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Posts for every team can be found under the drop-down menus at the right of this page.  We have organized our expeditions into Denali, International and Mount Everest categories, with further organization by their Team Meeting Date.

Click on the audio dispatch icons to hear phone calls from our climbers and guides, so that you can better enjoy the experience through their words, not ours.  Above all, have fun and dream big!

GEAR REVIEW – The Double Nano System

By: Mountain Trip

Part of our job as mountain guides is to keep abreast of the latest and greatest gear that is available.  Sometimes the latest isn’t so great.  Sometimes we love it, but it doesn’t immediately fit into our vision of how it should work together with our clothing system.  The Nano jackets from Patagonia fall into this latter category and we have evolved how we use them to incorporate them into our layering systems.

A few years back, Patagonia introduced a light weight synthetic filled line of jackets, called the Nano.  Filled with Primaloft One insulation, the jackets are available in a pullover, a full zipped version, a zipped hoody and a vest.  We immediately fell in love with the pieces, as they are significantly warmer than a similar weight fleece, and offer protection from the wind.  They pack small, work well when wet and didn’t look too “techy” when wearing them out and about in town.

As with any new piece of kit in our mountain arsenal, we had to ask ourselves, “What will the Nano replace in our current layering system?”  Therein, lies the rub, as they say… My standard torso layers for a big cold mountain like Denali or Aconcagua consist of:

  • Capilene 2 Zip T (5.5 oz)
  • R1 Hoody (12.6 oz)
  • Houdini Jacket (4 oz)
  • Micro Puff Hoody (18 oz)
  • Expedition Parka

I couldn’t wrap my head around replacing my light fleece hoody with a Nano, as it seemed too warm, and I couldn’t justify carrying it as a stand alone piece of clothing, no matter how much I loved it.  As I began packing for my recent Aconcagua trip, Bill Allen suggested I try a system he had used on Denali last spring.  Rather than taking a light fleece and a thick puffy jacket, he took two Nano layers.  Bill felt that this system gave him plenty of warmth and also lightened his overall weight.

After more than a bit of mental wrestling about straying from my tried and true system, I decided to give it a go.  As Aconcagua can have some really hot days on the mid to even upper mountain, and in light of having the warmer Nano layer, I changed up my traditional lighter (base) layers.  For my trip, I packed the following:

  • Light weight synthetic T-shirt
  • Capilene 4 Hoody (4.8 oz)
  • Nano Pullover (10.1 oz)
  • Nano Hoody (12.6 oz)
  • Houdini Jacket (4 oz)
  • Expedition Parka
Aconcagua climb

Hiking to 19,000′ on a chilly day, wearing my Nano Pullover.

I was psyched!  I felt that I had a very versatile system that never left me feeling too hot or too cold.  The combination of the two Nano layers provided me warmth that seemed equal to my R1 Hoody and my thick, Micro Puff Hoody, and it saved me a half a pound.  My concerns about not having a thick, warm layer to pull on at rest breaks was unfounded, and I was really pleased with the combination.

I would absolutely consider this combination for a Denali or even a Mount Vinson climb.  For Vinson, I would probably use my R1 Hoody instead of the Capilene 4 Hoody, as it can get darn cold down in Antarctica.  I was asked if I had “up sized” either of my two Nanos, and I did not.  I used my pullover under the hoody, but Bill told me that he wore his combination in the reverse order.  If this sort of system sounds appealing, play around with it and see what you prefer!

To check out the line of Nano jackets, please click HERE.

 

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Aconcagua Expedition Recap

By: Mountain Trip

Well, we are all back, following our climb and traverse of the highest peak in South America.  As I attempt to process the experience from the comfort of my home and warm office, I’m struck by what a challenging trip we had, and how some of the biggest challenges were not of the physical kind…  We made a number of new friends along the way, and this post will attempt to recap some of the layers of experiences that forged five climbers from different parts of the world, and from different backgrounds, into a team that was able to work together as we attempted to climb to the top of the continent.

Our team consisted of Wayne Miller, Mike Browne, Barry Kennedy, our guide Fermin Avila and me, Todd Rutledge.

Wayne, just before our second camp on the approach to Base Camp.

