Mt. Aconcagua, Argentina - 22,841' - February 2011
Aconcagua is the highest mountain in South America. It is the highest mountain outside of Asia and the second highest peak among the Seven Summits. The climbing season begins in November goes through March. The weather on Mt. Aconcagua is severe and, at times, extreme. It is one of the most common obstacles getting to the top. These weather conditions, from one extreme to another, can happen all at once.
As I set out to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the questions I asked myself were that of training and mental preparedness. "Was it enough to achieve my goal of reaching the summit?" The second climb, Mt. Elbrus, stressed the importance of teamwork as we traversed steep slopes and crevasses roped together, all the while enduring extreme weather conditions. Although Mt. Kosciuszko was the least challenging in terms of physical difficulty, I learned that I can have an impact on others by sharing goals, dreams, and fears.
All these experiences bring me to my fourth and most challenging climb. Even though the previous mountains prepared me for Mt. Aconcagua, there were some things I was not prepared for.
It's really hard to know where to start on this journey. The first of the challenges began as we reached Camp 2. A blizzard blew in causing the team to question their resolve in reaching the top. Although blizzards are not unusual, and we are generally prepared for them, being confined to a tent for three days will have a negative effect on your mental state. During this difficult situation, my tentmate confessed to me that he was not confident he would summit. He felt like he was the weakest link on the team. I tried to encourage and support him without letting his negativity interfere with my own personal goal of summiting the mountain. Unfortunately after reaching High Camp and attempting the summit, he was unable to finish; in part, I believe, because he told himself he couldn't do it. The solitude of those three days, along with my tentmate's struggle to find his own strength and focus to succeed, made this climb tougher than I could have imagined; and the worst was yet to come.
As the storm blew in, a team from Great Britain decided to move on to High Camp and attempt the summit. It was a decision that came at a high price. As the weather cleared, and we made our way to High Camp, we received the news that three members of that team perished in the blizzard. Not only that, but we would likely pass the bodies on our way up. The unimaginable had happened, and even though you know the risks involved, it doesn't prepare you for when real life and death occurs. As difficult as that was, we persevered on to reach the summit. With unbearable weather conditions and the images of the three fellow climbers fresh in our minds, four out of the nine members on my team stood at the top of Mt. Aconcagua with humbled hearts and gratitude for the accomplishment achieved.
The experience on this mountain gave me a greater appreciation for my life and the things that give me purpose. I don't have a death wish as I take on these majestic quests, but I do have a passion to do great things and inspire others to find their dream.