The Aconcagua Expedition Photos

It was cold enough that my ridiculously fluffy 8,000-meter-rated goose down parka was a must-wear. Wind gusts knocked me off my feet once, and kept the tent flapping all night long. Mountain air was so bone-dry, my boogers turned into gravelly nuggets. Tolerance for grime was a must, given that we were wearing the same sweat-encrusted socks and underwear every day.

Sleeping above 16,000 feet was about tossing and turning every hour, and occasionally gasping for breath. You breathe so hard at altitude that they say you need five liters of water each day, given how much water vapor you exhale. Mild headaches were a morning routine. One of my best friends had a health scare and had to be airlifted off the mountain. Thankfully, he recovered.

Aconcagua was extreme. Tough. Beautiful. Unforgettable. I can’t wait to do something like it again.

My Aconcagua expedition ran from Jan. 28-Feb. 17, 2017. I was part of a team of 11 climbers and 3 guides outfitted by Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International. Aconcagua, in Argentina, is the highest peak in South America at 22,841 feet/6,962 meters. This isn’t a technical climb. We didn’t travel on a glacier, watching out for crevasses, like on Denali or Rainier. We didn’t have to rope to each other, or do any fancy belaying or rappelling. Aconcagua is mostly a mental and physical endurance test. You have to push yourself to reach the highest point on Earth outside the Himalayas.

I’m fortunate to be healthy and in position to pull off this kind of adventure. I hope you enjoy the photos of this expedition, taken by me and my climbing friend Bryant Mangless. Whatever you do, keep exploring!


Jangbu Sherpa, our lead guide. Showing off our nutritional bona fides, with mini-Slim Jims at Camp 1.


Don’t we all look so fresh and energetic at our initial gathering in Mendoza?


The first couple days of hiking to base camp were hot and flat. The dry, dusty terrain required us to wear bandannas to avoid inhaling too many irritable particles.


Shooting the breeze around the dinner table on the first day.


Our gang has been climbing annually since a Mt. Rainier trip in 2004. From left to right: Bryant Mangless, me, Matt Reiter.


Crossing the Vacas River on the way to base camp. Time to put on your sandals, and to grin and bear it. The water was COLD!


Watching my step. The current moved fast, and was occasionally knee-deep. Nobody wanted to take a spill, and no one did.


The mules did a lot of heavy lifting of team gear and food on the low part of the mountain. It was best to stay out of their way — they are quick and nimble on the uneven, rocky trails.


A few climbers chose to ride mules across the Vacas River rather than freeze their toes.


A glimpse of the peak, and some lowland vegetation.


Base camp at Plaza Argentina (13,800 ft) was colder and snowier than we thought. They had a lot of civilization here, including running water, and an on site physician who examined all of us (blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, and listened to our lungs with the stethoscope) before granting us permission to continue.


We ate and drank pretty well. Here my friend Matt Reiter is showing his manliness by ripping into some salami at the base camp dining tent.


Here’s a brief parka-less moment during our stop at the windy Camp 1. Yeah, that’s a toilet seat you see on the ground, for strictly symbolic purposes. The tent you see was a “privacy zone” where you could take your wag bag and do your business. The wind was so wild here, that even when you thought you were peeing in the right direction with the wind, you weren’t.


Aconcagua isn’t supposed to be as cold as Denali, but I used the expedition parka much more here than I did on North America’s highest peak in 2013.


We ran into some powerful wind and snow, the kind to knock you off your feet, on our initial push from base camp to Camp 1 (16,200 feet). There were a few notable icicles forming on beards.


When the wind is blowing 60-70 mph, you need to bend your knees to keep your balance. This was our experience at Camp 1 (16,200 ft), as we stashed some food and fuel before hustling back down to base camp.


Rob Conway of Calgary, Canada was lookin’ good and feelin’ good. He returned to successfully summit this year, after coming up short a year ago on an Aconcagua trip with his 19-year-old son. Inspiring.


Breaktime on the way from Camp 2 to High Camp, looking out over the Guanacos Valley.


That’s a rainbow, that looked like it was smiling at us at Camp 2. Never seen anything like it before. A good omen.


The view from High Camp (19,500 ft.)


It took long, hard work to get high enough on the mountain to see this.


My friend Bryant Mangless displays his badass game face. He would not be denied.


Fellow climber Amy Paradis, a nurse from Modesto, Calif., came by our tent to bandage up my shins at High Camp (19,500 ft). My rigid boot liners were scraping the shins on steep stretches. Thanks, Amy!


Lead guide Jangbu Sherpa might weigh 140 pounds soaking wet, but the guy is a climbing powerhouse. His deft footwork on loose rock and steep stretches was a thing of beauty — no wasted energy or motion.


Argentine guide Mariano Vazquez (center) surveyed the situation at High Camp, as several groups prepped for summit bids on the same day, based on a foreboding weather forecast. Fellow guide Dylan Cembalski (dark blue coat) looks on. Notice the emergency shelter for injured climbers in the background. We saw a few dazed and confused climbers on Summit Day who needed some Ranger assistance.


The three guides (Mariano Vazquez, Dylan Cembalski, and Jangbu Sherpa) enjoyed themselves and gelled as a team. Clowning around at High Camp.


Sunrise on Summit Day on a great mountain. Nothing like it.


Looking down at High Camp on Summit Day.


Did I mention others were eager to shoot for the Summit on our same day, Feb. 12?


Breaktime on summit day at The Caves, a landmark at about 22,000 feet. We took a little extra time here to load up on extra food and water for the final 900 vertical foot push.


Savoring the moment on the Summit of Aconcagua with Bryant Mangless. We’ve been friends since our University of Wisconsin undergraduate days, and we’re proud to be Badgers.


The Summit! 22,841 ft/6,962m — the highest peak in the world outside of Asia. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see squat on a cloudy day. We could, however, enjoy a celebratory photo. From left to right: Nick Schrader, me, Helen “Cokie” Berenyi, Bryant Mangless, Rob Conway, David Paradis, Jangbu Sherpa.


We descended the mountain via a different route, coming down to another base camp called Plaza de Mulas. The mules delivered some good sources of protein and fat to replenish this group of hungry climbers.


Sometimes on the descent, when you’re tired, you gotta look around. Local guide Mariano Vazquez told us about those nearby glaciers, and how they’re receding.


Descending through the Horcones Valley. Gorgeous country where the film “Seven Years in Tibet” was shot.


The final day, we hiked 18 miles (30 km) from base camp all the way to the trailhead. Most everyone dropped at least 5-10 pounds during the trip.