Friday, February 27, 2009 between...

OK, so monster colds don't get better with the Mendoza treatment - staying up til 4am at the cafes and drinking lots of wine. But it sure is fun! After a few nights with our climbers and another group from the mountain, we spent a few nights in with a tasty spread of fresh fruit and tapas - little bites of olives, cheeses, etc. Enjoy where you are...

Back in Seattle, I thought I gave myself enough time to do taxes, take care of life stuff, and get ready to go again - ha! Managed to see some long-neglected friends in Port Townsend, though, a perfect welcome back to the Pacific Northwest. I love those quintessential Seattle moments - pulling away from the ferry dock, city lights on shore, mild night breeze bringing scent of salt water and seaweed. Nice to be home, if only briefly.

It had been beautiful weather in Seattle for the last week, and started raining the moment I touched down. But a night on my friends' boat brought another nice day and just enough time to stand on the rocky beach. A new front suspension fork on my bike, a few beers shared with friends, and taxes mostly done, I'm off for another 24-hour-plus flight itinerary back to India. Looking forward to riding, skiing, and whatever else!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Well done

1) Congratulations.  2) Finished for the season.  3) Fully cooked.  

Really, all of the above.

The trip was good.  Five climbers and three guides (his private trip was cancelled, so another joined us) spent three days walking to base camp in crazy windy weather (but not snow like last time!).  Our third guide walked out from base camp with one climber, and the rest of us continued up the mountain in usually good weather to camp three (19,200' or 5800m).  Ben and another climber descended to wait at the ending base camp while I continued to camp four (20,500' or 6200m) with the remaining three climbers.

Summit day was beautiful.  It snowed overnight, but we had an amazing sunrise with no wind and the clouds settled below us.  A group came up from a lower camp to break trail just as we started out, and the many commercial and private teams scheduled to summit that day moved smoothly up and down the mountain.  We stood on top about 2:15 and descended just ahead of the snow and wind that moved in that afternoon.

The air is thin at the summit - in millibars, the atmosphere at sea level is about 1012mb pressure.  At the top of Aconcagua, it was 425.  Less than half the available oxygen.  If you flew someone to the top from sea level, they would be dead in 10 minutes.  

Yet if you spend 2 weeks carrying heavy packs, breathing hard, and camping your way to 22,834' (6960m), you can stand on top with no more than a slight headache, if that.  Amazing how the human body adjusts.  But the top of Aconcagua is about the elevation that climbers start to use oxygen on Everest and other places.  It is dangerous mostly because people underestimate it.

Back in Mendoza now, I'm fighting off a wicked cold that has gone around our team, and hoping that I get real health insurance before the part of my nose that always burns turns into melanoma.  Relatively unscathed, and only 3 lbs lighter than when we started (people usually lose 8-15 lbs), I'm looking forward to fresh fruit, another shower, and finishing all my paperwork.  It's nice to be back...