Friday, December 30, 2011

Ecuador High Altitude Expedition #1 – The Hermann Family – Dispatch 7

Hermann Family Expedition 

December 23, 2011 to January 3, 2012

Guides:  Pepe Landazuri and Freddy Tipan

Climbers:  Mark, Wendy, Mackenzie, Chelsea, and Gavin Hermann and Dave Garrabrant

Mark called at 9:40pm with the following dispatch.

"I am very pleased to tell you that Dave reached the summit of Cayambe today.  We are all very excited about that.

Mackenzie felt ill about half-way up, so she decided to go down with one of the guides and Wendy decided to accompany her.

The rest of us continued to 18,200 feet where we confronted the crevasse that we had heard about.  Though he had been doing perfectly well up until just a little below that point, Gavin began feeling badly from the altitude and needed to go down. 

There was no way to know if the route would ‘go’ or not, and the guides had no way to know how long it would take, but they estimated a worst case scenario of one-and-a-half hours.  Chelsea was feeling good and as strong as ever, but she was concerned about having enough energy for the long descent.  So she thought it best if she were to go down.  I was having something of a high altitude headache, so I thought would go down too with Chelsea and Gavin.

So Dave continued with Pepe, and after about 30 minutes they summited.  They skirted below the crevasse for a good distance and then found one steep section they could climb, and once they were successfully on top of that, there were no more barriers cutting them off from the summit.

We were so close!  After hearing that, Chelsea of course wished she had continued.  She is so strong and has been throughout the trip, I know she would have been fine going up and on the long descent.

We are very happy that Dave made it to the top and could represent the team there.

Everyone felt better during the descent.  Losing altitude quickly works wonders for acute mountain sickness, including the general malaise and the headaches.  Gavin was having the most trouble, and before we lost 1000 feet he was feeling fine again.

Dave was the only one who slept last night, and I think the lack of sleep made the climb harder.  The engine was tuned, but the fuel in the tank wasn’t premium, or high test as they used to call it.

But having provided all those details, I need to say it was a beautiful day, and we had a great climb.  This is a very impressive mountain, and we were very pleased to have the privilege to explore its upper reaches.  The beauty we saw today was truly awe-inspiring.

I also should tell you that the scenes we have witnessed, as we have been traveling through the countryside since we got here, make us feel like we are a living National Geographic.  Some of the things that come to mind are the ride to Cayambe hut on an extremely rough, exposed, and washed out road; little kids washing hair in buckets on front porch of their simple homes; women gathering up sticks for firewood and wrapping them in cloth to carry home on their backs; and heavily loaded vehicles that carry far more people and goods than we would think could possibly be securely put atop four wheels.  So many scenes have been remarkable and unforgettable.

Totally different, I should add that it’s also been fun to be around climbers from different countries.  We’ve met Japanese, Australian, German, American, and Ecuadorian climbers.  Two German climbers showed up at the hut – I think part of their ‘round the world climbing trip – and today they were climbing in Lycra.  We had lots of layers on and were just keeping warm, so that was pretty strange to see.

In sum, it was a day with some summit disappointment but nonetheless truly a great day.  Aside from some challenges with the altitude that no one could do anything about (aside from go down), everything else was good.  Everyone did a superb job in the climbing.  Skills were applied with great care, a good pace on the rope teams was kept, and all was very secure.  It was a very good climbing experience.

We are now planning to move on to Cotopaxi rather than Antisana as we had originally planned.  Cotopaxi has a little bit better weather than Antisana, and since the weather has been a little more unsettled this December than most, we think it is a better choice.

We’re at beautiful Hacienda Guachala now.  We had a great dinner – relived the climb over dinner, and now people are in their rooms ready to sleep – and I’m sure it will be a very deep sleep indeed.

That’s the news from our team.  Thanks again for all the good wishes.  Good night!”

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ecuador High Altitude Expedition #1 – The Hermann Family – Dispatch 6

Hermann Family Expedition 

December 23, 2011 to January 3, 2012

Guides:  Pepe Landazuri and Freddy Tipan

Climbers:  Mark, Wendy, Mackenzie, Chelsea, and Gavin Hermann and Dave Garrabrant

“Hello again from Cayambe,

As planned, we did more glacier climbing skills today and some ice climbing too.  We also worked on self-rescue using prusiks.  We got a lot in! 

We’re going to bed now because we plan to get up at 11pm and leave at midnight – an hour earlier than I normally start groups.  We talked to the AAI Australian-American Expedition that came down from the mountain after their summit attempt this morning, and they told us that they were blocked near the top by a large crevasse.

So we are going to start an hour earlier so that when we get to that crevasse, we can scout a new route around it fist to the north and then if necessary to the south.  There is no guarantee that there is any way around it, but if there is one there, we intend to find it.

OK.  Here’s Mark.”

“Hello to everyone back home. 

The weather was nice today and we had a lot of fun.  It’s a beautiful mountain to be on.

Everyone did very well and Wendy really took to the vertical ice – she has now found things in climbing that work for her, and it appears that it’s steep ice!  She really enjoyed it and did a great job.

I have a message from me to Bobby, Wes. and Nick:  the feet are hanging in there!

And Dave has one for his parents:  ‘I love you guys.  I’m having a great time.  Hey, I love coffee now.  And I had trout tonight!   I absolutely love the mountains and climbing and everything to do with it.’

