January 18, 2010

Introducing the Aconcagua Ultra Expedition

Expedition Team:
Diane Van Deren and The Benegas Brothers (Willie and Damian Benegas)

Expedition Duration
January 22 – February 15, 2010

Expedition Location
At 6,962 m (22,841 ft), Cerro Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the Americas, and the highest mountain outside Asia. It is located in the Andes mountain range, in the Argentine province of Mendoza.

Mayoclinic_dvd1 After Diane Van Deren won the world’s coldest, toughest footrace in 2009 – the 430-mile Yukon Arctic Ultra race – one might think she’d rest on her laurels. But that isn’t how this super-athlete, mother of three and overall role model is wired. In January 2010 she’ll attempt a record-shredding speed traverse of South America’s tallest peak, Aconcagua (22,841 feet).

Aconcagua is a massive volcanic mountain that is frequently blasted by a hurricane-force jetstream Argentineans call the “viento blanco,” or white wind. It’s a serious mountaineering objective that typically takes a climbing team three weeks to summit. Diane’s speed trek will climb up the “Polish Glacier” route on the East Face to the summit, and then she’ll head down the Northwest side of the mountain. Total distance will exceed 100 miles.

During Diane’s ascent, she’ll be monitored by the Mayo Clinic of Rochester, MN, by being hooked up to performance-tracking portable instruments. Medical science will focus not only on Diane’s athleticism, but also on her singularity as a survivor: In 1997 she underwent radical and risky brain surgery to cure epilepsy. Though she’d been a pro-tennis player in college and multi-sport expert, she found her Ultra running stride after that lobectomy removed a golf-ball sized piece of her brain. For Diane, running was the antidote to seizures. Whenever she felt the tingling sensation that signaled the onset of a seizure, she’d slip on her running shoes and hit the trail. Indeed, she never had a seizure while running, and she’s remained seizure-free since surgery. Running, she reports, puts her into a zone where time and distance evaporate; perhaps that’s the key to her prowess on so many 100-mile runs, like the recent Hard Rock Trail event in Colorado, on which she earned eighth place among the women’s division

On Aconcagua, she’ll join forces with The North Face® alpinists Willie and Damian Benegas. A decade ago, Willie set a world record by blitzing the peak in under 24 hours. This year, he’ll be a team member on Diane’s historic fusion of ultra running and alpinism.

Stay tuned to follow this team’s journey.

January 24, 2010

Mules loaded. All team so excited. We are off!

wow! we are a huge team! everyone arrived without a hitch from locations all over south america and the us. we are just missing willie who is waiting out fog and weather in antarctica after his summit of vinson. fingers crossed it will clear soon.

coming from winter mezdoza is hot. we are transported to the heat and long days of summer. argentine style we have already eaten every part of the cow on multiple occasions. the team met and gathered at a fabulous asada.

we have representatives from all over south america. diane with her crew from the mayo clinic will be doing high altitude studies as we climb. damian benegas and jacob uhland have pulled off a great feat to get this group assembled.

and now, we are perched in penitentes preparing to head out today for more or less two weeks with hopes of much of the team summiting and diane and willie making a speed ascent and descent of aconcagua. most of the team is wearing equipment from the mayo guys to track our different systems and functions. some we wear all the time and some just for sleeping.

today we walk in for several hours. oh and yes!! we arrived in a rain storm last night. damian said the first he had seem in 23 years here in this high dessert. the air became so fresh and the sunset is like one i have never seen with clouds and rays ignited in gold and red.


January 30, 2010

Plaza De Mulas

as we bathe in the alpenglow of this evening we forget the storms of the last few nights.  we are all at plaza de mulas, our basecamp, and feeling well.  the weather has been predictably unstable – sunny and clear in the mornings but by mid day clouds building with electricity and rain.  we had one clear night where we were able to identify the southern cross and watch a magical moonrise, but the last couple nights have been rain down lower and snow higher, mixed with gropple and hail.  the infamous andean winds have luckily not hit us yet.
willie arrived this morning after running in from the highway in 3 hours – a journey that took us two days.  we were starting to worry he might have to winter over in antarctica.  he arrived feeling fresh, before those of us languishing on a rest day had even begun breakfast.  he brings the news that weather should improve for at least the next 4 days giving us time to establish ourselves higher on the mountain.
in the meantime we eat and drink and rest.  acclimitization and hydration are such critical pieces for success higher on the mountain.  monitored by our mayo clinic doctors we have all become compulsively interested in our heart rates and blood/oxygen saturation.  today we all weighed in and each have lost between 2-5 pounds and we have not even really started the climb.  we have been going through a series of resting and step tests to see how our bodies react and recover
we are a formidable group – 22 now with willie, but moving together with an amazing efficiency that can only be attained with each member being highly conscious of working as a group.  it is impressive to be with such skilled and professional individuals, each adding their unique perspective and experience.
tomorrow we take a load to camp one, a steep scree climb, and then come back to basecamp for one more night.
being here with diane and her team of doctors/scientists is such a great honor.  watching diane pace herself and the focus of the team is a treat and an inspiration!


