My Aconcagua Adventure.
My Aconcagua Adventure. Argentina Reviews
Wonderful scenery! bright colors and fresh air. May 12, 2011
I booked a 1-day hiking tour to Aconcagua park, between Argentina and Chile. Most people travel there in winter but i wanted to see what it looked like in Summer and I loved it! The colors were so bright, the smalls lakes along the way, the glaciers far in the horizon... I wan't looking for an adventure trip but getting to see the nature of this wonderful mountains and I don't regret it :).
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Jul 17, 2006
ACONCAGUA Jan 27th -Feb 17th 2001
At 22,841 ft (6,964 metres) above sea level, Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, in fact there is no summit higher in the whole world except for those in the Himalayas. As one of the continental seven summits, it is a world renowned peak and is highly sought after by many high altitude climbers.
On Jan 27th 2001, I flew out to Argentina in an attempt to reach the summit of Aconcagua. I climbed as a member of an Adventure Consultants Expedition. Led by Kiwi Mountain Guide, Guy Cotter. Climbing as part of a three-man team we reached the foot of the Mountain in early February and set up Base camp at Plaza Argentina at the head of the Relinchos Valley. After spending time acclimatising for a few days, we set out to carry our equipment and food up the mountain. By mid February, we were poised at our high camp on the North side of the Mountain, ready to make a summit bid. The following is taken from my journal of the expedition to Aconcagua. It is more of an account than a review, but I hope you enjoy reading it anyway.
Thursday 8th February 2001
Saw an amazing electrical storm away in the distance last night, I am a glad it was a few valleys away from ours, it looked lethal, even from a distance. I spent my second night at camp one pretty much as I spent the first, very restless, not sleeping much at all. When sleep finally did come, so did the sun, illuminating the inside of our tent in a very vivid bright orange, making any further sleep impossible.
We left camp one at 10.00 am, my pack wasn't as heavy as it was in the carry up to one. I quickly settled into a rhythm, and was moving upwards very confidently with a lot of energy. After a few hours of this shuffling up hill in the relentless heat I started to feel the altitude as we approached the 6,000 metres of camp two. Eventually after 5 hours of climbing, I collapsed at the spot, which was to be our camp two, nestled under the Polish Glacier. My head was pounding as I reached the camp, and I had to keep very still, as every movement made the pain in my head intensify. I drank a litre of water from the nearby glacier pools that were scattered around the moraine and instantly felt a lot better. After 20 minutes or so, my headache had gone completely and I got stuck in with the task of pitching out two tents, and erecting stone walls around them for protection from the vicious winds that were sure to whistle across this desolate plateau. I started to enjoy the fact that I was higher than I had ever been before in my life, it was an amazing feeling that warmed me inside.
The summit seemed so near from this high camp, and I felt confident of reaching the top for the first time in the whole expedition. Due to the foreshortening effect what in effect looked a little over a few hours away, would in all reality be a torrid 10-12 hour climb to 7,000 metres. I pushed this thought from the back of my mind, and began to prepare myself for the journey back to camp one.
Today had only been a load carry, yet it had also been a very useful acclimatisation foray. What took 5 hours to ascend took 35 minutes to descend. Guy set off down at lightning pace while the third member of our team Arnold took a more leisurely approach to the descent, in order I feel to protect his knees. I pretty much kept up with Guy the whole way back and we whipped down in no time at all.
Our plan was to rest up for the remainder of the day and then climb up to two tomorrow after a much needed rest. However if Arnold or myself doesn't feel like going up tomorrow then we shall rest another day. We are so close now, it would be a shame to succumb to altitude sickness and have to descend. This summit is so important to me, and I am relieved that I am still very much in the hunt.
The route we have opted for is the Falso de los polacos, which is an alternative to the polish glacier route. Instead of ascending straight up from camp two onto the glacier, we will traverse right across the bottom of the glacier and reach the summit up through the canaleta.
It was good to be back at camp one, where the air felt richer, even at 5'000 metres. It has been pretty exhausting work in just getting this far, and I hope I have enough in reserve to be able to continue on all the way to the top, to the place of dreams.
Friday 9th February
Woke to find winds scowling outside the tent, which has delayed our move up to camp two for the time being. There is no point in battling against strong winds, risking frostbite. It is much safer to stay here in the comfort of our tents. However if the winds drop at any point today then we will probably make a move up, which will put us back on track for a summit attempt real soon. If not, then this becomes another useful acclimatisation day, even though I am anxious to get going.
