Life and Death on Mount Aconcagua – “Interviews of Notables and Influencers”

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Gary Middlemiss and his friends did a death-defying climb of 23,000 feet to the peak of Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, experiencing the best and the worst in humanity, and frigid coldness.

– How did he reach the Aconcagua summit at 23,000 feet, in spite of starvation (after food was stolen), delirium, ill-willed guide, near death experience… ?

– When his group’s guides turned out to be more dangerous than the mountains, and what did they do?

– What were the best and worst in humanity they experienced?

– What was it like to pushing life to the edge of survivability?

– How did they persevere over 13 days’ ascension, and then descend in 3 days, in -30 degree temperature? (Among his 7 team members, one was helicoptered down with a broken arm and another with asthma…)

Read the entire transcript below, from the interview of Gary Middlemiss, by Joanne Z. Tan, “Life and Death on Mount Aconcagua”, for the “Interviews of Notables and Influencers” of 10 Plus Brand.

– To watch the interview video

– To listen to the interview as a podcast


Joanne Z. Tan is the founder, CEO, Brand Strategist, global branding expert, and Creative Director at 10 Plus Brand, Inc. 10 Plus Brand is a multiple award winning agency, known globally as a leading brand-building and brand-marketing, full service digital agency. We decode brand DNA with our proprietary process, create brand structure, positioning, go to market strategy, messaging, and storytelling, and amplify with content, SEO, website, videos, social media, and high authority blogs. Please contact us for more information.

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Joanne Tan  00:00

Welcome. This is Joanne Tan, owner and brand strategist of 10 Plus Brand, a multiple award winning, brand building and brand marketing, full service agency. I’m also the producer and host of the Podcast “Interviews of Notables and Influencers” on 10 Plus Podcast. I’m very excited to have Gary Middlemiss today, and I’m looking forward to hearing his adventure of climbing Mount Aconcagua. Gary Middlemiss is the owner of Tanius, a stock trading company in California. He is also a friend of mine. Gary recently climbed almost 23,000 feet to the top of Mount Aconcagua in western Argentina over 13 days, and then descended in three days in utterly freezing temperature. 

Joanne Tan  00:57

Among his 17 members, one was helicoptered down with a broken arm and another with asthma. Every year, an average of three climbers die trying to climb Mount Aconcagua. The mountain is one of the Seven Summits of the seven continents. Last year, I climbed Half Dome in Yosemite with Gary and some other friends. But mount Aconcagua is just too daunting and risky to me. Mt. Aconcagua summit elevation is 22,838 feet. In comparison, Mount Everest is 29,032 feet. That’s about 6194 feet taller than Mount Aconcagua. Mount Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the Americas, in both the Western Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere, and the highest outside Asia, is about nine miles from Argentina’s western border, with neighboring Chile to the east. 

Joanne Tan  02:00

By the way, it was 70 miles away from the site in the high Andes Mountains, where the Uruguayan rugby players plane crashed in 1972. 16 Survivors resorted to cannibalism, as shown in the 2023 movie, “Society of the Snow“. It’s an excellent movie. 

Joanne Tan  02:22

Janet Mae Johnson, a 37 year old American mountaineer and a teacher died during an expedition of Mount Aconcagua in Argentina in 1973. 50 years later, in 2023, her camera, with a film inside, was exposed by melting ice due to global warming. We can still see her last photos of Mount Aconcagua from the films in her camera buried in snow for 50 years. 

Gary Middlemiss on his expedition of climbing Mount Aconcagua, interviewed by Joanne Z. Tan, "Interviews of Notables and Influencers", 10 Plus Brand.

Joanne Tan  02:53

So my question for you, Gary, what made you want to do this life threatening adventure?

Gary Middlemiss  03:03

That’s an interesting question. Because yeah, it has an interesting provenance. So what happened was when I was a kid, when I was 12, we had a family friend, take me hiking to his favorite place in southern California. But what how we did it is we left our house, which was like sea level around midnight and drove up to about 9000 feet. And then we the very first day, we hiked around 10 miles. So this was a three day trip. And so that very first day, we went over 12,000 feet, and I was just 12. And so I was throwing up everywhere, like really bad altitude sickness, even at the start to have altitude sickness. So it was a really, it was really a hard trip, but it was kind of life changing, like I remember the first day, and then at the end of that first day, he said, “Oh, you’re really slow. So tomorrow, we need to start at three in the morning, in order to be able to make sure we can get there before it’s dark. ” And so I remember waking up at like three in the morning, and we had breakfast in a tent, back before people were that concerned about bears, and took off. And it was all misty, and these really High Sierras, little, little meadows and stuff, and I just remember walking in the misty dark with just moonlight. Anyway, it was pretty life changing for me. 

Gary Middlemiss  04:31

So that guy that took me, we’ve stayed in touch, and when I was Scoutmaster in Massachusetts at one point it was around seven kids they said, you know we really need to go hike some real mountains. You know, the the mountains here so small. And so I took them to the exact same place. And one of the kids I took was also 12. 

Gary Middlemiss  04:55

And so kind of what happened was this last summer, the guy who had taken me on backpacking trip, called me up and said, Hey, would you like to come with me to Aconcagua? I really want to hike this. And he’s getting, he’s getting pretty old. He’s in his 60s Getting close to 70. And you really wanted to give it a shot. And I said, Sure, let me call my younger friend too. And so I called the kid that was 12 when I took him to the same place. And so the three of us decided to go up that mountain and we had a group of, started as a group of nine people. But yeah, three of us were friends. So, some people have it as their life goal. And some people, a lot of people have been training, and I just kind of, just signed up by Janssen, signed up my other (my other) friend, he actually signed up after arriving in Argentina, the day before we left to go up the mountain. So he decided, the day before, he was gonna go, and gets to Argentina and tells them he’s here, he wants to go up too. So we were not, we were not very prepared, two of us. You know, the one guy was, but not the other two. So that’s how it started.

Joanne Tan  06:06

So if I hear you correctly, the guy who exposed you to this severe mountain, high altitude climbing when you were 12, now he’s in his late 60s, and he wants to climb and you said, Okay. He wants you, they ask you to join him and he said, you said: Okay. And then you also brought the 12 year old that you brought up to the same mountain when you were the Scoutmaster. So like three generations, almost.

Gary Middlemiss  06:35

Three generation of passing on the super secret place in the Sierras.

Joanne Tan  06:44

You don’t want to tell us which mountain it was?

Gary Middlemiss  06:46

No, no, it’s my favorite place in the world, keep it as that…

Joanne Tan  06:50

Oh my God, making me so intrigued!  So did you all three make it? 

Gary Middlemiss  06:55


Joanne Tan  06:56

Who did not?

Gary Middlemiss  06:59

The original guy, the original guy, once we got to base camp started having… well, we had one day where the wind was so strong, that it blew the door off the Porta Potty, which flew across the camp and smashed into some guy’s tent. And someone was injured from that. We heard a lot of people running around in the middle of the night. And our tents were totally flattened by the wind. And part of that had flattened over this guy’s face. And he just could not sleep at all that night. And so we had to, we had to make our first kind of shuttle trip, pass Base Camp that following day to get to Camp One and just bring a bunch of stuff up. And he was just unable to recover from not sleeping. He’s really strong … he actually runs faster than I do as a 67 year old and he works out every day and stuff. But the lack of sleep was a problem. And then, then the next day he started having tachycardia. So his normal resting heart rate is, I think in the 40s. And it was, he couldn’t get his heart below 140. So the doctors sent him down and put him (put him) on the helicopter. 

At the foot of Mount Aconcagua, climber: Gary Middlemiss, interviewed by Joanne Z. Tan, "Interviews of Notables and Influencers", #10PlusInterviews #10PlusBrand

Joanne Tan  08:23

So that’s primarily due to altitude.

Gary Middlemiss  08:27

Yeah, so your your reaction to altitude is kind of unpredictable. It’s not, it’s not really related to fitness, you know, and he has like a family history of arrhythmia. So sometimes people’s hearts just freak out. It can’t adapt. And then we had a woman who left the day before him, because she got altitude induced asthma, and she could not stop hyperventilating. And she spent about a day just “Hahahahaha…” and they gave her a shot and slowed her down. But then she was right back to hyperventilating. So they sent her down.

