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Aiming High

A father and son embark on a quest to stand taller than everyone else on earth

Will takes in the view of the mountains and glacier west of Aconcagua during a moment’s rest at 17,000 feet.

Will takes in the view of the mountains and glacier west of Aconcagua during a moment’s rest at 17,000 feet.

I am referring to standing on the summit of Mount Aconcagua in the Argentine Andes. Aconcagua lies between Santiago, Chile and Mendoza, Argentina, and is the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas, reaching 22,841 feet — about a mile and a half higher than any mountain in the lower 48 states. The fact that Argentina’s brief climbing season occurs in December and January, which is winter in the Himalayas, and that Aconcagua’s morning summit times occur during the middle of the night Himalaya time, together with the extreme unlikelihood of anyone standing atop a Himalayan peak on a winter night, the person standing on Aconcagua’s summit is likely standing higher on the planet at that moment than anyone else. My goal was to stand at the top of Aconcagua.

Why do this? The journey began with Boy Scout Troop 567 in Vero Beach. While involved in Scouting with my son, Will, we completed two 11-day backpacking treks in the mountains of New Mexico, which included summiting Mount Phillips, 11,700 feet tall. These climbs were two of our most challenging and memorable experiences together.

Upon graduating from high school, Will was ready for a more substantial challenge. The summer before he began college, we summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, at 19,341 feet. Kilimanjaro is one of the famed “Seven Summits” — the highest mountains on each of the seven continents.

After Will graduated from college, we wanted one more grand adventure together before he entered his true adult life, with all of its responsibilities. Mount Aconcagua seemed the perfect next step. In spite of being one of the tallest mountains in the world, Aconcagua can be climbed without ropes, oxygen or the dangers of crevasses or ice falls. Since we are not the type of climbers who revel in the thrill of facing possible death, this mountain seemed to be the ultimate challenge with limited risk. Danger on Aconcagua mainly arises from altitude and weather, and these hazards can be mitigated with proper preparation and planning.