Aconcagua is very famous for its strong winds and we are certainly experiencing that today. I feel good myself, despite having little sleep again. The usual pattern of finally succumbing to a deep sleep at first light. There was a wonderful full moon last night, which bathed the whole of camp one in a brilliant white light.
Although we still have time on our side, our permit only lasts for 20 days. We have been on the mountain now for nearly 10, which gives us 10 days to wait for the right weather to safeguard our route to the top. Well there's nothing more to do other than batten down the hatches and listen to Matchbox 20 on my Walkman.
By midday there was still no let up in the strong winds hammering into our tent. Guy is pacing up and down outside our tent pretty anxious to make a move. To be honest we all are, I want to be a day closer to the top as much as any man. We made a decision after speaking to an English team on their way down the mountain.
We packed up camp, and decided to head on up the hill in the hope that the winds would subside a little. We set off up the col in 50-60 knot winds, and after moving up for over an hour Guy and myself reached the col, where we waited for Arnold who was moving slower than his usual self today. When Arnold finally reached the col, he wasn't too happy with the wind conditions at all, and suggested that we retreat back down to camp one. We discussed the implications of deciding to continue and what may happen if the winds worsen. One things for sure, you could guarantee that it would be blowing a hell of a lot worse up at two than it was here. After discussing the pro's and cons, we decided to head down back to camp one.
All the valuable height that we had just climbed, we lost in a matter of minutes, which was a huge shame and also very frustrating as I knew we would have to now do it all over again, once these winds passed, if at all they did.
Back at one, we quickly pitched out tent again, and settled in for another night down here disabled by the weather. After today I was starting to feel very strong, and I could feel my body adapting to the rarefied air. All I need to do is keep this up for another 18-20 hours of climbing and I will be on the summit of Aconcagua.
Guy is talking about descending down to base camp to fetch more supplies, that's if this weather doesn't change soon. We are using all our food just hanging around at camp one waiting for this break. One things for sure, if we deplete our food stores, then we are on our way down. We can't reach 23,000 ft on an empty stomach.
Saturday 10th February
To go or not to go? That is the question this morning. It is a glorious sunny day interspersed with the odd sudden blast of wind. It is these sudden blasts of wind, that are concerning. If these winds are more persistent up high then we will have to retreat back down to one as we did yesterday.
To be frank, I really couldn't be bothered or able to come back up for a third time, if that happened. I feel that we either go today or this expedition could be over. Camp two or bust!
Guy gave the orders to pack up camp at 9.00 am, so that is what we did. I set off at 9.50am; the winds had died down now sufficient to the point that I wasn't being blown off my feet today. So for the third time in three days we ascended up to the col.
I moved very fast and was the first to reach the col, unsurprisingly as Guy and Arnold didn't leave camp one for at least a good hour after I had left. It was good to reach the point where we reached yesterday, knowing that this time, we were moving up instead of down.
I passed a large contingency of fellow Brits on the way up, who were moving fairly slowly, so I zipped past them exchanging pleasantries as I went. I have found a good steady pace that I am comfortable with, and I seem to be able to move quicker than most people on the hill, which is a great confidence boost as I move into the last stages of the climb.
I have resigned myself to the fact that Guy is super human in his abilities at ascending up hill. He moves up with the speed of a man on a mission and I have no way of keeping up with his speed on the hill. Not surprising, considering his very impressive record in the big hills, which includes two ascents of Everest, and also he has twice gave up the summit to assist unwell and tired climbers down from as high as the south summit. It has been a very rewarding experience to climb with someone as resourceful and experienced as Guy is. A mountaineer of the highest order, no mistaking that.
Arnold Witzig, my 59-year-old climbing partner and tent companion also moves very fast uphill. I have been most impressed with his raw grit and determination at getting to the top. He has plans to climb McKinley in June, after which he too has his sights set on Cho-Oyu and then Everest. For a man of his age I find that remarkable and most inspiring. I hope he succeeds. He will be well on his way to the seven summits, if he summits Aconcagua in a few days time. He already has Vincent Massif under his belt, which he climbed last December, again with Adventure Consultants.
