Posts tagged mountaineering
AWExNepal: Welcome to Island Peak and THANK YOU Camp USA

AWExpeditions friend & many-time climbing sirdar Mingma Sherpa is all smiles in his new CAMP gear - crampons, ice axe, helmet & harness!

Today is the first day of October, and that means one thing: the post-monsoon season in Nepal is in full swing, and it’s time for AWE’s 2019 Nepal team to migrate towards Kathmandu and get moving in the mountains.

This year we’ll be visiting Everest Basecamp before heading over to neighboring Island Peak, also known as Imja Tse. Island Peak is a striking glaciated peak located slightly south of Mt Everest and Lhotse, and about two days of walking from Everest Basecamp. Island Peak’s summit elevation is 20,305ft or 6,189m; it is considered a classic introductory climb in Nepal, rated PD+ (‘Peu Difficile’ which translates to ‘Somewhat Difficult’) on the difficulty spectrum - but that sure doesn’t mean that it is going to be boring or easy! Island Peak combines a host of mountaineering challenges that are sure to keep our team engaged: rock scrambling, crevasse crossings (which sometimes can involve ladders, depending on the season), exposed ridge lines, and a steep headwall just below the summit.

To that end, we are grateful to once again partner up with CAMP USA for cutting-edge lightweight glacier gear. Just as we did after climbing Mera Peak in 2017, we are going to gift the team’s harnesses, helmets, and ascenders to our sherpa team at the end of the expedition - hoping to contribute a small part towards modernizing the gear that keeps our climbing Sherpa and other local friends safe in their day-to-day work on the mountains that we aspire to summit. Thank you CAMP for making amazing gear, and for being such a strong supporter of our endeavors.

The mountaineering gear that’s readily available in Nepal is of variable (and often downright terrible) quality; climbing sherpas and porters can often be seen tackling steep snow and ice without the requisite gear or with outdated, heavy equipment that’s been through many seasons of intense use. Being able to bring over five sets of state-of-the-art glacier gear is a privilege that we here at AWE highly appreciate, as do our Sherpa friends!

And with that… back to expedition prep. We’ll be touching down in Kathmandu in less than a week now, and start our long walk towards Everest and Island Peak on the morning of October 8. Expect more regular updates both here and on Instagram over the next few weeks as our 2019 Nepal adventure is in full swing.

Glacier safety gear is an essential element of any AWE Nepal trip.

2017 Mera Peak expedition member Tara testing out her CAMP USA glacier kit a few days before the summit push

If you are curious to read more about the 2017 Mera climb and CAMP’s role on that particular trip, check out the article “The Case For Porter Support” at www.sunnystroeer.com below.

The Case for Porter Support - #purejoy

If you looked at my Instagram yesterday , you saw that I shared a few words about our porter team during the Mera Peak expedition. The forced brevity of Instagram captions just doesn't do things justice, so here's a more in-depth introduction to our lovely support crew.  


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Aconcagua: An Introduction to the Normal Route

Aconcagua is the perfect high altitude mountain for all sorts of shenanigans, because it has something for everyone: the South Face is among the biggest walls in the world, with some 9000ft of highly technical climbing; the Polish Glacier on the east side of the mountain offers a moderate technical option.  And then there's the Normal Route leading up the northwest ridge. 

The Normal Route is mostly a walkup; there are no glaciers or major cliff bands that could pose serious objective hazards. It is also the most popular way up the mountain; Plaza de Mulas at its foot is rumored to be the second largest basecamp in the world, and from there a well-worn track leads most of the way to the summit.  Now... that's not to say that getting up the mountain via the Normal Route is easy.  No matter how non-technical it may be, the route still gains almost 4000 meters / 13,000ft from the park entrance to the summit. It is long, it is steep, and the conditions above basecamp are often brutal.   

Aerial view of the Horcones Valley Route - courtesy Sunny Stroeer

How long and steep, you ask?  Great question - it’s not that simple.  Interviews with Fernanda Maciel, the original women's speed record holder, suggest that the entire route is somewhere between 40 and 45 kilometers in length one way.  Kilian Jornet, who briefly held the men's  speed record in 2014, recorded a distance of 59.85km for the roundtrip or just under 30km one way.  My (Sunny’s) own GPS data from a 2014 climb comes in at right around 34kms one way.  

Normal Route Elevation Profile - courtesy Sunny Stroeer

So much for the distance question. But how steep? This one is easier to answer: at first not very steep at all; then, very steep. The approach to basecamp follows the Horcones Valley which ascends so gradually that it is almost imperceptible for a good portion of the hike.  But the story changes drastically after Plaza de Mulas: the final 10 kilometers from basecamp to the summit cover almost 2,700m of elevation gain, translating into an average gradient of 26-27%.  

There are five main camps in between the park entrance and the summit.  The first two, Confluencia and Plaza de Mulas, offer relative luxury thanks to local logistics providers: Inka Expediciones and a few others maintain semi-permanent tents to provide meals and bunk beds for their clients.  In addition, there is ample mule traffic all the way up to Plaza de Mulas which makes it easy to move loads up to basecamp. Once past Plaza de Mulas everything gets harder: the air is thinner, the temperatures colder, the comfortable logistics support a distant memory (unless you’re hiring expensive porters to help carry gear as high as Nido de Condores).   Put all those factors together with the increased steepness, and you’ll easily see why the 25km to Plaza de Mulas is typically done in only three days, while it’s then another ~ ten days to cover the remaining 10 kilometers from Plaza de Mulas to the summit.  

A map of the upper mountain, via www.aconcaguaexpeditions.com

Aconcagua via the Normal Route is not much of a technical challenge, but (or maybe "because of that") it makes for an excellent introduction to high altitude mountaineering; the Normal Route also lends itself to comparatively safe solo missions.  Hopefully these maps are useful for you as you’re following along friends on the mountain or if you are researching your own Aconcagua climb. 

Lots of time for acclimatization and flexibility from 4000 meters on upwards. AWExpedition climbs often build in an additional overnight at ~3.000m right at the beginning of the trip, before heading into the park.

On that same note here is one last resource: a sample mountain itinerary for a typical AWExpeditions Normal Route climb, this one pulled from a 2017 expedition. The actual schedule in any given year is of course dependent on weather and team condition, but this straw-man is a decent blueprint of how to tackle a 7000 meter peak with solid acclimatization. 

These maps and schedules should give you a good starting to point to plan your own Aconcagua climb - or, if you’d rather tackle the summit with a team and have all your logistics taken care of: get in touch with us!

This article originally appeared in modified form over on AWE founder Sunny Stroeer’s website www.sunnystroeer.com. You can find the original version at https://www.awexpeditions.org/field-notes/aconcagua-normal-route-description.


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Upcoming AWE climbs

  • Aconcagua Normal Route
    Jan & Dec 2020 (three weeks)

  • Aconcagua 360 Route
    Feb 2020 & Jan 2021 (three weeks)

  • Nepal Island Peak via Everest Basecamp
    October 2019 (three weeks)

  • Kilimanjaro
    September 2020 (11 days)

Find out more and join us here.