Note: This article “Conquering Aconcagua: Watertown native makes climb of a lifetime” was written by Ed Zagorski of the Watertown Daily Times for the Family and Friends Magazine in Summer 2018. Click here to read the original article, on pages 36 -40.
Her journeys are well planned, but the destinations are difficult to reach.
Watertown native Chelsey Berg’s most recent stop was the summit of Argentina’s Aconcagua, at 22,842 feet the highest mountain outside Asia and one of the world’s Seven Summits, the highest mountains on every continent. Berg has set her sights on climbing every one of them.
Berg, 31, graduated from Watertown High School in 2005 and Marquette University in December 2008 with a degree in marketing and international business. She is employed as a marketing manager for international talent development and transition firm.
She moved to Chile because she wanted to live in another country and learn Spanish. Berg said she had studied abroad, backpacked and wanted to round out the experience by living in another place.
“For Spanish, it was Latin America or Spain, but I figured at that point in my life (she was 25 when she left the U.S.), I love adventure, pushing myself to the limits, and doing all that I can in nature, Latin America was the best option,” Berg said.
She said Chile was ideal because of its mountainous terrain.
“I have been very lucky to climb many mountains and volcanoes now all over Chile,” she said. “This was my fifth time over 20,000 feet.” Despite her already active lifestyle by riding her bike to work and going to the gym each day, Berg said additional preparation was needed four months before the Aconcagua climb.
She was working on acclimating her breathing in the thin air on mountains that were above 18,000 feet. She also used these mountains to gain better cardiovascular endurance. Berg also focused her gym activities to provide her with a balance of strength and resistance training.
She said she was physically and mentally ready for the climb. Berg said Aconcagua receives “significant traffic” with approximately 3,000 individuals attempting to reach the summit each year, but only 30 percent achieve success.
“That’s a pretty low number, but it takes into consideration that Aconcagua is a nontechnical climb (no ropes) so many people with minimum experience try to tackle the summit,” Berg said.
However, the weather conditions are not as forgiving with temperatures 20 below zero at times and winds howling at 65 mph. She said climbers have to be alert of altitude sickness, which — with lower oxygen levels — generally occurs at altitudes of 8,000 feet and above. People who are not accustomed to these heights are most vulnerable with symptoms ranging from headache, nausea, fatigue, vomiting and rapid heart rate.
The risk increases if a climber has a history of altitude sickness as well as climbing too quickly. The complications of altitude sickness include fluid in the lungs, brain swelling, coma and, in some cases, death.
“Being such a popular mountain that bestows the grand prize of being able to say you climbed the ‘Colossal of America’ or that you climbed to the ‘Roof of the Americas,’ as many like to call it,” the former Milwaukee resident said,
“Aconcagua was the experience of a lifetime.”
Berg said when she was younger her grandfather would take her in his pickup truck and drive to the mountains so the two could camp during her school vacations.
She wanted to climb Aconcagua for her grandfather and for her great-uncle Pete, who climbed the same mountain in 1974, but had to climb down just two hours from the summit.
”“I wanted to make Grandpa happy and allow his brother to summit the mountain,” she said. That was his dream. I felt very connected to him in the mountain on the summit day — really thinking about him and imagining him climbing the same mountain so many years before me — literally following in his footsteps and continuing his legacy he left with many.Chelsey Berg
While climbing Aconcagua, Berg said there were times when her body wanted to stop.
“This happens all the time,” she said. “You learn how to click the mind into gear and just put all of your energy into steps, breathing and truly connecting with the mountain. This is easier when you really love what you do because the motivation is so real. It comes from within.”
Berg used only mules to move her gear from the bottom to a base camp. She didn’t use any porters or guides on the Aconcagua journey. They would go back down to sleep, fetch half of the 100 pounds of gear and travel back to the higher camps. The following day they would grab the remaining 50 pounds of gear and continue with their trek.
During the climb her partner became ill and needed to make it back down the mountain.
“I felt very good mentally and physically, so I really wanted to continue as long as my partner was well enough to get back down to base camp alone,” she said.
“We took a day for him to rest and recoup and see if he’d get better, and that day was very stressful for me. I was full of internal anguish wondering how it’d turn out, if I’d be able to continue, what my plan for returning would be if I couldn’t continue this time. I was very stressed. It was very sad to continue without my partner, who had been my climbing partner for four years. It was our dream to summit together.”
Berg said he couldn’t go on, so shecontinued.
“And as I started climbing again, I felt all my energy come back and my summit hopes once again became real,” she said. “The last 20 meters tears flowed from my eyes until I reached the top and my heaving chest was overflowing with emotion.
My glistening eyes darted from one side to the other — what does the world look like at 22,842 feet?” she said. “I felt so blessed and so grateful to see this world from that perspective. It is one that I appreciate with every ounce of my being.”
She said climbing Aconcagua was the “experience of a lifetime.”
Berg purchased the permits, which are only available in person, on Jan. 12 in Mendoza, Argentina.
She said there is too much to say about her 11-day journey, especially reaching the summit on Jan. 23. She spent 12 nights and 13 days in her tent during the trek. Berg took photos of the summit and left a little piece of her Uncle Pete in a small box at the top so he could finally reach the summit too.
“I got to the summit and I could see clouds rising, and I was on the top and it was incredible,” she said. Berg wants to climb the Seven Summits with the 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania next and, of course, eventually, the
29,029-foot Mount Everest in Asia.
I'M TALKIN' TO YOU
Purpose-driven people who feel compelled to make life meaningful for yourself and others.
Outdoor-inspired people whose best self comes alive when experiencing beautiful places and pushing your limits in the open air.