Sunday, January 31, 2010

100% to the Summit!

On Top!

John called in at 8:15 Pacific time this morning to say that the team was on top! It is a beautiful day, although not an easy one because of the wind. It was however warm enough that their water bottles did not freeze in their packs. Everyone did a great job on the climb and are now headed down the mountain.
Congratulations to:

Ace Y.
Dave C.
Dustin W.
Mike M.
Ray A.

and John & Joel!

John said that they were climbing on snow from the time they left high camp this morning all the way to the summit. This is unusual for an Aconcagua summit day. These photos from a previous Aconcagua summit day are more representative of typical conditions.

Independencia Hut (Ruins) @ ~20,800'

From their high camp the team soon connected with the normal route. The Polish traverse and normal route merge near the Independencia hut. Soon after this you begin the "windy traverse" where you are often exposed to the Viento Blanco, the white wind. I have been as cold on this traverse as I have been on any Denali summit day.

After you finish this long cold traverse you arrive under the "Canteleta" the final gully which leads up to the summit. This is often especially challenging due to the scree so snow was probably a welcome surprise for the group.

The team will spend tonight at Camp Cholera before heading down to Plaza de Mulas, base camp for the normal route, tomorrow. From Plaza de Mulas it should take 1 day to hike out to the trailhead. Depending on what time they make it to the trailhead on Tuesday it is likely that they will drive back to Mendoza that evening. With 3 nights in Mendoza the team should be able to put back on some of the weight they lost on the mountain.

On the windy traverse.

Guided Aconcagua Expeditions

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Team at High Camp - Hoping to Summit tomorrow

John called this morning to say the team has moved into their high camp - Camp Cholera at about 19,400'. They are hoping the winds will allow them a summit bid tomorrow.

Yesterday they carried to Cholera and today they moved. John said it seemed a bit windy for the summit today so they are hoping the winds calm a little tomorrow. Tomorrow, Sunday Jan 31st, will be their 1st possible summit day. Monday and Tuesday are also potential summit days, after that they will have to start heading out in order to make their flights.

I have contacted Grajales, our local outfitter, and asked him to move the group gear from Plaza Argentina today. Once the team made it to Camp Cholera the logical descent route is through Plaza de Mulas, also called the normal route. Their bags will go out of Plaza Argentina on mules and then 2 of the bags with their trekking gear will be brought back into Plaza de Mulas on the opposite side of the mountain. This should be there waiting for them when the team gets there, hopefully on Monday after a successful summit bid. They have also requested a dinner reservation for pizza for 7 that night.

Right now Sunday and Monday are looking like the best days in the weather forecast so let's hope the team gets their shot at the summit.

More tomorrow....

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Team moved into Chopper Camp

After another strong move the team enjoyed a beautiful calm evening, their first in a while, and are now tucked into their tents. Their plan is to carry to Cholera camp tomorrow and move up there on Saturday. Looking at the weather Sunday is still looking like the best possible summit day and they plan to be in position to take advantage of the lighter winds.

At this point the team is on a slightly different route than we have done in the past. The photos I am posting are representative of the same altitudes but no longer correlate exactly to where John, Joel, Ace, Dave, Mike, Ray and Dustin are currently.

The above picture is of the high camp we have used on this route in the past. Cholera camp, at about 19,400' is a little higher than this camp which will be nice for summit day.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

5th Straight Day of afternoon thundershowers

John called in this afternoon to say that everyone is well rested and ready to move up to Chopper camp tomorrow. As they are 5 hours ahead of Pacific time, they were headed to bed. This evening brought the 5th straight day with afternoon thundershowers. John described this evening's graupel as being the size of his pinky finger nail.

John was able to organize all of the gear today so they are set up for their traverse of the mountain.

More tomorrow.....

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Plan - Traverse of Aconcagua

John called in tonight to say that the team had carried to their next camp at 17,700'. This camp is called "Chopper" or "Lama" camp. The thundershowers this afternoon were milder than previous days and the weather seems to be settling a bit.

The plan now is to rest tomorrow at camp 1 and then move up to Chopper camp on Thursday. The team has decided that they will actually do a traverse of the mountain, exiting via the normal route & Plaza de Mulas after their summit bid. In order to facilitate this John will descend to base camp tomorrow to organize the group gear to send out with the mules. They will then have any necessary gear sent into Plaza de Mulas, base camp on the normal route, so it will be there waiting for them when they arrive. From base camp on this side of the mountain it should only take 1 day to hike back to the road.