Joanne Tan  09:08

And what altitude was where you were, 

Gary Middlemiss  09:12

That was Base Camp, which is like 14,400. So pretty high. I mean, a tiny bit higher than Mount Whitney in California, but not getting excessively high. But we had done that one hike up to Camp One, which was about 16,500. Yeah, I mean, struggling to breathe was a thing but it was more like just tired struggling to breathe. But I think as your body starts to create the extra hemoglobin it needs in order to absorb oxygen, like sometimes it works and sometimes it’s not working. People do different things like take medicine for high altitude to dilate their veins. He was taking that medicine and I was taking that medicine. But sometimes it’s a good idea, sometimes it’s a bad idea. It was all of our first time at that altitude. So none of us had gone higher than Mount Whitney before, none of us three. And so it was kind of experimental just to see if you can tolerate it.

Joanne Tan  10:17

Oh my God. So you slept at high altitude for how many days? It took you 13 days to climb up? And how many, how many days were you camping in Base Camp or One, or whatever, above 10,000…

Gary Middlemiss  10:37

So you waited at Base Camp, you kind of get to Base Camp pretty quickly, just a couple of days to get there. And those are kind of long, mileage-wise long hikes, but then you, a lot of it is just, you wait around at Base Camp to let your blood adjust. So you’ll take some days, you’ll walk up to the Camp One and carry some things, some days, you’re just sitting there resting, a lot of it is just waiting for your body to acclimate. The other thing you’re waiting for, is weather windows. You can’t summit every day. If it’s super cold or windy and really, really windy, then it’s just too dangerous. So you’re kind of also at Base Camp, waiting for timing, when you can make it up. 

Gary Middlemiss  11:30

So after Base Camp, there are three more camps, one, two, and three. I mean, they’ll have different names, but one, two, and three. You can kind of stay at Camp One. It’s better to stay Camp Two, there’s actual water, there’s a water source at Camp Two. Camp Three, you’re just melting ice and snow and there’s not much of it right now. It’s kind of dry. And so you really can’t. And then you have a lot of other problems at that altitude. So you don’t really stay at Camp Three. So basically, you’re at Base Camp until if they see a weather window five days out, then you start moving, you get to Camp One, and then you get to Camp Two, you wait there for a little bit. And then you try and try and get that weather window.

Joanne Tan  12:13

Okay, so the other, the younger generation of the 12 year old that you took on the Boy Scout hike, he didn’t make it either?

Gary Middlemiss  12:22

He made it. He made it. But he has been, he has been walking for about two and a half years now. And that’s his job, is to walk. He’s 30. The first [time], he walked across the country, but he went kind of, he started in Utah, then he went to the furthest north east point of Washington, and he went down to Texas and Florida and then Maine. And then after that, he started to walk across Europe. But so he went from Norway down until the three months [visa] expired, and they had to, he had to leave for a bit. So he’s in process of walking across Europe right now. And he just was on a break because of the visa thing and decided to do this mountain with us. So he’s very, very in shape for walking. 

Joanne Tan  13:17

Okay, but if he was walking on a flat surface rather than high mountains, there’s still this elevation issue.

Gary Middlemiss  13:28

Yes.  He adapted fine. I think the only very hard day for him was the summit day. That was very hard for everybody, unexpectedly hard. But for him every other day, which was fine. I mean, he walks a lot. 

Joanne Tan  13:49

So why was the summit day hard?

Gary Middlemiss  13:52

It had no comparable precedent on any of the… against any of the other days. So I’d say if you’re going to rate like difficulty on a scale of one to 10, when you’re starting the other days, you think: oh, compared to what I’ve done before there’s somewhere around a three on an absolute level. But then by the time you’ve finished a summit day, like no, every other day is a one, summit’s like 11. It’s just, it’s incomparably difficult compared to any other day.

Joanne Tan  14:25

Because of the height?

Gary Middlemiss  14:25

The primarily because the elevation.  I suspect if you had spent three weeks acclimating really high, like at 17,000, then it wouldn’t be that bad. But yeah, it’s a combination of the height, the temperature, the wind, and the lack of water. Lack of water is actually a pretty big deal. Lack of liquid water.

Joanne Tan  14:54

Well, can’t you just eat snow?

Gary Middlemiss  14:58

It’s ice. No.

Joanne Tan  15:01

Oh! And you can’t have a stove to melt ice into water?

Gary Middlemiss  15:07

Well, you can’t, you can’t carry that when you’re going up to the summit, and it’s too long, it’d be too much energy. Everything takes too much energy. It’s a main reason people die, I mean, people fall and die, but a lot of people just die in their sleep. So they had two recently, one died at Base Camp, and one died at Camp Three, just sleeping. Everything just takes too much energy and you are unsure where your body is, you can’t, you can’t really feel how close you might be. 

Gary Middlemiss  15:44

And all, a lot of the problems of the high altitude is everybody gets sleep apnea. So that’s what was happening to my friend who brought me too. I was sharing a tent with him and Base Camp. And he would just stop breathing for 30 seconds to a minute at a time. And it was kind of scary. And then he ended like really quickly start breathing again. 

Gary Middlemiss  16:07

So everybody was feeling it. Like me, at Camp Three, I remember, I remember waking up, not breathing, and I couldn’t get my chest to rise. I couldn’t engage that involuntary muscle that would bring breath into myself. And so I panicked. And I sat up in the tent, which was a big mistake, because just something like sitting up, takes so much energy, it takes 15 minutes just to recover from that. So, if you’re gonna sit up at that elevation, you gotta go slow. And you have to think about it, and you got to use your muscles really slowly. But doing it in a panic, then that caused me to like hyperventilate, for like 15 minutes, then I couldn’t get my heart rate down. And then it was really hard to go back to sleep, then I would lay down again and my chest wouldn’t go again. And then I would get on my side, and then my chest would start moving. didn’t feel like I was getting much in there. 

Gary Middlemiss  17:08

But I remember the original question. But yeah, you can’t, there’s no excess anything.  Even like peeing, going to the bathroom, you have to plan and it will take many minutes to recover from that. Or taking a drink of water takes a long time to recover from because you have to stop breathing to drink that water. So now you can’t, even you putting your backpack down and getting a stove out, and then breaking ice, – you’d be totally exhausted.

Joanne Tan  17:41

My Goodness! It’s because of that lack of oxygen and the altitude, and everything takes more energy. 

Gary Middlemiss  17:56


Joanne Tan  17:57

When the oxygen is at such a low level.

Camp for climbers at Mount Aconcagua, Gary Middlemiss, interviewed by Joanne Z. Tan, "Interviews of Notables and Influencers", #10PlusBrand, #10PlusPodcast

Gary Middlemiss  18:01

Yeah, I’d say we spent a good seven days where you don’t see ants; there is nothing alive. And good reason for that. You feel like you’re in outer space. You don’t really feel like you’re on the planet anymore. Feels like the closer to the space station than you are to Earth.  I’ll give you one more example, a weird thing that you wouldn’t think about. So, on the packing list of stuff to bring they put a pee bottle, and I was like, Why? Why do you need a pee bottle? Can’t use pee on the ground? And, well, it’s for nighttime. You can’t go outside the tent in the night. Why? Well, it’s way too cold. You would just die. So we only actually went outside the tent at night the first night before we got very high. 

Gary Middlemiss  18:50

But just the complications of peeing in the night that you don’t think about, as say you have to go at midnight, and you have to go to the bathroom and you pee in this bottle, then what do you do with it? If you keep it in, you can’t open the tent and get to where you can pour it out really. So you have to keep it in the tent, but then it will freeze, and it freezes solid. So then you have to spend the entire day the next day trying to warm it up, and that to empty it so you can use it the next night. And so you’ll have to have it right next to your skin. So then you’re using all your energy to warm this pee bottle. So you can dump it out. It’s so ridiculous. 

View of Mount Aconcagua from a tent, Gary Middlemiss, interviewed by Joanne Z. Tan, "Interviews of Notables and Influencers", #10PlusInterviews #10PlusBrand

Gary Middlemiss  19:35

And like even inside your sleeping bag, which is what most people would do – you keep it inside your sleeping bag with you to keep it liquid – it would freeze in there too. And you’re keeping a lot of stuff inside your sleeping bag like all the water that you’re going to use to drink next day. Because you’ve had to melt it the day before, you have to keep that liquid so you have to keep all your water inside the sleeping bag. You have to keep parts of your shoes inside so you can put them on because they’re really hard, if they get really, really cold. And then like all your batteries for any electronics, you’ve got to keep in your sleeping bag. And then you’ve got to keep the pee bottle inside your sleeping bag. So you have a lot of, you have a lot of stuff in your sleeping bag. A lot of things that you didn’t think you’d have to think about, actually. They all take a lot of effort and energy. And so sometimes, besides walking, the only thing you might be able to accomplish for the day is eating, breathing, walking, go to the bathroom, and then, a big project would be rearrange something in your backpack, and that’s all you can do. There’s no extra stuff that you can do in the day.