Once again when I saw the familiar sight of the tents of camp two, I had become completely exhausted with my efforts at getting there, and I collapsed in a pathetic heap at the sight of our make shift campsite, set deep into this wind-swept place. This time though, the headache that I had feared upon arrival did not emerge, and I regained enough strength after my ascent to go and fill all our water bottles, for some much needed liquids.
Whilst on the mountain we had all been drinking vast quantities of water to ward off dehydration, which can be a killer at altitude. It is vitally important to keep the body fully hydrated; therefore we have been consuming at least seven litres a day.
Tension flared up for the first time in the expedition today, when the tent that Guy & Arnold was pitching got caught in a gust of wind and very nearly blew away over the summit ridge of Aconcagua itself. I was sitting down at the time, resting. Guy didn't take too kindly to this lack of teamwork, and rightly so. Mountaineering is all about teamwork, and at that exact moment in time, when our tent nearly blew away I wasn't being a member of the team. Had the tent blew away, then it would have been game over, time to descend. I cursed myself for my lack of help and vowed that from now on I would be on full team work mode. The slightest mishap up here means the difference between success and failure, and I for one have no intention of failing under such stupid careless circumstances. Today I learnt a very valuable lesson.
Once the tent was secured down, we tucked into salami, cheese and crackers from our stash of food that we left here after our first load carry up. They went down a treat, at least my appetite hasn't diminished much, which is unusual, as normally at altitude you tend to lose all appetite, and eating becomes a chore that is not looked forward to.
We are now only a thousand vertical metres beneath this trips objective; the summit of Aconcagua. We are now poised in a prime position to go for it. We shall rest and consult the weather gods. If all is well, then nothing will stop me in my pursuit for this summit. I am balancing on the edge of a precipice of disaster or elation. The next 36 hours will tell all. No matter what happens from here on in, I have gave this my best shot and I will go home with my head held high. I believe that I am now operating at my upper limits and I have enough left to get to the top and back to camp 2, then I will be all out.
So through gritted teeth, determination and that good old English desire to keep going I shall endeavour to reach the summit of this giant of the western skies. It is extraordinary just being here, so high on the flanks of Aconcagua. We humans are mere passing visitors to these exposed wind swept high places of our planet. No life can be sustained for long up here. Although the views are spectacular, one still has a yearning for luxuries that aren't to be afforded up here. A nice hot shower, a cold pint of beer and a warm log fire.
Looking at myself in my little travel mirror, I am looking exactly as I would expect to look. Totally haggard beyond belief, my skin is the texture of leather, my nose is black and crusted with dead flesh and dry blood, and I have at least an inch of grime and dust from the trek in and the climb up to here. Apart from that I am pretty clean really.
Sunday 11th February
Today is our final rest day before we go for the summit. We will leave at 2.00 in the morning and head on up and if all is well, we should summit around midday.
The wind picked up again today which was very demoralising to say the least. The thought of being pinned down here, depresses me. I want to climb this mountain and then get the hell out of here. If the winds stay as strong as this, then our summit attempt will be over for sure. We have only a couple of days of food and fuel up here, so if we are stuck here for any longer waiting for the right weather then we will have no choice but to go down. Beaten by the weather as so commonly happens on the world's high mountains.
I am beginning to get bored, just lying in the tent listening to my Walkman and praying that we are still very much on for the early hours of the morning. A dull headache came on this afternoon, so I upped what I was drinking in an attempt to nip it in the bud. The last thing I would want going for the summit is a pounding headache. The extra fluids seem to do the trick though and the dull ache soon went away. The wind outside is beginning to get extremely ferocious now, it is as if all the winds in South America are trying to pick us up, tent and all and toss us over the side of Aconcagua.
I think it is time to start praying now, please winds go away, leave us in peace, and let us have our day. I don't know who exactly I am praying to, but I hope they hear my prayer, and soon.
We have all been inside this tent now for over 16 hours, I need some air, or what little air there is, that is. The next time I write in this journal I will either of been to the top of this mountain, or I will be still in my sleeping bag in this tent. Here's to the weather gods.
Monday 12th February
We turned in last night at about 6.30pm, with the intention of leaving at 3.00 am, should the winds die down. I didn't sleep a wink at all, I was too nervous and the sound of the wind made sure that sleep was impossible. I started to doze on and off when I became suddenly aware of something! Outside there was no noise at all. I sat bolt upright and looked at my watch, the time was 2.48 am. This was it we were on!
