I guess I should start with a bit of an introduction. My name is Andrew McKinlay. I grew up and live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada - the middle of the prairies. Not exactly what most people would think of as an adventurous place. My earliest claim to "adventure" comes from my parents. I was born in Arusha, Tanzania, East Africa. My parents lived in East Africa for 10 years, but they left when I was only a year old so I can't claim any memories of Africa.
My favorite brand of adventure is mountain climbing. People think that's a little strange for a person from the prairies. My mother claims it's a result of being born next door to Kilimanjaro - the highest mountain in Africa. Neither of my parents were climbers. My father tried to climb Kilimanjaro once when they were living there, but turned around short of the summit. That was the beginning and the end of his climbing career. But they were supportive of my adventurous streak from an early age. Of course, that support got tempered by fear for my safety as my adventures got more serious. I remember before my first Himalayan trip asking my father what he thought of me going to a big climb in Tibet (Changtse). His response was short and sweet: "Don't be ridiculous!" But in the end I think he was proud of my accomplishments.
My first big trip was to Mt. McKinley in Alaska. Not wanting to go on the "tourist" route, we chose Catacomb Ridge on the East Buttress. We trained hard, climbing in the Rockies in the winter to get used to conditions but we had no idea what we were getting into. Our third person cancelled, leaving just two of us. Then we couldn't land near the base of the route as planned which meant to lot of dangerous glacier travel with two people. We barely managed to get on the route itself. But it was a great learning experience. A few years later we went back and had a great time succeeding on the West Buttress "tourist" route.
When I was younger I had typical fantasies about becoming a world famous mountain climber. When I succeeded on my first 8000m peak (Broad Peak) it fueled these fantasies. By then I knew I'd never be a world class rock or ice climber, but I did seem to do pretty well at altitude. We were even asked to give a presentation on our climb at the Annual General meeting of the Alpine Club of Canada. But my lack of success on the following three 8000m expeditions (Cho Oyu, Manaslu, Shishapangma) pretty much eradicated any remaining fantasies. On the positive side, we managed to get someone to the top on three out of four 8000m peaks (all but Shish). From a team leaders point of view I guess that's pretty good.
My climbing partner on all of these trips was Shelley Ballard/McKinlay. I proposed in base camp at Broad Peak soon after returning from the summit. We got married later that year. I joke that it was the lack of oxygen at altitude but I think it had more to do with narrowly escaping getting killed in a storm on the descent from the summit. Seven people were killed in that storm next door on K2. It was a sobering experience and it reminded me we don't live forever.
Unfortunately, on Shishapangma Shelley started to have problems with the altitude. It didn't seem to be life threatening (i.e. it wasn't cerebral or pulmonary edema) but puking all the time doesn't make for a fun time. So we gave up on 8000m peaks for a while.
Instead, we visited East Africa to see where I'd been born and to climb Mt. Kilamanjaro (highest in Africa). We successfully climbed the Western Breach route.
Our next big trip was to Chile and Argentina where we climbed the False Polish route on Aconcagua (highest in South America).
It was nice to be successful on Kilamanjaro and Aconcagua after our lack of success on the last three 8000m expeditions.