Aconcagua - Rainier - Squamish - Washington - Liberty
Going for the Top! Day Thirteen

Today was the day... we woke up at 3 a.m. and started checking the weather. It was very cloudy and windy.  I thought our luck had finally run out. I would always have this fear inside that after all the preparations, effort and time spent on the mountain; the weather would ultimately decide our fate and not our own abilities. So we watched and waited until 5 a.m. It cleared up a little but it was turning out to being a sketchy day. And that could easily translate into a storm in the wrong place and at the wrong time.  We finally decided to give it a go and if the weather disagreed well, we would turn back and call it a practice day! We also decided that we should not go past three hours of climbing because we would lose too much precious energy for another attempt. Three hours may not seem like a lot of climbing time, but I quickly learned that at 19,500 ft., it could easily mean the difference between success and failure. We pounded down as much food as we could eat, drank a lot of water, grabbed our packs and started out at 5:30 am with our headlamps on.  It was very cold as we started up the first thousand feet, taking it step-by-step.  I was very anxious, pressure breathing immediately, wanting to do well.  We made it to a place called the Independentia Hut, at 21,000 feet.  This little hut is claimed to being the highest man-made structure in the world.  It is here where we reached the deciding point of the entire climb.

It was the crucial moment of the climb because the decision we would take here to attempt the summit or turn back would be a committing move either way. The next section was the traverse that led to the infamous Canaleta Chute, the last difficult part of the climb before the summit. This 800 foot Chute of rock and gravel, that resembles a huge wind tunnel in bad weather, is renowned for turning away climbers. If we had to turn back once in the Canaleta, we would have spent precious energy, and this would seriously affect another summit attempt the following day. We were watching very closely the clouds 2,000 feet below us in the valley. They were dark and uninviting, hovering along the mountainside, undecided as to which way they were going. Were they creeping up the mountain towards us, or were they headed down the valley. We watched and waited patiently. It felt like we were there for hours and I was getting very cold, not moving. It was cold enough that day that we were climbing with our parkas on.

The whole climb was coming down to this precise moment and I really didn't want it to be a question of POSSIBLE bad weather that would decide the outcome of this expedition. We both wanted to commit to pursuing the climb. We wanted to use our energy now and try for the summit. We didn't want to wait for the unknown to decide for us, and we were getting colder by the minute.

Finally, we looked at each other and said, “let's go, it's now or never. Will keep a real close eye on those clouds!” So we headed towards the Canaleta. The traverse took 1 ½ hours and during that time, the clouds stayed where they were, waiting, undecided. So we continued, now committed for as long as the weather would hold. It was very cold and we were both feeling it in our hands and especially our feet. It was 10:30 am when we made it to the base of the Canaleta Chute. And by that time, we were confident we took the right decision, because the clouds slowly went down the valley and it turned out to be a nice day! I was happy, really happy.  After our final 10 minute rest, we started up the 800 foot Chute, moving much more slowly now, cautiously, feeling the altitude and lack of oxygen, taking two to three breaths for every step and pausing often to catch our strength. It was an amazing experience for me; climbing until my energy would drain and have no choice but to stop to regain my breath. And as soon as I would stop, I would feel an immediate change as if I was reenergizing. Within moments, I was good to go again.

We took it step by step, and I finally placed my foot on the summit of Aconcagua at 1:30 p.m. It was a beautiful day, a great day for me. It was magical. The strength I felt inside myself when I stood on top of the mountain was almost indescribable. After thirteen days of climbing, the satisfaction of reaching my goal was wonderful. We stayed on the summit for ½ hour, took pictures, enjoyed the view, and congratulated 2 other climbers who joined us on top. Then we proceeded to finish our climb! Which meant that we slowly and safely made our way back down to our tent, by 6 pm. We drank, ate and slept until the next morning.

We woke up at 7 am, packed all our gear and headed towards Base Camp on the West side of the mountain, via the Standard Route.  We were so energized that we made it down the 9,000 feet in only 4 hours. At Base Camp, we had our first big meal in two weeks: Soup, Steak and tomatoes. It was the best steak I’ve had in Years! We felt so good after the meal that we decided we would continue down the Horcones Valley and exit the mountain that day instead of resting until the following day. We descended and walked out for the next eight hours and made it out by 9 pm.

We hitched a ride back to our hotel, had another great steak dinner that evening, and that ended my successful Aconcagua expedition.

Francois Langlois

The Traverse

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