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Peakbagging in Oz

May 20, 2015

12 May to 5 June 2014. On the way down to Australia I stopped in Singapore for a few days. Great food, not too expensive, clean, safe, and efficient. It really is a great city. While I was there I managed to summit Bukit Timah, the country highpoint of only 163.6 meters… but you can round up it to 164 which sounds much taller right? Actually, it is a pretty nice hike for what it is, despite being one of the only country highpoints that one could walk to from the metro/subway (called the MRT in Singapore). It’s easiest to take the MRT to Bukit Batok and take a bus or taxi to the trailhead though. GPS track here.

IMG_0337I also walked from Dhoby Ghaut MRT, very close to the shopping street Orchard Road, to an old fortress from World War II called Fort Canning, although only 63 meters high, it housed the British command and was the last part of Singapore to fall to the Japanese. GPS track here.

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After a couple days it gets a bit boring, and so my dad and I flew down to Melbourne with the intention of climbing the highpoint of Australia and hopefully the highpoints of Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). We arrived early in the morning and spent the day driving down the Great Ocean Road, stopping at Bell’s Beach and some other beaches along the way. In May it is Fall in Australia so the weather was perfect, but the water is a little chilly. In the evening we met some friends in Melbourne and then planned out what to do next.

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The main goal of the trip was to summit Kosciuszko, the highpoint of Australia and (arguably) the Australian continent. First we decided to do a warmup hike, and we drove to the ski resort of Mount Buller outside of Mannsfield. It was cool and cloudy, and perfect weather for hiking. GPS track here. The hike was not too steep and the views were great. We stayed in Mannsfield and decided to do another hike in the area before going to climb Bogong and Kosciuszko. It’s nice countryside, and I would think it would be great for cycling too. There are lots of pleasant towns, all with shops to pick up a meat pie or a nice meal at a pub. It is quite expensive, and most things cost double what they do in the US, including groceries and restaurant meals.

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The next day we went to Mount Buffalo, a ski area outside of Myrtleford and Bright. This peak had a massive flat top with lots of rock outcroppings. The highest of these was The Horn. There is a short trail to the summit with steps carved into the rock and a couple ladders to the highest point. A very fun peak. Afterward we hiked to the second-highest summit, The Hump. It was a pretty light day, but we had plans for Mount Bogong, highpoint of Victoria, the next day. GPS track here and here.

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We stayed the night in Bright, and it rained all night. We were worried that the weather would be too bad to hike, but we gave it a shot anyway. We drove the car on a dirt road as far as we could, and set of hiking on the trail. The trail was not well maintained, and the signage to get there was non-existant, making the ascent even worse in the rain. This was the case in most wilderness areas that we went to in Australia. It is a shame because there is so much hiking, but the outdoor recreation potential of these areas is being halted by poor management.

We trudged in the rain, not able to see more than fifty feet. I am sure on a sunny day the views would be great, so it was a disappointment to not see anything of the mountain. GPS track here. We finished the hike very late and drove through the night to Thredbo, the ski town at the base of Kosciuszko.

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We got to Thredbo at 9 pm and went to bed very quickly, very tired after a long day in the pouring rain. To climb Kosciuszko we took a chairlift that only began running at 9 am, so we didn’t have to get an early start. It didn’t rain but it was cloudy and low visibility the entire hike. Again, it would have been nice to see the views. The trail was excellent, and was on an elevated metal walkway that enabled us to make excellent time. Without it the trail would have been boggy. The trail to the summit was gradual gravel/rock to the summit. We took a few quick photos and then hid from the strong wind behind a rock. GPS track here. We were down the mountain by the early afternoon and stayed the night in Jindabyne.

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After Kosciuszko we had originally planned to hike Bimberi, the highpoint of ACT (Australian Capital Territory- Canberra). We were too tired and decided to just head to Canberra for the day instead. My dad went to ANU in the city and so we went to the campus and to the Old Parliament House and the Australian War Memorial. It was reminiscent of Washington DC, both being planned capital cities. We also got a peak in, hiking up to the radio tower on Black Mountain outside of the ANU campus.

