The rest day at Base Camp (4,200m) was much needed for two main reasons. Firstly we had ascended 1,000m the day before, and everyone needed a chance to try to acclimatise. Secondly I had one of the worst nights sleep I think I have ever have had,. This was caused principally by the fact that Kuntal (my tent mate) was snoring so loud that it could have woken the dead. I learned later that Gary, whose tent was some ways away from ours, had to put earplugs in himself to get to sleep. So in my case without earplugs it wasn’t fun at all. I did wake him up about three times and ask him to roll over, but it made little difference. It also went on all night, and twelve hours is a long time to listen to that.
After a ridiculously good breakfast of porridge, pancakes and eggs, everyone set about doing what the day was for – i.e. resting. We then had a scheduled appointment with the camp doctor at 11am to check on whether we were healthy and acclimatised enough to climb the mountain. This in my view is a very good thing. The tests would measure pulse, blood oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and then listening to heart and lungs. It is compulsory for everyone who climbs Aconcagua, and if you do not ‘pass’ the tests you are not allowed to continue.
Unfortunately just before 11 as we were waiting we were told that the doctor wouldn’t be ready, as he was dealing with an emergency evacuation. Within about 30 minutes of this a helicopter arrived and some poor soul was taken somewhere to hospital, ailments (although presumably serious AMS) unknown. Such are the perils in the high mountains, and it is a good thing that this Base Camp is so well equipped to deal with them. The fact that there is a resident doctor also shows how high the incidence is of such happenings, and it wasn’t the first time we saw the helicopter that day.
Our appointments were rescheduled for 6pm, and so the afternoon was spent generally faffing with kit. We now basically had to do he reverse of what we had done so far, as the really serious stuff was ahead of us. Tomorrow the mules would take down our duffle bags, and we would begin the process of carrying everything up the mountain. We had to therefore pack all of our mountain equipment, and anything in fact that we might need between now and the 9th January, into our rucksacks. I had a short walk to just above the camp, and was exhausted in the thin air even without a heavy pack on – I could only imagine how hard it was going to be the following day with full pack on.
The packing over, and my 90 litre sack bulging at the seams (and this before being given a further 8kg of group gear the next day), we could finally see the doctor.
The examination was thorough, and lots of questions were asked. I disclosed my HACE from Elbrus, and this was duly recorded, but it didn’t phase the doctor. My stats, for the record, were pulse ox of 88 and 120 (pulse the latter, obviously), and my blood pressure 145/85. Everything else in terms of heart and lungs were normal.
The doctor told me that my blood pressure was a little high, if nothing to worry about unduly, and that I should lay off any salt for a few days. He also said that my resting pulse of 120 was a sign that I was dehydrated, and to drink more. I was already drinking a good four litres of water a day, but now that we were higher I knew I needed more, particularly as the Diamox makes you pee a lot more than normal. Everyone else passed too, but with a couple having to return the next day for further blood pressure tests.
So with that we had dinner, surprisingly of pasta not steak, and an early night at about 9pm. Tomorrow morning we would have to carry about 25kg, the biggest load of my life, up to Camp 1 at 5,000m. I can only say that I was a little apprehensive……