Thursday, January 31, 2013

Aconcagua Group Headed down - Jan 31, 2013

Jared contacted us overnight to let us know that he would be headed down from high camp enroute to Plaza Mulas by noon local time.  He also mentioned, "We are tired, but in good spirits w/ no injuries or frostbite."  It sounds like the summit day was a real challenge and they are pretty psyched to wrap things up.

The descent to Plaza Mulas goes remarkably fast.  We basically hike straight down the normal route, much if it in this really loose sand.  Along the way you bump into a remarkable number of people headed up from the Plaza Mulas side.  It is hard to imagine climbing from that direction, but that is what the majority of people do.

Once down at Plaza Mulas they will likely have pizza for lunch and then a nice big dinner.  You can also get a hot shower there, but we usually wait until Penitentes.  The hike out tomorrow is a pretty solid one.  It usually takes a good 7-8 hours.

We will publish photos when we get some.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Aconcagua Group in Camp after summit - Jan 30, 2013

Ted and Jared are back at high camp after reaching the summit of Aconcagua. We hope to have full details of the day eventually, but for now know that they are back in camp and all is well. Julia is still in Penitentes and plans to move to Mendoza tomorrow. Jared and Ted will go to Plaza Mulas tomorrow and then hike the rest of the way out on Friday.

Updated! Aconcagua Summit! ~ Jan 30, 2013

Jared just a satellite text from the summit.  It read, "Cumbre!,"  Congratulations to Ted for reaching the top of Aconcagua.  As guides, this is the time when worry the most.  No word on actual summit conditions such as wind and temp, but we suspect it is still pretty windy up there. More details as we have them.

Update@12:30 pm PST:  Jared and Ted are off the summit and have descended back down through the gully leading to the summit and have started the traverse back to the independencia hut.  They appear to be making good time.

Aconcagua Summit Bid in Progress - Jan 30, 2013

We have been watching Jared and Ted's SPOT device.  The winds evidently slowed up just enough for them to make a go of it and they left camp around 3:30 am and headed up.  They have made very steady progress and are currently about 130 meters below the summit.

Julia made it out to Penitentes yesterday and is going to wait in Penitentes for the group to come down.

More details as we have them.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Aconcagua Summit Bid on Hold - Jan 29, 2013

8:23 PST.  Jared sent a message about 3 hours ago that read, "Summit no go Tues.  Sustained winds of 35+ w/ reg gusts 45-55 @ Cholera (name of camp 3).  Blue Skies....."

He then sent two more messages that read, "Likely check out tomorrow morning's presentation and either go for cumbre or head down to mulas.  Gear at PA leaves for PE today.  Ted's in good spirits."

So that is it for now.  The break in the winds is supposed to occur midday today and is not forecasted to be there tomorrow, but who knows.  Sometimes you get lucky.

The big issue today is that if they can't get out of camp to head up early enough to make the top and be back in camp by later afternoon, they really don't have a window to work with.

More details as we have them.  

Monday, January 28, 2013

UPDATED! Working toward a summit window - Jan 28, 2013

Afternoon Post January 28, 2013:  We spoke with Jared briefly this afternoon.  He and Ted made it to C3 (19,600') and were able to set up a secure camp.  The wind was pretty steady and Jared estimated it to be around 30 mph, which is about as much as you want to deal with up there.  They plan to get up early and make a go of it and feel pretty good about things.

Jared mentioned that there was a decent amount of new snow and that in places it had drifted to about 24 inches.  This is itself is not a deal breaker, but they will want to keep an eye on that as well.  Who knows?  Hopefully the winds will mellow out as forecasted and they will get in a summit bid.  The bottom line is always keeping things safe, but they have done a good job to put themselves in position without taking too much risk.  Keep up the good work boys.

No word yet from Juila, but she is in good hands with Grajales' staff and they have solid communications.  It should be a pretty nice down valley hike.  I will post any details as I have them.

Morning Post Jan 28, 2013: We figured we should put up a short update to give those following from home an idea of how a summit bid comes together.  Jared and Ted woke up at 18,200' this morning and Julia woke up at Plaza Argentina.  The plan, weather aside, was for Jared & Ted to bump their entire camp up to C3 (19,600') to get into position for a summit attempt on Tuesday and for Julia to hike down valley with an Argentine guide to the first camp of the trip.

We have everyone check in each evening at the end of the days activities and touch base by satellite phone.  In the morning here (their afternoon) we send them an updated weather forecast via text message on the satellite phone.  We can then game plan a bit each evening and get an update on how everyone is doing.

