Aconcagua – Snowdon Visit.
Our Aconcagua Snowdon Visit happened this week.
I got back 2 days ago from the Snowdon Massif in Wales.
The purpose of the visit was to travel up with great friends and expedition team mates Rob and George to meet with Terrence “Banjo” Bannon who will be leading us on our expedition.
Rob and George had met Banjos wife earlier this year during their Marathon De Sables efforts and had mentioned Aconcagua. From there emerged an introduction, a number of e mails and phone calls and forward to this point.
Banjo has a serious amount of experience on the world’s biggest mountains and was the second man from Northern Ireland to ascent Everest in 2003 with 2 significant attempts on the world’s second highest mountain K2.
Some footage of Banjo in action pushing for the K2 Summit can be seen here:-
Rob, George and Myself got to Betws y Coed at about lunch time and visited the excellent Alpine Coffee shop for a spot of lunch before going to look at expedition equipment.
An hour or so later and we were in Cotswold Camping and drooling over the vast array of mountain gear they have on their shelves.
Due to the environment that Aconcagua provides specialist equipment is needed.
At 7000m altitude and known for its high winds and cold temperatures Aconcagua demands that respect is given to the climate. Serious injury and in some cases death can occur to even seasoned climbers if things are missed or equipment over looked. All eventualities must be considered and prepared for.
Of course it is not always harsh weather on Aconcagua as a search on youtube will reveal many summit videos of glorious blue skies and brilliant sun – but these are the days you don’t prepare for. The worst of the worst must be planned for as in neglecting it could have serious consequences and failed attempts due to things that could be avoided.
I needed a host of items including:-
Summit boots, double lined to withstand temperatures around -40 degrees c.
Ice axes, crampons, high end hard-shell (waterproof jackets/trousers), 3 pairs of gloves including liner gloves, gloves with leather palms for lumping rocks around to tie tents to and capable of withstanding rain and sub-zero conditions and then mitts that are used on summit day that can drive away cold to -40 degrees and help to retain fingers in such extreme conditions.
Water bottles, insulated water bottle carries, pee bottles (as you don’t want to taking a leak out in the open when its beyond freezing), 120l duffel bags, 70l backpacks, merino wool base layers that reduce becoming stinky after repeated use for weeks on end, stoves that work at high altitude and the list goes on.
Over all I spent in excess of £1500 on kit that I needed and on calculation have at least another £1000 to spend on a jacket suitable for summit day, sleeping bag to withstand temperatures below -40, more base layers, high altitude tents and more.
This is a serious commitment to staying safe on the mountains while trying to be as comfortable as possible.
Later than night and admittedly buzzing from the spending spree and shiny new kit we met with Banjo at Bangor train station.
A couple of drinks in the bar and chat to sus each other out and it was time cover more specialist kit with Banjo before hitting the sack to be ready for a big day in the mountains the next day – bonding time.
Tuesday – Mountain Day
Tuesday arrived to driving rain, cloud filled sky’s and high winds.
We had planned to climb a knife edge ridge to the summit of Snowdon called Crib Goch but due to the 60-70mph winds and danger associated with the climb we chose the safer Pyg Track.
The pace was high as we climbed with all of us breathing heavily, boiling hot and drenched in sweat as we bolted up the mountain path.
I love the Pyg Track and know it well.
It’s steep enough to offer the feeling of a proper mountain with big boulders, huge steps and rugged areas to navigate up while getting the pulse rate up.
The visibility became worse as we climbed as did the winds.
We summited in 90 minutes, stayed on the top briefly before heading into shelter to change base layers and put on some drier clothes.
My new Mountain Equipment hard-shell jacket had been awesome at keeping me dry and warm but my base layer was drenched in sweat.
From there we had a few mouthfuls of flapjack and chocolate coffee beans (my favourite snack on the go when high energy is required) before heading down a trail I hadn’t done before – the Watkin Path.
Steep sections of loose scree and narrow paths made for some exciting descending and whits about you.
We descended for around an hour before realising we had missed the turn to take in the second half of the Snowdon horseshoe ridge.
The rain, torrential at this point was driving down and the paths up had become waterfalls.
You know it’s windy when you see water being blown back up hill!
Before long we were on the right track and scrambling up steep rock to get to the wind-blown horseshoe ridge. Staying away from the edge we leant into the wind and made our way along.
Vis was poor and so any hope of a view was wiped out with the gales and clag.
Before long we started to head down some very steep terrain, at times having to descend backwards while holding on to wet rock for a safe descent.
5.5 hours later and 11miles in the bag and we were back at Pen Y Pass Youth Hostel and peeling off drenched clothes as we looked forward to dry, warm clothes and hot coffee and chocolate.
That night we went over the itinerary for our expedition as a specific approach is needed if we are to acclimatise successfully. The plan looks solid – but of course cannot be set in stone as you never know what challenges will emerge along the way – of which there will be many!
Before long Wednesday arrived and after another visit to Cotswold camping, more kit buying and chat it was time to go our separate ways.
The next time we will all be together will be at Heathrow on 5th January.
The excitement builds for our Aconcagua Adventure.