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  Aconcagua 2004 Dispatch One

Everest summitter and veteran guide Andy Politz will lead a small team of climbers on Aconcagua in January, 2004. Politz will be leading childhood friend Matt Brennan and fellow guide Chris Simmons along the normal route on Aconcagua beginning January 6. This is Andy’s first trip on Aconcagua and it will prove to be interesting. Known for his insights into climbing, Andy will be testing and challenging his team as they attempt the summit of Aconcagua (22,829’) during the 16 day trip.

Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in the Americas and the highest mountain in the world outside of Asia. It is one of the coveted seven summits. Located along the Chilean/Argentina border, the ascent to the summit offers stunning views of the Andes mountain range. The “Stone Sentinel” as the mountain is known, rises nearly 4,000 feet above the nearby landscape and truly dominates the Andes range.

Dispatch One: Final Meeting and Gear Check

Like all climbs, the amount of time spent in preparation is nearly as equal or in some instances much greater than the time involved in the climb itself. This being my first real expedition, our team has spent a great deal of time coordinating all facets of the trip from logistics, to gear to routes. Early on we decided that I would handle logistics, Andy Politz would handle gear and Chris Simmons would handle routes.

I started nearly a year ago searching for an Argentine company to handle our accommodations. This is a tall order given the fact we are a non-supported group. With the experience of our team, we did not need, nor desire a Company that would “guide” us on the mountain. Moreover, we wanted the basics, transportation, permits, “slots’ on the mountain and the all important ride to the grocery store. This is critical to the success of the climb. Who wants to travel 3000 miles to find themselves stranded at the airport or without the proper visas and travel papers? After searching the internet, talking with fellow climbers and using our Ecuador climbing companions as a resource, we settled on Aconcagua Adventures. Our contact-“Ricardo” has handled all our requirements including transportation from Santiago, Chile. We are set with spots on the mountain and other support items like mules. We will use two mules to transport gear to Plaza De Mulas which enables us to go in light to base camp. We will then carry loads to the higher camps.

Andy I met on Monday to go over our final gear list. It is truly amazing dealing with a pro like Andy. His attention to detail is flawless and his experience in the needs of high altitude climbing is right up there with the best. We reviewed and inspected every article of gear, from the tent stakes to socks to duffle bags. One of Andy’s chief concerns is the wind. Our research tells us to expect winds ranging from calm to upwards of 70 mph. At altitude, this can lead to disaster if you are not prepared. One of Andy’s gear requirements is a face mask. He swears by the OR Gorilla Mask which he wore on Everest in 99 and 01. Andy likens the temperatures on summit day to that of Everest and we spent a great deal of time covering how we are protecting our extremities. Our eye protection, face and feet where all broken down in detail with Andy coming up with the idea that we use close cell foam padding in our boots as liners against the cold. He plans to cut our sleeping pads in the calf area and use that as inserts in the soles of our plastic boots!!!!!  After my meeting with Andy, I am confident we have the proper gear to enable us to reach the summit.

Chris has spent countless hours meeting with fellow RMI Guides to gain knowledge of what we can expect from the route, the conditions of the route and what is available (water?) along the way. In particular, Chris has met with Casey Grom and Alex Van Steen, two Aconcagua veterans who have described varying issues ranging from dust and dirt to coordinating what we pack on the mules who will carry 180 lbs of our gear to base camp. One tip that Casey suggested was to bring canisters of “compressed air” like those that you use to clean photography equipment or electronics. Casey reports that the wind at lower elevations results in dust storms which wreak havoc on cameras and stoves. Now taking pictures is one thing, but losing a stove to dirt or dust could end the climb. Like all well planned trips we have back up stoves but you would rather not risk gear problems if can avoid it.  

We depart this Sunday-after a team dinner and good-byes to our families. More later after our arrival in Mendoza!!!! Matt

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