Aconcagua Memoirs Climb to Camp Nido
Aconcagua Memoirs Climb to Camp Nido is the first time we headed to High Camp 2, 5500m for a food and gear drop.
After one of the most stunning sunsets I have ever witnessed the storms arrived as forecast that night.
In the darkness the winds picked up and thunder began to rumble.
I found it an interesting experience being just under 4 times the height of Ben Nevis and hearing the lightening drawing closer overhead.
“Have you heard of people getting hit by lightning on the mountains?” I asked Banjo.
At Mother Natures Mercy.
I dug myself deeper into my sleeping back in the darkness and observed my thoughts. I felt vulnerable and totally at the mercy of Mother Nature.
I eventually dropped off to sleep to be woken later in the night by the high winds that had been predicted – 50 to 60kmph buffeting the tent. I found myself wondering if our tent was up to the job.
At around 3am we heard shouting coming from outside our tent. It was Banjos mate from Ireland asking if he could come in as his tent had been destroyed by the high winds.
We knew Rob and George had a slightly bigger tent so he went there and stayed for the rest of the night in cramped conditions with the boys.
I reckon I had around 3 hours sleep that night.
First things first and it was time to melt snow for water and force some breakfast down – today it would be 500kcal worth of rehydrated Thai Green Curry – the other half id have cold for dinner later.
What to do, with Poo!
At the rangers cabin in base camp everyone is handed an orange plastic bag that is numbered. It is used to collect/store your human waste, and I don’t mean trash, on the mountain to stop it becoming polluted. The bag must be brought off the mountain to base camp and signed in to avoid receiving a fine.
I dreaded the now daily dose of runny bum. The altitude, the winds, the spin drift of the snow, fine powder being whipped up to lash bare skin made the whole experience most unpleasant.
The rest I will leave to your imagination – but know that this soon to be frozen parcel of crap had to be taken up and down the mountain with you rather than left.
On this day we were heading up to High Camp 2 – Camp Nido at 5500m for a gear drop.
One of the team was suffering with altitude sickness and struggling to acclimatise so they took a rest day while 3 of us went up the 500m or so to the next camp.
Climb to Camp Nido
We set off carrying food, heavy gear and gas canisters up for the next few days. My pack weighed around 15-18kg which filled me with dismay. I tried valiantly to get it lighter but there was no way.
I found myself jealous of those in mountain guide groups hiking up with smaller packs with just some warm clothes, water and food to carry while the porter’s baby sat them up higher.
The paths up were snow covered but we didn’t need to use crampons. The snow was fresh and soft. It was cold, very cold and the sky’s were blue.
Up we climbed at the familiar, slow, trudging pace. Every day I found myself thinking “maybe it’ll be easier today.”
It never was.
We traversed the brilliant white mountainside climbing upwards. We stopped a few times to take a drink and I had vowed to try and increase my level of fluid intake more to see if it would help.
After an hour and 45 we arrived at a flatter crest and took a break. The relief immediate for taking off our heavy packs.
I looked around and marvelled at the mountain range before me, being able to see for miles and miles. Truly stunning.
Along the traverse route where the mountainside slipped steeply away from you to the left I was aware of feeling very aware of my movements and avoiding making mistakes. One slip and how far might I fall? It focusses the mind and at one point I questioned whether this was for me – historically I had been fearful of heights.
Eventually the camp Nido Flag came into view – about 500m away. We could either go right and take a less direct route which many others were taking, or head straight up the steeper, shorter looking route. We chose the latter option.
Deep snow to our knees makes progress slow and taxing. Breathing heavily I start to feel my head shift a little. It starts to feel like a light headed feeling. Then as I become more tired my vision feels like it slows. Like a lucid dream. I stare down at my path as I climb just trying to move, to be efficient and to keep going. Every wrong step feels like it’s costing me too much energy.
The feeling then transmutes into a feeling of despair and an overwhelming desire to lie down and sleep for a while; but you can’t. Self-management is crucial at these times.
After what seems an eternity we are at high camp 2. Exhausted I take off my rucksack and sit behind a rock out of the wind. A feeling of achievement rapidly washes away the feelings of turmoil taken to reach this point. I am still breathless and still in “altered state.”
It takes a few minutes to bury our gear and food and find rocks suitable for the job in the snow.
“We should melt some snow while we are up here” said Banjo as the snow is plentiful and we have little water back at high camp 1. I felt a little uneasy about this as I could see a weather front coming in rapidly and we needed to descend.
Going Rapidly Down Hill.
Within minutes the plans are scrapped as the weather suddenly changes for the worst. Snow falls, the winds pick up and the temperature drops rapidly. I fumble in my rucksack trying to get ski goggles and better gloves organised along with hard-shell jacket.
Precious time has been wasted as I eventually pull out my gloves and my fingers are numb. I can’t get my gloves on properly and I notice a sense of fear.
Some minutes later.
It’s a white out now and the path has gone. My fingers, fuck, my fingers are painfully cold and I can barely feel them. Fearful of frostbite I feel panic. I want to stop and warm them but I also need to follow the boys and get down fast to the safety of the tent.
I pull my fingers into the palms of my gloves and let my poles drag in the snow. Banjo falls over in the snow in front of me followed shortly by me.
“Are we even going in the right direction?” as I follow the others down into the white blizzard and everything looks the same.
I fear descending too far and missing camp and then having to work our way back up. Breathing heavily now despite going downhill.
Two other people catch us up and are heading in the same direction. A faint vision of high camp 1 emerges and I start to relax a little.
We arrive in camp after an hour of descending and I fall into my tent totally spent.
All I want to do is sleep and yet snow must be melted as we will be dehydrated from the day efforts and we have none left.
This way of life is hard and is challenging me on so many levels and yet I relish the experience and all it brings.
The snow continues to fall and I wonder what the next few days will bring as the summit bid draws nearer.
We have a night at high camp 1 with nothing to do but take care of admin and rest.