After leaving Canberra we drove to Cooma and stayed the night, and continued to Lake’s Entrance the next day. The two days were a nice break from hiking, but were long driving days.

From Lake’s Entrance we looked for a hike that wouldn’t put us too far off route to Melbourne. We found a peak called Mount Saint Gwinear and decided to hike it. There wasn’t a lot of information about the area, but we used a road map to find a logging road and followed it up to a hiking trail. The trailhead was quite nice with a visitor center and a trail map on a sign– just another area being mismanaged by the government. The trail was not too steep, and the peak had a flat top with great views through the trees for miles. It was our first sunny hike, and it was quite warm. GPS track here.

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From Mt St Gwinear we stayed in a small town a few hours from Melbourne, and the next morning drove into town. We got a hotel near the famous MCG and had tickets for an Aussie Rules match between the Carlton Blues and Adelaide Crows. It turned out to be one of the best matches of the year, with the Blues winning by five points in the last couple minutes.

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The next day we decided to take a daytrip to the end of Port Phillip Bay at Portsea. There’s a park at the end with a couple hills, and a nice view. We also walked to Cheviot Beach, where Australian PM Harold Holt disappeared while swimming in 1967.

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After a couple days in Melbourne we flew to Brisbane to visit our family that lives there. It had been a few years since we had seen them so it was good to catch up. My dad and I hiked Mount Coot-Tha while we were there, and I tried out cycling on the left side of the road with my uncle. Right before I left for the Czech Republic, my uncle and I went to the Gold Coast where he and my dad grew up.

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Overall, Australia was a great trip. The hiking was excellent, as was the scenery, winding country roads, small towns, country pubs and pie shops.

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Mountaineering in Argentina- Parte 2

March 6, 2015

This is part 2 of 2, for to read part one click here.

Back in Mendoza, I got some rest for a few days before going to Aconcagua. It felt strange sleeping in a bed again, and I didn’t sleep well for a couple nights. I would wake up late, catching up on sleep lost during the trip, and try to get to McDonald’s for breakfast. I don’t really like McDonald’s, but I lost my debit card and couldn’t get cash, so I had to eat at places that took credit… pretty much just McDonald’s and the local hot dog joint, Mr. Dog.

I’d walk around downtown, eat as much as I could as often as possible, and relax. At night I would have dinner with the group, and with Argentinain dinners being quite late, finish around 11 pm and head back to Plaza Independencia where my hotel was.

It was a good break. I was pretty nervous about Aconcagua. Right before I left, I had heard about two people killed on the mountain that I had been familiar with on summitpost.org (Link to story). I was worried, but determined to give it my best shot. At some level the statistics are irrelevant in comparison to one’s own decisions. It does make you rethink the importance of those choices though.

This time we all organized food and equipment for the trip. We all shopped for the food, sorted it into meals, and got equipment sorted. We stayed four full days in Mendoza, and then packed up and headed back to Penitentes. At Grajales we packed all of our stuff into barrels that the mules could carry. The next morning I woke up feeling pretty sick, and had stomach pain and diarrhea. I would have to guess it was something that I ate, and I was sick for the next five days with stomach problems and the runs. Exactly what you don’t want heading into the mountains.

I felt pretty strong, but I knew that being sick would weaken my and test my reserve strength later on. I kept hydrated and tried to keep my mind off it. I was keeping up with the group, so I was convinced that I was doing pretty well.

We hiked from the trailhead outside of Penitentes and Puente del Inca to the first camp at Confluencia. We stayed two nights there and had a rest day, and most of the time it snowed lightly. Probably 8 inches accumulated, melted in the afternoon, and then another few fell again overnight.

