From left

From left

Parksville father-son team climbs huge mountain in Argentina

Ballenas student finished courses early so he could do the climb with his dad

It took a year of planning and training, but a local man and his son successfully summited the highest mountain in both the Western and Southern Hemispheres last month, and they did so completely unsupported.

Clarke Gourlay is part-owner and general manager at the Morningstar Farm in French Creek. The 49-year-old and his 17 year-old-son Kevin, who finished his coursework at Ballenas Secondary early in order to do the climb, summited Aconcagua in December. The mountain lies in the Andes mountain range, in the province of Mendoza, Argentina, and it sits at 6,960 metres or 22,837 feet.

While many people hire a guide or a porter at least a mule to carry their packs, Clarke and Kevin set out to complete the trek on their own, and Clarke thinks they may have been the only ones at that time.

“We didn’t meet anyone else on the mountain that was doing it that way,” he said.

After they had made the decision, Clarke described in his trip report (a tad sarcastically) how he and his son “often looked longingly at the mules as [they] slugged it in for 47 kms over three days with very heavy packs.”

But in the end they saved some money and accomplished what they had set out to do, so he doesn’t regret the choice, he said. But he certainly wouldn’t describe the climb as an easy one, and in fact his son refers to it as the hardest thing he’s ever done.

Clarke’s infatuation with mountain climbing kicked into high gear when his eldest son was visiting Tanzania in 2010. Clarke and his middle son joined his eldest son and the three climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Kevin, the third and youngest son, wasn’t ready to do that climb back in 2010. But a couple years later Clarke and Kevin started planning their journey together up Aconcagua.

For their training, the two exhausted all the mountain climbing adventures possible on Vancouver Island, every time increasing the weight of their packs. They eventually set out on larger climbs off the Island, like Mount Whitney in California (14,505 feet) and Mount Rainier in Seattle (14,411 feet).

They left for Argentina on Dec.1 and once they arrived they embarked on an acclimatization climb of Mount Vallecitos, a popular Argentine destination and nearly 19,000 feet. This greatly helped their situation on Mount Aconcagua, as they were able to ascend the mountain at a faster pace and avoid the back-and-forth hiking scenarios people normally need to do to avoid altitude sickness.

Clarke and Kevin hiked an average of 6 hours-a-day at what seemed like a “painfully slow pace” at times, as they tried to catch their elusive breath. The weather would range from around 0 C in the day to -20 C or colder at night.

The two set up their tent at the designated camps each night, which were rocky but generally flat areas that had windbreaks set up where possible.

They decided to traverse the mountain, which means they combined two different routes instead of the one popular route, and saw both sides of the mountain, Clarke said.

“That made it much more interesting,” he said, adding one side of the mountain was much quieter than the other.

On the day before their summit day, Clarke and Kevin took a rest day.

“We just laid out and read aloud, we read a novel to each other, laying out in the sun with a parka.”

They began the push for the summit just after 5 a.m. the next morning where weather was reportedly -30 C. It turned out to be rather anticlimactic initially, Clarke laughed. They were following their GPS which was telling them to continue on another 40 meters to the summit.

“So we pushed on a little further ahead and then we were going down hill and we thought what’s going on?”

The only other group to summit that day came along five minutes later, and the mountain guides confirmed that the GPS was wrong and they had reached the top.

“So there was a big hug and a yell and lots of photos,” he said. “My son did 20 push-ups at the top just to prove that he could and we got that on video.”

However, that video never made it down the mountain. The camera they had brought had broken earlier in the trip and they were using a phone for photos and video. Later that day, after 13 hours of hiking, their summit day came to an end. When they went to grab the camera phone, it was gone.

“Tragic,” Clarke said.

Further down at a stop called Camp Canada they met a couple of hikers and explained their camera woes. The couple took a few photos and emailed them to Clarke.

And besides those few photos, they still have their great memories, Clarke added.

The Gourlays took 12 days to complete their trek on Aconcagua, a hike that usually takes much longer than that, but thanks to their acclimatization climb they were able to cut it down, Clarke said.

The best part about the whole adventure was accomplishing a tough goal with his 17-year-old son, Clarke said.

“Getting to the top and getting back safely, happily,” he said.  “It was a great bonding time with Kevin.”

Clarke said he’ll take a bit of a break from climbing, but has Mount Robson in his sights for this summer. He said he enjoys the climbs partly because it gives him some escapism from his fairly intense work weeks, and partly because of the challenge.

“How do you stay young? You keep doing stuff,” he said.

Clarke said Aconcagua is a fairly accessible mountain for people with some experience, and he would be happy to assist others if they were planning a trek up the mountain.

Contact him by email at clarke@cheeseworks.ca.

Just Posted

Hannes Grosse, left, and Iris Steigemann, right, as they prepared for their 'Moments of Silence' exhibit. The father-daughter duo are showing at The Old School House Arts Centre in Qualicum Beach until June 26. (Submitted photo)
Cortes Island artists exhibit at Qualicum Beach’s TOSH in first father-daughter show

Both artists will be present at shows on Friday, June 25 and Saturday, June 26

The Lighthouse Country Marine Rescue Society will get more funding from the Regional District of Nanaimo. (Submitted Photo)
More PQB communities to fund Lighthouse Country Marine Rescue Society

RDN to introduce amendment to service bylaw contribution

A slide on best practices when reporting a suspected impaired driver that was presented to Parksville city council on June 7 by Margarita Bernard, a volunteer with MADD. The organization’s Report Impaired Drivers campaign involves the installation of informative signs within the City of Parksville. (Mandy Moraes photo)
MADD brings campaign to report impaired drivers to Parksville

Aim is to raise awareness that 911 should be called

Pam Bottomley (executive director), right and Sandy Hurley (president) of the Parksville Downtown Business Association visit the PQB News/VI Free Daily studio. (Peter McCully photo)
PQBeat: Downtown Parksville gears up for post-pandemic bounce back

Podcast: Hurley, Bottomley chat about what’s ahead for the PDBA

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Two ambulances and a medevac helicopter are on scene at Taylor River Flats rest area on Highway 4 due to a serious motor vehicle incident. (PHOTO COURTESY MAGGIE BROWN)
Highway 4 reopens between Port Alberni and Tofino

Multi-vehicle accident temporarily closed highway in both directions

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Most Read