Aconcagua Summit Bid
Our Aconcagua summit bid was announced by Nims some time on 12th January. We were aiming for 16th due to a favorable weather window.
The plan was vastly different from what had originally been outlined. It was also well in advance of the originally proposed 19th Jan.
In previous days the summit had been battered by high winds and freezing temperatures. Due to this many were still stuck at base camp unable to attempt the summit.
Plans cannot be set in stone when the weather is the guiding force. An ability to respond and adapt is what is called for. The mountain cannot be rushed.
Aconcagua Summit Bid – The Plan
The plan was an aggressive one and admittedly it made me nervous.
Trek on 14th 700m to High Camp 1 and spend the night.
On 15th we would ascend 500m to Camp 2 and rest for a few hours.
At around midnight we would press on. We were to skip camp 3 and ascend another 1000m to reach the top.
2 years ago it had taken 10 hours for me to get from Camp 3 to 150m from the summit. The point at which I turned around.
Effectively it was to be one big push from base camp over 36 ish hours. We would gain a lot of altitude in a short space of time. I had expected a more progressive acclimatisation plan with visits to Camp 2 and 3 as part of the rotation. It was not to be.
I had been reading a book by Osho while in basecamp. Courage, the Joy of Living Dangerously. I had read a chapter about letting go of Memory, of the old, to make way for the new. It resonated with me in letting go of my past Aconcagua experience and to just keep “going with it.”
Aconcagua Summit Bid – Kit Prep and Checking
The 13th was spent preparing kit and supplies to take up on our Aconcagua summit bid.
We were to take only essentials and nothing more in order to keep the weight of our packs down.
I packed, then re-packed being ruthless on what to carry up – pairing back the kit and supplies.
I must have checked kit and re-packed at least 4 times – much to the boy’s amusement in the tent!
My pack was rammed and I attached my foam mat and 8000m boots strapped to the outside of my 70l pack.
I picked it up and reckoned it weighed around 20-22kg. Far more than I had imagined carrying in one go. “Ah well” I thought to myself, “I’ll be taking it slowly up to camp 2 and staying well within myself.”
Pack on and it felt ok. Balanced and comfortable.
Later that day we took a hike up towards camp 1. We stopped at half way, rested a while and then descended back to base camp. It felt good to be moving again.
That night I found sleep hard to come by. I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag. My stomach was rumbling (and not from hunger) and so I doubled up on Imodium in attempt to slow down proceedings for the summit push. The rest of the tent occupants had adopted a similar strategy.
Aconcagua Summit Bid – The Off
Morning soon came around and it was time for breakfast.
Our dome tent, like every morning was cold with frosty condensation on the inside. It would soon warm up once the sun rose over Aconcagua around 09:30.
I shuffled to the dining tent, got the coffee on and settled in a chair in my down jacket. The topic of conversation was dominated by what kit to take. My own mind was filled with how I was going to sort out my stomach before leaving base camp.
Before long our breakfast arrived. Cold egg, cold sausages and white bread….I ate as much as I could stomach before surrendering.
Our plan for the day was to leave at 3pm and head to camp 1. Much later than I had anticipated. The Sherpa team were to carry loads of water up to the higher camps. The lack of snow meant that there was little water at Camp 1 and 2. They had my full respect and it was amazing to see the Nepali guys climbing up the hill with relative ease and quick of step despite obviously heavy packs. Truly inspiring.
Before long 3pm came and it was time to leave.
Aconcagua Summit Bid – Ascent to Camp 1
We were ready to leave. I looked up to Camp 1 against the brown mountain and blue skies. My eyes carried on higher to the summit. I imagined, and not for the first time, what it would be like to stand on the top.
Nims lead us. I was behind him and others behind me.
The immediate ascent from base camp is steep. Height is gained quickly.
Trekking poles angled backwards are used effectively as crutches to help push you up the path and to save the legs. It is important to “lock your bones” as you move to save energy and reduce muscular fatigue. Breathing was deep and fairly rapid. Partly due to the effort, partly due to the anticipation of what lay ahead.
We ascended for 30 minutes and I was finding it increasingly hard to keep on Nim’s heels.
I dropped back a couple of meters. I was breathing heavily. I could feel my body tightening and doubts creeping in to my mind. “Is anyone else finding this as hard as me” I thought to myself.
I kept going back to the Mantra I had been using that had worked so effectively for me until this point. The problem was, the pace was not my pace. The slightly increased output was tipping me too far into the red. “I don’t think I’ll summit like this” I thought.
I slowed down and the gap grew. Nims advised I went to the back of the team so I could go at my pace.
I felt a mixture of disappointment and relief. I processed the disappointment and then focused on getting back into myself and relaxing into my own pace.
Before long I had weathered the emotional storm and was feeling more comfortable. We had been going for just over an hour and we were above the half way mark.
We took very few breaks and when we did stop, roughly every 20 minutes, it was only for 1 minute.
In these times I took on half an energy gel and several mouthfuls of water. Then buff back on, shades down, hands on poles and crack on.
I rarely took my eyes off the path in front of me. My time in the mountains has taught me that when the going is tough, looking up to where you are going and how far away it might be can cause undue stress. Instead I focused on one step, then the next while trying to breathe in as relaxed a way of possible.
No part of me wanted to push into the red and the more relaxed I felt, the stronger I climbed.
As we climbed the distance between us and base camp crew. The tents below became tiny specs.
Before long we hit the final traverse before landing on Camp 1. We had made it.
It took us 2.5 hours to climb from Base Camp to Camp 1. 30 minutes faster than our acclimatisation trek when we carried only a couple of KG in our packs. No wonder it had felt so hard getting up there!
We had smashed the ascent but I wondered if it might end up costing us.
Aconcagua Summit Bid – A Blood Orange Sky
After a short rest we climbed a little higher while waiting for dinner to be prepared by the Sherpas.
It was a simple affair of soup and a rice dish. It was tasty and gratefully received and a far cry from the food we had been served in base camp. We sat around in our group in the cold air eating. The sun began to drop over the mountains in the distance and the sky changed color. Yellow, blue and grey. From nearby tents I could hear excited chatter and laughter in various languages.
We had been allocated tents and I was sharing a 3 man tent with Phil and Dan. I’d like to say it was spacious but it wasn’t. It was however cosy.
That evening we enjoyed the most incredible sunset as it dropped and the sky became blood orange and purple while the temperatures plummeted. I savored the moment and took photos.
Before long I was in my sleeping bag listening to music. A sanctuary and haven of warmth and quiet.
That night sleep was once again hard earned due to the altitude. My head was filled with thoughts about what lay ahead. The lack of space made things uncomfortable. Before I knew it the sun was starting to shine through the tents frozen fabric and I knew it was almost time to get up.
Onwards towards the summit of Aconcagua.