For those of you who don’t know Dave, his parents are going to be impressed.  He did not eat fish in the past.  Clearly there’s a small revolution or renaissance going on here!

Back to mountain issues, we were disappointed for other group that they were unable to summit.  They said they had a really good climb, but it would have been great for them to get to the very top.  We’re hoping to find a way obviously.  We see what we can find.

Everyone is a little nervous – but excited – to begin the ascent.  Everyone has done an excellent job getting their gear ready for the climb.  Each person has a good sense of what they need and how to pack it.  They’re very organized."

[ At this point we read Mark the two new messages from Barb Garrabrant and from Sarah and Jeff.  He had us read them twice so he could accurately convey them to the crew when he went back inside the hut. ]

"Thanks for the messages.  They are very fun to get, and everybody is enjoying your words of encouragement.  And the crew enjoys knowing that you are following us along our trail.

Oh yes, since Sarah brought up the subject of the 'awesome food' we are eating,  I have to report on dinner.  It was another excellent achievement by our chef.   Appetizer:  fresh pineapple from the Amazon Basin (just down the road).   EntrĂ©e:  fresh trout almandine (from a lake in the central valley) with mashed potatoes flavored delicately – and with Amazonian avocados as a side dish.  Dessert:  peaches.

I have to say, the fruit is knocking people over.  It’s sooooo good!

Dave and Gavin are becoming quite the buddies.  Dave is already talking about going out to ice climb with Gavin when he is at Western State in Gunnison, Colorado, next year.  Clearly he is hooked on climbing!

OK, we need to head to bed, but I want to say to family and friends, we each appreciate your thoughts and encouragement.  We’ll do our best on the mountain tonight.  It is very exciting to meet this challenge together.  Thanks for your support as we give it our best.”

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ecuador High Altitude Expedition #1 – The Hermann Family – Dispatch 5

Hermann Family Expedition 

December 23, 2011 to January 3, 2012

Guides:  Pepe Landazuri and Freddy Tipan

Climbers:  Mark, Wendy, Mackenzie, Chelsea, and Gavin Hermann and Dave Garrabrant

Pepe and Mark called Wednesday night after dinner with the following updates:

“Hello everyone.  This is Pepe again calling from Cayambe.

Today we had a really good day of skills practice.  We went up to a little over 16,000 feet again and worked on cramponing, ice axe usage, and roped team travel.  It wasn’t perfect in terms of conditions, for cramponing for example, because we had 3 to 5 inches of fresh snow on top of the ice from the last few days, but it was fine. 

And there were some areas with more snow, so that was great for snow school.  For those without climbing background (Wendy and Dave) we worked on how to kick steps on slopes of different gradients, how to self-arrest, how to plunge step coming down to save energy, things like that.  So today we ended up focusing on snow, and tomorrow we will concentrate on ice.

OK, here’s Mark.”

“Hi everyone!  We had a great day, and it was wonderful to be on the glacier climbing.  It was a little challenging for Wendy because she hasn’t been sleeping well and has been quite tired – and it is all new to her – but she was great and worked on the new skills with a lot of focus. 

It’s clear again now – we had some clouds and moisture coming and going during the day – and tomorrow should be better according to the weather report.  The last few days have been quite windy, which Pepe tells us is quite unusual for this time of year.  But today there has been no wind at all, and tomorrow is supposed to be calm too.

Tonight Pepe and Felipe the lead guide from the other AAI group made lasagna for the whole crew, and it was excellent.  They used several kinds of cheese, herbs, tomatoes, and chicken and got superb results!  This is some of the best food I’ve had in the mountains!

So today was a good one.  The kids are all strong and doing really well with the altitude.  Some people besides Wendy have had a hard time sleeping, but that has been about the only problem.

We have a message for Dave’s parents:  Dave is having all kinds of new experiences with the culture, the language, the climbing, and the food.  He says he’s never been much a of a food person, but these AAI chefs are getting him to try all sorts of new things and he is really enjoying the meals!  He is also quite taken by the climbing.  It too is new for him but he appears to have been reborn as a climber.  I think he is hooked, and we’re really just getting started!  He’s also really strong, so I think he’s gong to do very well on the climbs of Cayambe and Antisana.

We are taking another day tomorrow for more training on ice climbing and glacier travel, while two groups are going to try and climb to the summit, the other AAI team and a Japanese group.  I imagine the hut will be a little noisy from 11:30pm to the time they leave, but then it will be a very quiet night at the hut.

So tomorrow we’ll do skills in the morning and early afternoon, then have an easy late afternoon and go to bed really early, preparing for our summit climb starting late that night.  For those of you who don’t climb, we climb starting at night so we get the best possible snow and ice conditions underfoot – that is – nicely frozen-up.  The goal is to reach the summit around sunrise or at least before 9:00am, so the teams can get down before afternoon sun warms up the glacier.

We had beautiful views of Antisana this evening as the sun set on it.  The whole peak was in view.  We had some great colors.

To all our friends – thanks for all your support and your interest in what we are doing.  – We’ve having fun, doing really well.   Talk to you tomorrow.”


[At this point we read the three messages recently posted by friends and family.  Mark agreed “to convey them responsibly and accurately to the group.”  He got a kick out of the reference to the “Hermannization of Dave” and agreed to tell Gavin (who is quite a skilled climber) to pay attention to basic snow school!   He said the team is really enjoying getting the messages and the news from home.]