Aconcagua Memoirs Move to High Camp 1
Aconcagua Memoirs Move to High Camp 1 – Saturday on the mountain, high emotion, suffering and beauty wrapped into one day.
On Friday we had trekked the vertical 500m or so for a gear and food drop to High Camp 1 at 5060m and then back down to base camp.
I had slept well but I was aware that I woke with a level of nervousness about the day ahead and our planned move to High Camp 1 and beyond.
The previous days trek had been far more demanding that I had imagined, carrying 15kg of food and heavy gear upwards into thinner air for 3 hours. We had returned to base camp all feeling exhausted.
Every Ounce Costs Something
For our move to High Camp 2 we needed to move the rest of our gear and my pack this time weighed 5kg heavier. My 65l pack contained all of my expensive summit gear in addition to sleeping bag and tent. I knew the day was going to hurt and it’s hard to get excited about that prospect.
Big decisions had to be made on footwear as every ounce carried higher ultimately meant more suffering and a harder time getting up the mountain.
We all opted to climb from this point on in our plastic summit boots and leave all other footwear behind. A tough choice given that these boots, Scarpa Phantom 6000s’s which cost £650 are not really designed for comfort or walking long distances – more to protect ones feet as best as possible from frostbite and to allow crampons to be used on snow and when ice climbing.
That morning I had upped my “supplement” regime and now consisted of:-
1 x 300mg Asprin on waking and another at bed time.
1 x Ibuprofen if needed to combat further intense headaches as and when needed.
3 x Amoxicillin per day (antibiotics.)
The addition of the amoxicillin was due to my having bouts of a tooth abscess over the the previous year. On the build up to our expedition I had learned that high altitude and dental issues don’t mix well due to the change in pressure. Id read that dental issues should be sorted out before going.
I hadn’t had a problem with the abscess for some time but didn’t want to take any chances of pain arriving on top of the other hardships I was facing. A conversation with my dentist and this was what he suggested I do.
Breakfast had been half a pack of rehydrated Asian Beef noodles.
I had learned by now that sweet, sticky, stodgy food was the last thing I seemed to want at this altitude while I handled savory food better. Half a pack was all I could force down along with 1.5l of electrolyte drink while packing up.
The sun was bright and it was hot again in base camp.
A Phone Call to My Son
I had tried to call my Son Jak a few times to say hi as I hadn’t spoken to him since I had gotten out to Argentina and I knew any reception would be hard to come by higher up.
After the 5th attempt I managed to speak to him as I sat on a rock looking down the valley from base camp.
He told me he’d been playing at his Nana and Grampa’s and that grandpa had got his electric trains out – something I knew my son loved and was no doubt having the time of his life.
As all conversation with 5 year olds are, it was short lived before he wanted to go and carry on playing again.
“I love you Mate” I tried to squeeze out of my tightening chest as suddenly out of the blue I was over whelmed with emotion and could barely speak.
“Bye Bye Daddy” he said and with that point I was in floods of tears.
His grandpa came on the phone and asked how I was but I couldn’t talk, the emotion and my trying to hold some reserve on the mountain side crippling my voice box.
He could hear my tears and simply said “I know Matt and take care on the mountain.”
I hung up as sobs from deep inside me welled up and out of me.
My team behind me busied about leaving me to sort myself out while I sat on the rock trying to regain my composure.
I had read accounts before of mountaineers finding altitude making them more emotional. Banjo had also said before coming out that make sure you bring out some photos of loved ones as you will miss them more than you realise…..
The Long Hard Slog
By 10am we were all packed and our rucksacks straining at the seams with the loads.
I took another look up the mountain to where we were heading and told myself, that irrespective of others today, just take it real easy and stay well within yourself.
We began our slow trudge up the mountain along narrow dusty tracks. Leaning into the hill using poles to help with the forward motion and breathing deep I paid particular attention to my walking gait.
I had realised that I hadn’t worn by plastic boots in and around the house before I came out and I noticed I was concerned about developing blisters on the way up.
Id worn Scarpa boots right out of the box before without issue as their fit on my semi wide feet is so good. That had been my reasoning for overlooking this fact.
“As long as we stay off the really steep sections all will be fine” I told myself.
We climbed slowly but purposefully but the pace had began to rise. I was starting to suffer more than I wanted to as were the others not on the front.
“Feels like the pace has increased” said Rob from the back and with that the pace slowed again to something uncomfortable, but not as much so.
After 45 minutes of continuous incline we rested, took off our packs and drank Tang and electrolytes. A bag of trail mix was shared around and most of us managed a small piece of nougat or few nuts. Our appetites had been ravaged by the altitude and none of us felt hungry.
Re application of sun block to nose and lips, shades on, peaked cap down, buff around the neck and up over mouth, nose and ears to keep the blistering UVA/UVB rays off – it wasn’t even hot and yet your skin at this height takes a battering.
As we climbed higher a weather front was coming in. The sun went and clouds descended, dropping the temperatures and bringing with it, what looked like snow.
By now my heels felt like they had hot patches forming. I told myself I was imagining it and we carried on.
A wrong turn saw us took a path up steep, loose scree which slowed our pace further still and made for very difficult ascending.
3 or 4 paces up and then on trekking poles gasping for air became the pattern.
I cursed as I could feel my heels becoming more uncomfortable and yet the idea of stopping to wrestle these boots off, take socks off and apply treatment was just too much to handle.
The weather was coming in and we needed to get up to high camp 1.
90 minutes later and the snow was now falling and winds increasing to strong.
Up more scree slopes and I could feel myself getting annoyed. I was in pain and on top of that suffering like a dog – like the rest of the team. Everyone was silent apart from heavy breathing as we concentrated on the task in hand.
With about 50m of vertical height gain left I could feel my perception alter for the first time.
I was aware of a sensation of light headedness which felt almost like a dream as I climbed higher. I found myself focusing more intensely on the path in front of me while my peripheral vision felt less focused. I put the feeling down the the low oxygen and lack of calories consumed compared to physical output. It felt a little like low blood sugar levels which I had encountered before but different – if you are with me?
After a final push we made it. We walked over to our gear stash and started the routine of getting tents out to get set up.
Banjo and I tried to thread tent poles through their colour co-ordinated holes which should have been simple. Tasks that are usually so simple become very hard after such an outlay of energy at altitude.
Eventually after 20 minutes we got our tents up, sleeping bags out and fell into them.
Sanctuary reached at last.
The winds whooped and swooshed around us as the snow began to fall heavier.
With the stove on a brew was made from the water we had carried up the day before. Cup a soup followed by a semi-conscious snooze for a couple of hours.
A few hours later the snow fall had stopped but the winds remained high.
Moments of Beauty
I looked out of the tent and the white mountainside had the most amazing orange and purple hew to it.
I stuck my head out of the tent and saw the sky ablaze with one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed.
On with the boots and warm gear with feet complaining due to the two 50p size pieces of skin on my heels I had torn off on the ascent. I looked around and saw others with the same idea as me.
We all stood gazing at the spectacle put on by Mother Nature.
My mind flicked over the events of the day. The emotion, the effort, the suffering and anxiety and now this. This moment had made it all worth it and that night I went to be feeling content and that I was excited for what lay ahead.