Do and Do Not: Aconcagua
Kylie Fly / 9-27-2018
Left: Chance Welton / Top Right: Adam Frost / Bottom Right: (me) Kylie Fly
It doesn’t take long to catch on to why Patagonia is nicknamed the land of fire and ice. One look at its peaks and glaciers and your heart might actually catch on fire and you’ll understand what people mean when they say “they got the alpine bug.” Argentina is home to some of the most mystical landscapes on earth. If you haven’t spent much time exploring the Patagonia region you might want to consider revising your next travel itinerary. Perched above the world’s steepest scree covered slopes in the history of time, created primarily by old landslides, the jagged Fitz Roy skyline reaches across miles of ravines and glacial fields. We watched as huge chunks of ice broke off glaciers below, tumbling into the frigid milky teal water and vibrating throughout the valley. Every time an avalanche naturally set off in the distance, the eeriness of its claps and echoes filled the air and we’d stop in awe and silence grateful it was far away. Our Argentine adventure was certainly off to an epic start. Coupled with time on the wall, we pursued our primary mountaineering objective: Aconcagua.
One of the world’s seven summits, Aconcagua stands at 22,837 feet as the highest point in both the Western and Southern hemispheres. Located in Argentina, our journey began at the mouth of the Andes outside a small ski town called Penitentes. Day one commenced under a blue and cloudless sky, the warm Spring sun heating our backs as we started the trek. Adam and Chance, my trusted go-to mountain partners, joined me on the expedition. Using BUFF® products to wick the sweat, we beat the heat and kept ourselves well-covered to protect our skin for the days that inevitably lie ahead. Before turning the first corner to break trail, Adam pulled Chance and I aside and wrapped his arms around our shoulders. Pressing our foreheads together and with no further explanation, he said aloud:
“We are here to connect with the Andes and to create a lasting relationship with Mother Aconcagua. To respect, listen, love and appreciate this ancient goddess and all her beauty and wisdom. The only thing we are here to conquer is our weaker selves. For it is not death we fear, only a life not lived.”
His words resonated with all of us, but especially me. I wasn’t on Aconcagua to bag a peak and reach the summit, I was there to conquer my weaker self. It really was as simple as that. The days of trekking and hauling loads continued on, and our skin became a couple shades darker and our bodies a couple smells more curious. This is the stuff of life. This is character building recreation. This is a life-altering and formative experience for anyone pursuing big mountain dreams.
Here’s my breakdown on how to have the best expedition experience possible, no matter where your feet take you: 3 things to do and 3 things not
Training for 6 months minimum in advance is absolutely crucial. Ideally when doing a big trip like this, you are already an active person that runs, hikes and climbs regularly. Your routine and lifestyle is one that naturally takes you to the trail more days than not, and you’re not afraid of long days with heavy packs. The harder and longer you train, the better you’ll preform. Period. Pro tip: put rocks in your backpack and take lots of hikes together to make them your best friends.
2. GET THE GEAR
Make sure you have all your essentials covered. Where apparel doesn't cover you BUFF® will be there to keep your appendages warm, dry and insulated and ventilated. Their multifunctional headwear and hats are the perfect compliment to a down jacket. I brought multiple product options for UV protection, thermal layering and sweat prevention. The number one key here is to make sure your product breathes with you, and BUFF® has you covered there.
3. PACE YOURSELF
One of the first mistakes people make on Aconcagua is to rush the summit. Depending on which route you take, it ultimately is a very long and very hard walk up a very big mountain. People get overzealous and rush the acclimatization process, skipping days to acclimatize in favor of pushing ahead. Ultimately, it can really bite you in the back later on when your body catches up and you fall ill with altitude sickness or other unfriendly ailments. Take your time moving up in altitude and gaining elevation. Listen to your body.
The name of the game is time. Everything in the mountains is up to the mountain— weather, schedule, summit push—mountain does what mountain wants. You are at its humbling mercy. Accept this, embrace this, and be well with it.
2. BE SHY
It’s easy to stick to your own climbing party and not feel a need to connect with anyone else on the mountain. After all, you’re not there to have a social hangout. However, it doesn’t hurt to connect with those you encounter along the trail or at base camp and reach outside your comfort zone. You’ve already made it this far! Some of my best and most meaningful conversations were had at 18,000’ with strangers from across the world that I otherwise never would have met. Play cards, wait out the storms, laugh together and embrace the adventure for what it is. I found that the more people I connected with the more snacks that would inevitably show up outside our tent. As a self-supported expedition group, we didn’t get home cooking at base camp and some of our new friends would leave their leftovers or even Snickers bars outside our tent as a token of their friendship. What gems with hearts of gold!
3. AVOID THE TRUTH
Feeling super sick or super weird and afraid to say something? I know the feeling of worrying about ruining the team's chance of a summit. Get rid of your ego, on this one. What a seemingly impossible task for any mountaineer who’s tried hard at something. Like, really hard. One of the hardest decisions I ever had to make was to turn around before summit and voice to my partners my reasonings. Know your body, know your ability, and know when to make the smarter decision. You want to be an asset to your team, and never a liability—and if you find yourself in a situation where you can no longer be who you want to be, then be honest about it and speak your truth.