Aconcagua Memoirs – A Summit Eve
Aconcagua Memoirs – A Summit Eve is my account of our journey from Camp Nido to Camp Colera – or High Camp 3. Launch site for our summit bid which was to be on Thursday 18th January 2018.
It was Wednesday 17th and I woke up feeling a little askew.
I noticed within myself that I wasn’t feeling good emotionally. A slight feeling of “blueness” seemed to be clouding my mind-set.
I was missing home, missing my son and other significant others in my life.
I also recognised an element of slight fear for the day ahead.
All of the previous days with heavy loads had been hugely taxing on body and mind.
Oxygen Saturation Confidence Killer
I had routinely taken my oxygen saturation each morning and today was the lowest reading to date. 71% when it had been in the low to high 80’s at the higher camps. It didn’t do my confidence any good.
The sun was out and it was a beautiful day. I had waited patiently for my tent mate to get changed and gear on. There is simply not enough space for two grown men to be wrestling clothing on at high altitude at the same time in a space such as we shared.
I forced some Beef with Asian noodles down my throat and we took down the tent and packed our bags.
We were heading up to Camp Colera, our launch pad before our summit attempt the next day.
I looked up at the route. Heading left we traversed before heading up into a gulley of boulders and out of sight. Watching others set off the pace, as always looked slow.
The Climb to Camp Berlin
Once we set off, our packs laden with around 18kg of gear and food our pace was slow.
As usual the first hour just felt hard as hell. One of the team was once more suffering badly and so we kept the pace to the slowest man which suited my headspace. I simply didn’t want to push today.
As time ticked by and the metres were climbed I eased into myself and found my rhythm.
After a good 4 hours we got to a small camp nestled in a saddle on the mountainside called Camp Berlin.
Here there were a couple of wooden huts that can be used for shelter. We stopped for around 20 mins to regroup our energy and to get some food on board. I took pictures while trying to warm my hands up.
Gloves off and down the front of my trousers to try and restore some feeling into my fingers in the bitter cold, sub-zero temperatures.
Camp Colera is a short reach from Berlin – around 400m of traverse.
We set off and I was aware of keeping to the path, boots digging into the snow to avoid tripping and falling down to my left – how far I wouldn’t know – but I didn’t want to find out.
I was having problems with my hands. Finger tips totally numb with very little sensation.
Having never encountered such cold as our time on this mountain it is very difficult to establish the danger time for cold injury. Through my head went thoughts of “how do you know when you have frostbite apart from black fingers when it’s too late?”
Gloves off again and I blow hard into them. My fingers are not black, a little off colour, but nothing to serious. Gloves back on and off I go again following Rob and George.
Tested to the Max
We come to a steep, icy section with a handrail of steel cable to the left to pull yourself up with.
The problem I had was my fingers were so cold, they couldn’t actually grip anything.
I carefully went up the ice path trying hard to hold on in some way. I went up, and I slipped and let out a shout. I was over and desperately trying to hold on to something, anything to stop me slipping back.
“Use the bits of rock Matt” said a voice from above, it was George.
By now my breathing was maxed out. I tried to stand on the partially visible rocks and then slipped over again and fell. “FUCK IT” I said to myself.
Breathing hard now all I want to do is get to the top to safety.
I am on my hands and knees crawling, trying to hold onto anything that will give me purchase. I am panicking and desperate to get to the top. I feel a wave come over me that feels like I might black out and lose consciousness. My vision alters. Looking at the sun I see a black figure reach down and grab me by the hand. I have no idea who it us until my vision returns and it’s George.
On my knees in the snow, coughing hard, I pull my bag off and sit on it.
High Altitude Gratitude
BAM – I am suddenly hit by a huge wave of emotion.
In the moment I feel overwhelmed by gratitude towards my team mate George and find myself in tears. I try and verbally express myself through quivering tone and streaming eyes – words just don’t match the feelings though.
This altitude life fucks with your head that’s for sure.
All of us safely up and we head over the collection of tents, to find a suitable spot to pitch camp and rest as much as possible before getting up at 03:15am for the final push.
I’d like to say I was looking forward to it but I wasn’t.
That night I went to bed with a feeling of trepidation and canned excitement. Like the excitement should be there, or you imagine it will be, but at the same time, the realisation of the magnitude of the effort required, well, it’s a sobering thought.