Sunday, February 9, 2014

Success without a Summit?

I know this post is written about a month later than intended, but sometimes it's difficult to be able to reflect well on experiences after they've just happened. Some time, distance, and space allow us to understand and more importantly justify our decisions. As I'm sure you've guessed, we did not summit Aconcagua or else I probably would have posted (bragged) about it sooner. But does a summit mean success?

That question epitomizes the feelings I've felt since our return to the US on Christmas day.  Here are some thoughts I reported to the folks at Asolo after just getting back...

"We ended up not even getting above base camp unfortunately. One of my friends had never been mountaineering at altitude before (he had been mountaineering, and at altitude, but not together) and he was doing fine until our acclimatization hike up to Plaza Franzia. He's super strong/fit and just wasn't able to go slow enough and wasn't breathing often enough. Anyways, he started to get a headache which was fine. I assumed that overnight he would drink more water and continue to breathe so that it would go away. However, he also was having a hard time getting his O2 sat to where it needed to be. The medica that signed our permits at Confluencia was kinda iffy with his number (84-88) for being so low down.

The next day - our move to base camp should have only taken 6-8 hours, but his headache hadn't gone away and hiking uphill certainly wasn't helping. The rest of us ended up splitting up the belongings in his back pack and letting him carry practically nothing at all. As it was nearing dark, the 2 other group members went ahead to set up camp and I stayed back with him. Finally, 11.5 hours later we got to Plaza de Mulas (base camp). Luckily the next day was our rest day and we hoped that he would start to feel some what better.

The following afternoon we had another doctor's appointment and his O2 was in the low 70s compared to our low 90s reading so he wasn't allowed to carry to Camp Canada the next day like we had planned. I decided that another rest day wouldn't be the worst thing for us so we could spend some more time scouting the route and trying to get as acclimatized to 14.5k as possible. However, Jordan wasn't getting any better. In fact he started to feel nauseous and was unable to get up without a throbbing head even after taking ibuprofen. Another concerning problem was that he was starting to develop some fluid in his lungs on the lower right side. The whole next day the doctors kept monitoring him, but his breathing at night was terrible - rasping shallow breaths with intermittent rales.

Since he had a history of asthma, they tried to give him lots of albuterol with his inhaler at 15 min intervals for several hours but it unfortunately had no effect.The doctors kept saying that we could probably keep waiting to see if he would get any better, but I felt it seemed unlikely and really his best option was to head down and this is where we hit a dilemma. The rest of us were doing very well and were eager to keep going, but I wasn't ok with letting him go down on his own especially in a country where he didn't speak any spanish, he didn't have a phone, and had limited funds. Now in the WFR handbook it explicitly says that someone with AMS should NOT go down alone, and I definitely agreed. Although he wasn't doing terribly, it still was a 20 mile walk in the hot sun and at significant altitude to go down.

After a lot of discussion I decided to turn us around. I know that lots of people climb Aconcagua solo all the time, and if one person went home with Jordan two could keep going, when I planned this trip I wanted 4 people as the bare minimum number. That way if anything went wrong we could still keep the buddy system. Since we were only at base camp and hadn't started any of the harder stuff I didn't want to have such a small group. We could have waited longer, but poor Jordan was miserable - having a headache for 5 days would not be fun, not to mention he had to sleep at a 45 degree angle so that his rales didn't get any worse. And if we had waited one more day at base camp then there was supposed to be three days of bad weather with el viente blanco with significantly colder temps higher on the mountain which could limit our movements or even keep us at base camp. Then we would have only had 1 day to summit assuming that we could descend from high camp all the way to the park entrance.

I think my trying to justify it. To reassure myself that I made the right decision. I know the mountain will always be there and I'll probably have another chance to go down there but I was the one who made the call to go down. I'd been working on saving up for this trip for 14 months and it's crazy that it ended so abruptly and not at all in the way I anticipated. It was especially difficult because I could see the summit, the trail up to camp 2, and the Canaleta from my tent at base camp. It was so close and so feasible but I keep replaying the situation over and over and I know I'd made the same decision again without hesitation."

The more I look back on that experience the more I realize how I absolutely made the right decision to turn us around. There is no sense in trying to push any higher when the safety of the team could be compromised. It's just not worth it. I also realized that part of why this is so difficult for me is that there is no one I can "blame" for this. As the leader of this expedition and the one who decided to turn us around I can't put this on anyone else. When I've done other mountains that were guided and we didn't reach the summit, even though I knew it was weather, I also put the responsibility of the turn around on the guides. But this trip was different. This one is on me.

