Category: Aconcagua

Aconcagua #2 – 100% Summit Success!

Aconcagua Summit Photo. Left to right: April Mayhew, Bob Szalkiewicz, Joey Szalkiewicz, Gianni Scuncio, Kurt Wedberg. In front Bret Siciliano, Bob Bobbit, and Joe Szalkiewicz.

A big congratulations to our second Aconcagua team of the season for reaching the summit on January 12, 2014!  100% of the group made it to the top of South America and back safely.  For Bob, Joe, and Joey Szalkiewicz this climb also marked the 3rd of their continental summits having previously ascended Kilimanjaro (African continent) and Mt. Elbrus (European continent).  Joey and Gianni Scuncio were the youngest on the team at 16 years old.  The climb was a new altitude record for everybody.  Impressively, Gianni’s previous altitude record was San Gorgonio in Southern California at 11,499’/3505m.

Aconcagua requires a 3-day trek into Base Camp.  Most of the team’s gear for the 2+ week expedition was brought in on mules.  Joining us on the trek into Base Camp was Kym and Brittany Szalkiewicz who rode with our “arieros” (Argentine mule drivers) each day.  Kym and Brittany remained with the climbing team while they acclimatized at Base Camp (13,747’/4200m) for four days then rode out and stayed in the sleepy city of Mendoza soaking up the summertime sun and sampling delicious Argentine cuisine until the climbing team returned.

The expedition began with the weather being clear but windy.  As the team moved above Base Camp they set in three higher camps at 5060m/16,600’, 5480m/17,978’, and 5970m/19,586’.  After the team reached their highest camp on January 11 a snowstorm came in during the afternoon dropping 6-12 inches of new snow.  The team was undeterred though and during the night the storm left leaving a clear day in its wake.

Lead guide Kurt Wedberg woke at 3:20am on January 12 and looked out of his tent.  The night sky was void of clouds revealing a huge blanket of stars in all directions.  The team was woken up and preparations began for summit day as stoves were lit, breakfast made, and water bottles were topped off.

One of the joys of early morning starts on summit day are the views as the sun crests the horizon.  Today’s sunrise didn’t disappoint as Aconcagua’s shadow was cast over the Andean foothills far below.  The team put on crampons at 6188m/20,300’ to gain extra traction in the new snow and frozen dirt.  At 6400m/21,000’ the team caught up to a few others parties on the mountain.  After an efficient rest break and no other parties eager to venture off into the lead the team set off ahead and ended up breaking trail for the last 1841’.  As the air got thin the team’s progress slowed to a rhythmical pace of 2-4 deep breaths per step.  With clear weather and no wind the team stepped out on the summit of the highest mountain in South America at 1:30pm.  After some congratulatory pictures and hugs for a job well done the team ate and drank then descended back the way they came.

The rendezvous back in Mendoza brought the entire team back together where celebrations ensued.  The highlight was dinner at the famous 1884 Francis Mallmann restaurant.

Congratulations to everybody on a great accomplishment!!

A few pictures are below.  The entire photo gallery can be found here.

The team at the trailhead ready to start the expedition.

For both evenings en route to Base Camp the team partaked in a traditional Argentine “asado” cooked by our arieros on a grill over an open wood fire.

Brittany helps prepare fresh sauteed vegetables to accompany our New Years Eve asado.


Near the end of our hike on day 2 the team gets its first look at Aconcagua.


Our mule train starting up the Relinchos Valley on our final day approaching Base Camp.

The team arrives at Plaza Argentina; Base Camp for our expedition at 4200m/13,747′.

Dinnertime at Base Camp!

The team carrying loads en route to Camp 1.

Joey at the front of the pack on a load carry to Camp 2.

Bret Siciliano

Gianni Scuncio


Joe enjoying an afternoon “yerba mate”.

Bob Szalkiewicz

Bob Bobbitt feeling great after moving to Camp 1.

Afternoon snowstorm at Camp 3 the day before summit day.

Bret at the front of the pack as Aconcagua casts its shadow across the Andean foothills at sunrise.

Long shadows shortly after sunrise high on Aconcagua’s flanks on summit day.

