I am laying flat on my back in a small orange mountaineering tent, and I think I am going to die. My feet are sticking out the front flap. I didn’t have the energy to take off my boots. It is well below freezing, the winds are howling and the snow is blowing in through the tent opening. I can’t feel my fingers, am having trouble breathing and have a terrible headache. My whole body hurts and I lack the will to do anything but lie perfectly and miserably still. Worst of all: This is just the beginning.
I am in Argentina, near the Chilean border, about a week into an expedition to reach the summit of Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of Asia. After Mount Everest, Aconcagua is the tallest of the “seven summits” — the highest climbs on each continent. But I am struggling to advance beyond base camp, which sits at just over 14,000 feet.
Depending on the route, climbing Aconcagua doesn’t require major skills. I have done more challenging and technical climbs, but this mountain is very high and intense storms can come out of nowhere. More than 100 climbers have died on Aconcagua. Only about 30 percent of those who get permits to climb actually make it to the summit.