So the question still remains, how was I successful? Well, everyone returned home in one piece, which is the most important thing so that was a success. But looking back on WHY I decided to attempt Aconcagua in the first place helped me really solidify my success. In an email I sent to a friend about my decision to head south and tackle this mountain was for the following reasons:

1. organize and do all the logistics of a complicated and lengthy expedition
2. plan a route and research the best way to attempt a mountain
3. push my comfort limits to try a mountain that is on the cusp of what I'm comfortable with
4. experience another culture and see another part of the world that I'd never even considered before

Reaching the summit was never my first priority. Sure it would have been awesome, and my school would probably have loved the publicity, AND I would have had a sweet profile picture on Facebook, but I accomplished all of the goals that I set for myself. Therefore I was successful.

This was an interesting learning opportunity for me to really think about how I define success and how the traditional definition of success is not something that I should compare myself to. I am capable of creating my own idea of what it is and then acting upon it accordingly. I don't need anyone else to tell me what success is and that is probably the most important thing I've taken away from this experience, and for that I'm grateful.

So thank you to my family, friends, Asolo, and Patagonia for not only supporting me with the trip preparations but for providing me with this wisdom and insight that will help me to be a more independent and self-defining individual.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Aconcagua tomorrow!!

Well, we made it to Argenina with only a slight delay in Santiago, Chile yesterday mid-day. That afternoon we attempted to get our permits, got breakfast, lunch, and additional dinner foods. After organizing the food last night and eating a delicious steak dinner we went to bed. This morning, Nicolas from Grajales Expeditions - our mule service rescued us and we got our permits, but not without additional hassle with the banks. We spent our morning today packing and organizing. This afternoon weŕe taking a bus to Los Penitentes where were staying at the Ayelen Hotel. And tomorrow weŕe hitting the trail!

The lastest we will be back is January 6th. I might be able to get internet access at Plaza de Mulas depending on the price. If not Ill be sure to give a more detailed description when Iḿ not using a keyboard in Argentina.

Until then, hasta luego!


Monday, November 11, 2013

Presenting at the 19th Annual Ouray Ice Festival

         Not only do I have the opportunity to present for the Appalachian Mountain Club in Boston, but the day after I get back from Aconcagua I'm flying to Ouray, Colorado to give a presentation at their 19th Annual Ice Festival! On behalf of Asolo, I'm presenting about my ten year journey of climbing the tallest mountains in each of the 50 states.

         The Ouray Ice Festival is a four day event of presentations, ice climbing clinics, and of course a mixed ice and speed competition sponsored by Asolo and Rock and Ice Magazine. I've only ever been to one ice festival before, the Mount Washington Ice Festival, but there wasn't an ice climbing competition. I'm very excited to watch what I'm sure is going to be a fantastic demonstration of athleticism and skill.

         My presentation is the first night of the extravaganza and I'm honored to be asked to present. Other speakers include Adrian Ballinger one of 70 IFMGA/AMGA certified guide with multiple 8,000 meter peak ascents, Ueli Steck - famous Swiss mountaineer with his most recent accomplishment of a solo ascent up the south face of Annapurna, and Aaron Mulkey an adventurous ice climber and kayaker in Wyoming and surrounding areas. I'm so excited to meet Ueli Steck especially, but the line up of presenters looks awesome!

         Not only am I presenting at the ice festival, but I'm talking to the local high school Friday morning. Asolo offers a scholarship to a graduating senior who plans to continue their education in some sort of outdoor focused area. I'm not sure if I'm more excited to present to the athletes or the students. I feel like I could have a bigger impact on the students in getting them engaged in the outdoors whereas the athletes have already realized how special the mountains are.

          After the festival ends on Sunday, I'm flying back to Maine so that I can go to school the following Monday. Even though I'm missing the first week of classes, Aconcagua and the opportunity to present as an event as big as the Ouray Ice Fest are 100% worth it.

          Here's a link to the Schedule of Events for the ice festival:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Appalachian Mountain Club's 138th Annual Summit

One of my speaking engagements for this winter is as keynote speaker for the Appalachian Mountain Club's Annual Summit at the Norwood Hotel and Conference Center in Norwood, MA. This weekend event is taking place January 24th and 25th.

Here's a link to the AMC's website:

Not only am I the keynote speaker for the dinner the night of the 25th, but I'm also giving a presentation that day in which I will talk in depth about my climb up Mt. McKinley. It's going to be a wonderful weekend, with great meetings and workshops to attend so make sure to book your tickets in advance!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tickets are Booked!

          Officially, I can now say that I'm going to attempt Aconcagua this winter. Tickets were booked last night before the prices could get any higher! I've been an avid follower of the price fluctuations on 6 major airline booking companies, and decided that it was time. We are flying out of Boston on December 15th with two connecting flights; one in Miami and one in Santiago, Chile before finally arriving in Mendoza, Argentina a mere 22 hours later...

