News

Summiting Mt. Aconcagua, And Surviving to Tell the Tale

1/23/2010 2:00 AM Eastern

In December, The Wire reported on Gospel Music Channel’s Jeff Brown and Comcast SportsNet’s Mike Sheehey and their plans to climb Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America.

Brown and another climber, Ricardo Peña, the expedition leader, did reach the summit the afternoon of Jan. 11 and brought back a picture of a GMC banner up there at 22,841 feet. (Sheehey and a fourth member of the team stopped about 500 feet short of the summit.) The GMC Web site chronicled the expedition at gospelmusicchannel.com/climb. That’s where you can read the team’s full account of that harrowing final day.

The group “made several critical mistakes” that seriously complicated matters, Brown recounted on the Web site.

Because of weather issues, they began the final ascent from a base camp lower than would normally be used and left later in the day (5:45 a.m.) than they should have. They thought the climb would take eight hours. It actually took 11 hours.

In hindsight, they didn’t bring enough water or energy drinks on the final climb, Brown said, leading to dehydration that slowed them down more. They did not summit until nearly 5 p.m., dangerously close to nightfall.

Neither Brown nor Sheehey had climbed above 20,000 feet, though Sheehey had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, at 19,341 feet. No one knows the physical and mental toll of those heights until they’ve experience them. Each step required five breaths, both men said.

The climb down was slow, and when they reached an empty camp at 21,000 feet, they were out of water and nearly out of food. Another 500 feet down they woke up two American guides who had established a camp. Those guides gave them hot food and fluids, and kept them going.

Sheehey then left before the others, which led to some confusion about whether a climber had been left behind. “After several more long hours,” Brown wrote, the climbers — all four — were together at Camp 2, at 18,200 feet, from where they had departed that morning. They were suffering the early stages of hypothermia, but felt better after they’d received treatment, food and fluids from the Argentine park rangers at Camp 2, and had rested.

Sheehey told The Wire Friday he enjoyed the athletic challenge and the travel to Argentina — and is glad he survived. “I always feel like I learn more from my failures than my successes, and it was certainly an interesting experience that I’ll never forget. But I don’t know that I’ll be looking to do Everest anytime soon.”

Despite a dry cough that lasted a few days, Brown told The Wire, “Overall, I feel great. I’m sleeping really good.” He gave thanks to GMC chief Charley Humbard and the people who had followed the expedition on the Web site and sent messages of support.

September