As the actual guide on the mountain the main thing that you want to know about is the wind speed and direction as that has the greatest bearing on how well you will be able to move about.  Next in order of importance would be amount of precipitation and of course temperature.

Right now the forecast models are showing a small, but decent summit window starting Tuesday morning and lasting throughout the day.  The problem with this is that the forecast for today continues to have high wind and some snow.  In order to break down camp, hike up, and set up a new camp, they need a bit of a break in the weather.  On the other hand, in order to use this window on Tuesday, they need to have a camp setup at the bottom of the route so that they can jump on it when the wind slows down.

Right now the wind for Wednesday is forecasted to climb (actually beginning Tuesday evening) to a point that would likely make it too difficult to climb.  So.....we will see how today goes.  If they can get up and get in camp 3 they should have a good chance tomorrow.  If they can't move about due to weather, then they will still likely try to put in Camp 3 and simply hope the forecast changes.  There is a certain element of luck in all of this, but the key is to make really conservative decisions.

Keep your fingers crossed.  We will post new information as we have it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Aconcagua Group At C2 & ABC - Jan 27, 2013

We spoke with both Jared and Ted at 18,200' and Julia at Plaza Argentina today.  All are doing well, and all reported that the weather was bumping today.  Snow, wind, the works.  Ted and Jared held tight at C2, and Julia delayed her departure toward the trailhead by a day to wait for better weather.  Ted and Jared were planning to move to C3 in a single move with the assistance of a porter tomorrow, Monday, in hopes of being in position to capitalize on a break in the winds forecasted to hit Tuesday morning.

Julia is planning to hike a big day from Plaza Argentina to Las Lenas, the first camp of the trip.  She would then finish with a 4-5 hour hike out on the last day and then either spend the night in Penitentes or travel all the way back to Mendoza, where she plans to wait for Jared and Ted to return at the end of the week.

Julia sounded really upbeat on the phone and said that she had had a great trip and felt good, but was solidly happy with heading down while the others headed up.  Jared and Ted sounded a bit bored from sitting around all day, but are still "in it to win it," and hope to have a chance to make a go of it in the near future.  In theory, those two could be heading out on a summit big in the very near future....perhaps as soon as 26-28 hours from now.

Keep your fingers crossed!  What everyone needs above all is a little break in the weather.  It sounds like Jared is lined up with several of the other larger guided groups and all are currently seeing the same weather window and moving toward that.  The key now is to be patient, grab it if it appears, and be content to sit it out if it does not.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Aconcagua Group @ C2 - January 26, 2013

Well, there is all sorts of news to report today.  Everyone has been doing really well and managing the ups and downs of expedition life as best as you can.  Yesterday the group carried to Camp 2 and encoun tered pretty significant winds at the Col Ameghino, about 1/2 way between Camp 1 (16,200') and Camp 2 (18,200').  The winds died down a bit after the col.  In a weird way, all of this wind makes us feel better as it is in the forecast and you like to see the forecast be accurate, particularly if it shows an opportunity in the future.

After the carry, Julia decided that she had seen enough of the mountain and opted to return to basecamp (which she did this morning) and will be hiking out tomorrow and the next day with one of our outfitters guides.  I am sure it was a tough call for her, but hats off to Julia for feeling like it was the time to go down and deciding to do so.  Once out, she will either wait for the group in Penitentes or in Mendoza.  For any at home that might be worried, she is in good hands and will be accompanied by one of our outfitters guides all the way to the trailhead and then on to her hotel.  

After Julia went down, Jared and Ted moved up to Camp 2.  I spoke with Jared after he moved to Camp 2 and he did not mention that the wind was too bad, but it seems like it will blow a bit for them these next couple of days.  Right now there is a slight break in the wind forecasted from Monday night-Tuesday morning that they would like to be in position to exploit.  This would require them to carry to C3 tomorrow, move to C3 on Monday, and summit on Tuesday.  This is all very manageable and is something we have done before.  

I spoke with Fernando Grajales tonight and he confirmed that Julia was resting comfortably at the Plaza Argentina basecamp and would be headed down in the morning.  We will post more details as we have them.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Aconcagua Group @ Camp 1 - UPDATED! January 24, 2013

Jared called yesterday and reported that they had moved to camp 1.  They woke to still winds and warm weather that lasted until they made it to camp 1.  They moved up from basecamp at Plaza Argentina to our usual camp 1 site at around 16,200'.  It sounds like they were able to get the tents set up and move into camp just about the time the graupel started.  Graupel is basically a heavy snow pellet that is very common down on Argentina and will often fall from the sky in the afternoon as things go from warm mid-day to cooler at night.