Wayne, just before our second camp on the approach to Base Camp.

Mike, on the hike into Base Camp.  Wow- did it get hot when there was no breeze!

Mike, on the hike into Base Camp. Wow- did it get hot when there was no breeze!

Barry, making an entrance!

Barry, making an entrance!

The unstoppable Fermin Avila, our lead guide and likely the hardest working guy on the mountain!

The unstoppable Fermin Avila, our lead guide and likely the hardest working guy on the mountain!

Todd, hiding from the intense sun.

Todd, hiding from the intense sun.

The day we met in Mendoza was a hot one, and it felt good to make the drive up to Penitentes, the small ski resort near the trailhead to the Vacas Valley.  We spent one night at Penitentes after organizing our kit into loads that would be carried up the valley by mules.  The “Rol de Cordero” that we all ordered for dinner that evening was one of the best dishes we ate in a country known for having some tasty food!

After a short drive to the trailhead and the completion of some paperwork with the “Guardeparques” (Park Rangers), we began our trek into the mountain.  Over the next three days, we hiked about 8 miles a day, carrying light daypacks with our food, water and essentials, while our team of “arrieros” (mule drivers) transported the bulk of our kit to Base Camp.

Our team of "arrieros" (mule drivers) not only transported the bulk of our supplies and gear to Base Camp, they were also our friends, dinner companions and grill masters for a traditional "asado" (mixed grill of meats).

Our team of “arrieros” (mule drivers) not only transported the bulk of our supplies and gear to Base Camp, they were also our friends, dinner companions and grill masters for a traditional “asado” (mixed grill of meats).

The weather provided us a little bit of most everything on our hike to Base Camp.  We had HOT sunny stretches with little wind to cool us off, but most of the time we had at least a light breeze to keep us a bit cooler.  At Casa de Piedras, the site of our second night’s camp on the approach, we were deluged with a heavy downpour and accompanying lightning and thunder, something almost unheard of for the area.

The team, approaching pur Base Camp at Plaza Argentina, after hiking up the steep and narrow Relinchos Valley.

The team, approaching our Base Camp at Plaza Argentina, after hiking up the steep and narrow Relinchos Valley.

At the end of a 7-hour hike on our third day, we climbed up a bit of glacial moraine and arrived at the bustling Plaza Argentina Base Camp, our home for the next four nights.  Our friends from Fernando Grajales Base Camp service kept us well fed and happy during tour stay at the camp.

Wayne, outside our base camp tent, where we ate well and sought shelter from the winds that pummeled us on occasion, as we built up our acclimatization in preparation for the upper mountain.

Wayne, outside our base camp tent, where we ate well and sought shelter from the winds that pummeled us on occasion, as we built up our acclimatization in preparation for the upper mountain.

Acclimatization is critically important on a climb like Aconcagua.  We saw numerous other teams, and many had very different ideas about how to best acclimatize or how much time to spend at different elevations.  Our program seemed to work quite well for our group, and after four nights at 4200m, we were ready to move up onto the upper mountain.  It took us about 4 hours to make the move up to the site of our Camp 1, which was a bit higher than the majority of the other teams, which we could see camped below us.  Being a bit higher allowed us to be closer to the source of our water, and we felt we were a bit more protected from the wind than the other sites.  The wind began to blow and while we sure noticed it blowing, our single-walled Black Diamond tents were strong and quiet.  A couple other teams lost tents to the wind from the lower camp sites, but our tents hung toiugh!

Camp 1 afforded us some huge views to the east.  The rock walls helped protect our tents from the often intense winds.  Two other teams lost tents at this camp while we were there, as a result of the winds!

Camp 1 afforded us some huge views to the east. The rock walls helped protect our tents from the often intense winds. Two other teams lost tents at this camp while we were there, as a result of the winds!

We spent one extra day at Camp 1, while we watched the wind rip through the col (saddle) that separates Aconcagua from it’s neighbor, the 19,300′ Cerro Ameghino.  Our route took us through the col, and as we watched the wind rip plumes of snow a half mile from the saddle, we decided that we’d just sit tight and acclimatize for an extra day.  The following day the wind had not abated much, but the temperature had risen, so we opted to pack up some of our kit and go for a hike up towards the col.  We didn’t expect to actually make it through the saddle, as the winds looked pretty tough, but we thought we’d see how far we could get before the temperature dropped or the winds turned us back.

