Aconcagua; going full circle

Chicks guest blogger Nicky Messner is a high altitude mountaineer with five of the seven summits under her belt, including Mt. Everest. She has recently decided to share her climbing experiences with other women. Her goal is to expand horizons & change lives through alpinism. She successfully led her first all-female team to Kilimanjaro in July of this year and has another trip scheduled for June 2012. Visit her website Be the Exception…not the Rule for more information.

One online dictionary states that ‘If something or someone has come full circle after changing a lot, they are now the same as they were at the beginning’.  You can post my Aconcagua summit photo by that definition; I can’t imagine a better way to describe my recent climb.

Nicky and Bob on Aconcagua summit

When my climbing buddy Bob mentioned that his December Aconcagua expedition had an opening, I jumped at the chance to go back and my visit my old mountain friend.  Aconcagua, The Stone Sentinel, stands 22,841 feet tall in the Andean mountains of Argentina.  My first major mountaineering expedition was to Aconcagua in January of 2003 (I had climbed Cotopaxi in 1997, but that was a one night gig, not a full length trip).  I really had no idea what I was getting into; I just saw a documentary on tv and decided I’d like to give her a try.  We were living in Baku, Azerbaijan at the time, and none of my friends had ever done anything like this.  Nor did I have a local REI that I could pop into for advice.  It was just me, the gym, and my online gear purchases, trying to figure out what the heck we were doing.  That trip changed my life.  I am not sure if the expedition released a ‘me’ that had been hiding within, or if it created a new ‘me’.  Either way, I was not the same person when I came home.  In brief, I came back an expedition junkie.  Hooked.  Addicted.  Needing more.

Aconcagua summit from Camp 2

I’ve since gone on to climb five of the seven summits, including Mount Everest.  I’ve followed the standard progression: a winter seminar on Rainier, a climb of Denali, and a jaunt up Cho Oyu.  I didn’t have Everest on my radar from the beginning, I just enjoyed taking each climb a bit further than the last.  In doing so, I added more skills and altitude to my resume, therefore adding to my confidence level.  And added to my climbing craving, of course.  So when my husband suggested I try Everest (yes, I blame him), my addiction was strong enough, and my confidence just high enough, that I only said no once.  I capitulated the second time he brought it up!

I have always, mistakenly, confused acknowledging my skills with being arrogant.  It took a couple of years for me to openly discuss my Everest summit with people without my feeling like a braggart.  Some of my fellow teammates had written books and been on tv before I admitted to my success.    Just recently however, I came to terms with being an ‘Everest Summiter’, and started to appreciate that I was truly an experienced, and pretty darn good, climber.

The shadow cast by Aconcagua as the sun rises on summit day

This was the climber who returned to Aconcagua, to the scene of the crime, to the place where her life had originally changed forever.  It was a passionate reunion, to say the least.  We started up a different valley this time, and when we joined my 2003 route, I started crying like a baby.  It was a joyful yet teary-eyed confession that I am a climber, and always will be.  That I still love every ounce of pain, filth and oxygen deprivation associated with expedition length high altitude climbing.  It was an admission of, and a resignation to, the fact that mountains and mountaineering now own me.

I knew then, at that very moment where our routes joined, that I had gone full circle with my climbing.  I had certainly changed a lot, gone from novice climber to Everest summiter, and was back at my beginning.  Back in that first space where Aconcagua took hold of me and my love of high altitude expeditions was born.  After all my changes, I am just as enthralled with mountaineering, every bit as enamored with expedition life, as I was the first time I climbed Aconcagua.  Hooked.  Addicted.  Needing more.  Full circle.

For more about Nicky and her upcoming all-female climbs, please visit her website www.betheexception.net  A Kilimanjaro trip is scheduled for 6/23/12, and Nicky is currently putting together a ‘Hiking & Haciendas’ trip, with climbing add-on, in Ecuador at the end of May. If interested, please send Nicky an email at nicky@betheexception.net