Joanne Tan  20:44

Oh My Goodness! So all the stuff in your sleeping bag, are being warmed up by your body temperature. 

Gary Middlemiss  20:52


Joanne Tan  20:53

But you’ve got to eat too … your body is being used for warming up all that stuff, and warming up your heart, and you keep yourself going the next day. What do you eat? How much food do you carry? You have to carry light weight, right? And a pee bottle, I was thinking why can’t you just carry lots of pee bottles so you don’t have to? If they’re frozen, they’re frozen. But then that’s weight. 

Gary Middlemiss  21:20

Yeah, then you’d have to carry a frozen pee bottle.

Gary Middlemiss  21:27

I mean, food is a big problem. I do not know what was happening with the food. It’s… it’s a sensitive topic. But for the the seven days that we were going on the mountain from base camp up, I estimate we were eating about 300 calories a day. Maybe 400. 

Joanne Tan  21:54


Gary Middlemiss  21:55

Yeah. Yeah.

Joanne Tan  21:58

 Why so little?

Gary Middlemiss  21:59

Zero, zero protein. We havn’t any protein. I think the guides were stealing it.  So yeah, we would … I mean, part of the thing that’s complicated about these trips is you don’t know what you’re getting. You’re in a foreign country. And you’re not in control the process whatsoever. And you’re in a place where people get sick, or they die. And you know, there’s accidents and then there’s, maybe not accidents. 

Gary Middlemiss  22:34

And yeah, we carried a lot of food because I was carrying it. And it was heavy because I was carrying it and we would move it from camp to camp. But there was, there were days like on summit day, our breakfast was two chocolate biscuits like the size of a trysts kit. They weren’t even chocolate, chocolate flavored, zero lunch. And when we came down from the summit after about 15 hours of walking, we had, each one of us shared… Well, four of us shared one top ramen with no seasoning. So each one of us had a bite and a half of top ramen. So there, I have a lot of complaints about how this, this hike was organized. But I know the other groups, the other expeditions going up, were very well fed. But ours was starved.  And I kind of think… you know, I really did not like our main guide in particular. He did a lot of underhanded things. I think he was selling off our food to the other expeditions.

Joanne Tan  23:48

Oh my Goodness! You wouldn’t know before you got there that your Sherpa,-  they are the guide, the Sherpa, right? Would …

Gary Middlemiss  24:01

No, no, those would be porters. But yeah, these are just regular Argentinians. 

Joanne Tan  24:05

You paid them for their service of carrying weight, and they end up stealing your food. 

Gary Middlemiss  24:11

You pay them to guide you, they don’t carry any weight. They just… YOU carry the weight. 

Joanne Tan  24:18

So you carry it all the way up there. And when it’s time to eat, they’re not there anymore. 

Gary Middlemiss  24:23

Yeah, they would make the food, they would prepare it, but you carry the food and everybody’s carrying food and big bags of stuff. But yeah, when it would be time to eat the food, there was very little to none. 

Joanne Tan  24:38

Oh, gosh! 

Gary Middlemiss  24:40

So it was yeah, no protein.  One of the days, we had a soup that was yellow from the sulfur coming out of the mountain. So it was straight the water coming… You know, around noon, the ice starts to melt and you can get these little streams. And so they collected water, but it was full of sulfur. And I had this small bowl of soup with five lentils in it. Lentils are small, and these are five! And my friend got zero in his! I don’t understand how he can carry so much food up there and be eating maybe 15 Lentils between us. It was ridiculous. 

Joanne Tan  25:26

Did you ask? 

Gary Middlemiss  25:28

Well, it didn’t occur to me at the time until we got so high. And it just got worse.  I’m like, yeah, this was really bad. You know, it was slowly getting worse and worse. And then on summit day when they explained, they don’t have any lunch. We have nothing that we can even carry for lunch. We’re like, this is crazy. It’s crazy. And then we come down and that’s all we got is the no seasoned top ramen. Yeah, then, then it really was hitting us: Yeah, something is really wrong here. So it was slow, the food was slow to get worse and worse. And then it became nothing. 

Gary Middlemiss  26:11

The other thing that was really telling is when we finally go all the way down to base camp, they bring out this plate of meat that’s like two steaks. And the guides took one and a half of them, between the three guides, and then pass the half the steak along to the seven of us. So we each got like one bite. So that was more like they’re definitely doing something wrong, when I saw that happened,

Joanne Tan  26:44

I’m just glad you survived even though you came back, you looked obviously much thinner. 

Gary Middlemiss  26:48

Yeah, I lost, lost 10 pounds,

Joanne Tan  26:51

Good Lord! Okay, so now question, how much preparation and practice did you need to prepare for this climb? And for the altitude sickness?

Gary Middlemiss  27:02

Almost everybody in my group had gone up Kilimanjaro, and one of them had gone up Denali, before. Actually, the guy who went up Denali did not make it up this hike. I mean, partially, maybe lack of food, I don’t know that. And at about 45 minutes left, he’s like, “screw this. I have kids at home. This is not worth it” to me, and he turns around. And he was one of the stronger hikers… Yeah, a lot of people had prepared for many years.  I was just not very prepared. I like long walks, I can do 25-28 miles in a day occasionally. So I’ve been prepared for that. This was not so much a long walk, though. It’s just like when you are walking, it was generally pretty short and pretty steep. And not much air. I did prepare also by trying to like to do a lot of sprinting, to try and get my heart to go really fast, and kind of simulate lack of air. But I would say of everybody on that mountain that I ever met there, I was probably the least. I had done the least amount of preparation. So most people do prepare, I would advise preparing.

Joanne Tan  28:19

But those who were prepared, more prepared than you, did not necessarily make it to the summit. 

Gary Middlemiss  28:27


Joanne Tan  28:28

Altitude sickness, coldness and physical condition, whatever. Okay, well, in hindsight, do you regret you didn’t prepare enough?

Gary Middlemiss  28:40

Well, I don’t live at a very high altitude. So it’s kind of hard to figure out what to do. Things that would have helped, I mean Kilimanjaro would have helped, but it’s so much easier that it’s not that comparable. I mean, it would have helped to see like, hey, how do I feel at this altitude? I mean, it’s much lower and you’re they’re much shorter. But there, to give you our porter to person ratio each: So there are porters that carry things, but it was one porter for four people. Kilimanjaro is four porters for one person. So it’s 16 times more porters in Kilimanjaro than it is for Aconcagua. So there’s a pretty different experience. I mean, the only… I could have run a lot more. Well, it would have been good preparation, but nothing really… I don’t know… I mean, my main problem at the top was just being delirious and disoriented. Dizzy, delirious, could take maybe four or five steps before having to stop, and dehydrated. 

Gary Middlemiss  29:50

Because again, on that summit day, your main goal is to keep your water liquid. And so you can’t put it in your backpack. It freezes really way faster at negative 30 degrees. So you’re basically strapping bottles of water all over inside of your coat and hoping they don’t freeze. And if it takes too long, then you run out of water or it freezes and then you’re in trouble. I’m a pretty heavy water drinker. I was fairly dehydrated by the time I got up to the top, so I don’t know how to prepare better for that. I mean, knowing about these things would have been good, but I went in pretty blind. 

Joanne Tan  30:34

Oh My God! You’re a risk taker. Now, I have three questions. Number one, have you… has the word “death” ever occurred to you? That did you ever worry that you may die? Number two is: when you said porters you mean guides? 

Gary Middlemiss  30:52

No, they’re different people. The porters, you never actually meet, they just pick up stuff. And part of the day usually when you’re not there, and they transport it to somewhere else.

Joanne Tan  31:03

So they just transport your tent, your equipment, your weight?

Gary Middlemiss  31:10

Yeah, like they might carry the stoves and the gas and like other community stuff that’s needed. Yeah.