Well… the winds certainly did not disappoint us!  We pushed hard to get up into the col, but we were bent forward over our ski poles, bracing as gusts quite literally threatened to lift us off our feet!  Still, the temperature never got cold, and it was sort of fun (in a really twisted way) to see how far we could push it into the face of such blasts.  After being thumped around for a bit, we cached our supplies and equipment under a pile of rocks, just below the col, and retreated back to the relative shelter of our tents.

Looking up the route from the site of our Camp 1.  The route is fairly easy to see above camp, as it climbs up from left to right.

Looking up the route from the site of our Camp 1. The route is fairly easy to see above camp, as it climbs up from left to right.

The following day, we pushed up from Camp 1 to 18,000′ and the site of our Camp 2.  We had to push through a bit of wind right below the entrance to the col, but once we crested the saddle, the wind diminished and we enjoyed our hike into camp.  Camp 2 was bustling when we first arrived, with 31 tents set up.  Our friends Jacob Schmitz and Duncan Stuart were there to greet us, as they finished their 8-day stint of waiting for a window to move to high camp (they finally moved up and summitted just a couple of days before we moved high).

Fermin surprised us all by kneading dough at 18,000' and filling our bellies with delicious pizzas!

Fermin surprised us all by kneading dough at 18,000′ and filling our bellies with delicious pizzas!

Highlights from Camp 2 included numerous delicious meals, including hand made pizzas, and 1.5″ thick steak sandwiches, in addition to sublime evening light, and a snow squall that dumped almost a foot of snow on our tents.  The snow storm included a fair bit of thunder and while walking to the edge of camp to relieve myself, I felt a bizarre tingling sensation on my head and shoulders, as I became electrically charged.  Needless to say, I bid a hasty retreat to my tent and the seeming protection of my P-bottle, instead of braving the storm…

Aconcagua Fermin Gussfeldt Range

Fermin climbing above Camp 2, en route to making a cache of supplies at our high camp.

Up to this point, we had been roughly parallel a few other teams.  We had all been looking carefully at the forecast, which had shown pretty high winds on the upper mountain for several days.  The models looked pretty good for Tuesday the 28th of January, but even better for the following day.  We were the only team of the several that were on the same basic schedule to have extra time planned for additional contingency days, so we bid “adios” to the other guided parties, as they moved up on Monday, whilst we waited an extra day at Camp 2, confident that Wednesday would give us better conditions for a summit bid than the other teams.  Our extra day enabled us to further develop our acclimatization as well.

Camp 2 on Aconcagua

Camp 2 on our route is also known as “Camp 3 Guanacos,” after it’s sequence on the old, Guanacos Valley route that has been closed for several years. It is also known as “Chopper Camp,” as there used to be the remains of a crashed helicopter just above camp.

On Tuesday, we packed up our camp and pushed up to our high camp, located on the north ridge of the mountain, at an elevation of about 20,000′.  The day was a bit breezy as we hiked up, and we were all bundled up and moving as quickly as possible to stay warm.  At camp, we met numerous climbers who had tried to summit that day, and it seemed like most had not made it, due to the cold, windy conditions of the early morning.  We crossed our fingers and hoped for a calm morning, as had been forecasted…

Aconcagua expedition

We awoke at 04:00 and began our preparations for a pre-dawn start to our summit bid.  No one slept well that night, in part because we were excited about heading high, but also because it is just plain tough to sleep at 20,000′.  We dressed and piled into Fermin’s tent for hot drinks and breakfast.

After eating what bacon quesadillas, oatmeal and cereal we could, and fueled by mugs of hot coffee and cocoa, we could procrastinate no longer, so we left the dining tent and finished suiting up for our hike to the top.  Cold fingers made strapping crampons onto our boots a chore, but the sky was crystal clear and there was hardly a breath of wind.  Our patience seemed to have paid off!

