Aconcagua Higher We Climb
Aconcagua Higher We Climb is my account of our summit push on 15th January 2020.
On this day we were to leave Camp 1 for Camp 2 and beyond!
It was about 8am and I was still in my sleeping bag making the most of the warmth.
We had been given instructions that we would be breaking camp around 10am to leave for 11am.
Breakfast was made by the Sherpas and on this morning we were in for a treat. It was porridge. What a relief it was to have something warm! It really is the small things that make a big difference at altitude. Geljen the Sherpa brought the food to our tent alongside a black coffee. The perfect heart starter and brain engager I needed!
It was then time to organise ourselves and get clothing sorted. The 3 man tent was cramped so while 2 lay still or went outside to visit the call of nature the other had the task of shimmying into clothing.
Clothing on and out of the tent into the cold morning air at 5050m. The sun was rising from behind Aconcagua and slowly warming the air. It was a beautiful crisp day.
Packs loaded, tents broken down and off we went with the military precision that Nims operates at 11am.
Aconcagua Higher We Climb – Bye Bye Camp 1
The trek from Camp 1 to Camp 2 is simple one. A very long traverse which climbs steadily from right to left. This takes you to a cluster of rocks that you can see from Camp 1. From there you head directly up over steeper ground to pass over a crest. You then zig zag on the tracks that take you up and to Camp 2, Nido de Condores (The Condors Nest.)
Last time I was here it was covered in thick snow and we took a different, longer route. It was interesting to see the mountain “naked” and in her raw state; Not to mention way easier under foot!
The pace was a little slower than the previous day and I followed on Nims’s heels. Step, push with a trekking pole, step and push and repeat. I got into a rhythm. I stepped and extended my leg to full lockout which gave a moment of muscular rest before the next step. Repeat.
Buff stretched over mouth and nose to keep the dust out and some degree of moisture in, shades on and cap pulled down to keep the morning sun off my face.
My breathing was higher today as I worked hard on the incline at the higher altitude. I noticed the effort and just focussed on remaining relaxed and present. One step, then the next.
Aconcagua Higher We Climb – The Strength Within
During times when I felt the effort to be harder I would start to silently utter a Mantra in my head.
It was the Lotus Sutra Mantra, given to me by my mentor, Julia Chi Taylor before I left the UK.
“Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”. I narrated the mantra to myself in time with my breathing and steps. Interestingly I had noticed a deeper sense of relaxation within my body and mind when using the mantra compared to when I didn’t use it. I would repeat this over and over in my head until the difficult patch passed. It felt good. I felt good.
I observed that climbing at the ever increasing altitude required me to be totally aware of my output. Every step taken was with the minimal amount of effort to get the job done and no more. The slightest change in pace or steeper incline could very quickly tip me over the edge and have me doubled over on my poles gasping for deeper breaths. It is a constant balancing act. Any advantage is worth doing and so I continued with the mantra and the benefit it supplied me with.
Aconcagua Higher We Climb – Camp 2 Achieved.
After 2.5 hours we landed in Camp 2.
We relaxed in the sun for 30 minutes while the last of the tents were established.
Before long we were receiving a briefing from Nims on what to take and what not to take for the final push.
We were to rest at camp 2 for the rest of the day. Hydrating, trying on our down summit clothing and harnesses while recovering as much as possible.
I had a summit jacket and trousers as opposed to summit suit. The down side of this was a sheer lack of pockets available to me. I needed to carry 2l of water, 3 pairs of gloves, crampons, head torch, food, phone and camera with spare batteries and medical kit. The batteries would need to be kept inside my down clothing to prevent them dying due to the cold. I decided there and then that despite the extra weight it would be better for me to take my rucksack.
Some of the group rested in their tents and tried to sleep while others stood around chatting or visited rocks in a final bid to sort out any stomach related issues.
Nims came around and put us into groups for the summit bid. I was to leave at 11pm with a Sherpa by the name of Jangbu. In my group was also Phil and Carly with Lakpa Sherpa. Celine and Polly would be leaving with us with their respective Sherpa guides. The others would be leaving with Nims an hour later.
Later we were given noodle soup and a rice and chicken dish. I loved the soup and it felt like it was nourishing my soul as well as my body. By now I noticed a reduction in my appetite at this new altitude. The rice and chicken while tasty, just didn’t sit with me. I forced down what I could before feeling over faced and surrendering.
Aconcagua Higher We Climb – Summit Push Eve
One more check of the kit and it was time to try and get some sleep. Dan, Phil and Myself all squeezed into our tent, ear phones in trying to relax. I eventually did manage to drift off and nabbed an hour of sleep before we had to get up at 10pm to ready ourselves for the moment we had been waiting for.
The air outside the tent was mild and getting into the down jacket, trousers and 8000m boots took no more than 15 minutes. Way easier than my last experience on the summit push when it had been minus 40 degrees and a good 600m higher altitude at camp 3.
Jangbu ensured I had a hot drink of which I had two very sugary black coffees. Like a bolt of energy I was switched on and ready to get cracking. I felt good and excited to be leaving.
We left at 11pm and set off into the mild night air. It was pitch black and our head torches shone the way. Lakpa on the front followed by Carly. Jangbu next followed by me and then Phil.
We traversed behind camp 2 for a while before starting to ascend on steeper ground.
As we moved I noticed that I felt I was working harder than usual. Another ten minutes or so passed and I felt like I was running a hard 10km pace. I noticed a little tension arising in myself and each time I noticed it I tried to relax more.
Aconcagua Higher We Climb – Hurting
About 45 minutes passed. By now I was aware of my body starting to sweat heavily inside my down clothing and I noticed a slight feeling of despair within my mind. I was suffering hard.
“Phil how are you feeling mate?” I asked.
“I’m fucking suffering mate, boiling up, this pace feels way too fast.”
“Yeah same here mate, I am never going to make it to the summit at this pace” I said.
I noticed I was giving myself a hard time.
We carried on a little longer and as we did I found it to become even more unbearable.
“Carly, how are you feeling hun?” I asked.
Carly said she was also boiling hot and suffering.
All 3 of us had been suffering but putting up with it due to thinking everyone else was fine!
We stopped and spoke to the Sherpas who had been setting the pace.
“Guys, this pace is way too fast for us, we need to slow it down otherwise we are going to burn out before we get anywhere near the summit”
Carly asked me if I would go to the front behind the leading Sherpa and keep pace. I was happy to do so and we carried on. From time to time the Sherpa would lead off ahead showing the way. I kept at the slow and steady pace I had used from base camp upwards. I noticed a sense of relief at the new, more manageable pace.
My buff was soaked due to such heavy breathing in the cold night’s air with ever decreasing oxygen levels. My down clothing was also soaked on the inside and so I opened all available zips to maximise ventilation.
We had been going for around 1hr 45 and were by passing camp 3. During one of the stops Carly mentioned she was still way too hot and couldn’t cool down. Some water and a snack taken on board was soon making its appearance again moments later as she was sick.
Not a great sign. We rested a time longer and hoped that it was just a one off.