Life is oh so short

It has been so ridiculously long since I have put up a blog post, that it has taken me some time to find out how to log back into this site. Sad!

I thought I now needed to do two things here though, if even only for posterity. One is to update anyone who doesn’t know already (that is if anyone actually still reads this site outside of anyone who knows me :O) of what has happened re my intended trip to Aconcagua. And then secondly to tell a bit about my future mountainous plans.

Aconcagua

Firstly an update then on Aconcagua. In short, it isn’t going to happen, well not this year anyway. I won’t dwell here into too many of the reasons why, but in short, my father got diagnosed with terminal cancer this summer, with a prognosis which talked about a matter of months, as opposed to years, in terms of life expectancy. I cancelled my trip practically the day that I found out, simple as that.

I mentioned in my previous post that I’d say something about my decision about who to go with, and I thought I’d still take time here to tell a bit about what happened there too:

So basically when I chose my (also aborted, that time due to two broken heels :)) trip last year, I had booked with Jagged Globe, whom I went with on my Alpine Introductions Course, and who I have found absolutely excellent throughout. They would, and perhaps should, have been my natural choice for this time around, but something told me to search around and do a bit of due diligence here and there, and so I did.

There are actually not a lot of firms who do Aconcagua trips, and they basically are divided into three categories. There are local firms in Argentina; there are a few UK firms (e.g Jagged Globe or Exodus for example); and there are the bigger international outfits (mainly US-based) who focus on Aconcagua as it is one of the Seven Summits.

I had ruled out the Argentinian outfits straight away. Maybe they offer the best value, or even the best expeditions. I just don’t know. My thinking was that there is so much to know, and so much to go wrong, even before you get there, that I’d rather be in the hands of someone closer to home, and who speaks my native language, just in case. Then I started reading this year’s Everest coverage (and what an incredible, and also very controversial, season it was) and began seeing some names appearing to me from the operators over there. One name kept appearing and also jumping out to me, and it was International Mountain Guides (IMG).

IMG have been going since 1986, and they cover the four corners of planet earth in terms of the mountains. They lead expeditions to all of the Seven Summits, and therefore put people on Everest every year. I first heard about them from reading Alan Arnette’s wonderful blog (http://www.alanarnette.com). He has climbed with them himself (including on his own Seven Summits bid), and so if that is not an endorsement in itself then I don’t know what is.

Literally from the moment I enquired about availability, I got nothing but first class, prompt (bordering on immediate) replies from them. It was also very personal too, as in they wanted to know about me, to make sure there was a fit for both sides. I was contacted (surprisingly) by one of the founders, Phil Ershler, who was brilliant in every regard. Most importantly for me, there was no big hard sell. In fact almost the reverse was true – I had to pass and prove my worth, and they invited me to ask all sorts of questions of them to make sure that this would work. I’m glad to say that it most certainly did, or would have done anyway.

One of the other key factors about IMG for me, apart from reputation, safety record, success rates etc., was about the way they actually¬†climb¬†the mountain. Instead of an ‘armchair ride’ (as if this is ever likely at 23,000 feet!), IMG like their clients to do the mountains expedition style. In other words, you carry your own stuff, you do carries up and down to each camp, and you put up your own tent etc. Everyone mucks in basically, it is a team, and you need to graft, hard, along with everyone else. Good.

Anyway, basically almost as soon as I hap put down my deposit, I had to call them and tell them I wouldn’t/couldn’t go after all. The very satisfying thing was that instead of saying “sorry but you’ve lost your deposit” etc (which under their terms and conditions they would have been entitled to do). they said they’d hold it over for me for a future trip. That to me just vindicated my decision to choose them in the first place.

What next?

Having cancelled my trip, I have spent most every weekend up in the North East visiting my Dad in hospital, and now in his Nursing Home. He’s still hanging in there, and my time with him is precious, and so it should be. I haven’t been able to plan anything else meantime though, and so that, being selfish for a moment, has made me a bit stir crazy.