The itinerary as it is now:

Wednesday: Rest @ Camp 1
Thursday: Move to Chopper Camp (17,700')
Friday: Carry to "Cholera Camp" (19,355')
Saturday: Move to "Cholera Camp"
Sunday: Possible Summit day, Night @ Cholera camp
Monday: Possible Summit day

Team established at Camp 1

The team moved into Camp 1 (16,200') yesterday. They had camp set up before another afternoon thunderstorm rolled through depositing about 4" of graupel. These storms have been starting at around 5 PM and often wrap up with lightening at the end.

The plan from here is to spend 3 nights at camp 1 before moving up to the next camp. Depending on what the weather does the team will either carry today or tomorrow up to the "Chopper camp." They will use the day they don't carry as another rest/acclimatization day.

More soon....

Monday, January 25, 2010

Moving to Camp 1

After a rest day at base camp yesterday the team is moving up to camp 1 today. The team experienced another evening electrical storm yesterday that deposited a good bit of snow and graupel at base camp. Graupel is formed during electrical storms when supercooled water droplets condense around a snowflake. Hail and graupel look very similar, the difference being that hail forms around a speck of dust rather than a snowflake.

These afternoon snow storms are not uncommon on Aconcagua. The following link will take you to a good weather forecast for high on Aconcagua, at about the level of high camp, The weather looks like it is clearing for this weekend which is good news as this is when the team is looking for their summit window.

Moving to Camp 1.

Dinner @ Camp 1

Saturday, January 23, 2010

1st carry complete!

Headed up to camp 1

Everyone did a great job today making it to camp 1 (16,200') in 3 hours and 40 min. The team was able to make it to camp, drop their gear, and be back to base camp before an evening electrical storm rolled in, dropping a lot of graupel (winter hail) on base camp.

The plan for tomorrow is to take a rest day before moving up to camp 1 on Monday.

Some smaller penitentes along the trail

Grajales basecamp tent

Carrying to Camp 1

After enjoying a rest day the team is feeling strong and ready for their carry today. They will carry gear up to camp 1, leaving it cached in duffel bags. This will lighten their load for when they move up on Monday as well as help with their acclimatization.

The slope below camp 1 is where the group may encounter penitentes. Penitentes are blades of very firm snow that can be as taller than a person. The trail has been worn through these curious snow formations.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Team at Base Camp!

John called in today to say the team had arrived at base camp, Plaza Argentina (13,800'). Everyone is doing great and looking forward to a rest day tomorrow.

Last night everyone enjoyed a traditional Argentine barbecue called an Asado. If you have not experienced this it is a must do. The mule drivers grill up huge slabs of steak and vegetables over the fire. If I heard him correctly John said their group of 7 made it through 4.7 kg of beef!

The team will rest tomorrow in order to acclimate further before beginning to carry up the mountain. This will also give them an opportunity to reorganize all of their gear and to decide what stays and what goes up high.

More tomorrow.....

Night 2 camp - Casa Piedra

Junction of the Vacas & Relinchos Valley w/ Aconcagua in the distance.

Crossing the river in the morning.

Looking down the Relinchos Valley, Vacas valley in the distance.
Looking up the Relinchos Valley.

Approaching base camp.

Base camp at Plaza Argentina.

Home, sweet home.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day 1 on the trail - Team at La Lenas

John called in tonight to say everyone did great today & the the team is at their 1st camp - Pampa de Lenas (8,850'). This camp is located in the arid but beautiful Vacas Valley (the valley of the cows). The team will hike further up this valley tomorrow to the junction with the Relinchos Valley. They will spend tomorrow night at this junction, at Casa Piedra (10,500'), before taking a left, crossing the river and heading up the Relinchos Valley to base camp at Plaza Argentina (13,800').

Leaving the trailhead (7,600')

Heading up the Vacas Valley

The mules helping everyone out.

Camp at Pampa de Lenas.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Team at Penitentes - Packed & Ready to go

John called in this evening to report that the team is at Penitentes (8,200') all packed and ready to hit the trail tomorrow.

Before leaving Mendoza this morning they had to stop in to pick up their climbing permits. This took a little longer than normal as an armored car pulled up to collect the money just as they were getting there. They had to wait while the armed guards counted large sums of money.

I have posted some photos from Bob M's trip to help give a feel for the days events.

Picking up the permits.

Penitentes ski area

The hotel at Penitentes

Grajales Expeditions at Penitentes.