The winds had blown themselves out. As I looked outside our tent all I could see was the night sky and a billion stars twinkling brightly like never before. The miracle had happened my prayers had been answered. We brewed up and replenished ourselves with some much-needed fluids before the final climb to the summit. It took the three of us well over an hour to get ready into our high altitude gear. One thing that I did become aware of was how cold it had become, my fingers were starting to freeze, and so I wasted no time in putting on several pairs of gloves.
We all left camp two at 3.30 in the pitch black and freezing night temperature. Upon checking my thermometre I was alarmed to see that the reading was -30°c. We were climbing in frostbite conditions, so it was important to keep moving and keep blood flowing to the extremities. This was without doubt the coldest I had ever been in my whole life. I followed the beam of my head torch, which gave off a pathetic amount of light. In fact, I gave up after an hour and turned the torch off, allowing my eyes time to adjust to the darkness.
We began climbing the glacier, higher and higher we went, I used my ice axe for support over the steeper sections of snow and ice, and was very grateful to have it with me. It gave me an element of security, knowing that it would break a fall should I be unfortunate to slip.
Before very long I didn't feel too good at all; I felt exhausted; I felt like I was going to wretch at any second, but most worrying, was the fact that I was dropping behind Guy and Arnold at an alarming rate.
I knew that I needed to stop and empty my bowels, yet my head was telling me to keep going. The thought of having to remove layers and warm clothing, and undo my sallopettes and then expose my bare bottom to the freezing night time temperature was not very appealing at all. I was worried that I might freeze something very dear to me, you can survive without the odd finger or toe, but I couldn't live without my John Thomas, no way.
Anyway the urgency of the matter got greater and I had no choice but to find the most convenient looking bit of ground, and strip and squat, holding on to my ice axe, which I planted firmly into the ice. I was extremely relieved to relieve myself of some excess baggage, and the minute I began climbing up again I noticed I was moving with much more conviction, and I felt much stronger than I had done since leaving the tent over an hour ago.
My feet quickly froze into two blocks of ice, and I resigned myself to the fact that I may very well catch frostbite. I caught up to Guy and Arnold and discovered that they too were having a hard time with the cold temperature. A shooting star whizzed by overhead and I allowed myself a wisp of optimism to creep in. Upon checking my altimetre, we were now at 6,300 metres and still moving strong for the top. We climbed up through 3 snowfields, using my axe for support. It reminded me of ascending up through a mini icefall, very invigorating it was.
When we came out over the other side of the snowfields, the sun was beginning to rise, away to the east. We made our way on up heading for the ridge on the skyline, the icy darkness was beginning to become lighter and more of the route could now be seen.
After 3 hours of climbing we reached the ridge that we had been aiming for, and at exactly the same time, the sun rose fully into the sky. I felt the immediate effects of its heat as I felt my frozen body begin to thaw out. From here on in, we would be climbing to the top with the sun showing the way. Although I could now feel my feet, I realised that I was still in danger of frostbite, and my feet pretty much remained frozen solid for the remainder of the climb.
We passed 6,400 metres then 6,500. I was setting a new altitude record with each step up. We stopped for a rest on a slope of at least 60° and I was alarmed to discover that my nose had started to pore with blood. I thought that surely this was the end of my climb, that this was a serious condition to be faced with. However, Arnold who was climbing quite near by reassured me that it was perfectly normal at altitude to experience nose bleeds. I decided to continue on. The terrain became even more desperate and I began to become extremely tired. Yet we had only been climbing for over 6 hours. We still had several hours to go. Scree fields and boulders the size of houses had to be negotiated with monotonous regularity, and it all became very energy sapping indeed. To say that the terrain was torturous doesn't even come close, it was hell on earth. It seemed as if the whole mountain was ready to slip down onto the glacier below. For every step upwards, you slipped back three. Very demoralising.
After climbing for a further 2 hours we stopped for a rest in the sun, with the summit ridge not far above us. Guy took off his boots, and tried to massage some life back into his icy cold feet. I elected not to, as I dreaded the thought of finding two badly frost bitten feet within.
