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The Dark Side of Mounatineering

Two mountaineers navigating a glacier on a Gasherbrum II Expedition

Remember all those photos of us on Antisana last week? Remember the smiles, the blue skies, the incredible views, and the story of how we sat on top for over half an hour? Today we experienced the other side of mountaineering. While four of the team still ended up standing on Chimborazo’s summit (20,703 feet, Ecuador’s highest), this time we spent only 3 or 4 minutes there. Even taking pictures was almost impossible.

Why? Our 10 hour round trip push was done almost completely in whiteout conditions with winds gusting to over 60 miles per hour. This meant that everything took twice as much work. Whether climbing, changing layers, eating a packet of GU, or trying to take photos, the wind was constantly pushing you around and robbing you of your precious body heat. As if the 5,000 feet of vertical from the climber’s hut to the summit wasn’t enough work, we had to do it without any break longer than three minutes since we would be shivering in two.
But this side of mountaineering is important, and in some ways even more fulfilling than on those perfect blue-sky days. Our only real loss today (other than the half hour we spent searching in a true whiteout for a way off of the summit) was not having our teammate Paul on the summit with us. He made the difficult decision to turn around part way up the peak due to a nasty stomach bug. This decision is always the hardest- while he might have been strong enough to make the summit, he knew doing so would endanger himself and his teammates.
So now our trip is racing to an end. Today we are recuperating in the jungle town of Banos. Tomorrow we head to Quito for a final night of celebration before we all fly back to the families and loved ones we are missing! Thanks for following us on our adventure. And stay tuned for dispatches from Patagonia in February.