Layered in our warm clothes and expedition parkas, we departed high camp by headlamp, moving slowly upward, our world seemingly limited to what we could see in the pale glow of our lights.  About a hundred meters our of camp, Mike told us that he was experiencing some symptoms that required my attention.  After a consult and assessment, we decided that it was prudent for him to return to high camp.  He and I descended back to camp, while the other members of our team continued their push to the top.

High camp on Aconcagua

Looking down at high camp from roughly an hour into our summit morning. The sun had just begun to bathe the mountain in it’s warmth, which was welcomed in the cold morning.

Barry, Wayne and Fermin made great time as they climbed up the north ridge and traversed over to the west side of the mountain.  The morning was very cold, but as there was virtually no wind, it was pretty easy to manage the cold.  They caught up with, and passed several other teams, but all in all, there were not too many other climbers attempting the summit that morning.

The notorious “Canaleta,” the moderately steep gully that acts as the gatekeeper for the summit, was snow filled and not too difficult, as the climbers’ crampons provided solid traction on their ascent.  At the top of the Canaleta, they took a moment to look over the crest of the summit ridge and down the massive South Face of the mountain, which dramatically fell thousands of meters below them.

Aconcagua summit

Wayne Miller on the top of South America, higher than any point outside the Himalaya!

At last, they scrambled the last feet onto the small summit plateau, where cameras were drawn and photos snapped, while the climbers enjoyed the clear, stillness of their time on the top of South America.  They put forth a tremendous effort, but they still needed to descend, so they didn’t spend too much time on the summit.  On their descent, they really made great time, reaching high camp in just under two hours.

After resting and re-hydrating at high camp, they decided that they would rather keep moving than spend another night at 20,000′, so they quickly packed up and descended all the way down to join Mike and I at Plaza de Mulas, the Base Camp on the west side of the mountain.  Mike and I had descended earlier in the day, and Mike’s symptoms had improved considerably after we arrived at Plaza de Mulas.

Plaza de Mulas felt like a city after our time on the mountain.  We had a blast talking with climbers from around the world, and feasting on more delicious steaks.  The following morning, Wayne and Barry decided that they would take the offer of a helicopter ride out to the Horcones Valley trailhead, while Fermin, Mike and I hiked out the 16 or so miles.

Horcones valley Aconcagua

The hike out the Horcones Vally took roughly seven hours, which left us plenty of time to take in the stunning scenery.

The entire team was reunited at the Penitentes ski resort, and we quickly loaded up our van and made the drive back to Mendoza, eager for soft beds and tender steak dinners!  We stopped along the way for food and beverages, and rolled into Mendoza not long after the sun went down.

The team did great and each climber should be proud of his efforts.  We climbed up and over the highest peak in South America and had a lot of fun in the process.  The sound bites and memories that keep popping into my head as I write could fill a book, but I hope that some small sliver of our collective experience is conveyed by this short recap of our adventure.

I’d like to extend a heart felt thank you to all of our climbers, who entrusted Mountain Trip with helping them on this expedition.  I’d also like to thank Fernando Grajales Expeditions for all of his staff’s support and help during our trip.  I’ve known Fernando for almost 20 years and am impressed at his attentiveness and level of service, and am proud to call him un amigo.  Thanks to Carlos for driving us to Penitentes, Marcelo for the drive back to Mendoza, the Base Camp staff at both Plaza Argentina and Plaza de Mulas (Griselda, Anita, Julincha, Pablo, and all the others whose names are escaping me at present), the Arrieros who transported our kit up and down the long, dry valleys, and to our friends who work tirelessly as porters on the mountain (Cabeza, Turco, Sebastian, and Ali).  You guys are animals!

Hasta la proxima y un abrazo muy grande!

Todd Rutledge

Ophir, CO

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JANUARY 13TH TEAM IN PENITENTES

By: Mountain Trip

The team is back together again in Penitentes. Wayne and Barry elected to catch a ride in a helicopter from Plaza de Mulas to the park entrance, and Todd and crew hiked out. Either method affords beautiful views of Aconcagua and the surrounding valleys.  The plan is to gather any equipment that might have been cached in Penitentes and then head back to Mendoza tonight. Good work team!

