Mount Aconcagua within reach
Sickness, passport theft, winds challenge climbers
By Chris Woodall
Constable Manuel Pizarro was scheduled to make a solo attempt on the summit of Argentina’s Mount Aconcagua today (Feb. 6) after 100 mph winds forced the team down from its highest camp on Wednesday.
Pizarro, along with Const. Cliff Chastellaine of Pemberton and Richard Getzkow of Gibsons, reached Camp Berlin, at 14,300 feet the highest camp on the route, on Tuesday. But overnight a storm moved in and the trio had to do everything they could to save their tent.
The storm contributed to an accident that claimed the lives of three Brazilian climbers attempting another route on the Mountain Wednesday. The accident brought the number of deaths on the mountain this year to six.
The team, which includes Jacques Maillet of Regina and photographer Katherine Muller of Gibsons, were to have reached the summit of 22,841-foot Mount Aconcagua this week.
The team was accompanied by Pizarro's father, Manual Pizarro Sr., who was handling the team's Chilean logistics. The final push to the summit was originally planned for Wednesday, Feb. 4.
Chastellaine, Pizarro and Maillet are RCMP officers. Pizarro is originally from Chile, which unexpectedly came in handy.
Getzkow works for the Coast Independent newspaper and has climbed with Pizarro in a previous attempt on Aconcagua.
This 1998 trip was not easy.
A thief took Muller's handbag — including her passport, tourist visa, $200 U.S. and a special mountaineering watch — while the team were enjoying a meal in a Santiago, Chile, restaurant, Jan. 23.
The bag was at Muller's feet.
Because the team had already bought bus tickets to leave the next day, they had to go without Muller while she organized a replacement passport, says climber Getzkow in an e-mail to Pique Newsmagazine.
The Canadian embassy and other government agencies were closed, prompting a trip to the airport for another visa, Getzkow reported. No dice.
But thanks to help from a Pizarro family member in Santiago, meetings with Chilean foreign affairs and Canadian embassy officials were arranged to straighten things out.
"The Argentines are known to be strict with visas from people entering Argentina from Chile," Getzkow said.
Even if Argentine officials allowed Muller in without a visa, the same problem would occur when she tried to get back into Chile, only to be sent to Buenos Aires, Getzkow was told by Inspector Fernandez, commanding officer of the Chilean International Investigations Unit.
Muller was able to rejoin the team at Plaza de Mulas, the camp at the 14,000-foot elevation of Mount Aconcagua.
But meanwhile, the rest of the team carried on to Puente del Inca, at 9,000 feet. There they stopped for two days to acclimatize, arrange for permits and organize equipment.
From there entered the Horcones Valley, Jan. 26, to start the two-day, 48 km hike to Plaza de Mulas, arriving at Confluencia at the end of the first day.
The first attempt to hike the final leg to Plaza de Mulas got as far as Piedra Grande (12,000 feet), at the base of Aconcagua where 150 km/h head winds blocked their way.
By Jan. 28 they reached the Plaza. Stopping to acclimatize, Maillet and Manuel Pizarro Sr. succumbed to altitude sickness.
Pizarro caught a cold and was also thought to have altitude sickness, leaving Chastellaine, Getzkow and Muller as the only healthy team members.
The three spent Jan. 30-31 carrying supplies up another 10,000 feet to Camp Canada.
Next day, Feb. 1, the entire team pushed to Camp Nido (17,500 feet), arriving there Feb. 2.
The team stayed two days at Camp Nido to acclimatize to the thinner and thinner air before striving on to Camp Berlin at 19,500 feet.
Other climbing teams were facing heart break as the Canadian team worked its way to the top.
A rescue team brought down an American teacher who made it just 40 metres shy of the summit before exhaustion and frost bite made the short remaining distance impossible.
Another American team lost a member while attempting to climb Aconcagua along the most difficult route to the summit.
Chastellaine is due to make his return to Pemberton, Feb. 17, at a welcome home fund-raising dinner at Willy G's. A portion of the proceeds from that and previous fund-raising efforts is going to the Children's Wish Foundation.
Call Willy G's (894-6411), or the Pemberton detachment of the RCMP (894-6634) for more information.