So a few days ago, I got, for a host of reasons, to deciding that I needed something, anything, to look forward to. And to cut a long story short, here it is:

Mount Elbrus

Mount Elbrus….

The above is the tallest mountain in Europe. Now many people think that particular honour goes to Mont Blanc, but Mount Elbrus is about 1km higher, at 5,642m (18,510ft). It is a dormant volcano, in the Caucasus Mountains, which are in southern Russia, close to Georgia. I have booked my trip for next August, and all I can say is that I dearly hope it comes off. There is lots to learn and know about Elbrus, and my education has begun with great excitement and vigour.

Mount Elbrus is of course also one of the Seven Summits, and if I can reach the summit (I have some work to do in many respects between now and then), then I would look to try to do Aconcagua next winter too. I won’t get too carried away yet though.

To go back to the title of the post, life is very definitely too short. This one will be for my Dad.

I’ll post more soon, promise.

Aconcagua!

The blog is back! I have just had a day of pontificating, deliberating, and just wishing that I had my next challenge mapped out. For some time now I have been contemplating where I would go next, and it was always really going to be Denali or Aconcagua. Why those? Well, they are both members of The Seven Summits, both are higher than I have ever climbed before, and both are achievable, if requiring of a lot of very hard work if I want them enough. And the long and short of it is, I do want them, and want them both.

Then today I was just contemplating what I should do next, and I came across a great picture of Aconcagua on the net. I thus posted a link to it (from Wikipedia I think), onto my Facebook page, which said something like “Aconcagua, it just has to be done”. Within a few minutes a post came in as a reply from one of my oldest friends Steven Cooper, which said simply “always wanted to do that, time and money never added up – do it man!”. So what could I do, apart from go to find a booking site, and get on with it! I am impulsive after all you know! And to Steven, I thank you, you pushed me into realising that I so wanted to do it, and so that is exactly what I am going to (try to) do.

So to cut a long story short, after a few trawls I was booked!

So briefly here are some facts:

Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in the Southern and Western Hemispheres, the second tallest of the Seven Summits, and at a whisker under 7,000m and 23,000 feet, the tallest mountain outside of Asia. It is in the Andes, in the Mendoza province of Argentina, and close to the border with Chile. I will regardless of outcome be attaining so many firsts on this trip, and I can’t wait already. It is going to be a very exciting year, and the prospect of getting to (a gnat’s breath under) 7,000m is dreamy stuff indeed.

I go in December.

Bring it on!

Switzerland Awaits!

So my Alpine adventure to Switzerland is very nearly upon me. I will by the weekend be in a place called Arolla, Switzerland. I will be there for a week, staying alternatively in a hotel in the town or in mountain huts, depending upon what the day’s activities are at the time. I have to say that I am ridiculously excited, but also not a little nervous. The course will include ‘proper’ climbing up 4,000m or so mountains, and that makes me a little edgy as I am just so inexperienced in that area, although that is of course why I am going in the first place:)

The internet reliably informs me that Arolla is tiny. It sits at the end of a the Vall d’Herens in the south of Switzerland in the municipality of Evolene. It is at about 2,000m, and has a population of just 200. There is not even a bank. It looks quite pretty, and has a number of 4,000m peaks surrounding it, some of which I will (I trust) get to see from the very top. It sits on one of the most famous of all mountaineering trails, the so called ‘Haute Route’ which connects Mont Blanc in France to the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Here is a link to the Arolla website:

http://wanderland.myswitzerland.com/en/orte_detail.cfm?id=313286

And a piccie of some of the mountains – I think the one at the back in this picture is called Pigne d’Arolla, one of the ones we will climb next week:

The mountains around Arolla....

And this is a closer view of the summit ridge on the Pigne D’Arolla itself, and where I believe the glacier training will take place:

The snowfields/glacier on the Pigne D'Arolla.

The hotel I am staying in on the other hand, looks like it needs a bit of updating, to say the least. A few reviews of it I have read online have used descriptions like ‘comedic’, and ‘like that place in The Shining’. Comedic I can cope with, I believe, but I don’t need Jack Nicholson pouncing on me with an axe in the middle of the night!