January 31, 2010

Last day in Base Camp

we brought a load of hard gear, food and some tents to camp one yesterday, just over 16,000 feet.  our group of 22 represents el salvador, argentina, chile, the us, uk, and venezuela so at this point many of the group are at a new high point with each step – for many their first real climb of a mountain.  it brings a sweet freshness to our climb.
we have moved into a high pressure weather system with the full moon but with this comes evidence of winds up high. last night we were treated to a ridiculous sunset and then full moon rise over the ridge of aconcagua.
diane and willlie strike out ahead of the group each day and were headed out again early this morning while the rest of us sorted gear and rested at camp. on their accelerated acclimitazation program they went to over 18,000 ft today.  kasha has held full yoga classes each afternoon with the the peak on one side and the crashing of seracs on the other – breathtaking surroundings in which to practice.  damian is madly keeping things organized and flowing smoothly for our giant group with such mixed experience and objectives,
we will run through another set of tests with the mayo doctors this afternoon.
and tomorrow we head up the mountain.  our plan will be to set three camps on the mountain over 4 days and then head for the summit.  with good luck and weather we hope to summit on on the 5th and be back in basecamp maybe that night or the next day.  no dispatches while we are on the mountain but we will take heaps of pictures to share.

we are headed out!  the winds of yesterday turned most people off the summit but look like they have settled down a wee bit.  wish us luck!

February 5, 2010

Update: Snapshots from Aconcagua

We just recieved a short email with some images from Diane Van Deren on her quest to climb Aconcagua, while being monitored by the team from Mayo Clinic. We’re not exactly sure where they are, but the team is slated to make a summit bid in the next day or so. 60 mph winds are keeping them off the summit, and the team is hoping for a weather window soon.

Stay tuned for the latest and greatest! Be sure to check the Mayo Clinic’s blog as well: http://bit.ly/cIjosT

From Diane, recieved Feb 4, 2010:

di at base camp. keep prayers for all this mt is massive.  docs are working super hard. di



February 7, 2010

Back in Base Camp

4 nights on the mountain with winds increasing daily, we made our retreat yesterday.  we are back at basecamp and the winds are even howling down here.  after sitting at 18,000 ft temperatures with temperatures dropping to -20F and winds hitting a steady 50-60 miles per hour, reports only call for increasing failing weather for the next few days.  it was hard to pack up the tents to head downhill.  but, the good news is, it looks like a great day for monday, very cold temperatures but winds are expected to drop to almost nothing.  so we spend two days in camp, eating, resting, washing, and plan to head back onto the mountain tomorrow.

our team is fabulously united.  the discussion on the mountain was to maybe make a big push from camp 2 and try to beat the storm but all decided that we would rather try and get up as many as possible to the summit – thus the return to basecamp to wait for more favorable conditions that would give all much better chances.  logistically trickier, but a tender team effort.  everyone is lining up at the $2 per minute phone to try and change tickets and call their work and honeys at home to beg a few more days of hall passes.

diane and willie made a solo training mission to 20,000 feet yesterday, as we packed camp to head down, before the winds chased them down behind us.  i have not been in the andes in 5 years and forgot how formidable and intimidating the weather is here.

so, the new plan stands as this…saturday morning, head back up to camp two, sunday morning, camp three and monday…oh so cold and early…we hope mother nature  will be calm and sweet and we can bring as many of our team together to the summit.  besides lots of gnarly stomach crud everyone is amazingly happy and healthy – like i have never seen in such cold, dry, and communal living.  i feel we have been very lucky at every turn.
Ret at conway rocks

we will be back we hope monday night!  thanks to all!   thanks scott mcguire and tnf and meredith for sending robert fry!!

Serving dinner at Camp Benegas

Serving dinner at Camp Benegas

Sunset at Camp Benegas

diane sends love to all and is learning an entirely different set of skills from flight series!!!!