Fortune placed Pete McAfee on the trailhead. But hard work and a positive mindset took him to the summit.

“Never let an opportunity pass you by”, says Pete McAffee. This American climber should know: he went from halfheartedly entering a contest on social media to finding himself atop the highest mountain in the world outside of Asia.

The opportunity in this case was a contest designed by Deuter USA (the American division of the prestigious German backpacks), developed in a joint initiative with Grajales Expeditions, to offer a spot on an Aconcagua expedition.

And the truth, of course, is that what made it all possible was the climber’s determination, rather than the chance itself. But the tale is gripping enough in Pete’s first-hand account of a well-deserved climb to the summit:

Mt. Aconcagua - Grajales Expeditions

What would you do if you were given the opportunity to climb the highest mountain in the southern and western hemispheres? What kind of questions would you ask yourself? Am I fit enough? Am I strong enough mentally? Why would I do this? To complicate matters, I’m a right leg amputee… Am I even physically capable of pulling this off? These were the questions going through my mind when I got the call.

I had entered to win a spot on an expedition to Aconcagua. Who would’ve thought you could ever win anything on social media? Well, let me tell you, this one was real, and I had five months to train before I left on this expedition.

Tanner Schaefer, my good friend and climbing partner, helped put my doubts to rest. He told me that if this was an actual lottery, “they are the ones who got lucky, not you”. The majority of my self doubt quickly faded away as I accepted the offer. To be fair, Tanner was right, at the very least I had as good a chance as anyone at pulling off a successful summit of Aconcagua. I was already an avid skier and mountaineer. I spend every other week playing in the mountains of northern California, and the Cascades of Oregon, and Southern Washington. It wasn’t like I haven’t done hard things before. I’ve climbed multiple technical, and non-technical peaks as well as high altitude volcanoes in Ecuador. Heck, me and a group of friends successfully climbed and ski descended Denali and we did it unguided. Tanner was right. My confidence was growing and I was beginning to believe that I was the man for the job!.

That being said, I wasn’t gonna take this lightly. A huge opportunity was on the line and I wasn’t gonna let it go to waste. I upped my training, carrying 75 pound packs up mountains and upped my cardio work on non-mountaineering days. I began spending longer days in the mountains and began climbing up and down, rather than climbing up and skiing down. I preach a lot about setting yourself up to get lucky. I already had a good cardio base and was spending ample time in the mountains when this opportunity presented itself. I was in a good position to get lucky.

Fast-forward five grueling months of training to January 26. My bags are packed, my gear is sorted and I’m hopping on a plane headed to Argentina.

The next day I met my team for the first time. There were eight people total, two guides, and six clients. It was a very culturally diverse group of men and women, but we bonded immediately and the team meshed very well. We did a gear check and enjoyed eating our way around Mendoza.

No expedition is complete without a little drama and this was no exception. Due to abnormally high temps and potential flooding in the Vacas valley, the government closed the Polish traverse route. This meant we wouldn’t be doing our planned route. While this was upsetting for some, I kept an open mindset and decided not to stress about things I couldn’t control. I was happy to adapt and move forward with the next best option; climbing the Normal route.

Mt. Aconcagua - Grajales Expeditions

Our team would spend the next 13 days working its way through beautiful and desolate valleys and up a rocky and arid mountain.
The camps, up to and including basecamp, were extremely well established and supported. They offered many amenities and delicious food provided by Grajales Expeditions. And I’m not kidding, these meals were gourmet. I’ve never eaten so well in my life.

With each move to a higher camp came even more stunning views of the Andes and surrounding glaciers. I have never seen more beautiful sunsets than those experienced from Nido de Cóndores (camp at 17,700’).

Once we moved to high camp, Camp Colera, 19,600’ elevation, the summit push was on. It was already windy and cold and forecasted to get worse through the night. I laid in my tent, praying for an opportunity to attempt a summit. I didn’t pray for a successful summit because the summit itself must be earned on one’s own.

Mt. Aconcagua - Grajales Expeditions

In the early morning hours we launched our summit attempt, in sub optimal weather conditions. Given that we were dealing with winds strong enough to knock a man over, extreme windchill and lenticular cloud formation on the upper mountain, I consider myself very fortunate to have successfully summited Aconcagua!

I am sad that none of my teammates were there to share the moment with me, as they were all forced to turn back due to the extreme conditions. I was blessed to have shared the struggle with one other man, from another Grajales climbing team, who I had come to know well throughout the trip.

I am forever grateful to my amazing Grajales guides, Julián Castro and Jorge González, who believed in my ability and took a chance by letting me continue. Lesser experienced guides would have turned us around, but Julián has over 20 years of experience. I believe he had developed an eye for reading people on the mountain and knowing who’s going to make it and who’s not. Julián and Jorge were on the cusp of turning us back several times that day, and I’m thankful they didn’t. The only option for a summit in those conditions was to move very fast and we were the perfect team for doing just that.

Mt. Aconcagua - Grajales Expeditions

We shared a moment on a relatively deserted summit, a blessing of the weather, before heading down. We spent the next three days working our way off the mountain and back to civilization.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I took a spot on this expedition. I made relationships that will last forever and this mountain tested me. I experienced something that can’t be put into words. It’s something that not many people on earth get to experience and it made me a better person. I’d like to thank Grajales Expeditions, Deuter and Ortovox for funding the expedition and giving me an opportunity. Never let an opportunity pass you by.

Pete McAfee

There is not much to add but a big thank you, on behalf of the Grajales Expeditions family. To Pete, for climbing with us and for kindly sharing his experience; to our guides Julián and Jorge, for their professionalism and outstanding leading skills, and, last but not least, to our partner company Deuter, for letting us be a part of such a rewarding journey. As Jane Austen once wrote: “It is such a happiness when good people get together- and they always do.”

Check Pete McAfee’s review here:

Nicolas Garcia

Author of the books Montañas en alpargatas, la vida de Fernando Grajales”; “Mendoza, senderos de aventura”; texts for the book “Aconcagua: Fotografías”. Reporter, free lance writer and editor at different newspapers and magazines: Editor at Los Andes newspaper (Mendoza, Argentina); reporter at El Cronista newspaper (Buenos Aires, Argentina). Free lance articles for: La Nación (Buenos Aires); The Observer (London); Argentina’s National Ministry of Tourism. Currently, logistics, communication and texts for the Mendoza guiding company Grajales Expeditions.

View all posts by Nicolas Garcia

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