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JANUARY 13TH ACONCAGUA TEAM SAFE AND SOUND AT PLAZA DE MULAS

By: Mountain Trip

The entire team arrived safe and sound at Plaza de Mulas tonight. Wayne, Barry and Fermin summited, and then descended approximately 6,000′ to Base Camp at Plaza de Mulas. What a thigh burner! They reunited with Todd and Mike at Base Camp and then dove into their sleeping bags for a well deserved rest. The plan is for the team to hike out to the park entrance, and then return to Mendoza tomorrow evening.

The poor satellite reception ends Todd’s call abruptly, but we are able to hear most of his dispatch:

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JANUARY 13TH ACONCAGUA TEAM ON THE SUMMIT!!

By: Mountain Trip

The dispatch is a bit garbled, but Barry called to report that he, Wayne and Fermin were standing on the summit! Congratulations! It sounds like it’s an absolutely ideal summit day, sunny and warm with low winds. Great work, team! They did have to work for it, though, with days of poor weather leading up to a perfect summit day. While Barry, Wayne and Fermin ascended, Todd and Mike headed down to Plaza de Mulas. All is well and we will hear more from the team, soon.

Here’s Barry:

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JANUARY 13TH ACONCAGUA TEAM AT HIGH CAMP!

By: Mountain Trip

It was a nice morning at Camp 2, and the team enjoyed a leisurely start to the day. Once they packed up camp, they ascended approximately 2,000′ to High Camp, at 20,000′. Sounds like the weather was really nice for their move,  and all of the team members enjoyed the surreal scenery. The team plans to have a good dinner, get some rest, then wake up early in preparation for a pre-dawn departure for the summit.

Here’s Todd:

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JANUARY 7TH ACONCAGUA TEAM: FINAL DISPATCH FROM JACOB

By: Mountain Trip

Hello! And thank you for following the Mountain Trip January 7th Aconcagua expedition. After spending seven nights at Camp 2 at 18,000′, Duncan and I were able to move up to High Camp on the 25th. The next morning we woke to light winds and cold temps. At 4:45 AM we left High Camp and summited less than six hours later with an amazing view of the Andies. We felt really good about our decision making, especially in light of the fact that many teams pushed their summit dates ahead of the storm in hopes of not getting stuck on the mountain, but unfortunately all of them had to go home without reaching the summit. Duncan has participated in a few expeditions and he knew that trying to go fast does not always pay off. In the end, we were rewarded for our patience.  We were able to enjoy an early morning summit, alone,  and make it all the way down to base camp the same day.
Flying out of Plaza de Mulas (Base Camp) by helicopter is always a special treat, and getting back to Mendoza to enjoy a great lunch and make Duncan’s original flight  home was a big bonus. It was great to make a new friend and climbing partner. This was an especially fun trip with someone willing to do what it takes to reach the summit!

See you in the mountains, Jacob

Here are some cool photos: Duncan, steps from the summit:

 

Duncan at Plaza de Mulas, tired and ready to hop on the heli.

 

 

 

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JANUARY 7TH TEAM BACK IN MENDOZA AND HEADED HOME

By: Mountain Trip

Jacob and Duncan boogied down the mountain and arrived back in Mendoza today, just in time for Duncan’s flight home. They had a little help from a helicopter, which flew them from Base Camp to the park entrance.  Good job, Duncan, and way to stay strong and be patient.

 

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JANUARY 13TH TEAM HOLDING AT CAMP 2

By: Mountain Trip

It was a windy, snowy night at Camp 2.  There was approximately 12″ of new snow on the ground this morning , so the team is hunkered down, resting and relaxing, waiting for the storm to pass. Todd makes mention of fresh steak (!!) sandwiches, so they must be not be too uncomfortable!  It sounds like the weather broke up this afternoon, which is a good sign, and if things stabilize the team will move to High Camp at 20,000′ tomorrow.

Here’s Todd:

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Aconcagua Team enjoying an acclimatization day and nice weather!

By: Mountain Trip

The team is enjoying a day of rest and acclimating today at over 18,000 ft at Camp 2.  The weather has finally improved after a bunch of very windy days, and they are enjoying warmer temps and a beautiful day.  They’ll move up to high camp tomorrow and then it’s the summit push.

