Following our reporting prior on the climb, Dillon, Mont.-based Matt Hopkins didn’t make the summit of Mt. Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas, in Argentina’s Mendoza province, but the bull-hauling owner-operator calls his effort a success just the same. Climbing in part to raise awareness and money for the Truckers Against Trafficking organization, Hopkins was within 2,800 vertical feet of the summit, at an altitude of 20,000 feet, he says, when he and another climber in his party made the decision to turn back.
One member of the party, a personal friend from Montana, went on to summit and rejoin the party later.
“Aconcagua was a long trek and a long slog – hiking through a desert ’40 days and 40 nights,'” Hopkins says, “a lot of nights sitting in the tent, eating really bad food.” The epic trek up and back took place over weeks. “Totally draining,” he adds. “I would have summit-ed for better food and better sleep and maybe one more day of acclimatizing.”
Mountaineers commonly spend time at higher elevations before portions of the ascent in order to allow their bodies to adjust to the reduced oxygen levels. Hopkins’ party didn’t have that time to spare. With winter approaching in these mountainous areas of Mendoza, they were on something of a tight schedule to get to the top and back. They spent 12 days getting to Hopkins’ turn-around point near the top of mountain. “Essentially, think of it as 12 days to walk five miles,” he says. “You’re going up and your body’s not wanting to go up, because you can’t breathe. Living at 5,000 feet as I do now [in Montana], I didn’t feel the altitude change until 17,000 feet – for a lot of people, at 14-16 it starts to hit home, and for those not really used to the climbing, 10,000 can shake them up really bad.”
He clarifies his description of what’s happening physiologically this way: “It’s not so much that you can’t breathe but that your whole body’s not getting oxygen.” He was getting cold in odd places. “My arms were getting cold, my head was getting cold – while my body was slowly getting used to it,” it wasn’t happening fast enough “the higher up that I went. I thought I might get up there [to the summit], but I might be dead.”
Hopkins raised a total of more than $1,300 for the Truckers Against Trafficking organization, fund-raising on the CrowdRise platform. His “From Miles to Mountains” effort, he hopes, raised some awareness of the organization among fellow truckers as well. “I hope a lot of people actually listen and see what I was doing it for,” he says. The money doesn’t matter so much to Hopkins as “getting people paying attention. That’s what I wanted it to do.”