The scene above is representative of a typical afternoon at the Grajales headquarters at Penitentes. The team went through a final equipment check and prepared loads for the mules to carry to base camp. The total weight for the mule loads came in at 297 kg (653 lbs), this will be divided amongst 5 mules. The mules go ahead of the group each day and all of the gear is waiting for the team at camp when they arrive. This allows them to hike with day packs and then still have access to their sleeping bags, tents, food, etc. once they get to camp.

Tomorrow's hike to the 1st camp (La Lena @ 8,850') is 7 miles and should take about 5-6 hours. John's goal is to be hiking by 9:45 AM which will allow them to arrive in camp before the afternoon winds pick up.

I should be hearing from John tomorrow and will post an update as soon as I do.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jan 17, 2010 - Entire Aconcagua Expedition in Mendoza

On the off chance that anyone back home is reading this, I thought I would let you know that everyone made it to Mendoza and successfully retrieved all of their luggage. We had a short team meeting, went out for a great lunch, and did one last run to the grocery store for lunch food and fresh food for the hike in.

We are going to have an early dinner (which means 9 pm in Argentina) and try to be in bed by at least 1 am. Tomorrow we depart the hotel at 9 am and drive for several hours to Penitentes. On the way there we need to stop and complete the process of obtaining our permit for the climb. As we are here in high season, the permit costs an astounding $475 per person.

The drive to Penitentes is a spectacular trip through the mountains that closely follows some rivers that are popular for white water boaters. For rock climbers it is always fun to speculate on the quality of the rock as there appear to be potential climbs all over the place.

I still do not have a good group shot and will post them as I collect them. I am not certain we will have internet access up at Penitents, but I will be checking in with Olivia back at the NMS office and she will post any news she receives as it comes in. If you are curious about the schedule for the trip, you can take a peek at our Aconcagua Expedition page. We usually mange to stick fairly close to the plan, but weather often slows things up.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

2010 Aconcagua Climb - About to Launch

It is Thursday Jan 14, and I am about to depart for Aconcagua. I spent most of the past couple of days sorting gear, looking at checklists, reviewing my guide logs from previous years, and then finally jammed everything that made the cut into 4 duffel bags. I weigh them on a fish scale that I bought in AK that goes to 100lbs. The new baggages allowance only gives me 2 bags at 50 lbs. each, so I am going to be paying a small fortune for the 2nd two bags, which are primarily food.

Something weird happens as you get ready for a big expedition. One day you are home and enjoying your community, house, and normal life, and then at some point you cross some line, and every moment is somehow tilted toward your departure. I always struggle to push that moment out as far as I can, but I solidly crossed the line sometime yesterday.

This trip will consist of myself (John Race), Ace Yakey, Dave Carter, Mike Myers, Ray Aderholt, Dusty Wunderlich, and Joel Kauffman, who will assist me and is at the tail end of slaying the desperates in Patagonia. Joel and I arrive a day ahead of the group so that we can organize the permit, buy and pack food, and have a few moment to get over the travel before the group arrives 24 hours after us.

I will fly from Wenatchee, WA (EAT) to Seattle (SEA), to Dallas (DFW), to Lima (???) to Santiago, (SCL), and finally on to Mendoza, Argentina (MDZ). I was actually looking forward to the flight until I mapped it out like that. Seriously though, I think as a guide I enjoy the flight as much as anything because it is the only time in the next three weeks when I can actually relax. Free booze, lots of movies, time to read, all in all it is pretty casual.

Our plan is to be up at Penitentes by Monday afternoon, to be at the trail head by Tuesday, and to make base camp at Plaza Argentina by Thursday.

Lot's more details to follow. I am amazed that I actually had time to write this the night before a departure. Olivia and I are going to have a nice dinner at home and then hit the sack as we need to be up at 4 am to make the flight. I have a great group, and a great assistant, so this should be a blast.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Back in Mexico City

After an unusually bad spell of weather, the team is back in Mexico City. The only time they saw the sun during the entire trip was for 30 minutes on the summit of Ixta. They had planned to stop at the pyramids on the way back to town but after awakening to a downpour in Tlachichuca they opted for the city's museums instead.

Greg sent this photo from their celebration dinner at the El Refugio del Fondo one of our favorite restaurants in Mexico City.

Everyone will be flying home tomorrow. We are impressed that the managed to pull off an Ixta summit and are looking forward to hearing about the rest of their adventures.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Team back in Tlachichuca

Greg called in at 3:30 PM CST to say that the team was all back at the Reyes' compound in Tlachichuca. The weather proved too bad for climbing Orizaba and made it an adventure even getting down from the hut. The roads to the hut are exciting on the best of days requiring low geared 4 wheel drive jeeps to make the trip to the hut. Today with about 6" of snow at the hut it sounded like the team was glad to be back in civilization. They passed several cars in the ditch on their way back down the hill.