Here’s Todd checking in this morning from Camp 2:

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On The Summit!

By: Mountain Trip

Duncan and Jacob are on the top of Aconcagua!!  Their tenacity paid off today with a beautiful summit morning.  They waited out an extra 5 days of windy weather to get this chance today, so congrats for all the hard work guys.   They’ll head back down to high camp now, pack up their gear, and head all the way down to base camp this afternoon.

Listen to Jacob calling in from 22,841 ft/ 6962 meters on the top of South America:

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Duncan and Jacob on their way to the top

By: Mountain Trip

Jacob called in from a spot called “Independencia” on their way to the top.  They are doing great and moving right along.   We hope to hear again from the top in the next 4-5 hours!

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Heading to the Summit

By: Mountain Trip

Duncan and Jacob are finishing up their breakfast and coffee in the still dark early morning, and will be leaving for the summit under the stars in a few minutes.   It looks to be a great day and we hope to hear from them from the top later today.

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Duncan and Jacob move to High Camp!

By: Mountain Trip

After waiting out an ill timed wind storm, the guys have finally gotten a break and moved up to high camp today!  They spent 7 days at Camp 2 waiting out 50 mph + winds and trying to stay motivated and sane in their tent.   They hope to head for the summit early tomorrow morning, and the forecast looks favorable for a change.

Here’s Duncan:

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JANUARY 7TH ACONCAGUA TEAM LOVIN’ CAMP 2

By: Mountain Trip

Jacob and Duncan are stilling hanging tough at Camp 2. It’s been cold and windy, so they are sitting tight and biding their time. The weather report does call for the winds to lessen over the next few days. The team will be watching the weather carefully and they will be prepared to move up, when the time is right.

Here’s Duncan:

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JANUARY 13TH ACONCAGUA TEAM CACHES

By: Mountain Trip

Unfortunately today’s report is garbled, but we are able to catch a good portion of Todd’s commentary. The team had a windy night last night, tents shaking and not much sleep,  and they woke up to more of the same this morning. Todd, the eternal optimist, rallied the troops and they carried equipment and food until the weather got the best of them. They stopped at the col between Aconcagua and its neighbor, Ameghino, buried the cache under rocks, and high tailed it back to Camp 1. The weather report calls for the winds to gradually lessen over the next few days, so hopefully the team can keep the momentum and move up to Camp 2.

Here’s Todd:

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JANUARY 13TH TEAM HOLDING AT CAMP 1

By: Mountain Trip

Today Todd called to report that the team was resting and relaxing at Camp 1. If the weather cooperates, the team plans to make a carry of equipment and supplies up to Camp 2 tomorrow. This is an ascent of approximately 2,000 feet, and it’s a bit of a grunt. But the team will be rewarded with amazing views from Camp 2! And they might even cross paths with another Mountain Trip team at Camp 2, which is always nice. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for the winds to lessen, which will provide an opportunity for our teams to keep moving up.

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JANUARY 7TH TEAM STILL HUNKERED DOWN AT CAMP 2

By: Mountain Trip

The gusty, windy weather prevented Jacob and Duncan from moving up today, but they are settled in and happy at Camp 2. Their phone is not cooperating,  so Todd Rutledge from our January 13th team called in an update for Jacob and Duncan. The teams are in communication and Todd reports that all is well.

Here’s Todd:

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JANUARY 13TH TEAM MOVED TO CAMP 1

By: Mountain Trip

Mike called an update on the team’s progress today. The climbers ascended approximately 2,000 feet from Base Camp to Camp 1 in 4 hours. It sounds like it got a bit windy as they approached the col just before Camp 1, but they are in camp, safe and sound.

Here’s Mike:

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Heading to Camp 1

By: Mountain Trip

The guys are heading up the hill to Camp 1 at about 16,500 ft this morning.   Todd called in a dispatch from base camp before heading out.   It’s getting a bit windy, but that’s to be expected on Aconcagua, and they plan to spend a few days at Camp 1 acclimatizing and waiting for winds to settle down before moving up higher.  The forecast is still calling for winds through Friday morning right now, so they shouldn’t have to wait too long for better weather.

Here’s Todd with the morning update:

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