Aconcagua into the Dark Night
Aconcagua into the dark night is my account of the summit push from Camp Berlin to the summit.
We had set off at 11pm on 15th January 2020. Our aim, to climb Aconcagua into the dark night and summit on 16th January 2020.
Carly had been sick and from memory it was about 2 am.
It was a mild night and she was over heating in her summit suit. All vents opened. A little rest and off we went again keeping the pace steady. I knew I wasn’t alone in hoping she would be ok as we ascended further.
We were on the way up to camp 3.
In the light of my Black Diamond Head torch I was trying to piece together the route from my memory of my last visit there.
Aconcagua into the Dark Night – Camp Berlin 5940m
We came and passed through Camp Berlin with its wooden huts at 5940m and continued on.
I was expecting us to then traverse and climb into Camp 3 – Colera at 6000m but it never emerged. Lakpa Sherpa was taking another route to bypass camp 3.
Half an hour or so later we took another breather and Carly was sick again. Her eyes watery in the moonlit night from the violent expulsion of water from her being. We gathered around to try and offer the support we could.
Onwards we went.
I began to recognise the section of mountain above camp 3. A steady incline that hair-pinned back on itself. We were moving slowly. Small steps taken with almost a pause between each step. Catch breath and move along. If you think about it too much the idea of moving so slowly can cripple your mental state.
The effort needed to keep going and knowing that as you get higher, things will become progressively more challenging. The knowing that you also have hours and hours ahead to endure.
I remember thinking I didn’t care how slow the pace was. Even if it meant summiting as late as 13:00. If that’s what it took to stand on top, 14 hours hard effort, then that’s what it would take.
The path climbed higher and I remembered the section that last time on our summit bid, two of my team mates had turned back due to Altitude sickness and frostbite risk. It had been so cold then that I had not felt my feet for hours. This time it was vastly different.
Aconcagua into the Dark Night – Camp Independencia 6350m
Steeper ground and in the darkness of the night I could see the steep incline section that takes you to Camp Independenica at 6350m.
I noticed a feeling of anxiety within myself as I looked up at the ground climbing upwards before us. “This is going to hurt” I thought. Back into the step and I uttered my mantra to myself. I heard a noise behind and realised it was Carly being sick again. This was getting worrying.
I asked if she was ok and whether she felt she needed to turn around. She didn’t and shortly we carried on.
At each break I had been taking on some extra fuel in the way of energy gels and energy bars. I could only face taking a few sips of gel or a mouthful of bar. Every time I did I felt nauseous.
After what felt like an eternity we hit Camp Indepenencia at 6350m.
We rested for around 20 minutes. From this camp at 6350m there is a steep incline to a crest. I bit into a now semi frozen energy bar and chewed it with a lack of enthusiasm and dry mouth. Instantly my stomach turned and bowel shifted. I couldn’t tell whether I felt sick or wanted to escape behind a rock. After a few moments it passed.
Upwards we climbed. Agonisingly slow pace with breathing rate high. I was trying to take 15 steps at a time before leaning into my trekking poles trying to regain my breath. I was becoming exhausted.
Aconcagua into the Dark Night – The Traverse
From the top of the crest you climb a little higher before turning right onto a long traverse. The traverse goes on for I guess around 1 mile. Gradually increasing in altitude until it starts to rise steeply. It then takes you to a well-known resting place called The Cave at the base of the Canaleta.
We got onto the traverse and had a break. Carly was sick again and not looking in a good way. The Sherpas checked on her, she drank sips of water and soldiered on. I marveled at her strength of character while hoping that all would be ok for her.
By this time the sun was starting to rise and the cold night air began to warm. All around we could see the outline of the surrounding mountains become more visible.
It was by this time that I could feel myself really starting to suffer. The feeling of nausea had increased and my level of fatigue was deep. I remember thinking that I needed to go into myself more and continue to go at my pace. To manage output and really focus my intention on what I needed to do and nothing else.
The traverse path rose more steeply and I felt despair at how far and high the Cave was away. All I could do was continue to string steps together and breathe as deeply as I could.
Some stages of the path required a bit of stepping over and balancing on rocks with a steep enough fall to the right to discourage you from making a mistake. I remember feeling I had to go slowly and focus totally on my movement. The altitude was telling and I was starting to feel light headed and a little “dreamlike” in my vision.
