ARGENTINA – A local mountaineer recently reached an important summit, bringing him one step closer to completing his quest to climb the seven tallest summits in the world.
Canmore mountain climber Jean-Francois Dupras set off to climb Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas, on Jan. 6 and successfully navigated the peak, reaching the summit in 12 days.
“I did not expect it to be that quick,” Dupras said with a grin, adding he got lucky the weather cleared up just in time for him to make his ascent.
It was a challenging mountain to climb, he said, because it is the highest desert in the world. Dupras said he not only battled elevation sickness, but contended with extreme dust, wind and heat while traversing the steep terrain.
“It was so high in altitude and so warm, you got closer to the sun the further up you go, I had to wear a long sleeve shirt and hoodies even at 37 C ... I still got a sunburn,” Dupras said.
“I’m not used to the warmth. I’m from Canmore, I like hiking in the cool. That was probably the biggest challenge.”
He added that he was coughing up dust from the mountain a week after he returned even though he drank four to five litres of water each day.
“This trip was really about self-discovery, it was about listening to my emotions,” Dupras said.
“I like to go fast, I had to learn to slow down. When you’re just by yourself there’s only you to deal with. You have to trust your guts, listen to your emotions, listen to your doubts … it’s like anything in life, you listen to your heart and listen to your emotions because they will tell you the right way to be.”
It was surprising how technically easy the mountain was to climb, Dupras said, describing it as a “big scramble.” He added the challenge lay in surviving the altitude and heat by carefully pacing himself.
“There was pressure, you would feel tired, you would have a headache, Dupras said. “Even your breathing – you would walk 10 feet and take a 30-second rest.”
It was pivotal to let his body rest so he could ensure that he was properly adjusting to the altitude. Every single decision he made was pivotal to his success, Dupras explained, because the most minute choice affected his ability to climb Aconcagua, which has an elevation 6,960 metres.
Dupras has previously climbed Mount Denali in Alaska, elevation 6,194 metres, Mount Kilimajaro in Tanzania, 5,895 metres, and Mount Elbrus in Russia, elevation 5,642 metres.
The four peaks he has completed so far are part of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. Around two dozen Canadians have completed this quest to date.
The trip to Argentina was unique though, he said because it marks the first time he has attempted to journey up a peak on his own.
“I met a lot of great people,” Dupras said.
“I really liked the freedom of chatting to people when I wanted to and when I was tired being able to go into my tent and relax.”
He added that Aconcagua was the perfect mountain to climb on his own because it was a fairly low-risk climb. Dupras said it was not an excursion he would have tried on more technically difficult mountains, or peaks with glaciers, because of the dangers they present.
He successfully reached the summit of Aconcagua on the morning of Jan. 20. He left Camp 2 located at approximately 5,250 metres height and began his journey up the mountain at around 1 a.m. reaching the summit at 9:10 a.m.
“I just went out and it was incredible,” he said.
“I was out of breath, I was so full of emotion I was crying. It was unreal, it was beautiful.”
The accomplishment was especially meaningful, Dupras added, because of the lows he has survived as a result of his depression.
At that moment, he said, he felt like the highest person in the world describing it as an incredibly empowering experience especially after the tribulations he faced as a youth.
"I love hiking and climbing by myself, to me it's a little bit like meditation ... it feels like your body, mind and soul become perfectly balanced," Dupras said.
"At that moment, I feel like I am in perfect harmony with myself, my surroundings and life. I remember laughing at myself sometimes because I was walking so slow with the altitude."
The mountaineer arrived back in Canmore on Jan. 29 and is already planning for his next summit – Mount Everest in 2021.
It is easy to stay motivated and focused on his goal, he said, because he has his climbing career is in support of mental health.
“It’s inspired me to be better,” Dupras said, explaining that experiencing struggles with maintaining his mental health when he was younger inspired him to launch My Life My Adventure.
Dupras raises money for the mental health charity CMHA Calgary, a partnership that has been a pivotal aspect of My Life My Adventure and his pursuit of the Seven Summits.
Dupras will be hosting a fundraiser for CMHA at Canmore Brewing on the evening of Feb. 22. The night will feature the band the Brews, a silent auction and presentation from Dupras.