Joanne Tan  31:17

Guide, actually, they led the way.

Gary Middlemiss  31:22

Right. Okay, the guides are with you and make sure you don’t… you stay on a trail, don’t fall or anything, make sure your crampons are okay. And like, if you have a major problem, they try to radio in and get you off the mountain. So they’re there with you the whole time. They don’t carry your stuff at all. Okay, but they do cook the food.

Joanne Tan  31:43

 All right. So before I get to the third question, which is about the team, okay, – have you ever thought you might die? 

Gary Middlemiss  31:53

Um, I was a little bit concerned after I heard about, there was a 28-year-old American that had died this year. I think he just died in his sleep at Camp Three. And it was after summiting and coming back down. So the sleep apnea episode did scare me. Because you… it’s just binary and somewhat random. From what I can tell you stop breathing and don’t start again. So I think that, yeah, the first night of Camp Three, I was a little bit nervous. I was more nervous about starting to summit, but I had no idea how hard it is going to be. Again, like the first, all the other days do not prepare you for the difficulty of the summit day. There’s… it’s really not the same thing. It’s like going from walking two miles a day to running a marathon. It’s not really preparation. So I didn’t have a good sense of how bad or how hard it could be. So I was a little bit nervous about that. I mean, not not terribly so,  but I just did have a good idea what the range of things can be. Yeah, I was still… the only thing I was really worried about was dying in my sleep. Then there were only two days I was a little bit concerned about that when we were at Camp Three. But the rest of the time, I felt, more or less, okay.

Joanne Tan  33:24

Camp Three, what was the elevation?

Gary Middlemiss  33:27

Um, it’s right below 20. It’s like 19,800 or something.

Joanne Tan  33:33

Okay. You said sleep apnea. You know, normally at sea level, more or less, people have sleep apnea, not induced by elevation, not induced by lack of oxygen. So if you went up that height above 15,000 feet, okay, even if you never had sleep apnea at sea level, you would develop sleep apnea at that altitude? 

Gary Middlemiss  34:07

Quite possibly. Because my friend who was helicoptered down, he did not have it at sea level. He’d never had it. And he definitely was having it at 14,000.

Joanne Tan  34:21

It’s the pressure, plus the lack of oxygen, plus the fatigue, and unpreparedness of the muscles, the involuntary muscles, that …

Gary Middlemiss  34:32

Yeah, I’m really, really not sure. But for me when I would stop breathing, I couldn’t even engage the involuntary muscles. 

Joanne Tan  34:41

So what do you mean, you cannot engage? 

Gary Middlemiss  34:45

I couldn’t get… when I woke up, and I could not even force my chest to rise to take breath in. Like I was… I had stopped breathing, which had woken me up. And then I’m like, “Okay, I need to breathe again.” And I couldn’t even get it to turn on, and then that’s when I panicked. And I sat up really fast. And that, that did allow me to get my chest to go again. But I’m not sure of the mechanism.  I think it’s, it’s slightly different than regular sleep apnea. Just from my experience, I can’t even voluntarily get my breath to go. So I think it’s quite a bit more severe, for sure, than regular sleep apnea,

Joanne Tan  35:29

Right. If you cannot involuntary engage, and voluntarily engage, – that is scary! Okay. So either of that, and that obviously, gives you sleep deprivation, and sleep deprivation, plus fatigue and all that gives you a hallucination, or is hallucination the inevitable outcome of altitude sickness by itself, whether you slept enough or not?

Gary Middlemiss  36:01

People get what’s called hypoxia. Where they get, they start to get really giddy. And I think that’s the most common cause of death in Kilimanjaro, is people just leave their tent in the middle of the night and just go wander off and fall off something. I didn’t see anybody getting that. I think those people, honestly, anybody who is prone to hypoxia just doesn’t go out that high because they kind of go crazy a little bit lower. I’m not prone to it, I’ve done a lot of diving. And I think it’s a similar mechanism. If you go really deep diving in the ocean, and you don’t feel drunk, like 100 feet. I think that’s a reasonable test for how you’re going to react to high elevation hypoxia. Yeah, those were like, you just aren’t thinking very clearly. 

Gary Middlemiss  36:58

What I was feeling at the top was just more delirious in terms of my vision not processing correctly. I think my thoughts were still fine. But vision was very fragmented. So just scanning my eyes across things, it’d be more like snapshots of stuff rather than continual visual processing. 

Gary Middlemiss  37:23

And you do get into your own mind of like, very obsessive.  All I really need to do is walk but I wasn’t feeling like I was going to do anything crazy, or that I had lost sense of self, or sense of what I was supposed to be doing. Like I wasn’t going to turn around and go the wrong way on the mountain. That’d be something that somebody that [had] hypoxia would be doing. 

Gary Middlemiss  37:50

I knew which was up and I knew which was down, I knew why I was there. It’s just, your body just gets overwhelmed. And none of it… I mean, the weird thing for me, is I’ve done that before. Like, if I try and ride my road bike more than like 120 miles, I get what I would call fatigue-induced delusional, where my body is so excessively tired, that it kind of messes with my mind, and it goes somewhere else. This is not so much that you could feel your body tired. I think it’s more like, in normal elevation, your body spends 5% of its energy  living, your brain working and breathing. And up there, it’s like 95% of its energy. Just the basic autonomous task for keeping yourself alive. So I think it was getting so tired of doing that. The autonomous tasks that would trigger this same kind of delusion that normally fatigue would.

Gary Middlemiss  38:51

Yeah, it wasn’t so much muscular fatigue. The climb is very hard, but it’s not… It’s so long and so slow. It’s more, you take three steps, your legs aren’t tired, but you just can’t breathe. And so I measured my blood oxygen, it was 60% at the top, it took …

Joanne Tan  39:10

It’s dangerous!

Gary Middlemiss  39:11

Yeah, but I think the oxygen content is 40%. So, that, if you had not acclimated at all, the blood oxygen would have been around 40%. So that was a testament to having acclimated some… Watching it, watching it drop was interesting. I made several measurements and just watched it go lower and lower and lower. Normally you’d be in a hospital if your blood oxygen was 60%. So that a lot of it is just really all the involuntary unknown stuff that can happen to you. At those elevations, you just don’t know until you try it. And some people are less impacted, some people more impacted. 

Joanne Tan  39:59

Alright, here’s a bigger question: you’re a very intelligent person, you know you are pushing the envelope, you know you could be dead, if you just keep watching your blood oxygen level keep decreasing, there is a threshold level, that beyond which is fatal. So, this is a psychological question: are you gambling? Are you? This is extreme risk!

Gary Middlemiss  40:34

Um, it’s some, but I think it’s acceptable. I mean, I’m not terrified of death in any way. It’s it’s an outcome. It’s gonna happen to you anyway, regardless. But yeah, it’s not something I approach with terror, at least. I try to make it so that fear has a rational but small impact on my behavior. You know, I don’t really like it when people are so driven by not risk taking that they don’t do much, either in their career, in their life, whatever. So, like, my job is very much based on intelligent risk taking. I mean, I’m not disregarding risk, but you can’t, you can’t let that be so dominant that you can’t weigh it against the gain. 

Milky Way, Mount Aconcagua, climber: Gary Middlemiss, interviewed by Joanne Z. Tan, "Interviews of Notables and Influencers", #10PlusInterviews #10PlusBrand

Gary Middlemiss  41:44

I mean, honestly, some of the most dangerous things we do is really driving our cars and rain and snow on some of these freeways. That, to me, also feels quite dangerous. So I didn’t measure but climbing this mountain is about as much risk as all the driving you do in your entire life, you have about as much risk as that. So it’s, yeah, it’s there. 

Gary Middlemiss  42:15

I mean, the other thing is, people do help you out. There are a lot of people on the mountain – everybody’s trying to hit the same weather window. So say in a week, there’ll be six days where there’s nobody summiting, and one day where 100 people are trying to get up the thing. And so you’re never really alone. I mean, the helicopter can’t get to the top. It can, like in good weather, get to Camp Two. But I saw them drag two people off the mountain that, if there were nobody around, they would have died. And then I heard of one in the night for some woman who tried to climb from Camp Two straight to the top and back. And after 24 hours, she was only halfway back down to Camp Three. And somebody randomly found her as they were headed up. And yeah, she was almost dead. And that was two days before we submitted, that happened. And then on our way down, we saw some woman, she was just lying on the ground, she refused to move, and she was very delirious. And they help her to get down. So yeah. If there was nobody to help you at all, then a lot more people would die on the thing. But so many people being on there actually does make it safer. So actually the biggest risk really is the silly sleep apnea, dying in your sleep when nobody can see. So that’s kind of why that scared me the most. 