The team keeps a steady rhythmical pace on summit day. Here at almost 21,000′ the team is taking about two deep breaths for each step taken up hill.

Joe removes his warm cap with the temperature warming up mid morning as the team approaches 22,000′.

Joey loving the view from 22,400′ at one of the final rest breaks before reaching the summit.

The South Face of Aconcagua becomes the backdrop behind the climbing team only 15 minutes away from the summit.

Team summit photo. Psyched and happy to be at the highest point in South America!


Kurt’s Suunto Core altimeter watch reading 6962m at the summit of Aconcagua.

Kurt (right) just starting the descent off the summit of Aconcagua.

The team celebrating an amazing expedition at the famous 1884 Francis Mallmann restaurant in Mendoza, Argentina.



















Aconcagua December 2013 Wrap Up

Aconcagua Summit, 6962m/22,841′, December 15, 2013. From left to right: Kurt Wedberg, Ed Saenz, Nathan Fletcher, Brandon Kibby, Natalie Bybee, and April Mayhew.

Our first Aconcagua expedition is safely down after a 15-day expedition that saw us reach the summit on a beautiful windless day.

After flying to Mendoza, Argentina the team began the 3-day trek into Base Camp carrying light packs and being supported by mules.  The team battled through many days of strong winds and some snowy days early on in the trip but were able to keep forward progress inching closer to a high camp that put us in position for our summit bid.

Climbing Aconcagua does not require any “technical skills”.  It’s challenges lie in dealing with high altitude, changeable weather, cold temperatures, carrying heavy loads, and taking care of yourself in the mountain environment.  As the team moves higher the strategy is to keep acclimatizing and staying healthy in the increasingly rarefied air.

After spending a few nights at Base Camp (4200m/13,747′) the team slept at the following elevations:  Camp 1 –  5090m/16,700′, Camp 2 – 5480m/17,979′, Camp 3 – 5970m/19,586′.  We kept the schedule steady and methodical trying to not exceed averaging a faster jump in elevation than 1000’/300m in a 24 hour period.  We were turned back on our first attempt to sleep at Camp 1 when a storm brought fresh snow and high winds during our climb.  We retreated back to Base Camp, took a rest day to regroup and get back our energy then moved up to Camp 1 on the following day after the storm cleared.

Strong winds high on the mountain revealed themselves day after day with big snow plumes blowing off the Polish Glacier that decorated our skyline view.  They didn’t prevent us from moving into position for a summit attempt though.  As the team’s health remained good we kept to our schedule and hoped when we were ready for a summit attempt the weather would settle down.  Our patience paid off and we found ourselves settling into Camp 3 with only a light breeze and clear skies on December 14.  The team prepped for the summit day, had an early dinner, and got into their sleeping bags before it got dark.

Waking before sunrise SMI guide April Mayhew started the stoves to make hot drinks and breakfast while Kurt checked on the group and made sure everybody was ready for the big day.  The sky displayed a vast array of stars and no clouds while the weather was crisp and calm.  As we started out at 5:30am the horizon showed the first hints of light from the sun rising casting an orange glow over the far reaching skyline.

The thin air required deep breathing in the cold air in a steady rhythm of 1-2 breaths per step.  By the time we would reach the summit it was 3-4 deep breaths per step.  The team took breaks at regular intervals where they ate, drank, and took in the spectacular views Aconcagua offers.  Eventually we found ourselves taking a break at “The Cave” at 22,000’/6700m.  Above is the Canaleta Chute making up the last 841’/250+m to the summit.  The route weaves it’s way through boulders and snowbanks culminating at the summit.

The team did a great job showing tenacity and lots of sticktoitiveness over a very respectable 7 1/2 hour climb to the summit.  Calm weather allowed the team to relax on the summit to enjoy the views, take photos, eat, and drink.  After a generous 45 minutes or so on the summit the team began packing up and then retracing their steps back to high camp.

The following day they descended to Base Camp and took advantage of the opportunity to hire a helicopter to fly directly back to their hotel in Los Penitentes where much deserved showers awaited.  On December 17 the team was back in Mendoza celebrating at 1884 Francis Mallmann, the nicest restaurant in Mendoza and the perfect way to put the icing on the cake of a great expedition.

