In Spring 2012 I was leading a voluntary service trip in Tanzania. A group of students from an American girls’ school, and their parents, had come to Tanzania to build a new kitchen in a primary school in Moshi. I had the honour to work for and get to know some fascinating people. Among those people were Bruce, his incredible wife and wonderful daughter. I connected with the family instantly.
The team and I spent a week in Moshi under the watchful gaze of Kilimanjaro, the clouds shrouding and revealing her as we worked hard and succeeded to build the kitchen, install the water, fix a broken fence, paint a number of buildings and more. Bruce and I got chatting about my previous visits to Tanzania and Kilimanjaro; one day he turned to me and asked that if a space ever opened up on a trip to Kilimanjaro to let him know.
The following year, 2013, I was scheduled to return to Kilimanjaro twice, once at the end of May and again at the start of October. My October trip looked bleak – last minute cancellations threatened whether the trip could run. I had intermittently kept in touch with Bruce and his wife since the service trip, so a couple of months before the trip was due to depart I emailed him and asked ‘Do you want to join me on Kilimanjaro?’. As luck would have it he was in the middle of a work sabbatical so took the chance and said yes.
During our successful climb of Kilimanjaro (100% summit for the team – awesome), Bruce and I chatted about what was next on the list. Just before the trek I’d read something on Twitter about Mt Rainier so imagine my surprise when Bruce said he was considering it. His daughter was at college in Seattle so it made perfect sense for him. Upon agreeing that it would be an incredible peak to climb the plan was born.
10 months later, August 2014, I was on a flight to Seattle. Bruce and I had booked places on the International Mountain Guides (IMG) Mt. Rainier Glacier Skills Seminar. 6.5 days of learning all about glacier camping, safe glacier travel (and crevasse rescue), ice climbing, belaying and rappelling and loads more, while ascending up the mountain putting our new knowledge to the test. Our guides Dallas Glass, Jonathan Shrock and Betsy Dain-Owens (who joined us for the summit push) were phenomenal. Our fellow climbers were the best and we all got on so well. It was the best mountain experience I’d ever had, and that still stands two years later. I still get goosebumps thinking about how awesome it was.
During this trip Bruce and I had the conversation again, “what’s next?”. We both agreed we wanted to climb Aconcagua but felt we needed to take our time, get some more exposure to altitude and build up our mountain experience before tackling it so we decided on Mt Elbrus (which you can read about here). The theory was that the Mt Elbrus north route would put our glacier skills and roped travel knowledge to use, while adding in the extra challenge of higher altitude as Mt Rainier is ‘just’ 4392m /14,411ft.
Two months later, October 2014, we had signed up for Elbrus and intensive training had commenced but still the dream of Aconcagua was there. We talked about it a lot. Around February 2015 IMG announced their 2016 Aconcagua departure dates and guide names. Our Mt Rainier guide Johnny Shrock was guiding on our preferred departure date – it was a no brainer. In April 2015, just four months before jetting off for Mt Elbrus, Bruce and I submitted our Aconcagua applications to IMG to climb in January 2016…