The journey looks quite eventful too. The trip does not include travel, so it is ‘make your own way there’. After a flight to Geneva I have to catch a train to Sion, and then I believe two different buses to get me up to the resort. It should take about 4 to 5 hours all in. Should be interesting, but I am sure with typical Swiss efficiency it will all be pretty smooth. I look forward to the trip – it all adds greatly to the adventure.

I am finally nearly ready with all of my kit, I think. Over the last week I have had a bit of a splurge, and bought myself a new climbing rucksack (Deuter Guide 35+), a new Primaloft climbing jacket (Rab Generator Alpine), a new Mountain Equipment holdall, and various other bits and pieces like gaiters, glacier glasses, Sigg Bottles (they don’t recommend Camelbacks), a buff (!) and several pairs of climbing gloves. I have also packed my fixed rope system that I bought for Island Peak, in the hope that I will get some help and tuition with it too, although fixed lines are not part of the teaching for the week. I will be amazed if I get below the weight limit of 23kg for the plane, so there may well not be many ‘normal’ clothes coming with me!

Some of the kit that I will hire over there includes helmet, ice axe, plastic boots, belay equipment and ropes, and also crampons. I look forward to the glacier travel and also crevasse rescue parts of the course in particular. Crevasse rescue looks terrifying!

I’ll do one more post on Friday before I go with some pictures of all my kit. It all feels like this is the start of a new part of my journey, and almost of my life. If next week is successful for me, then not only does it springboard me into being able to climb Island Peak in October (and of course if it doesn’t go well then I won’t be climbing it at all), but also towards climbing more mountains. My ultimate goal from here is as many of the Seven Summits as I can – it may take some time, and it will certainly take a hell of a lot of resolve, effort and money, but I am very determined. I don’t want anything to get in my way, and certainly not Jack Nicholson!

Alan Arnette Summits Everest!

I have been following a few of the Everest blogs recently, just because I am hopelessly obsessed about the place. In between reading several books of various expeditions, like ‘Into Thin Air’, ‘The Climb’, ‘Left For Dead’, and ‘Die Trying, I also have been watching the excellent ‘Beyond The Limit’ series on DVD, which was originally a Discovery Channel 6 part series about a successful climb in 2006. I just cannot get enough in my quest for more knowledge on what it must really be like to be able to climb it.

Anyway, there are some excellent blogs out there too, and I have been following three of them closely. The Everest season is in full swing now, as May is the (effectively only) month when people get to the summit, this being because it is the only safe weather window when it actually becomes possible to even attempt it.

I just wanted this to be a brief link for now to say that I am near ecstatic on reading the success of Alan Arnette, who has one of the best blogs I have ever read. Alan is an American guy who lost his Mum and two Aunts to Alzheimer’s. He is in the midst of doing the Seven Summits in 12 months to raise money and awareness for the disease. He has completed Vinson (Antarctica), and Aconcagua (South America) so far. His strapline for each post is “Memories are Everything”, which is extremely poignant. He tried to summit Everest three times previously, and got to within a thousand feet or less of the summit on each occasion, but at the weekend, 5am May 21st 2011 to be exact, he made it.

The link is pasted below:

http://www.alanarnette.com/blog/2011/05/22/everest-summit-recap-more-than-a-summit/#utm_source=arnette-blog&utm_medium=arnette-blog&utm_campaign=arnette-blog

The rest of Alan’s blog is fantastic too – brilliantly wtitten, extremely entertaining, and hugely emotional, stimulating and inspirational . I’d encourage anyone with a modicum of Everest interest to follow it. I’ll be following the rest of his Seven Summit attempts very closely over the rest of the year too, and have placed a link to it in my blogroll section. I’m giving some money to his chosen charity too, and there’s a link on his site for anyone who is interested in doing likewise.

All of this makes the dream more real to me. I shall keep reading with more than just a little bit of interest, and a huge amount desire and determination. This year will be a pivotal one for me in that respect in so many ways……..