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Somewhere between the base and the summit is the answer to why I climb.

Ferrying loads to camp three on Aconcagua, 16,000 feet. On our way to 23,ooo, highest point in the western hemisphere. We hope. Six intrepid climbers. We have reached the alpine zone, barren of all life but us. There is no shortage of rocks, however. We are enveloped by a bumper crop, singed black long ago by some underworld furnace, salted now by the occasional patch of snow.

Two weeks of spiraling misery, and we're only half way there. Scott says we're reaching for heaven but all we find is hell. Frozen! No one argues. The thermometer reads minus five degrees in the tent. Water bottles are frozen solid, not much use. Seems sort of macho, but at this altitude, who cares?

Three of us sit in our two person tent, pummeled by a bully wind, and stare, mostly at each other, which is to say blank space. Wild of hair and eyes, these are faces that would scare small children. Each climber looks rather bleakly at his future. Tom pees in a spare water bottle, without leaving the tent. It's too cold to go outside. Only spilled a few drops. We swill warm tea, ingest our preferred pills and potions, then crawl into downy sleeping bags to lie awake and rate our headaches. My head thumps like a kettle drum. Paul coughs for hours, expelling a shroud of gas in the process, which, trapped in the undersized tent, spends the night with us. He (and consequently the rest of us) is a victim of HAFE, or high altitude flatus expulsion. For real! Another fitful night.

© Danny Kimberlin 2013