On the way up they picked up some of the gear from their cache at 15,400'.  It sounded like the plan was to get up in the morning and back carry to bring the rest of that gear up before making a carry up toward Camp 2 at 18,200'.  The hope is to get some of the work done before the wind event forecasted for later in the week and then to start to look for a weather window 4-6 days out for a summit attempt.

We have been feeding Jared weather forecasts via sat phone messages and he has been confirming how accurate they are as we talk each day.  This allows us to see how accurate the forecasts are and to start to look for a summit window.  The main thing we are looking for is an opportunity to go up high while the wind is not blowing too hard.

More details as we get them.

UPDATE from call Afternoon of Jan 24, 2013:  Jared called to say that they retrieved the cache from 15,400, but decided not to carry themselves up to C2.  They are planning to carry tomorrow, the 25th. Evidently we are back into the cycle of snow and graupel in the afternoon, which is much like the afternoon thunderstorms of places like the Rockies in the summer, generally minus the thunder part.  Jared swears they are all still having fun, getting along, and enjoying themselves.  Let's hope they keep it that way!

Right now they are starting to look at working around a break in the weather that may pop up around next Tuesday.  There is a lot of ground to cover between now and then.  First they need to spend their second night at 16,200' w/o incident, then repeat the whole progression in a few days at C2, and then a day after that at C3, but right now they are on track and it is good to at least have things mapped out, so you know what you have to work with.

Olivia and I have moved our operating base to Kauai, Hawaii, for the next week, so we are enjoying keeping track of who is where at what least we did not cross the date line.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Aconcagua Group Resting at Basecap - January 22, 2013

Appologies for the late post.  We spoke with the Aconcagua group today and they took a rest day at Plaza Argentina today. The only big event of the day was the mandatory check-in with park doctors that all climbers must undergo.  Everyone passed the "health inspection," which is essentially a check to make sure you do not display any symptoms of altitude related illnesses.

We passed along the current weather forecast.  Winds will slowly build on the upper mountain during the week, and then taper off at the end of the weekend.  The plan for now is to check the mountain forecast, which involves waking up and seeing if it looks like a day that you want to climb in. The winds are not forecasted to be too difficult, but it is still challenging to set up camp in wind, so the usual plan is to stick your nose into it, see how it goes, and give yourself the option to come back down if it is not going well.

It sounds like the rest day put folks into a good frame of mind for moving if the weather cooperates, so that is likely what they will do.  Plenty of time at this point for a delay caused by weather, so they are hoping to get up a bit higher and then be in position to move to the higher camps as the winds die down Sunday-Monday.

Jared reports that they are between waves of climbers and that things have been nice and quiet, which is how we generally like it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Aconcagua Group Carried toward C1 - January 21, 2013

Jared just called in.  This was the first big challenge of the trip.  The wind and snow event that started yesterday persisted into today as forecasted.  The group decided to carry toward camp 1.  Not a bad idea on the whole as it gives them the opportunity to see what it is like to move about in less than ideal conditions and get their clothing systems dialed in.  It also provides an opportunity to acclimate, expose yourself to a higher elevation, and get some gear up a bit higher.

They carried to about 15,400 and left the gear below the site of our usual C1 due to the bad weather.  Thus far they have received about 5 inches of snow today at Plaza Argentina.  As this is about what was forecasted, we feel pretty good because the forecast ahead is for better weather.

The winds are supposed to slowly climb from Wednesday morning thorough the week, peaking on Thursday evening into Friday mid-day.  The group is going to rest tomorrow and let things dry out and take time to get organized for an eventual move up.  The trick is to time your move so that you can move in the best weather and be hunkered down if it really starts to blow.

We always prefer to experience a bit of rough weather down low as it helps you adjust to what to expect if you get bad weather up high.  There is also the theory that neither good nor bad weather can go on forever, so if you can take a little bad down low, you might have a better chance of a little break up high.

It sounds like the challenge of getting up, packed, and out of the tent in the morning with the weather was a good one, but everyone did well.  The plan for now is to take it easy this evening, rest a bit tomorrow, have a big breakfast and start to think about when to move up.  Overall the weather is forecasted to be decent throughout the rest of the week, with the main obstacle being the wind.  This is very typical for Aconcagua.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Aconcagua Group Resting - Jan 20, 2013

The group rested today at the Plaza Argentina base camp. They experienced snow, rain, hail, throughout the day, but are comfy in their camp. The weather forecast is for more of the same tomorrow. If need be, they can rest a second day, but you can often hike up to camp 1 in less than perfect weather as you are down in a deep valley.