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After the rest day, we packed up our stuff and hiked up to Plaza de Mulas at 4300 m. The sun was shining, the weather was excellent, and I felt pretty strong the entire day, although still had bowel issues. I think this was one of my favorite days of the trip. Early in the morning we walked in snow, and later in the day crossed back and forth between streams of melt.

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We stayed at Plaza de Mulas a couple days, first taking a rest day, and carrying food and equipment to Camp Canada at 4950 m. I felt pretty well, but up at Camp Canada I began feeling very lethargic. I was probably a bit dehydrated, but was surprised that I felt that poorly. Back at Plaza de Mulas I felt a lot better.

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The next morning we moved camp to Canada, and I did not feel very well. When we got up there it began snowing, and the wind picked up. We set up our tents and brought our stuff inside. The snow allow us to get water easily though. I did not sleep very well that night, and felt weak for the rest of the trip.

Unfortunately, as I was not feeling well, the weather was not great, and I am writing this nearly a year later, I do not remember every detail. I’m piecing together what I remember with what makes sense. I usually have a pretty good memory… but I guess this is why I should have written a journal. I also should have taken more photos.

The next day we hiked up to Nido de Cóndores (usually just called Nido… 5500 m). There was a foot of snow on the ground, more coming down, and I was pretty slow to get up there. I felt very bad, but I made it. Just one day at a time. I think we didn’t carry up there, or didn’t carry much, because we had heard that a wind storm was coming in.

I think we either had a rest day or carried a small amount of food/equipment the next day. The weather was clear, and the wind storm had started to come in. The views were great… but I was too lazy to take photos. I was getting worried about altitude sickness, and it occurred to me that this might be the highest I get on this trip. I was scared of getting altitude sickness and of affecting other people’s summit attempt. One day at a time, but lying in your tent 18 hours per day it eats at you.

The next day we decided to descend to Plaza de Mulas. It was too risky to wait out the storm at Canada, and possibly tear up the tents. Back at basecamp I felt a lot better, but I knew that I would not be able to make it to the summit with a comfortable safety margin, another 1500 m above Nido. The group planned to ascend from Plaza de Mulas to Nido in a day, and I knew that I couldn’t make that and be strong enough to summit two days later. So I called it, and hiked out to Confluencia two days later.

Another group member was injured and also had to descend. We made it to Mendoza that night, and the next afternoon I caught a flight to Buenos Aires and from Buenos Aires back home. I felt bad about leaving so quickly, but it was a relief to be back home.

Back in the US, I was really happy to see a few days later that some of the group made it to the summit and back to basecamp safely. I hope to attempt Aconcagua in a year or two, and I think this expedition gave me huge insight into what it takes to climb high mountains.

Overall, this trip has made a huge impression on me. I feel much more confident in the mountains, and feel that a huge amount of terrain and peaks now accessible to me. I would like to thank all of my friends on the trip and the guides for this experience.

Next, a couple of my amigos from the trip are heading out to Russia to climb Mount Elbrus. Until then I’m at school, working, and training.

Mountaineering in Argentina- Parte 1

December 27, 2014

When I came back from Indonesia in September I was at a dead-end. The year I had planned to spend in Asia had not worked out, and while I still feel I made a good decision to leave I also had no idea what to do for the next 11 months. I went to Europe in October and when I returned in November I was freaking out that I still had 9 months to fill in.

I looked around for mountaineering trips in the Southern hemisphere and eventually found a two-month trip with IWLS in Argentina. It was exactly what I was looking for– nearly two months of mountaineering including an expedition to Aconcagua (6962 m/22841 ft), the highest point in South America and Argentina. I thought this was the edge that I could use to begin climbing hard when I got to college. So, I signed up and booked a flight to Mendoza, Argentina.