A couple passed us who were nothing to do with our group. I watched them go and brought myself back to the moment. My eyes were pinned to the path trying to find the way of least resistance. I tried to stand on rocks to ascend rather than slippery gravel that robbed you of momentum while delivering a sense of frustration as you felt your foot sliding backwards.
Aconcagua into the Dark Night – The Cave
After an agonising hour and half which could have been 2 I reached the cave.
I was totally exhausted. Moments later Phil arrived and Carly. Carly was suffering badly.
We sat and talked. I closed my eyes for a second and instantly felt myself falling into sleep. It felt so inviting, taunting me to keep my eyes shut a little longer. Like climbing under a duvet and into warmth I felt myself falling into the blackness of my mind. An almost irresistible sanctuary was beckoning me to stay just a little longer. Just relax and sleep a while.
I snapped my eyes open. At this altitude sleep can be fatal. My eyes closed again and in my head I was instantly projected into 12 times tables from school days. “That’s a bit random” I thought to myself and snapped my eyes open again. Must. Not. Sleep.
I chatted to Phil who reported he was feeling the same as me.
I pulled out the remains of a Chocolate Almond Cliff Bar and tried to bite a piece off. It was frozen solid.
Jangbu started to ascend the Canaleta. “Come on Matt” he encouraged and off I started with Phil just behind followed by Carly.
Aconcagua into the Dark Night – The Canaleta and Final Push
The Canaleta is a steep scree slope that curves to the right around the mountainside. It is a dangerous area due to potential of falling rocks from above. Whit’s must be kept about you.
By now the effort was agonising. The most I could string together was 5 steps before buckling over with a swimming head and gasping for breath. It felt like torture.
I continued up and followed the path upwards and round a small rock face to the right.
I remembered where I was. I was at the place I had turned around at 2 years ago. Body tingling and losing the control of my legs. Utterly spent and exhausted and in a very bad way.
I felt a wave of emotion come over me as I thought of the fear I felt at needing to get back down to safety and feeling like I might not make it.
This time was not that time.
My preparation had been on point this time and while I was suffering badly I knew I was in a far better place than 2 years ago.
I moved on.
Aconcagua into the Dark Night – Hallucinating
I followed Jangbu up, 5 steps, 15 to 20 breaths. Amongst the rocks I thought I saw the number 50 on a flat stone. I blinked and it was gone. Then a few steps later another. “How very weird” I thought to myself knowing that what I was seeing was a consequence of exhaustion and altitude.
Ed passed me and he was looking strong. “Let’s get it done together Matt” he said.
I urged him on as I needed no distraction from another. I was purely focused on enduring the process I had lead myself into. I simply didn’t want to cope with anything more than my own journey.
I looked up at the summit now only 40m away and felt a wave of despair. I knew it would take me at least 30 minutes to climb such a short distance.
I looked again and saw a deer just below the summit. “It can’t be” I thought and with a blink of my eye it wasn’t. I was hallucinating again.
I looked down behind me and saw each member of the group in their own personal struggle. Some moving slowly with others doubled over on poles. It looked like a battle scene.
After what seemed like an eternity I came to the final push. A small scramble over some rocks and onto the summit. It took every ounce of my strength to complete those last steps. I could see Jangbu ahead of me who shook my hand and hugged me “You have done it Matt”.
Aconcagua into the Dark Night – The Summit!
At 10am on 16th January 2020, and after an 11 hour climb through the night I had made it to the summit of Aconcagua. The highest mountain outside of the Himalyas.
I staggered over to the Aconcagua Cross that sits on top of this amazing mountain. I sat on a rock and just rested. Phil arrived moments later followed by others. Truth be told my recollection is hazy.
Phil sat near me and we congratulated each other. “We did it Brother”.
Moments later Carly arrived. She had made it. What strength and tenacity she showed despite the odds she faced with sickness and over heating.
Our little mini team had arrived.
I continued to sit and felt an enormous wave of emotion wash over me. I couldn’t contain it and pulled my shades down over my eyes to hide the tears.
All of the planning, the preparation, the effort, the sacrifices, suffering and discomfort had been worth it and I had achieved my goal where I had failed so painfully before.
I felt numb and just sat there, sharing the moment with other amazing like-minded souls who had also made it in their own journeys.
We had done it.
We had climbed Aconcagua into the dark night and came out of the other side.
Aconcagua – Strength is Within
Final Part to follow!