Congratulations team on a job well done!!

A few pictures are below.  The entire photo gallery can be found here:

Aconcauga December 2013

December 2: The team at the trailhead ready to start the 3-day trek to Base Camp.


Our mules at the end of the second day’s journey en route to Base Camp.

Our arrieros (mule drivers) preparing an Argentine “asado” over a wood fire on the evening of day 2 of our approach to Base Camp.

Traditional Argentine cuts of meat over a wood barbecue make up the centerpiece of a tasty “asado”.


Natalie finds a natural lounge chair en route to Aconcagua Base Camp.

The team at Base Camp (4200m/13,747′) ready to move to Camp 1.


The team traversing an iced over glacial pond en route to Camp 1.

The team at a rest break during a failed attempt to reach Camp 1. After reaching approximately 15,500′ the decision was made to turn back to Base Camp and try another day.

Ed leading the pack on the final steep slope below Camp 1.

Afternoon downtime the team enjoying a hot drink at Camp 1.

A beautiful day at approximately 17,600’/5365m while climbing to Camp 2.

Afternoon snacks are essential as the team rests and “fuels” up in preparation for summit day the next morning.

December 15, 2013, 5:35am it’s “go time” as the team shoulder’s their rucksacks to start summit day!

Brandon psyched at a rest break with the early morning sun starting to crest the horizon.

Aconcagua forming this beautiful penumbra as it casts its shadow across the Andes at sunrise.

Early morning long shadows on summit day.


Looking up from 22.000’/6705m at the Canaleta Chute and the summit of Aconcagua.

SMI guide April Mayhew psyched in the middle of the Canaleta en route to the summit.

The team negotiating the terrain high in the Caneleta a short distance below the summit.

Last rest break before reaching the summit.

Nathan topping out on the highest point in the Western Hemisphere!

Natalie and Brandon with SMI guide Kurt Wedberg posing at the summit cross on Aconcagua with flags from Big City Mountaineer’s. Both Natalie and Brandon raised over $8800 to help underprivileged youth experience the outdoors and learn critical life skills. Thanks you two for raising money for such a great cause!!

SMI guide April Mayhew reaches the summit of Aconcagua for the 4th time in three years. Great job April helping guide another successful SMI expedition to the top of the Western Hemisphere!!

Nathan Fletcher put forth a strong effort on summit day breaking his previous altitude record of Mt. Whitney (4422m/14,508′) by 8333’/2540m!! Great job Nathan!!

Long time SMI veteran Ed poses for another summit photo in front of Kurt Wedberg’s lens. After climbing all of California’s 14ers, Kilimanjaro, and peaks in Peru this was his toughest challenge yet. He accomplished it with flying colors. Another awesome job Ed!!!

Back at Base Camp the team loaded into two helicopter flights off the mountain. Base Camp to showers before we knew it!!!

December 17, 2013: Celebration dinner at 1884 Francis Mallmann. This is arguably the nicest restaurant in Mendoza and the perfect way to cap off an awesome expedition to Aconcagua!!






















SMI/BCM Aconcagua Climb DEC 2013

The TEAM SUMMITS on the 15th!!! 100% success on a picture perfect morning …. no wind and clear as a bell. They are all safe and sound and on their way down to Base Camp. Should all be back in Mendoza either on the eve of the 17th or morning of the 18th. Photo’s to follow!!!

Congratulations to:

Natalie Bybee
Brandon Kibby
Nathan Fletcher
Ed Saenz

And of course SMI’s Kurt Wedberg and April Mayhew!!




SMI/BCM Aconcagua Climb DEC 2013

Image Aconcagua#100_sm

The SMI/BCM Team led by Kurt and April, has made it successfully to Base Camp and have been doing some acclimatization hikes the past two days. They are all doing well and are very excited to begin the actual climb tomorrow. They will be headed up to Camp 1 and will remain there for the day early in the morning. The weather has been stormy and windy. That has not deterred them what so ever. Onward they go. They all send their love to all the families and friends back here in CONUS.