Steve Siegfried, a Gering High School graduate and former Gering resident, continued his quest to climb the seven summits this year.
Siegfried has a goal of climbing each continental high point on earth. Siegfried successfully climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2018 and had a goal of bagging three more peaks this year; however, mother nature was not always on his side.
Aconcagua in Argentina, South America’s highest mountain, was the first try for Siegfried.
"Aconcagua, in Argentina, is 22,841 feet. It is the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas. I went there on Jan. 29, which is summer down there. I met up with my guide and eight other climbers. We made a three-hour drive to the park entrance."
The mountain is in the Aconcagua Provincial Park.
"We walked the first day, which was about a four-hour hike to get to the first base camp. We spent the night there and the next day did an acclimation hike, which was about four hours up into the valley. We were able to see the south side of Aconcagua. Not many people climb that side of the mountain because it is so difficult. We walked the four hours back to base camp and spent the night."
Siegfried continued, "The next day, we walked up to the main base camp, a seven-hour hike, but it was blistering hot, dry conditions, and no shade. That was a very difficult walk. When we got to the base camp, about 14,000 feet, it took me four days to recover from that hike. It just wore me out. During that time, we made some smaller acclamation hikes from that main base camp. Then on a Friday, we climbed up to the next base camp, which was around 15,500 feet, called Camp Condor.
Things started to go wrong for Siegfried.
"We were going to try the summit attempt on Saturday morning, but the winds were blowing like crazy when we got up at 3 a.m. The guide said, ‘No, let’s wait another day, see if the winds settle down, and try it again on Sunday.’"
That gave Siegfried an extra day of rest.
"We spent the day at the base camp, sitting in tents, waiting for the wind to die down. We slept Saturday night and woke up at 3 a.m. Sunday and the winds were still blowing. The guide said we have to go today or we are not going to go. We have run out of days."
Siegfried made a push to the top through the conditions.
"Everybody got their gear on and started the climb at 3 a.m. About six or seven hours into the climb, toward the summit, the group got to a point where they had to traverse the one side of the peak before we rounded the back and went up to the summit.
The winds were blowing 60 to 70 mph. The guide said, ‘We have to turn around; we are fighting the wind and it is taking too much time.’ The guide turned the group around and back down we went."
Siegfried said, "We walked down to the base camp and packed up our stuff. We went to the lower base camp at 14,000 feet and spent the night. We walked out of the park on Monday, a 17-mile hike."
"I got on a plane and flew home."
Though the group was unsuccessful, Siegfried plans to try the summit again.
Siegfried did enjoy success later in the year in Russia as he hiked Mount Elbrus, Europe’s highest point at 18,510.
"This is the one that my son, Hunter, and I were supposed to go on together. We had plane tickets purchased, but then, Hunter developed a potential hernia in his stomach and he felt that he did not have time to get physically ready, so I ended up going alone."
Siegfried did a spring climb of Elbrus.
"I went in the middle of May. I flew into Russia, met the guide, and it was another three-hour drive to where we were staying. We did a couple of acclamation hikes and finally went up to the base camp. It is on a ski resort, so I was able to take three gondola rides to the base camp."
Siegfried said, "We spent the night and did an acclimation hike to about 15,000 feet and back down. We took a day to rest and then we did our summit attempt starting at 4 a.m. We reached the summit by 11 a.m. and were off the mountain by 2:30 p.m."
That hike presented something new for Siegfried.
"It was a snow climb, so we were wearing big heavy boots, crampons, rope travel, ice ax, and it was all new to me. It was a pretty cool climb in the snow. It was perfect weather. You couldn’t have asked for a better summit day to climb that mountain. It was beautiful once we got up there. It was comparable to Kilimanjaro in the amount of time and the level of difficulty."
While in Russia, Siegfried said, "The guide told me the people of Russia are so supportive of us that on 9/11 every year everybody flies an American flag outside of their house."
Afterward, Siegfried tried a mountain climb a closer to home, New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. At a mere 6,288 feet, it would appear easy, but it wasn’t.
"I tried to climb it two years ago, but I was turned back by the weather," he said. "I wasn’t prepared for it. I tried it again this year on July 4th. We made it to within a mile of the summit, but we ended up getting into an ice patch and snowfield that was very slick. I didn’t feel comfortable crossing that without the right equipment, so we turned around and walked back down."
Siegfried wants to try Mount Washington again.
"I think I will go in late August or early September to miss the potential for the snow patch that is in that area. It is the highest mountain in the northeastern United States and you can see it from a long way off."
Siegfried hasn’t decided what his next mountain will be, but he’s thinking about heading back to Argentina.
"If I don’t go there, I will head to Indonesia and try Carstensz Pyramid. It is another of the seven summits and at 16,024 feet, it is the highest in Oceania. It is more technical rock climbing. If you go there with your guide and do what they tell you, you can make it."
Siegfried added, "I might throw in the Matterhorn next year. It is not one of the seven summits, but from a mountaineering standpoint, if I could make it to the top, I would feel good about myself. It is a short day climb. I would fly to Switzerland, take the train, make the climb the next day, and then fly home."