Joanne Tan  43:41

It’s because of the altitude, because of the coldness, because of the physical reaction to the altitude. Okay. Now, which route did you take to ascend the summit? Is it a north, from the north or from the south, I heard that the from the north, it’s a little easier than from the south, which has a Polish Glacier.

Camp on Mount Aconcagua, Gary Middlemiss, interviewed by Joanne Z. Tan, "Interviews of Notables and Influencers", #10PlusInterviews #10PlusBrand, #10PlusPodcast

Gary Middlemiss  44:06

Yeah, there is a Polish Route, we actually hiked up to see the Polish Route. And while we were standing there, we saw an avalanche. And we actually made a video of it. So an avalanche came right off where the Polish Route was, and wiped out this little section. It’s pretty nuts. So no, very few people go up the Polish Route. None of our guides have ever gotten up at it. It’s not hard, it’s just risky. And so there’s some technical parts, maybe not difficult.  But if you’re gonna have to sit there and worry about a random glacier coming and hitting you in the head, that’s not very appealing. 

Joanne Tan  44:52

Oh, of course, of course. So I mentioned about this American woman, Janet Mae Johnson, she went with a group of, I believe more than 10. And they hardly knew each other. And it was not a good beginning. And at least two people died, she’s one of those. And actually, murder was not ruled out. Because some of the members hallucinated as if hearing, you know, big construction machines are noises there. Because, of course, not even an ant’s there. There’s no construction machine. But that’s one of the survivors recalling, they were just hallucinating. Okay. And she, nobody knows how and why she died. But there were traumas to the head. Don’t know. So here, the question is, did you know everyone well on your team before the trip? What was the team dynamic during the entire adventure?

Gary Middlemiss  46:04

I’m not sure I want to publicly talk about some of that. But I knew the three guys. So the three of us knew each other very well.

Joanne Tan  46:14

The actual three generations of scouters…

Gary Middlemiss  46:17

Yeah. And there were another, there were two other people that knew each other well. And nobody else knew each other. I would say, it really depends on your guide and your outfit. So, if you’re with one of the very expensive or very responsible guide companies and you have bathrooms at every camp and things like that, then your team is not under that much pressure. But if you are being starved, like we were, then your team is under quite a bit of pressure. And it actually becomes a team versus guide dynamic. At some point, we at the end, we just need to, we’re like, we’re not listening to any of you guides anymore. So don’t even talk to us. Because I think they were actively making it more dangerous. And I think they were doing it for fun. 

Gary Middlemiss  47:16

I mean, I don’t want to get to… I have reservations about talking too much in detail. But it was very… I’m always fascinated by how group dynamics play out, especially among groups of men in difficult situations. And it was actually super fascinating. On this one, I’d say a lot of the initial dynamics did not last very long. How you initially thought who was gonna be in charge versus other people taking more passive roles, and it morphed very quickly, and then it gelled very hard. 

Gary Middlemiss  47:55

I will say one of the group members had no self preservation sense, whatsoever. He was rude. He was demanding, he was very petty. And he was also very small. And he got a little bit hurt. And if things had gone really crazy, like, he would have been the first one eaten, right. So it was interesting. I mean, overall, our group did bind together and work together very, very well. But yeah, there was definitely one guy who did not understand that we’re kind of in a crazy situation in a foreign country, where he could be thrown off the glacier, and nobody would care. And nobody would ever think that it was murder or anything. So yeah, I can imagine some crazy things happened. It kind of depends. It’s interesting, because people were… You know, the group is from all over the world, people coming in and, they have different cultures and stuff. And it’s interesting to see how it played out. But yeah, it was like, everything was in high speed. It was very, very fast. How things would evolve.

Joanne Tan  49:16

So did you have any say in organizing your team or the guide that just put randomly people from different corners of the world? “Okay, this is the team. Let’s go together.”

Gary Middlemiss  49:29

Um, it wasn’t. I mean, it was the expedition company, management that put the team together and assigned them the guides.

Joanne Tan  49:36

Would you… if you had the chance to do this again, if you wanted to do this again, this is a hypothetical question: Would you hire guide like you did this time?

Gary Middlemiss  49:56

Interesting question. I would, I would hire, I would do more one-on-one and hire a personal guide, you can do it that way, it’s just a little bit more complicated logistically. But if you want to control the experience, which I would be more interested in, I would actually interview the guides and try and hire an independent one. I think we just had really, really bad luck with guides. Our main guide did not speak English, he was the only guide on the entire mountain that did not speak English. I speak Spanish really well. So that helped a lot. But how can you guide for 21 years, a bunch of Americans mostly up a mountain and not be bothered to know a single word of English? And he just really didn’t care.

Joanne Tan  51:00

Even if you do a one-on-one interview, you surrender your life to this more or less a stranger? Because you can only…  it’s a chance, it is a big chance. He could, you know, leave…

Gary Middlemiss  51:20

Yeah, that was that was part of the interesting feeling that you are putting a lot of trust in some random person’s hand. And I mean, I guess your surrendering of life on a one-to-one is actually probably more extreme, since there’s no other regular customers around you. But my problem with the guides, is they have a certain way they like to do things.  And trying to get them to do anything other than that way, is really hard, and this is why I would never climb Everest.  You know, they want everybody do it exactly the same way. Like they want you to wake up at the same time, everybody to climb at the same time. And then you have, you know, 100 people in a row trying to climb this mountain. And this happened to us, right before a sketchy spot, we were stopped for an hour and a half. Because three people in front of us were afraid to go over this little cliff that you have to go over before you can get onto the snow. And they were just freaking out. And our guide won’t let us try and pass them. And we’re just sitting there running out of water getting cold and waiting. And that’s where a lot of danger comes in, because of these traffic jams. 

Gary Middlemiss  52:37

And, you know, I might suggest if it’s one on one and say, “Okay, everybody in this camp is leaving at 4 am, I want to leave at three,” or “I want to do something else.” So to kind of avoid these problems, but you know, the guides are doing this a lot for social reasons. Like they will just talk to the other guides, the other things, and once we stopped in a cave for over an hour on the way down, and we are all out of water by now. And I just want to go home and go back and get some food, which was the top ramen. But no, the guy was talking to his friend and didn’t want us to leave and we are eventually like, “No, we’re done. Talk to your friend some other day.” So I would try to control that experience a little bit more. And I don’t know if it’s… I hear Denali and Kilimanjaro have completely different experiences. But this was very much, you feel like the tag along, like the unwanted tag along to these guys that are kind of just hanging out with each other.

Joanne Tan  53:49

So my next question was, what kind of food did you carry? Well, it doesn’t matter if they were stolen. But if they were not stolen, what would you recommend? high protein, or…

Gary Middlemiss  54:03

I’d recommend things that you can eat when it’s super cold. So not bread products, especially biscuit things that are going to freeze solid, things with sugar. But not exclusively, like what wouldn’t have been nice if we even had like peanuts or something, which we didn’t. I mean we pretty much exclusively had weird types of biscuits and random dinners that sometimes were terrible. I mean, they were freeze dried ones. We had a freeze dried dinner, once on the way out, that was pretty terrible. We had something that was … We had some lentils with pumpkin one day that nobody could eat either. It was uncooked, because you can’t really boil stuff for very long up there. So the lentils are very hard. The pumpkin was very hard. I don’t know. I mean, I guess I would take salami and cheese. There is nothing wrong with that, you get a stick of salami and you cut it off, and some cheese and cut that off. So, I mean, I definitely saw other people eating stuff like that.

Joanne Tan  55:24

But okay, so freeze dried, you got to boil the water and then put the water in the freeze dried bag. And at that altitude, it takes a long time to boil water, right?

Gary Middlemiss  55:39

Well, no, it just doesn’t get very hot. I don’t know what temperature it is when it boils, but it’s not very hot. And so when you put it in the bag, it just doesn’t cook the stuff very well.

Joanne Tan  55:50

Okay. Now, when you are kind of the delirious or hallucinating, do you know that this is triggered by the altitude? Or does your brain still have something to tell you: This is my brain is being tricked by the altitude, or do you have any cognitive control over your hallucination or delirium?

