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Okanagan couple reaches Argentinian summit, 10 years after husband’s heart surgery

Tyson and Shannon Head reache the top of Aconcagua, nearly 7,000 metres above sea level

A Vernon couple has taken their passion for mountain climbing to new heights.

Tyson and Shannon Head, both in their early 40s, made it to the summit of Aconcagua in Argentina, 6,962 metres above sea level, on Jan. 15.

It’s an impressive feat on its own, but even more so considering where Tyson was 10 years ago.

He was diagnosed with neuroendocrine carcinoid cancer and in 2012 underwent open heart surgery, followed by localized radiation treatment.

The procedures left him with an uncertain future. But thanks to many trips to the McMurtry-Baerg Cancer Centre at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, he gained the confidence and support of his doctors.

The Heads put together a trip to Argentina in November 2021 and got their favourite local outdoor store, Valhalla Pure Outfitters, to sponsor their mountain-climbing challenge.

The journey started with a three-day trek to basecamp at an elevation of 4,300 metres. From there they did two acclimatization hikes to over 5,000 metres, with a few rest days to recuperate. Then it was onto the summit push.

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They battled a snow storm to reach Camp 1 at 5,050 metres, then grinded on to Camp 2 before taking a much needed rest day as a stomach bug went through the expedition team. They pushed upward to Camp 3 at 6,000 metres the following day. At this elevation, every breath contains half the amount of oxygen at sea level, making activities like eating, drinking and sleeping a challenge.

After a windy night in the tents, they awoke at 3:30 a.m. to get ready for a 5 a.m. departure to the summit. A snowstorm had blanketed the entire mountain, making crampons and other technical gear necessary. They hiked the first three hours in complete darkness using headlamps to light the way. As the sun began to rise they crossed a lengthy traverse, the wind howling, before making one last rest break. They pushed on another two and a half hours up the final 300 vertical metres.

Only five of the 11 climbers in the group made it to the top. Tyson and Shannon were among them.

“Standing on the top was the most rewarding feeling,” Shannon said. “There were times where all we wanted to do was turn around and take the easy road back to our tents but we just kept telling ourselves to push forward one step at a time.”

Over the 14 days they hiked the two traversed a total of 105 kilometres and climbed 4,162 vertical metres from the parking lot to the summit.

Despite making the trip during a pandemic, the couple said travel was a breeze. They used a local travel agent who helped them get safely to and from Argentina, keeping with all updated COVID-19 restrictions.

Having Valhalla Pure Outfitters set them up with the latest and greatest gear was also a plus.

Nine years after open heart surgery, Tyson and Shannon found the strength to make their mountain climbing dreams come true.

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Brendan Shykora
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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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