On their carry they will move up most of their food, possibly a tent, fuel, and their high altitude clothing such as heavy super gaiters used primarily on summit day. This keeps their pack weight for both the carry and the move reasonable, while allowing them to get plenty of supplies up to the first camp.

This carry also allows them to expose themselves to 16,000 w/o needing to sleep at that elevation. This will make them strongermformtheir move, which will occur in a few days.

Ted sends his love to all that are watching the blog and following the trip. He appreciates the good thoughts all are sending.

All sound excited to carry, but did mention the usual butterflies when the weather is not perfect. Jared mentioned that this was a great day to be sitting in camp as the precipitation would have been irritating while hiking. We sent them an updated forecast this afternoon and will find out what they decided when we hear from them tomorrow.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Aconcagua Group reaches Plaza Argentina - January 19, 2013

We received a call this afternoon Jared telling us that the group had reached Plaza Argentina and had setup their camp for the next several days. Everyone sounded to be in high spirits despite really mixed weather including hail and light snow on the tail end of the hike up. 
Evidently the river was bumping a bit more than usual and the crossing was slightly more complicated than in past seasons.

They will rest as planned tomorrow and then make a carry to Camp 1 the following day if the weather holds up and everyone is adjusting to the altitude.  Jared and I were able to speak for a bit longer than the past few nights because the valley is wider up by the base camp and the sat phone calls last longer with more view of the sky.

He said they had about an inch of snow, which melted within a hour as the ground was warm from sunshine earlier in the day. All of this sounds prett standard for this time of year. We have experienced lightning in the past, but it sounds like that was not an issue today.

Base camp is pretty comfortable. If you want to spend the money you can get a hot shower, a cold beer, check e-mail, and even order a pizza.  This makes it sound more lavish than it really is, but overall it is a nice place.  There is usually water that has been run of to the camp via long plastic hoses from a nearby glacier melt fed spring. The main goal at this camp is to get ready to move up to the higher camps, get strong, and organize everything now that the team will need to carry all of their supplies 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Aconcagua Group at Casa Piedra - Jan 18, 2013

Jared called in at 1:30 pm PST (6:30 Aconcagua time) to let us know that they had reached the Casa Piedra Camp at 10,500' on the approach hike to Plaza Argentina, basecamp for their climb of Aconcagua.  He said the hike today took just over 6 hours and that everyone was doing well.  There is evidently just enough wind to keep the heat from being an issue, but it is not so windy as to be a nuisance.

They had very clear views up to the summit of Aconcagua and were able to get a bunch of good photos of the mountain.  Much of the fresh food goes in on the backs of the mules in plastic barrels and a cooler and Jared was pretty excited that nothing had been damaged.  He did mention that they have ben carrying their eggs and have enough to have real eggs for breakfast for awhile to come.

At this point the group is practicing things like pitching tents and securing them against the wind, working to make sure they do not get blisters and starting to acclimate.  The basecamp at Plaza Argentina is at 13,600' so it makes sense to take a few days to slowly work your way up to that elevation in order to let your body acclimate to the new altitude.

The hike up the Relinchos Valley tomorrow is steep at times and can be slow going.  The goal is to take their time as they won't be super well acclimated at this point.  Once at basecamp we usually take a rest day the next day.  More news coming when we get it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Aconcagua Group at La Lena Camp - January 17, 2013

Jared Called this afternoon to let us know that the group had reached the first camp in the Vacas Valley, La Lena.  The valley is pretty tight there, so the sat phone calls are very short, but he was able to let us know that the group had had a good day, had eaten dinner, and everyone was psyched to be on the way in.

Evidently they were on the trail walking by 10:30 am and arrived in camp by 4:15 pm.  Tomorrows hike will take them to Casa Piedra and follows the same valley.  This second day is a bit tougher than the first, but is pretty reasonable over all.  Just prior to arriving at Casa Piedra they will get their first view of Aconcagua as they look up the impressive Relinchos Valley.

The plan at Casa Piedra is to have the arrieros (Mule Drivers) make them a steak dinner cooked Argentine style over the fire.  Only 2 of the 3 team members eat meat, so I suspect they will get more than their fill of beef.

