Aconcagua Day 11 – 30th December 2014

So today we had planned on doing a carry to Camp 2, known as Helicopter Camp, at 17,500ft. Unfortunately when having breakfast and Peter asking how everyone was feeling, three of us (I was one) weren’t feeling 100%. As a result of this, Peter decided that it would do everyone good if we took the opportunity to have a rest day. There were four contingency days built into the programme (three meant for summit day), so we could afford the time. Everyone would be better and stronger for the climb with an extra day anyway, so that was that.

Guides will normally always ask at the start and end end of a day how people are doing. Generally they will ask if you slept, how your head is, and if everything else is ok. The questions are designed to make sure no-one has, or is likely to develop, AMS. No-one today was sick at all, just not 100% raring to go. The best ‘cure’ for potential AMS is prevention, and not going higher, so good calls are made in these circumstances.

The day was extremely windy, and so any time out of the tent had to be kept to a minimum. As such everyone just hung around and dozed or read. There were a couple of other groups around us who did go up for their carry during the day, and told us that the conditions were brutally windy at Camp 2. We’d had a forecast that told us that December 31st and 1st January would be the two worst days, and so we’d hit the bad conditions somewhere around Camp 2 as well.

Everyone was hunkered down for most of the day at Camp 1 - this one taken from the 'toilet' rock.

Everyone was hunkered down for most of the day at Camp 1 – this one taken from the ‘toilet’ rock.

At Camp 1 we no longer had amenities. Water had to be retrieved form the glacier and treated (thankfully the guides did the bulk of this), food had to be reconstituted/heated on a ┬ácamping stove for all of us and put into bowls that we had with us, and there were no longer toilet facilities. Human waste has to be ‘done’ in plastic sacks, and then tied up and left to be taken down the mountain later by porters – thankfully it would freeze, and the bags also had what amounted to cat litter inside to absorb everything. Not a pleasant subject I know, but ‘just saying’ in case you are curious. It is good that guide companies and the Aconcagua park take these things seriously – I remember my time on Kilimanjaro where I have never seen so much human waste in my life!

During the afternoon in the tent, I thought at times it was going to blow away, this despite what was probably 200kg or more of rocks holding it down, and us inside it. It can be quite an intimidating time, and not as restful as it should be. It is certainly also frustrating, as time drags, and you don’t want to sleep too much as otherwise you won’t sleep in the night, when you will spend a minimum of another 12 hours inside your sleeping bag.

The view up the mountain where we would have headed today ordinarily - maybe tomorrow.......

The view up the mountain where we would have headed today ordinarily – maybe tomorrow…….

The guides brought us dinner of burritos in our tents at about 6pm, which was great, and that was the end of the day really. The fact that I had staved off sleep during the day proved a bad choice, as the winds were so high in the night that a box of sleeping pills wouldn’t have got me to sleep. It reminded me of the infamous ‘flappy roof’ night on Elbrus where similar winds had the same result. Those if any reading who were there will know just what I mean!

The next day, regardless of conditions (unless really extreme) would see our carry up to Camp 2. We were ready, or so we thought……

Aconcagua Day 10 – 29th December 2014

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!

heading up through the ice pinnacles (penitents) on our way to Camp 1.

heading up through the ice pinnacles (penitents) on our way to Camp 1.

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.

Still with fairly heavy loads, we head up the steep slopes to our destination just out of picture top right.

Still with fairly heavy loads, we head up the steep slopes to our destination just out of picture top right.

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.

Putting up the tents at Camp 1.

Putting up the tents at Camp 1.

 

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.

The tents have to be weighted down as best you can and protected from the high winds by big rocks.

The tents have to be weighted down as best you can and protected from the high winds by big rocks.

With the tents secured, everyone could settle in and get ready for the next couple of days.

With the tents secured, everyone could settle in and get ready for the next couple of days.

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.