Gary Middlemiss  56:20

Personally, I’m pretty aware. I’ve been in this delirious hallucinatory state, one, two, three, four times. Four times, either triggered by exhaustion, dehydration, lack of sleep, and then some of the altitude, and they all kind of feel the same to me. Where I can tell my sensory perception has just gone awry. So it feels like when I get in the state that, my sensory inputs are just all wrong, but my mind seems to still know what I should do and where I should go. I don’t think that’s… I don’t think it’s the same for everybody. Because once me and my friend were both dehydrated, and he was definitely doing things like walking the wrong way. You know, we had to get to the water, it was going to take a couple more hours. And he was walking in ways that were not going to get them to water. I was always aware that, yeah, we really needed to get to the water. Even though I could tell I was not wholly there either. But my mind seemed to still know what to do and will to get my body do that. But yeah, I think people experience it differently. 

Joanne Tan  57:42

Okay, so a lot of it depends on weather. If you are unlucky, and it’s storming there, windy, you could wait for a week or two weeks, and still there is not an opening. And you will just turn back, go home, right? 

Gary Middlemiss  58:02

Yeah, I can calculate that’s not super normal. I guess they said last year, very, very few people made it to the top. And even the expeditions before us that did December, they had very few. It was like a 5% success rate or something. Yeah, I mean, you can do it. You strap on the crampons, and you strap on all your clothes, and you slowly make it up. I mean, I’m sure there’s times when you can’t do it. But other mountains like Denali, for example, are much, much more weather dependent. You can wait there for a week, and you just might not get a window. So, I actually had a friend – well, a friend of the husband of a friend of my wife – who died on Denali. Just cold weather. I don’t remember exactly what it was that killed them. But I do remember it was weather related. But sometimes you get great, nice warm days, and you get right up these things. So the other kind of thing that’s interesting, that I didn’t realize before is, you can’t really brag about these things. It might be a little bit useless. Because everybody’s experience is very different. So you could have somebody go up the same mountain during a season when there’s hardly any snow. And everything is super nice. And the weather is very cooperative. And your guides are really great. Your guides might even carry your pack for you. Like I saw some of that happening. Not our guides. But I guess the youngest person up here was nine years old. Maybe that can happen. Right? Or you have the opposite where there’s snow starting at Base Camp. And you have your crampons on for seven days in a row, and you never get a weather window, and it’s negative 40 all the time and the wind’s 50 miles an hour. A nine year old is not going to be doing that. 

Gary Middlemiss  1:00:08

Say your climbed a mountain, it really depends how it goes in. You know, people can get up Denali, sometimes they just luck out. And they might not be that skilled, but it was nice and sunny, and they actually got a good vie.  And then they get really skilled people to try and it’s just terrible weather. So yeah, it’s hard to judge. I mean, unlike Mount Whitney, you can say I got out, I made it up Mount Whitney, and pretty much everybody who goes up Mount Whitney has a very similar experience in the summer. So you can know what everybody else experienced. But these really tall mountains, there’s a huge degree of variability, both in year, time of year, season, guides, things that can go wrong. So yeah, it’s had some… I did not realize that before going out, that it’s a very inconsistent experience.

Joanne Tan  1:01:02

Right. So you could be thinking this is the clear day or no wind, you started, they like that. And then halfway to the peak, all of a sudden there is a storm. And you there’s no visibility and there’s blizzard. You, you lose the way down. I  assume you bring camp?

Gary Middlemiss  1:01:27

No, you can’t carry that stuff. Not on the summit day.

Joanne Tan  1:01:34

Then what happens,

Gary Middlemiss  1:01:35

You have a very strict turnaround time, think two o’clock or something. If you’ve not made it to the top, even if you’re 10 minutes away by two o’clock, you’ve just got to turn around, go down. 

Joanne Tan  1:01:47

So you’ll have to force yourself. Even though you’re 50 feet from the summit, you need to force yourself down. 

Gary Middlemiss  1:01:54

Pretty much. Because I think they say 80% of the fatalities are on the way down. And it’s just people starting down too late, or you’re tired. I mean, it’s like 3200 feet that you have to climb down, that’s very, very steep. And it’s really easy to slip. In fact, the day after we came off the summit is when one guy, the older guy that was with us, slipped, fell, broke his arm, and they had to stick him on the helicopter after coming down. So coming down is a dangerous part. And a lot of it is, if you get up too late, you’re increasing your risk quite a bit. And normally, you’re not going to get a huge change of weather in the day that’s unexpected. Because everybody, they have these radios, and they’re always calling in to the Weather Service. And they can see what’s coming. And Aconcagua is fairly dry. So you’re not going to… a surprise snowstorm is pretty unlikely. It’s a very dry desert.

Joanne Tan  1:03:00

So did you bring your compass? Does GPS, what do you call that… navigation satellite device, did you use that? Were they useful?

Gary Middlemiss  1:03:12

No, you wouldn’t use any of that stuff.  It’s very clear. You’re just going up the hill. And there’s tons of people. 

Joanne Tan  1:03:20

Okay, so how much of it is your inner confidence, and willpower, and determination? And how much was it, how much of it is your luck?

Gary Middlemiss  1:03:35

Hmm. It’s hard to say because everything except the summit day is so much different than the last day. So the last day, whether or not the weather is going to be good, that’s a large luck component. Right? So if it’s bad weather, then you definitely have to rely on your internal determination quite a bit. And if it’s good weather, then you’d have to rely on it, but not to the same extent. So there’s a lot of luck in the weather, I’d say. And that, that can make the mountain very easy, not very easy, but doable, or extremely difficult. So I’ve said a lot of it is luck. I mean, to say if, if you decided to climb a mountain like that, then you’d probably have enough mental fortitude to get to the top, probably. But yeah, the final day is very random.

Joanne Tan  1:04:42

What do you mean?

Gary Middlemiss  1:04:44

If it’s going to be good or not. I mean, if it’s really good you could get… Before I was thinking maybe some of my family could do this before the summit day. Like I would like to bring my kids up here sometime. But after the summit day, no, no, there’s too much. Too little, too luck-based risk that’s going on where I don’t think I’d want to bring my children on it. Yeah, I’ll take them to Kilimanjaro. That’s what I actually wanted to do next month. But I think we’re gonna punt that to the summer.

Joanne Tan  1:05:24

It’s factors outside your control. That’s the part. So it took you 13 days to climb up. Three days to climb down. And you said climbing down is harder than climbing up. Tell us why? 

Gary Middlemiss  1:05:39

Well, it’s more dangerous. And it’s just from the summit part. It’s more dangerous, getting off the summit thing than it is getting up. It’s just because you’re tired, you’re hungry, you’re cold, you’re thirsty. And there’s no real trail. It’s just, you take steps and you can slip.  I saw a guy right in front of me. Actually two people in front of me, a heavy guy. On the way down, he slipped on this glacier and just started sliding. And he could have just kept sliding and sliding. But the guy in front of me, which was actually my friend who was 12, so now he’s 30. He just grabbed him, grabbed him by his hair, and kept him from sliding down the glacier, and adventure people came and helped him get back up. And he totally ripped right through his pants and everything. So I could just… you can have random, you’re tired, you just want to go sleep. And the guy on our expedition who, on the way down, he just fell and broke his arm. I think he was just lacked food. And fell backwards, put his hand down wrong. Broke it. So yeah, it’s just tiring to get down. And you’re like, you just want to get back to Mendoza, eat ice cream, and steak and pizza. And that’s all you’re really thinking about, you’re going probably faster than you really should. If you’re gonna go safely, and it’s a bunch of guys with testosterone, like, hey, how fast can I run down this mountain? Sometimes. So, yeah, getting down did seem kind of more like dangerous in terms of the terrain.

Joanne Tan  1:07:29

And your internal drive to get down to, you know, bottom as soon as you can. 

Gary Middlemiss  1:07:36

Yeah, going up is like, you have to go slowly to acclimate. When you’re going down, you’re like, I could walk out of this mountain, it’s 20 miles. But I could do it right now and just walk all night long. And that’s where you’re headed. So I want to walk out of here. I want to get down low and want to take an actual shower, drink some water that is not that water, and eat real food. So there’s kind of this, I must get out of here type of mentality. So that’s a little sketchy.