I was pretty freaked out when I got on the flight, and it took me awhile to calm down and relax. The Chilean dude sitting next to me on the flight telling me about all the murdering and theft and whatnot in Argentina didn’t help. I flew to Chicago O’Hare, then to Toronto YYZ, then to Santiago. A very inefficient way to go, and two five-hour layovers don’t help. But it was cheapest. I had a separate itinerary to go to Mendoza, so I paid the $160 US to enter Chile and collected my bags. I convinced a LAN attendant to allow my bags through to Mendoza without having to go through customs and recheck them… I knew that all the food that I was carrying would have been confiscated. So I got on the flight to Mendoza, a very bumpy 30 minute ride over the same peaks that I would be spending the two months climbing.

Once in Argentina I met the group of folks that I would be living with for the next couple months. They seemed nice, although quite a bit older. I had been up for 40 hours or so at this point, but I had to pack my stuff and get ready. After two days of travel I fell asleep, still very anxious.

The next morning we drove from Mendoza to Penitentes, a town close to the Chilean border and the entrance to Aconcagua National Park. For the first part of the trip we went South to the Río Blanco area, which was quite remote in taking a week or so to get us and our food to the glacier, but close in that the helicopter stationed at the Aconcagua park entrance could be there in 30 minutes from a satphone call. Link to approximate route.

We had mules carry most of our food and gear until we reached the glacier, and after that we had to haul it all.

From the junction of the Río Tupungato and Rt 7, a couple miles East of Penitentes, we began hiking South. After passing a basic refugio (it is the one on this webpage) at lunchtime, we took a right and turned West into the Río Blanco area. After a long day of hiking we camped at a small tributary, which turned into a bit of an ordeal as it was running quickly and we crossed the waist-deep water at dusk. After a quick dinner as rain began to come in, we collapsed into our sleeping bags.

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The next morning we quickly lost most of the trail we had been hiking on, or rather it petered out, and we made our way through the valley by bushwhacking. Fortunately the foliage was even more sparse than Arizona, save the hundreds of burrs that attached themselves to our legs and socks. The valley really opened up, and we began to see some of the glaciated peaks that I had flown over a few days before on the plane. Intimidating and exciting. We got to the end of the valley and turned South into another one, and after crossing the many small streams that flowed from its mouth, reached the second camp.

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So far we had done two solid days of hiking on a gradual uphill while ascending the valleys. The third day, as we could see, would be much tougher and steeper though only 8 km or so. We woke up early and got hiking, immediately gaining 300 m or so on a steep scree slope. Once on a cliff above the stream, we hiked to a very steep moraine and had lunch. During the hike the mules passed us, so we followed in their hoofprints up the wet, loose and quite soft moraine, and after it, down a small section of fun scree skiing and up another moraine.

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The mules went ahead and dropped the barrels just below the glacier, so after a few hours we reached the stuff and set up camp, looking forward to a rest day. This camp was quite pleasant in the day, but very cold once in afternoon shadow.

After a rest day we loaded up as much food and gear as we could pack and carried up the glacier to the camp on the moraine of the glacier. Unfortunately the tall penitentes slowed us down and we were only able to get halfway to there before caching our stuff and heading back. We cached the stuff at a moraine and lake.

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The next day we loaded up the rest of the stuff and moved our camp to the moraine at 4300 m. To get everything, I filled my 110 liter pack and its storm skirt, strapped some bulky stuff under the lid, and strapped a 35 liter pack on the outside of it all. It is definitely the most weight I have ever carried and was absolute misery. We got to the cache, sorted out our stuff, and made it to the moraine to set up the new camp.

It was a pretty long day, but the next few days were restful, with a bit of down time and skills lessons that were not as physically taxing. After going over rope teams, self arrest and glacier travel, we climbed South to a small rocky outcropping (link to peak on peakbagger). What looks on the map to be only 800 meters from camp as the crow flies took quite awhile. We doubled the distance by avoiding a steep and heavily crevassed section of the glacier, and the massive penitentes that were over 15 feet tall in places probably quadrupled our time. Rope team movement through penitentes is very difficult, and frustrating. The rope constantly gets caught on the objects, and it is difficult to move at a steady pace when climbing up and over penitentes.

