Saturday, March 27, 2010

Aconcagua 2010 - Acclimatization, Lightning and Injury

Monday, March 1 2010. Got up to a thin layer of fresh snow from overnight. Had breakfast at 9:45 today. This is my last two meals of pre-arranged room and board, but I managed to get Vanessa to swap out lunch with dinner and let me have another night. That way I could spend the day acclimatizing and get this show on the road.

It snowed again around 11, but by noon it was clear and dripping, but now my sleeping bag was in a safe spot. I packed my own lunch snacks and had a protein shake, then headed up the trail. My goal was 16,000', to make up for missing 15,000' on Sunday.

I dressed fairly lightly, since I was planning on moving quickly, and took off. In less than an hour I was at 15,000' below Conway Rocks.

Looking down on Plaza de Mulas from 15,000' - notice mostly clear sky. Below is Conway Rocks at about 15,700' - notice the stormy look.

I hit 16,000' just shy of Camp Canada in less than 2 hours - averaging 1,100' per hour. Great time. But just then I noticed lightning booming around my in the not too distant peaks to the North and West. What a conflict. I was feeling really really good and wanted badly to go on to see if I could hit 17,000' and keep my pace up. But then I noticed it was heading for whiteout, and snowing and I decided to turn around and not push it.

On the way down I started to hear a weird buzzing rattling noise and realized it was static zipping off the end of my Leki Makalu trekking pole behind my right ear where it was in the side sleeve of my pack. Lightning rod. Awesome.

I wasn't sure what to do. I'd been nearly hit by lightning in Montana and Colorado, and decided to dump the pack, which is the normal instructions, and as I dropped it noticed that it stopped buzzing.

Being of a somewhat naive scientific nature, I decided to test this interesting phenomenon by holding my other pole up until it started buzzing, to determine at what height it would start or stop buzzing. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! it zapped me through my gloves and forced my arm to clench and unclench my fist and I dropped it. Holy snot. I started running downhill and stopped by Conway Rocks where others where huddled down. Lightning blasted near my pack then, and I decided to go back and get my stuff.

I gathered it and by this time the snow had covered the trail so I felt a little lost, and soon all the zippers and a few other odd places on my clothes started to buzz and rattle. What the heck? Well, I can't just strip down to my undies and go down, so I hoped for the best and kept moving.

I saw a group of climbers led down by a guide and decided to just follow their tracks down. As I got down to about 15,200' the buzzing stopped, so I felt a lot safer now.

About 2 hours later just a little ways above where the first picture was taken showing new snow and reduced visibility.

They were going an odd way through the little gap in the rocks the switchbacks wove through, and stepping through that I slipped a bit and overextended my knee, thinking nothing of it at the time.

As I got into camp it was still blowing and snowing, but in another hour it stopped, cleared and showed a beautiful sky with colors preparing for sunset.

From Aconcagua Teaser

I cleaned, hung my stuff to dry (when I discovered that cordlocks have metal springs in them - hence the odd buzzing), having gotten damp with all the running, and ate dinner. A great Argentinian Lasagna. I crawled into bed and almost immediately my right knee began throbbing. Swollen and painful, I couldn't find any comfortable position and tossed and turned a lot before finally finding a neutral position and falling asleep while wondering if it was the over-extension in coming through the slippery rocks of the gap, or did I do it in my near-panic run down to Conway? Either way, it should be better by morning if it isn't too bad.