Joanne Tan  1:08:11

Yeah, that adds more risk, actually. Okay, so top of the mountain, what did you see? And how did you feel when you reached the summit?

Gary Middlemiss  1:08:21

So my summit experience was again, as part of this, this deliriousness. That kind of prevented me… And the the thing is, I had not decided years ago, I was going to do this. I didn’t feel like this victory feeling that you might have if you win the Super Bowl or something. You know, I am still kind of processing actually. I’d say something that was kind of interesting was when we could see the end, and we were told it was like 45 minutes away. My thought was like, Oh my gosh, like, I’m not sure I can last 45 minutes. That sounds like a long time. And then the kid I had brought, I’m not sure he wants his name mentioned, so when I said that, he just decided… He was walking behind me like, “Gary, I’m just gonna count every step you take and just take 100 steps.” And I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, I can’t take 100 steps.” That’s a lot of steps. So I kind of cheat and do small ones, sometimes. But you’re wearing these huge boots that are like ski boots. They’re really big, like double boots. They’re exhausting to wear, honestly, they’re really heavy. And you have no ground fields, so you’re always sliding backwards. But if he had not counted me through it, I don’t think I would have gone. It was a good thing to take my mind off all the other issues. I was feeling some sense of victory. I will say through parts of it, but not the giant “Aha!” at the top. Butt at the top, literally, you pull yourself over the rock and you just lay down right there. You are no longer going to be standing. And nobody is standing, of the customers. Everybody does the same thing – pulled themselves over and you are on your back. You didn’t have the energy to cover your face from the Sun that’s burning your face, you just lay there. And you’re there, like a good 10 minutes, and moving your head around a little bit. And then you get the energy to sit up. And then you might get the energy to stand up and look around a bit better. Now, then you take a couple pictures that aren’t very well planned out, and then you get packed down. So it was weird. It’s like you kind of flop onto the top of this mountain. 

Gary Middlemiss  1:10:48

So yeah, I’m still I’m still trying to figure out what I what I think about it. I’m not sure I’ll go that high again. Yeah, I don’t know. I’d say the thing I did think a lot about was – a rugby is a football team, right? That got stuck up there. Because you can, you can look through the mountains towards the direction where they were, and you think that would suck. But there is nothing out there. My wife had read the book a long time ago. And she would tell me about it a lot. I think she read it twice. And I think well, can’t you just walk down?  But you look out there, and it’s just dead snow. Like, not live snow, just dead snow.

Joanne Tan  1:11:36

What’s, what’s the difference?  

Gary Middlemiss  1:11:39

Well, live snow, turns into things that like create life. So I would call that, you know, snow patches that melts, that feed into streams, that water meadows, that turns into trees. And so normally in California or Colorado, you’re at the top mountain, you see that stuff. But at the top of this, it’s like outer space. All you see is glacier snow that’s been there a long time. That is not sustaining life. I mean, the glaciers are carving out of the mountain. And there’s a lot of… I mean, the water is insanely polluted, is the right word. But the water is not pure, as soon as it’s melted. Like there’s so many weird minerals. Again, I’d say, oh, we drink that sulfur water.  It’s like the water is deep, dark brown within 200 feet of coming off the glacier. And before that, it’s all sorts of weird colors. So nothing really is life-sustaining at all. So it’s different. The weird thing about it, is just like when you’re way up there, if the sun is fully out, and it’s shining on you and it’s all good, it might feel like it is 60 degrees. Right? If there’s no wind. The wind comes, does not feel like that. But as soon as the tiniest cloud covers the sun, you’re instantly at zero or less. Like your nose is cold if it’s exposed. You see your breath, and it can happen in seconds. So the constant temperature fluctuations definitely made me think about how the space station was super hot on one side and super cold on the other side. So yeah, it felt a lot like I imagined outer space.

Joanne Tan  1:13:40

Okay, so do you think it’s the pollution that make the snow so brown and dirty?

Gary Middlemiss  1:13:48

No, there’s no human pollution up there. It’s just raw. It’s just… everything is it feels like the Earth is just being formed and created. It almost feels like a pre life or, like pre microbes. It’s just the stuff coming out of the the rock. Again, and the Sierra is way up high, it’s granite. And it’s pretty solid and clean.  This, this would have a lot of like… it’s not dirt, I don’t know what it is, but the water is almost undrinkable. So it would … they would say don’t drink the water raw. You have to put something in it like Tang or tea. So if you try and drink water it’s not quite brackish, but it is kind of like trying to drink salt water. It’s really hard to get down. 

Joanne Tan  1:14:45

Okay, Gosh. Now, would you plan to climb another huge cold dangerous mountain again?

Gary Middlemiss  1:14:54

Well, again, I said, I want to get my family to go to Kilimanjaro, because my son says nobody’s heard about Aconcagua. It doesn’t mean anything, which is something he would say. And now he’s like semi flirting with the idea of going up Everest. It would be really cold. But he he likes doing hard things. And I said, if he wants to do it in the next three or four years, I’ll do it with them. But other than that, no. Again, Everest, I feel is just randomly dangerous from traffic jams. 

Joanne Tan  1:15:37

Well, I… that’s too much, really. If this… I don’t feel a sense of joy from what you’ve described. I don’t feel a sense of joy. So were there any moments, that were poetic and inspirational? Or just oh, this is beautiful, can you recall those moments of beauty and inspiration? And say, “Oh, the glacier, whoa, the whole universe, the Milky Way, this is so grand…”

Gary Middlemiss  1:16:14

The stars were cool. But that was really low. That was at 11,000 feet, when they could go out in the night and see stars.  After that, it was too cold. Um, no, but I don’t think that’s the point. I mean, it is different. It is different from hiking regular mountains. I mean, when they, when they call it an expedition, it is qualitatively different from backpacking. Like my favorite place in the world, where I took the kid earlier, and I was taken early, I cannot walk through there without being in tears. For most of it, it is super, super poetic, inspirational. And the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. This is different. I mean, the beauty is stark, it’s dangerous beauty. It’s raw, but it’s not, it’s not life-affirming. Again, there is no life there, what strikes you most is really not so much death is pre- life. It feels like it is in a pre-life state. 

Star gazing at Mount Aconcagua, climber: Gary Middlemiss, interviewed by Joanne Z. Tan, "Interviews of Notables and Influencers", #10PlusInterviews #10PlusBrand

Gary Middlemiss  1:17:25

I did walk outside of my tent really early in the morning, one morning, around seven in the morning, at Camp Two. And I just walked around alone for about an hour before the sun came up to feel what it was like to be that cold. And then I found this little cave in this nook of this rock.  I guess the condors have a nest in there. And I just kind of huddled in there against the wind and watched the sun come up. And I would watch it go across the rocks in the snow and try and see how long it would take to get to me and I would feel myself slowly freezing. And I just kind of wanted to see what that felt like. I would say it was just, it’s not the awe inspiring beauty that you feel in normal mountains. Even that, which was I think, as close as I got, it was still, you look across things and you think, “If I were there, I’d be dead. If I were over there, I’d be dead.” Everywhere I am, the only thing that’s keeping me alive is like all the duck feathers that are covering me, stuck into my jackets and pants and stuff. Right? Without all these artificial means, just be dead, like everything else on this mountain. So it’s different. The whole point, though, is really more about exploring and persevering, I think, and thinking about the people that originally climbed this thing, when it would have been even way harder, and following an exploring type of path. So I would say it’s more about pushing where life goes, more than it is about everything being so beautiful and inspiring. So it’s different, it’s a different purpose. 

Joanne Tan  1:19:19

You’re testing the limits of survivability. Yes. And when you come down to this “normal life”, quote unquote, whatever “normal” means, on Earth with family at sea level, do you appreciate something a whole lot more?

Gary Middlemiss  1:19:40

The most notable thing, first of all in Mendoza, The first thing I did was I ate 20 scoops of ice cream, three milkshakes, two steaks and three pizzas, two days in a row. So the appreciation that ice cream there is $1 a scoop, and they have at least seven different chocolates is phenomenal. I’d say the other amazing thing to feel was just to feel the sun on your back. And the sun coming through the atmosphere to touch your body and warm it gently, was so pleasant. Rather than the Sun is trying to either kill you by burning you to death, or by freezing you to death when the clouds are covering it. So the sun as life bringer was definitely very noticeable instead of a star out in outer space. So yeah, those were the big things. The food was very important. I got back being clean. It was up there, that food is important. But yeah, really just being able to walk outside and know things are not trying to kill you. That’s pretty good. 

