Summit County locals climb Argentina’s Aconcagua peak for climate change awareness
Special to the Daily
Staring out at the formidable Argentinian mountain Aconcagua in 2013, the last thing David Morris ever imagined was that he’d climb the 22,837-foot peak someday. Flash forward a few years and that impossibility has nearly come to life for the Breckenridge local, all because of some convincing from a daring friend and a strong desire to help the environment.
Morris, a native of Virginia, saw many friends’ lives turned upside down when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012.
“I know a lot of people who live right there… a lot of people had their homes completely destroyed, or had to move out of their homes,” Morris said. “So that kind of hit home for me. This is definitely an issue that’s real and is not going anywhere, so we need to do something about it.”
Morris and his friend, Ben Pleimann of Alma, are both ski instructors at Breckenridge. Working in such a weather-dependent profession has also made global climate change startlingly real for the two.
“After seeing what’s going on first-hand, I don’t know, we just kind of decided to turn this trip into an opportunity to make a little bit of a difference,” Morris explained. “He kept saying, ‘Let’s do this, let’s do this,’ and I said, ‘No, I don’t want to do this.’ Then I finally said, ‘Fine, let’s sit down and talk about it.’ In the end he talked me into it, but it’s also the trip of a lifetime.”
Skiing down south
The two plan on summiting and then skiing down Aconcagua over the next few weeks. For their journey they have teamed up with Climate Ride and Protect Our Winters, two prominent action-sports-based organizations that are dedicated to promoting action for positive climate legislation. The trip is 100-percent self-funded, but the two hope that they can draw attention to these organizations with their harrowing adventure.
Morris and Pleimann left yesterday for Mendoza, Argentina. After spending a day or two gathering supplies, the Summit locals will hike 18 miles over a boulder-strewn route to Aconcagua base camp at just over 13,000 vertical feet. From there, a rigorous leapfrog process of hiking gear to a location and then hiking back lower to sleep will begin. The process is necessary because extreme winds scour the mountain this time of year, making sleeping and protection from the cold fleeting treasures as elevation is gained. Morris hopes to reach the summit in 16 days.
Aconcagua is no walk in the park, even for the most seasoned of mountaineers. It’s an important training ground for people who want to try ascents in the illustrious Himalayan Mountains. Although about 3,500 people attempt Aconcagua each year, fickle weather and conditions often thwart many expeditions.
Once reaching the peak, Pleinmann and Morris hope to follow the climb with the ski descent of their lives. Keyword: Hope. Since Aconcagua is in the Southern hemisphere, the two will be hiking the mountain during its late spring season. There are no live webcams on the mountain, so for all they know there may be little snow left to ski.
“This mountain has not been skiable for the last five years, but there was finally enough snow this winter and it kind of fell into place for us,” Morris said with a laugh.
Historically, it’s rare for the snowpack on Aconcagua to be too light for skiing. But, drastic changes in weather patterns over these last five years has made the mountain itself a reminder of climate change. Morris says that the timing and their cause made Aconcagua the perfect destination for the journey.
“When Ben and I started planning this, he started looking at it and wanted to ski something, and then some of the main routes are finally getting enough snow this winter to be skiable,” Morris said. “It was kind of like the perfect storm.”
In preparation for the trip, Morris has been hiking 14ers with weighted packs. He’s also gotten into Crossfit and spends as much time as possible at high elevations.
For Ben, training hasn’t been as extensive, as he is the new father of a baby girl. Luckily for him, he has experience on tough climbs: He tackled a portion of Mount Denali in Alaska last year. The two have done a number of ski enduros together, including the Imperial Challenge at Breckenridge, which has helped them build an understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“This is a pretty new adventure for me,” Morris said. “It’s definitely going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. You have to take your time, and we’ve hopefully given ourselves enough time to climatize. We’re at a high altitude, we’re definitely very far from help, so we have to be careful.”
But, there is only so much preparation one can do for a climb to 22,000 feet. As they push through gale-force winds and sub-zero temperatures, gasping for breath in the thin air, their strongest motivation will be what got them there in the first place — a deep passion for the snow sports they love and the climate that makes them possible.
“This is definitely an issue that’s real and is not going anywhere,” Morris said. “This is an opportunity for positive change. I’m definitely excited.”
Want more? Check out Summit2Ski.com to donate to Protect Our Winters or Climate Ride and follow the progress of Morris and Pleinmann.
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