Once the team arrives at Plaza Argentina, the day after tomorrow, we should be able to have longer sat phone calls and will fill you in on any more specific details of their trip thus far.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Aconcagua Group Packed & Ready to go

Jared Bonea checked in with us this afternoon and reported that the group is all packed up and ready to head in tomorrow.  After Ted and Julia's luggage showed up one day late, the group delayed by one day and arrived in Penitentes today.  They spent the day packing loads for the mules and separating the gear that they will need for the hike in.  The plan from here is to start for the trailhead tomorrow morning and hike to the first camp at La Lena, located at around 8,850'.  Penitentes is at 8,200' and they will actually drive down hill to the trailhead.

The hike is is actually fairy moderate, but the weather can vary from hot and dusty to cold and snowing lightly.  The camp itself at La Lena is right next to the Vacas River and is a pit of a dustbowl.  During JR's first trip to the area back in 1993 they actually had to walk across the river without the bridge and in many ways it was one of the most dangerous parts of the trip.

Things have changed a bit, but you still feel like you are walking into the unknown as you head up the massive Vacas valley knowing that the game plan is to hike up and over Aconcagua over the course of the next two weeks.  Vacas means cows in Spanish and the place used to have plenty of cows, but protected park status eventually kept the cows and cowboys out.

Mules will carry the bulk of their gear for the next 3 days and they will carry everything they need for each days hike with enough held back to keep them comfortable should something happen with the mule loads.  The mules will generally start later than the hikers and they will usually only be together at night at camp.  The mules will go as high as the basecamp at Plaza Argentina and then make the long trip back down the valley for another group.

From here on out, most news will come via satellite phone and we will keep you posted as the group checks in.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

2013 Aconcagua Expedition Underway

Our 2013 Aconcagua Expedition has gathered in Mendoza, Argentina at the start of their attempt to climb the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.  Jared Bonea will be leading the group and will be climbing with Ted Brown and Julia Debold.

Ted, Julia, and Jared in Mendoza

Jared arrived in Mendoza on Sunday and Ted and Julia arrived yesterday.  They are in the process of sorting out luggage that was misplaced by the airline (fairly common unfortunately) and will be headed toward the mountain as soon as everything arrives.

They will be climbing via the Polish Glacier side of the mountain and will spend one day in Penitentes, near the trailhead, and then will spend three days hiking from the trailhead of the Vacas Valley to their basecamp at Plaza Argentina.

This is their planned itinerary:

Jan 13 - Day 1 : Leave US and fly to Mendoza, Argentina.
Jan 14 - Day 2: Arrive in Mendoza in afternoon or early evening. (Night in Mendoza)
Jan 15 - Day 3: Drive to Penitentes (8200') pack mule loads, and spend night.
Jan 16 - Day 4: Drive to Vacas Valley (7,600'), hike to La Lena (8,850'). (7 miles/4-5 hrs.)
Jan 17 - Day 5: Hike to Casa Piedra (10,500') (8 miles/5-7 hours.)
Jan 18 - Day 6: Hike up Relinchos Valley to Plaza Argentina BC (13,800') (6 miles/6 hrs.)
Jan 19 - Day 7: Rest Day at base camp.
Jan 20 - Day 8: Carry to Camp 1 (16,200') (4-6 hours up) & return to base camp.
Jan 21 - Day 9: Rest Day at Base camp.
Jan 22 - Day 10: Move to Camp 1.
Jan 23 - Day 11: Carry to Camp 2 (18,200') & return to Camp 1. (5 hours RT)
Jan 24 - Day 12: Rest at Camp 1.
Jan 25 - Day 13: Move to Camp 2.
Jan 26 - Day 14: Move to Camp 3 (19,600')
Jan 27 - Day 15: Possible Summit Day
Jan 28 - Day 16: Possible Summit Day
Jan 29 - Day 17: Possible Summit Day
Jan 30 - Day 18: Descend to Plaza Mulas on Ruta Normal
Jan 31 - Day 19: Complete hike out and return to Mendoza.
Feb 1 - Day 20: Extra Day
Feb 2 - Day 21: Return flight to US
Feb 3 - Day 22: Arrive in US

Bear in mind that the schedule on these things is heavily dependent on things like the weather, how well everyone acclimates, and of course, your luggage arriving on time.  We will be posting updates as we get them from the mountain.  Remember that "no news is good news," and there will often be gaps between reports, particularly when the group is simply resting.

More information on Guided Aconcagua Expeditions.