Joanne Tan  1:21:05

Okay, so what, what are the most memorable things from this adventure? Most memorable?

Gary Middlemiss  1:21:12

I think the group dynamics and getting our group to solidly gel was was memorable. I mean, some of us will be friends for a long time. I think the, again, the terribleness of the guides, was very memorable in a bad way. I will always remember that morning. I woke up and walked around alone. Because I deliberately decided to get out of my tent when it was dark and cold, and put on as many clothes as I could and see what it felt like to be alone way out there. And so I walked to where I could see nobody, and spent a good hour, maybe an hour and a half by myself. Just watching, watching the world get touched by a light slowly. So those are probably… The last few hours of getting up the top where everything was just going wacky. I mean, that’s very memorable. But pleasantly memorable was my solo experience. 

Joanne Tan  1:22:23

Because you felt the utter helplessness being one person there, subjected to death.

Gary Middlemiss  1:22:31

Yeah, and just, you feel your vulnerability. And you could feel yourself slowly getting colder. And you wait for the sun. And you know, when it hits you, it’s going to be okay. I can, okay. My body’s telling me I have an hour, two hours left to life at this temperature. And I’m looking at it, the sun looks like it’s going to hit me in 30 minutes. So I’m going to be okay. So it was kind of interesting. But yeah, just choosing to go out there, because again, energy is expensive. You don’t do anything unnecessary. Literally, like you don’t walk anywhere unnecessary. If it’s more than a minute or two, to maybe go to the bathroom. And that’s poop. They don’t walk that far for peeing. So to choose to walk, and to spend that energy, was actually a big decision. Just choosing to get out of the tent was a big decision. So I was glad I made that decision and spent that time

Joanne Tan  1:23:35

To experiment what is it like, frozen to death, before you’re dead? 

Gary Middlemiss  1:23:42

Yeah, Yeah,

Joanne Tan  1:23:44

That gives you the appreciation of life, and given appreciation of people and community and friendship.

Gary Middlemiss  1:23:53

Yeah, and the technology and clothes that keep us alive. Yeah.

Joanne Tan  1:24:01

Yes. Okay, lessons. What lessons, your takeaways? I mean, this is the biggest lesson, biggest mistake that I will avoid. What are the lessons you’ve learned from this?

Gary Middlemiss  1:24:17

Um, be friendly. So, I mean, everything depends on people in general in life. Like when things are going good, maybe less dependent, when things are going bad, always dependent. So even in your job, if you’re trying to make money, if things are going good, you don’t maybe need people as much. But things going bad and so you’re fired unexpectedly and you have hospital bills, whatever.  You need people. Just being on your own as an autonomous individual is not going to get you through the bad stuff. But if you’re always in a place where it’s always good and easy, you can become very self centered. And think that you can solve all problems by yourself. But badness always requires people. So, I mean, I’ve known that before, but it just, hits you again. In things like this, group dynamics are important. And then you see the people who have never experienced that before, and do not understand that they need these people that they’re mistreating. So you asked me about lessons. Yes, that would be my main lesson. Yeah, friendship in general. Like, I’ve made random friends throughout my years, and it’s just been the best thing ever. You know, it has supported my life and interests well beyond what I thought it would have.

Joanne Tan  1:25:55

But as, on the other hand, your guides, I mean, they must be sadistic, sick people, because what they’re doing to you guys, is endangering your lives, basically. And they couldn’t care. So that’s the other side of the coin of humanity, you know, we have this the good side, and we have this evil side. 

Gary Middlemiss  1:26:19

Yeah, but if you ever read Sea Wolf, I mean, this, when I read Sea Wolf for the first time, I was very impressed by… As the cabin boy, and the boat, and the sea captain sends them up to do, to up the top of the mast to do something dangerous. He sends him to do something dangerous and stupid. And just for his own pleasure, really. And one of the people on the boat said, “What are you doing to this kid?” And the captain said, “Nobody cares about this kid, he has no parents.” So if he’s dead, his parents don’t care because they’re dead. And if he’s dead, he’s dead. So he doesn’t care. And none of us care. So what does it matter? And I think, some section of humanity does feel like this, fairly. Other people, they’re not related to you, they’ve seen a lot of things already. And if you’ve gone through a lot of trauma in your life already, and you’ve seen a lot of death, then what does it matter? If somebody you’re guiding up this thing dies? You’re not like, how long is it going to bother them for? And our guide would actually brag about how many people have died on his expedition. So I think he was inducing it, just like in … There was a case recently where a nurse was in that neonatal thing, and really enjoyed telling parents that their babies had died, and actually was killing them, and then telling parents so they could see the reaction. I mean, I think sometimes people gravitate towards these high risk things, and then exercise their feelings of domination. And that scenario, so you have to be aware, you might end up with the sadist, or narcissist in this group. If they’re going to gravitate towards that, just like child molesters will gravitate towards something, certain jobs and, you know, sadist and they’re gonna gravitate towards people in difficult situations. So I’d say, be aware that’s a possibility. I don’t think it’s super common. I think we got bad luck. 

Joanne Tan  1:28:40

But you survived, you persevered, you returned!

Gary Middlemiss  1:28:43

Yeah. It became clear early on that you had to look out for yourself, that nobody was. It’s not a babysitting trip, so if you need extra food, and you’re hungry, you have to go find it. And whether that’s finding it where somebody else is eating, or something like that. I had to do that plenty of times. So yeah, don’t relinquish your control over your life. And just assume that somebody else actually cares at all, because they might not.

Joanne Tan  1:29:21

Wow, this is profound. Okay, this is so naked truth told, in the most understated way. Don’t relinquish your control over your life, just assuming someone else cares, because they don’t. But might not. They might not. But at the same time, there is such thing as human bonding, friendship that sustains our life, helping each other and that is also blessed by God in our heart. At the same time, there is the satanic dark forces, inhumanity you know.  You’ve gotta, you got to look out.

Gary Middlemiss  1:30:03

Yeah, that contrast was actually fascinating to see during this walk, you know, to seeing how we bonded together against… I mean, you had the mountain, but I would say the guides were worse than the mountain in terms of causing difficulty. But yeah, to see again that dynamic and how it changed how we bonded, and who was in charge, versus if it had been different a situation was… it’s fascinating for me.  That’s my favorite thing to think about, ever since like elementary school, is seeing how groups of people bind together. A lot of it is because, I mean, I was very unsocial in elementary school. And I was trying to figure a way out, how do I go from unsocial me to social like these other kids? And so I just watched them. Yeah, it was seeing the different sides of humanity. Like, we were extremely kind to each other, except for the one very spoiled person in the group. And the guides are extremely not kind to us. So the things we would do for each other were pretty remarkable, actually. And the things that the guides would not do for us was pretty remarkable. So yeah, the contrast was pretty interesting.

Bottom of Mount Aconcagua, climber: Gary Middlemiss, interviewed by Joanne Z. Tan, "Interviews of Notables and Influencers", #10PlusInterviews #10PlusBrand

Joanne Tan  1:31:33

Wow. Last question. I asked everybody I interviewed, okay. So if you could use about five words or less to describe your personal brand, like what does the Gary Middlemiss brand stand before? What would you use?

Gary Middlemiss  1:31:53

Hmm. That’s a tough question. I’m not good at self description, I would say I’m still introverted. So I’ll keep with that word,

Joanne Tan  1:32:10

But you are audaciously…but also, you did take calculated risks, didn’t you?

Gary Middlemiss  1:32:21

Yeah, but that’s not the same as introverted. I am not risk averse. I am risk accepting, that’s for sure. Introverted. It’s more like if I have to talk to more than three people a day, I get exhausted. And if it’s more than five people I have to be alone for a day. I recharge by being alone. I do not… I might like being around people, but it’s still exhausting. So I’d say introverted. Risk accepting. I like risk when the reward is acceptable. I’d say I’m pretty romantic. 

Joanne Tan  1:33:03


Gary Middlemiss  1:33:04

Would be a word…

Joanne Tan  1:33:05

With music…

Gary Middlemiss  1:33:05

(Gary’s phone battery died.)

Joanne Tan  1:33:09

 Oh shoot! Oh My God!


© Joanne Z. Tan   All rights reserved.


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