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My first time ice climbing

My first time ice climbing

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Quite tired, we made it back and formulated a plan to move camp to a cirque dubbed the ‘Zone of Awesomeness.’

We left very early in the morning and walked through the penitentes across the glacier, to where it meets the glacier that forms the cirque. We took a break, and as the sun rose we began climbing up the glacier. This glacier was much steeper and full of large crevasses, and with direct sunlight began cracking loudly. Eventually we made it to a flat area free of penitentes and took a long break there while a few people searched for the best place for a camp. We found a camp at the North end of the cirque and began cooking. The afternoon sun reflected on our camp, and our camp soon became flooded with glacial melt. We built platforms for our tents and made channels to drain the water, but the next morning we had to move camp. We moved camp to a moraine at the South end of the glacier. The next day we learned about avalanche and crevasse rescue.

This is the route from the moraine camp to the upper camp.

This is the route from the moraine camp to the upper camp.

Every day on the trip we had a Leader of the Day (LOD) and assistant. The next morning I was the LOD, and we were to attempt to climb a peak to our North. We got up early to have as much time on solid ice before the sun began to melt it. I think we began at 5 am and made it most of the way up the peak before getting direct sun at 8.

We went up a steep section of the glacier with some large crevasses, then made it to an icy slope that led to the summit. I was pretty stoked, it was my fist real peak in Argentina. From the summit we could see all the way to Aconcagua. It looked pretty intense, a lot higher, and a long way away, but now that I was acclimatized to 16,000 feet, a bit more attainable.

At the top we found a coffee can of ashes, and so we called it ‘Pico Muerte.’ No first ascent for us I suppose. The elevation is 4998 m (16,398 ft). Link to peak on peakbagger.

View of ascent route, picture taken from summit of Peak 4998/ Pico Muerte

View of ascent route, picture taken from summit of Peak 4998/ Pico Muerte

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We took a rest day and practiced crevasse rescue in an actual crevasse, and did a beacon search in the penitentes. That was very difficult.

The last big challenge of the first half of the trip was an ascent of one of the larger peaks in the back of the Zone of Awesomeness. We woke up very early and trudged sleepily across the ice field, past ‘Pico Muerte’ to a section of the glacier with very large penitentes. The ground got steeper and we came to a headwall covered in ice. We traversed this ice and walked on scree, and made a couple switchbacks to the summit. The summit was only big enough for one person, so we all took turns standing on the top, then scree skied back down. We called it ‘Pico Primero,’ elevation 5274 m (17,303 ft). Link to peak on peakbagger.

Ascent route of Peak 5274/ Pico Primero, picture taken from summit of Pico Muerte

Ascent route of Peak 5274/ Pico Primero, picture taken from summit of Pico Muerte

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By this time in the afternoon the penitentes were quite soft from being in the sun all morning. It took a long time to get back, and it got very hot from the reflection of the sun on the glacier. We were very tired. The next day slept in, and then moved camp back to the moraine.

The next morning a couple people made another ascent of another peak, but I was very tired and wanted to rest up before hauling all of our stuff back to the barrels the next day. The next morning we moved to the barrels and spent two nights there resting. It snowed, and we all hoped for the best when we attempted Aconcagua a week later. Would winter come early? Would the wind blow all the snow away? What would it be like up there in a snowstorm?

These questions worried me, but I focused on how relieved I was that I had climbed a couple peaks and maintained a level of safety that I was comfortable with. Oh, and getting a decent meal did cross my mind…

We packed the barrels and the mules came and picked them up. We hiked down the same valley, but went over a pass to get back to penitentes quicker. We stayed the night near a small hut. It was nice to be in the valley, it was shady and pleasantly warm.

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The next morning we finished the first half of the trip, and hiked into penitentes… Just in time for lunch and a well deserved lomo, coke, and a couple cervezas. That evening we drove into Mendoza and had a group dinner.

Back in civilization. I am the one on the right.

Back in civilization. I am on the right.

This is part 1 of 2. For link to part two, click here.