It was at this point in the climb that I started to actually think about reaching the summit, which couldn't of been much further now. However the terrain ahead up to the junction of where the north summit connects with the south summit looked atrocious, far worse than any thing we had come up so far. This part of the climb is up through the Canaleta, a most notorious part of the climb. It is a 400 metre, 33 degree chute filled with disagreeably loose rocks. At some places it consists of mind-numbing scree, while in others the chute features rocks too large to be classified as scree but too small to be called talus but still loose just the same. This challenge is overcome not by any technical skill, but rather by superior mental and physical stamina necessary to keep moving despite losing 1 metre of progress for every 2 metres gained.
At the top of this we would ascend onto the cresta del guanaco, where only a short scramble up to the summit awaits.
We began up what was easily the worst part of the whole climb; its notoriety was well founded. Guy moved up it with such speed and skill that you would think he was actually flying up as opposed to climbing. After an hour or so of this torturous style of climbing we reached the crest of the ridge, I collapsed in a heap at the top, and panted for breath with violent gasps and coughs. I sat, drank from my bottle and looked all around me. We were now at an elevation of 6,860 metres. Only 100 metres short of the summit. We had been on the go now for over 10 hours, and I was very tired indeed.
The most remarkable thing about today was that the winds that had been ravaging us for the last few days had simply vanished. We climbed in near perfect conditions, not a hint of wind or nor a cloud in the sky. We couldn't of asked for a more perfect day to reach the summit of Aconcagua. The weather gods had granted us a rare day of stillness and tranquility, and I was extremely grateful as I suspect we all where.
We started up the final rock section that paved the way to the summit. I started to become emotional as I realised I was going to reach the summit, I was actually going to do it. This was awesome, it truly was.
For all my efforts I was about to be rewarded with a view from 6,964 metres from the highest point in all the America's. For those final few metres as I clambered onto the summit of Aconcagua all the cares and worries of the last 12 months just drifted away leaving me with a brand new confidence and vitality. As I reached the summit cross that marks the true high point, I took off my pack and collapsed flat on my back, as the tears of joy welled up in my eyes. Myself, Guy and Arnold all hugged one another in pure elation. We had all spent the last three weeks living together and working towards this moment, and now here it was.
One thing that struck me was that although Guy would undoubtedly go on to achieve even more greatness, this was the first time that he had climbed Aconcagua, and that felt very special. To share such a great day with illustrious company made me feel extremely proud and lucky to be where I was.
I also now knew that Aconcagua would not be the end of my climbing dreams now. I had begun to set my sights on the Himalayas, even whilst on the summit of Aconcagua. I snapped off photos all around this 360° panorama. I made sure that I got that important summit shot of me with a picture of my little angel, my son Aaron
I placed a photo of Aaron and his beaming smile at the foot of the summit cross, and took a photo of that. All in all we spent close to 40 minutes on the roof of the America's. It was magical. A summit plateau, which frequently has winds ripping across, was calm and serene. After 40 minutes we noticed ominous clouds forming over the summit, and decided that it was time to descend.
The descent back down to camp two was going to take roughly 3-4 hours and I started in a real bad way, I felt exhausted coming down off the summit, and I tripped and stumbled my way down the canaleta.
I became very aware of my own mortality and realised that had I been on the summit of Everest or any 8,000 metre peak, then I would be in dire danger right now, as Guy reminded me. I had committed the cardinal sin of mountaineering; I had given my everything in reaching the top that I left nothing in reserve for the descent. The lower we descended though the better I became, and what started out as a potential disaster ended on a high as I zipped into camp much quicker that I had expected. I was exhausted and collapsed onto the glacier where I was congratulated by an expedition camping quite close to us. Guy turned up shortly after I had safely arrived, and he congratulated me on my recovery. Once again I had learnt a valuable lesson, one that I was so acutely aware. Reaching the summit is only half the job done; you still have to get back. And most fatalities in the big mountains happen on the descent. I had been lucky, had I been on a Himalayan peak then I fear I would not of been so lucky.
Still nothing was going to detract from my moment of glory, I felt as though I had just graced the land of the mountain gods, and an aurora of invincibility swept over me, making me feel like never before. I slept a solid 16 hours that night and the following morning began to pack up camp for the descent to base camp.
At base camp, we all united with our base camp cook, who congratulated us with what I had been looking forward to for weeks. A cold beer.
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