One of the beautiful things about the Mexican Volcanoes trip is that you are able to climb 2 volcanoes over 17,000' while only missing a week of work. The flip side of this coin is you have a relatively tight summit window and a storm like the one our team encountered can derail your summit attempt. The gals (and Greg) did a great job getting up Ixta in less than ideal conditions. Now we are glad that they are all safely back in Tlachichuca. Orizaba will still be there if anyone desires a rematch.

The plan moving forward is to enjoy showers, some wine I am told, and a good home cooked meal at the Reyes'. The team will spend the night at the Reyes' which was a soap factory at one point and still has much of the old soap making equipment around for the climbers to check out. Tomorrow they will head back to Mexico city with a short detour to check out Teotihuacan - the home of the pyramids of the Sun & Moon. Once back in the city the team will enjoy a celebratory dinner before everyone heads home early the next morning.

Weather Prevents Orizaba Summit

Greg called around 2 am CST today to let us know that he and the group had been up for awhile and things were not looking good for the climb. The clouds above had descended to the level of the hut, the wind had increased, and they had some new snow. It sounded like they were leaning toward pulling the plug.

We will post new news as we get it. The road leading up to the Piedra Grande hut is very primitive and can become quite muddy during a storm. If it has snowed as low as the hut it might take some time just to get down from the hut.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Orizaba - The Final Push

After a taxing climb on Ixta the team enjoyed a relaxing evening in the town of Puebla. Puebla is a vibrant town with a colonial feel and a beautiful central plaza complete with a grand cathedral. They spent the night at the Hotel Colonial, a converted convent that is a lovely place to stay in this town.

Greg called in this afternoon to say that the team had transferred from Puebla through Tlachichuca and is now in position at the Piedra Grande Hut (14,000') ready for their summit bid early tomorrow morning.

The weather is currently windy and socked in to about 15,500' but the team is setting their alarm for 11:30 tonight to get up and give it a try. A third local guide, named Miriam, has joined the team for the Orizaba climb.

We will keep you posted when we hear back from Greg tomorrow. Our guess is that it will be a tough climb; very dependent on the weather

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Summit! - Success on Izta

Greg Vernovage called on the sat phone at around noon CST to report that he and three of our climbers made it to the summit of Izta despite very difficult weather. Ginger, Marcy, and Cindy went to the top with Greg. Michelle, Wendy, and Trish turned after two hours in whiteout conditions and wind with Deb Leyh. It sounds like they turned near 16,000 feet and had opted to preserve energy for Orizaba. Carrie and Brit opted to stay at the hut.

The group left for the summit at around 1 am in a whiteout with some wind. Greg reported that the wind increased as they climbed and that it was very cold. A portion of the group decided to turn at this point while Greg and the others pushed up. He said that they got out of the clouds about an hour below the summit and were treated to an amazing sunrise.

Everyone is now descending from high camp back to the trail head where they will meet our vehicle and driver. The group that turned during the climb headed down early with Carrie and Brit accompanied by Deb.

The plan from here is to get down to the vehicle safely and then drive to Puebla where they will rest, shower, and have a good meal before moving on to Tlachichuca. Once there they will reorganize their gear and move up to the Piedra Grande Hut on the north side of Orizaba.

Congratulations to the entire group for making it up to 15,000 and holding things together through the night. It sounds like everyone did a great job and the guides felt fortunate that four were able to make it to the summit in tough conditions.

We look forward to hearing the whole story when the group has a chance to check in via e-mail and a landline.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jan 5, 2010 Izta Climb Update

NMS guide Greg Vernovage called us from high camp today at 4 PM CST and reported that the entire group had made it to high camp on Ixta. He said it was a long day for everyone and that they are looking forward to getting some good rest before their Ixta summit bid tonight and tomorrow morning.

High camp on Iztaccíhuatl is the grupo de los Cien Hut (4580 M/15,022') We sometimes stay in tents outside the hut, but the was unoccupied, so the group left the tents and carried plenty of water instead. Yesterday they had shuttled water and some of the supplies to a point about 1.5 hours short of the hut, which allowed for lighter, but not light, packs on the first portion of today's climb.

The weather had improved a bit from the nasty stuff of two days ago and the group is hoping that it continues to improve for the summit climb.

