Today our objective was to move to Camp 1, at just under 5,000m (16,500 feet), where we would then spend the night (and two in fact). We had stashed most of the group food, cooking equipment, and our high mountain stuff up there on a big and tiring carry the day before. Today we had to carry the rest of our equipment, including sleeping bags and all personal kit, plus the tents.
Breakfast at Base Camp was a bit of a sombre affair, due to the fact that John and Kuntal would be leaving us today (see yesterday’s post). We all gave them our best wishes, and their journey down would be by helicopter later that day. I envied them the helicopter ride due to the spectacularly rugged beauty of the surroundings, but of course not in the circumstances. This would also be the last time we saw Plaza Argentina after three days there, and it had been a great base (no pun intended). We had been fed in dining tents, had access to sanitised water, and had a (albeit hole in the ground with a metal box around it) toilet. We wouldn’t see these luxury items again until we were down from the mountain.
We set off under again cloudless skies finally at about 10.15am, after our remaining bags and duffles had been packed and weighed ready to be taken down by mule. We’d only see them again on the other side of the mountain too, in close to two weeks time. The big journey was about to really take shape.
Now just six in number, we set off on the same route as the day before, albeit with slightly lesser loads, probably 17 or 18kg this time. Luxury!
The day was a little cooler than the day before, with higher winds. We had been forecast that by December 31 the winds would be really strong, and so no-one was looking forward to that.
We made our move up the mountain in about 4 hours, a full hour quicker than the day before, aided by smaller loads and better acclimatisation. The scree slope near the top though was still really hard – a real slog for a good hour which has your heart pumping at its maximum.
When getting into Camp 1 the winds were pretty gusty, so we helped each other with putting up the tents – one person would hold it down to save it being blown 1,000m back down the mountain, whilst the others placed as large a set of rocks as they could under the guy ropes.
After we got settled in it was a case of sorting out our gear that we had left there the day before and doing some packing for tomorrow’s carry to Camp 2. Everyone was pretty tired and feeling the effects of the altitude.
At 6pm the guides cooked a rather unexpected and excellent dinner for us of cheeseburgers. They were huge too, and everyone got at least two each. Gary, my new tentmate, had three, and I don’t know how he found room, it would have been beyond me.
Within about an hour of finishing dinner, dressed in down jackets, hats and gloves, the sun disappeared behind the mountain, and the temperature dropped severely and almost instantly. It was time to get into the sleeping bags pronto, and I was at last grateful of my big down bag, it having been way too hot to even climb inside thus far.
I tried to stave off sleep as long as I could, and in the meantime watched the most spectacular storm well off in the distance. It had the highest intensity multiple forked lightning I have ever seen. And from what must have been 30 miles away it still lit our sky like a bonfire on November 5th. I had a bit of a headache and took some Alleve given to me by Gary as I didn’t want to leave my sleeping bag, and was asleep by not long after 9.
Tomorrow we would head up to Camp 2 at approximately 17,700 feet. Everything started looking like a long way off now, and the top of the mountain itself looked miles away, which it effectively was. But for now we were here, and I felt pretty good overall. We were only two camps away from a potential summit bid, but as with everything on a mountain, you really can’t think too far ahead – it is always one day, or sometimes only a few hours ahead, that you should really allow yourself to think about. And tomorrow would prove that very point very well.