          Now that the tickets have been purchased, the reality of my trip has completely hit me. I can't believe that this is actually happening! It still seemed like a cool idea, but an impossibility until I got the confirmation email. From a crazy idea to going to South America is amazing!

          I've set a picture of Aconcagua as my background on my computer so I have more some motivation to stay active and get psyched for this trip!

          A hora tengo que practicar mi español para comprender y hablar con los argentinos! (or is it por comprender...) Yikes, I'd better hit the books!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

October Update

So since my last post, a plethora of new and exciting things have developed!

          From where I left off last time, my family and I had a successful ascent of Mt. Katahdin  despite horrible rainy weather, but at least we got some fantastic pictures! Following our hike, we spent the evening in Millinocket, ME at the Highpointers' Konvention where, I was recognized with an official plaque of my high pointing accomplishment! There were a number of 50 state completers, but I was the only female of the group!

          The rest of my summer was spent working as much as I could and hitting the gym trying to get prepared for Aconcagua. I worked as a camp counselor, babysitter, house and alpaca sitter, ironer, painter, and customer service rep for my uncle's company! My summer culminated with a trip out west to Mt. Rainier with 2 other members of my Aconcagua expedition: my stepdad Bill and friend Jono. Since Jono had never been to altitude before, we thought Rainier would be the perfect place, especially since Bill still had to climb Rainier to get his 48th high point. The trip was wonderful and even though I forgot my liner socks, which led to horrible blisters, Bill and Jono were able to summit! I got to the crater rim and let them go to Columbia Crest - the true high point. We had planned to then attempt Mt. Adams, but my feet weren't up for it so we toured around Washington and Oregon until flying back home.

          After arriving back in Vermont, I had a filmmaker come to my house for the day and interview me and my family about our high pointing experience. Gary Wolff (former NatGeo filmmaker) and his wife Kathy are producing a movie about high pointing and they though that we would be good to highlight.

         Now, I'm back at school and still working just as hard this summer. I have four jobs at school because I still need to earn some more before our trip this winter. On top of that, I'm taking four rigorous classes, I've officially declared my major as Environmental Chemistry, and I'm still trying to stay active in clubs.

          In terms of my progress for Aconcagua, I have just recently finalized my team! There will be four of us, my stepdad, two friends from school: Jono and Jordan, and myself. We are departing from Boston on December 15th, just two days after finals end and flying to Mendoza. We've budgeted 21 days for our ascent including 6 or 7 extra days for weather or whatever else may arise. We should summit (hopefully) right around New Years and then be back home Wednesday January 8th.

          Then, the next day (Thursday), I'm flying out to Ouray, CO to give a presentation for Asolo at the Ouray Ice Festival. Ouray is an incredible outdoors ice climbing park and the festival is the biggest one in North America, I'm honored to be asked to speak! After giving a presentation at the festival, I'm also giving one to the Ouray high school, where I hope I can inspire kids, both male and female to learn about goal setting, self-discipline, persistence, and to love the outdoors as much as I do.

          That's all for now, but I encourage you to check out my new picture album covering my summer adventures!!!


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2013 Annual Highpointers Convention

Each year the location of the annual Highpointers Convention changes among the fifty states. Last year it was Oregon, the year before Ohio, both places that aren't too easy or inexpensive to get to. However, this year, the convention is in Maine, a breezy 7.5 hour drive away!

Tomorrow afternoon, my Mom, Bill, Billy, Danny, and I are piling into our minivan with the trunk packed with gear to make our way to Mt. Katahdin, the tallest point in Maine. We'll arrive late tomorrow night and Thursday morning begin the hike into Chimney Pond. We've given ourselves plenty of time if there's afternoon thunderstorms because as of right now things could get exciting in the afternoons later this week.

Last time I was at Mt. Katahdin was this February as a member of Wilderness Rescue, a Search and Rescue team based out of Grey, Maine. We spent a week going of winter skills and completing mock rescues scenarios. But the last time my family was at Baxter State Park was in July of 2005! That was before Billy and Danny were allowed above tree line (no one under 6 is allowed above tree line) so Ryan, Bill, Mom, and myself had to execute a "divide and conquer" technique. That was where Bill and I went to summit, while Mom and Ryan stayed at Chimney Pond with Billy and Danny. After we had reached the summit, we swapped with Mom and Ryan and let them summit too.

A very distinct memory of our trip in '05 was that there were tons of moose! Bill woke up one night and heard a strange munching sound a few feet away from the end of our lean-to. He shone his flashlight on the noise, and a giant moose was having a snack less than 10 feet away from us! Bill woke us all up so we could watch him and it was wildly exciting! I'm hoping we'll get to see some more interesting wildlife this weekend, but I won't mind if it's from more of a distance.

Wish us luck!