The plan is to get up at 11:30 pm and make the trip to the top in 5-6 hours, leaving time to return all the way to the vehicle and complete the drive to Puebla. Ixta is the seventh highest peak in North America and the third highest peak in Mexico. It sits in the Iztaccihuatl-Popocateptl National Park, which is the largest in Mexico, and has been in existence since 1935. The area is surrounded by a lovely pine forest. reminiscent of the Ponderosa Pine forest on the east side of the Cascades where we live.

When John first visited Ixta in 1988 the glaciers were much bigger and more developed. At the time he was down there to climb Popocateptl (5426 m - 17,802 ft), the 5th highest peak in North America and 2nd highest in Mexico. Back then we would usually climb Popo first and then climb Izta if the group had energy for the climb the day or two following our ascent of Popo. In 1994 Popo became active and began to erupt and has been closed to climbing. It is still not unusual to be on your climb of Ixta and see steam, or even occasionally an ash plume come from Popo.

Nightime on Izta is always a surreal experience as you are in a true wilderness and yet you can look down and see the lights of Mexico City, with a population well over 20 million people. You are close enough that you can make out brighter areas, which are the main streets of this ancient city.

Popo is also called "the smoking mountain" and Izta is called both the "white woman" or the "sleeping woman." Local folklore has it that Izta's father sent Popo to battle in Oaxaca, and promised him his daughter when he returned. The father was not too keen on the marriage, but he needed Popo's skills, and told his daughter that Popo had been killed in battle. When she found out she died from grief. When Popo did return from battle he was so tormented by the death of his lover that he stabbed himself in the heart. God took note, covered the two in snow, and now Popo and stands next to his sleeping lover Izta. From time to time Popo erupts in fury extracting his revenge on those below.

As a result all of the features of Izta relate to the various parts of a sleeping woman. Our group is climbing the knees route. Tomorrow they will climb over the knees and eventually the breast, which forms the highest summit. Just north of the summit is Izta's head. There are many other versions of the story.

Between the two peaks is the Paseo Cortez, which Cortez and his army crossed over enroute to conquer the Aztec city of Tenochtitl√°n. At one point he sent some men up to the summit of Popo to try to find sulpher to use in making gunpowder.

We hope our group is able to have a climb that is much less eventful, but the stories are interesting either way. The idea on Izta is to get people acclimated and ready for the next peak we will attempt, Orizaba. Best of luck to the group tomorrow morning.

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010 Almost All Women's Mexico Volcanoes Climb

Our 2010 Mexican Volcanoes Expedition is underway.

Carrie, Ginger, Wendy, Brittney, Trish, Cindy, Michelle, & Marcy joined NMS guides Deb Leyh and Greg Vernovage for a 9-day attempt to climb Ixta and Orizaba. Olivia had been slated to lead the trip, but injured her knee just before departure and much to our relief, Greg was available to guide last minute.

The group met in Mexico City on Saturday January 2. On January 3 they traveled to Amecameca, the small town that sits below Ixta and Popo. On the 3rd they drove up to the Paseo Cortex for an acclimatization hike and then returned to Amecameca for the night. Greg called us on the satellite phone and reported the group to be in fine spirits and the weather to be a bit feisty. He said they had encountered cool conditions, wind, and some rain.

Today (Jan 4) they returned to the Paseo Cortez and made a carry toward their planned high camp and dropped off sufficient water to make the climb. Despite the wet weather yesterday the water supply at high camp was reported to be dry and today's hike allowed the group to further acclimate and leave supplies to make for lighter loads on the move to high camp.

They plan to move to high camp on the knees route tomorrow and then make a summit bid via the Knees Route on Wednesday. This is the traditional route on Ixta. For the past decade we have been primarily climbing via the Ayoloco Hut, but friends who have made the climb recently reported the Ayoloco to be out of shape.

Greg mentioned that the weather had improved today and the forecast for the summit day looks to be the best in the near future. The group will be sleeping high tomorrow night and then getting up very early for their summit bid.

More details as we have them.

Photo looking up Ixta


AIARE 1 Avalanche Course Featured in Wenatchee World

Our Jan 1-3 Avalanche Course, which took place in Leavenworth, WA was featured in today's Wenatchee World article.

A reporter from the Wenatchee World observed Day 2 of our course and interviewed guides John Race and Nick Pope. We have seen a big increase in the number of people interested in these programs, so it makes sense that our local paper would also have an interest.

To read the complete article visit:

Upcoming 2009-10 Washington Avalanche Courses include:
  • February 19-21, 2010
  • March 5-7, 2010
We can also organize custom level 1 avalanche courses for groups of 4 or more. Call 509-548-5823 for full details