Aconcagua Memoirs High Camp 1 Gear Drop
Aconcagua Memoirs High Camp 1 Gear Drop.
My searches on the internet has revealed that after trekking to base camp from confluenzia it is normal to take a rest day to acclimatise.
The reasoning behind this is due to the altitude gain and the fact that the trek to base camp is meant to be the second longest/hardest day after summit day. Time would tell.
When we had arrived in base camp and eventually got set up I promptly pushed a sharp stone through my inflatable mat which when removed deflated immediately.
The altitude it seems, heightens our emotional responses to things and at the time it felt like a disaster and I could feel myself dropping into a feeling of lowness. The idea of sleeping on a rocky floor for the next 8-10 days with just a 1cm thick mat of foam seemed like sleep and comfort would be even harder to come by.
I then remembered I had a puncture repair kit and so spent an hour repairing said mat on the rest day which turned out successful.
Despite only having a thin foam mat to sleep on during my first night in base camp I slept well – by that I mean I snatched 4 solid hours and the rest was spent tossing and turning and drifting in and out of sleep.
Altitude affects your ability to sleep and insomnia is one of the symptoms of the start of altitude sickness. We all suffered on the sleep front and it’s just one of those things to accept on the mountain.
Self Supported Mountain Strategy
A large part of the rest day was spent sorting out what we would take for a kit and food drop to high camp 1.
When you are totally self-supported there is a strategy that must be adopted to ascend the mountain. All of our food and gear was too much to take in one go to move up to High Camp 1. So it is common practice to do a gear drop.
The strategy is to take food and heavy gear up to high camp 1 to last you until after summiting. You leave said gear in a waterproof bag stashed away on the mountain and return to base camp for another night. You then move the rest of your equipment up to high camp 1 the next day – rinse and repeat for other high camps.
Trying to calculate what food to take was challenging. If you take too much weight you suffer on the climb due to load and the low oxygen levels – not enough and well, you will be hungry.
I took packs of 1000kcal food, crushed pringles, cup a soups, oxo cubes to drink, Tang sachets, salami, muesli bars and trail mix. In addition I took heavy items of gear such as crampons, ice axe, 2l of water (as high camp 1 has little water available), a change of thermal clothes and a helmet.
It weighed 16kg in total in my 65l rucksack.
It took a good few hours to get our bags sorted and before long it was time for bed – 9pm and an early start the next day to climb to high camp 1.
My newly repaired inflatable mat was a god send and I slept more comfortably.
Trek to High Camp 1 – 5060m
Hot drink for breakfast – orange flavoured Tang and a half 1000kcal pack of porridge with sultanas.
The gloopy mix was a struggle to eat – my appetite this high up just wasn’t there. No coffee either as caffeine and altitude are said not to mix well so I was going cold turkey!
The climb from base camp to high camp 1 is a steep one and within metres of starting on the dusty, rocky path we were all breathing heavily and ascending slowly. The pace needed to be slow to keep breathing rate manageable while trying to reduce pressure building up in your skull resulting in headaches. I had taken my usual 300mg of aspirin on rising.
The climb was hard and slow. There were times early in the ascent when I thought to myself I might not be able to make it. But as we went on and I became used to the gradient I became more at ease within myself and while the effort was high, I felt strong.
After 3 hours or so of hard graft we arrived at high camp 1 gasping for air and needing to rest.
Any idea of the trek to base camp being the second hardest day had vanished. The ascent while shorter in duration had been brutal.
There were quite a few tents set up and the terrain was rocky and dry. It was easy to find a cleared area where a tent had been before and after resting for 15 minutes at the new height of 5060m we set about stashing our gear under rocks ready for the next day.
I sat down on a rock and marvelled at the scenery. I felt good, breathing was elevated, I had a dry cough and my voice felt altered. Some pressure in the head too but nothing too uncomfortable.
One of our team suffered more with severe nausea so we spent around 45 minutes at this height trying to maximise our acclimatisation before descending.
The descent was rapid as we are all good on the downhill. Within an hour we were back in base camp and ready to try and force some mouthfuls of food down, rehydrate and rest up.
Back in Base Camp
In base camp clean drinking water is available as well as metal cabinets that have toilets within. When I say toilet, what I mean is a hole in the cabinets floor with a stinking, shit and piss filled cesspit below you.
One of the cabinets had an actual, real life sit down toilet within. Trust me when I say this, but you realise what a luxury these simple things are when everything else is hard due to the altitude, poor nutrition, massive energy outlay and poor sleep.
All bar one of us had bouts of runny bum due to the altitude and magnesium content of the water. Staying
on top of drinking 5l of water per day became even more essential to stay hydrated and limit the symptoms of altitude.
That evening I wrote:-
“There is nothing to do but stay present in the moment. I must surrender myself to whatever happens on the mountain and trust what is right for me, will come to me, without stress, without struggle and without attachment to outcome. Getting up to high camp 1 is already a massive achievement and I will continue to soar higher.”
Before bed I forced down the remaining half a pack of cold porridge along with two chicken cup a soups which I craved more – likely due to the salt content.
That night I climbed into my sleeping bag with Banjo on the other side of the tent next to me.
I wanted some alone time which is difficult in a two man tent. I plugged my headphones into my ears and listened to Ryan Adams. Ah sanctuary.
My down sleeping bag was warm, I felt comfy and I contemplated what lay ahead and thought about the people I cared about at home. The weather reports for the next week were not looking ideal – high winds and snow which would suggest plummeting temperatures higher up. Maybe it would pass us. Lets hope.
20 minutes later I was unplugging, replacing the buds with ear plugs and drifting off into sleep.