chico to Mendoza (which began at 1:30am on Christmas Day...), stop dragging around 190lbs of group and personal expedition gear - I'm traveling light this year - and say hello to the most excellent team that I'll be spending the next three weeks with: Bobby, Jennifer, and Kristin.  It's a co-ed team this year, though Bobby is outnumbered 4:1 by the girls if you include our last-minute addition and volunteer team medic Libby in the count. 

I'll once again be sharing stories and pictures from the team and the expedition as we're kicking things off in Mendoza and also from the trail, connectivity permitting.  As always you'll be able to find more frequent updates on Instagram and monitor our progress on the mountain via my trusty DeLorme GPS

In the meantime, if you're just tuning in and are curious about what we're up to... you may want to check out some of the more informative posts from last season: 

Yes, wind chill in the negative twenties is considered pretty prime on Aconcagua. 

And so it starts again.  Except for a storm rolling through when we plan to hit the trail on Friday/Saturday the weather is looking pretty excellent so far, the route is dry, I'm psyched to see what surprises this season holds for me, the team, and the ever-inspiring Libby (yes there'll be some ambitious speed scheming again after the team expedition is complete.).  Thanks for coming along for the journey, and if you'd like to get blog updates delivered to your inbox there's a subscribe option, too. 

Up up we go!!

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The Case for Porter Support

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The Case for Porter Support

If you looked at my Instagram yesterday, you saw that I shared a few words about our porter team during the Mera Peak expedition.  The forced brevity of Instagram captions just doesn't do things justice, so here's a more in-depth introduction to our lovely support crew.  

Tara, Kat and I traveled with four locals: Mingma Sherpa, our climbing sirdar with whom I've been friends since I first started mountaineering in Nepal; Antarwu Sherpa, his brother; Geljin Sherpa, Mingma's nephew.  And Gishnagiri, a Chhetri from the Kathmandu Valley for whom our trek was his first foray into high altitude work.  

Kat (L) and Tara (R) with our three most excellent porters: Geljin in black, Antarwu in red and Gishnagiri in tan.  

I have an inkling that Gishnagiri may have signed on to the trek because he thought it would be an easy introduction - three women, taking the long way up the Hinku Valley towards Mera Peak.  Should be nice and mellow, right?  Not with Tara and Kat: these two ultra-running, peak-bagging powerhouses were moving so fast that we all had trouble keeping up with them - particularly on the longest approach days.  When I asked Mingma about the state of the crew after we had made it back to Lukla (our last long day of hiking on the way back towards civilization), he chuckled.  "Ma'am, for the team... Mera Peak climbing: easy.  Hiking days: HARD." 

We could tell that the guys worked hard.  Not only did we trek faster than your typical expedition (going from Karikhola to Tangnag in three days rather than the standard four, and crossing over mighty Zatr La Pass in two days rather than three) but we also brought gifts for the villagers as well as all our climbing gear and tents and food from the US, where many expeditions will only bring the bare necessities and rent crampons/axes/tents/group gear in Khare, the last settlement below the glaciated flanks of Mera.  So Antarwu, Geljin and Gishnagiri unsuspectingly ended up in the perfect storm: walking faster AND carrying more than on your standard Mera expedition - even though Tara, Kat and I also all deliberately carried between thirty and sixty pounds in our daypacks! The guys did very well in all regards, and we acknowledged their hard work and great performance in our collective tipping and with personal tokens of appreciation that were well received.  

We all carried pretty heavy.

Even with the fast pace it was impressive to see how 21-year-old Geljin would constantly run ahead, offer to take extra weight, and always be on the lookout for ways to help us.  He also made an additional 3,000ft ascent to high camp to help carry gear when Tara and I decided to return for a second summit bid after Kat's HACE scare at 21,000ft (more on that in my next post).  Antarwu, Mingma's brother, found great amusement in our initially desperate tries to remember and pronounce his name, and later turned out to be the natural-born dancer of the group.  Gishnagiri, one of Mingma's non-sherpa friends from Kathmandu Valley, was always ready with a smile and continuously pushing hard to keep up with his sherpa companions.  Rumor has it that he decided towards the end of our expedition that construction work, his year-round work, makes for an easier gig than high-altitude trekking - but he was a joy to have around and be part of our small multi-cultural team. 

Construction work in Nepal... which pays ~300Rs ($3) per day. 

At one of our early teahouse stops, day 2 on the trail in Nunthala, I spotted a sobering sign in the dining room.  It said: Porters: STRONG.  PROUD.  VULNERABLE.  Please provide your porter with necessary food, shelter and shoes. Yes, guys like Antarwu and Geljin and Gishnagiri may strike us as incredibly strong and fast and seemingly invincible - but they are not superhuman.  They may cheerily cross icy steeps without crampons, balance 65lbs+ loads on their backs with jerry-rigged carrying systems and dance up and down thousands of feet of snowed-in passes barehanded and in tennis shoes or even sandals... but just because they do it with a smile on their faces (or because the porter pay of ~$15/day is a high-earning gig compared to Nepal's average annual income of ~$700pp) doesn't mean that this is how it should be.  The often desperate state of warm weather and mountain gear available to the locals working to support high altitude expeditions is the reason why I am very excited about having been able to partner with CAMP USA to bring a few sets of cutting-edge, lightweight glacier travel gear into the country for our sherpa friends to use on future climbs.   

New CAMP glacier safety gear for our crew to keep! And these harnesses only weigh 3.2 ounces... 

Of course the collective high altitude workers' gear need is a lot greater than what can be covered by the harnesses and jumars and helmets and pulleys we gave to our crew... but it's a start. Passing on high quality personal gear - boots, crampons, gloves, hats, warm socks, insulated pants and the like - is another step that we, like hopefully most other Himalayan climbing expeditions, naturally incorporated into our giving at the end of the trek.  And then there's the ultimate engine to help alleviate the porters' and high altitude workers' plight: keep climbing in Nepal, spend the money to hire local support staff, compensate them fairly and make sure they're well taken care of.  The moments and friendships that you'll share during the trek will make it more than worth it.  And who knows, you might even learn some local dance moves along the way! 

The whole crew (minus Mingma and myself) once more. 

  

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