The 7 Summits Blog - Aconcagua Dec '15 - Jan '16 (5th '7 summit')

Aconcagua
12th January 2016
The noise of the tent’s cheap nylon wildly flapping right by my head woke up me. Weather forecast was right; it has been a windy night at Camp Colera, 6000m. I am buried deep into my sleeping bag, it is warm and cosy. I check my watch, 10 minutes after 4am. If we want to give the summit a shot, and this is our one and only chance, I have to move my body, unzip the bag and start getting ready.
I turn around to wake up my guide, the two of us and our bags squeezed into this tiny tent but at the moment our accommodation keeps us out of the elements and I’m grateful for it. Mauricio gets up and starts boiling water with the melted snow whilst I half zip the bag and lift myself up to seated position. Everything is within an arm-length away so I start packing the rucksack with essential summit and survival gear. I am going to be wearing all my clothes I brought up to this camp but will have to carry glacier glasses, goggles, another hat, another pair of gloves with me. One litre of hot juice and a thermos of hot tea along with some gels, candy and energy bars is all I’ll be eating in the next 10-15hours. But hearing the sound of the wind and feeling it on my shivering body now outside the sleeping bag, I am not at all convinced it is a good day to leave the tent and attack the summit. My guide opens the front door of the tent and peaks out. I can see a number of people outside fully dressed but “Nobody has left yet” he assures me.

We arrived at Camp Colera the day before, on the 1st of January 2016. There was another large team, an Argentinian company getting there the same day as us and we spotted a few more other tents. Where are all the other teams?


(Picture: sunsets from the Plaza Argentinas 4200m Base Camp were incredible)

Day 1, December 22 National Park entrance to Pampa de Lenas 2800m
Mauricio my guide and I were dropped off by the National Park entrance this morning and after a quick stamp on my permit and chit chat with the ranger we grabbed our numbered rubbish bags and set off on an easy hike through the Vacas valley. It was a hot day but had to cover up due to the strength of the sun and the dust. The scenery didn't change much..hills rolling in the far distance on both sides, moor to fill up the space between the path and the hills and a trail of dust floating along the route. They call it the “rustic” side, I see why. It was a monotone walk until we hit a river crossing.. My guide walked up and down not finding anywhere to cross, I spotted a large rock upstream, dropped my bag and flew onto the rock. Chucked my poles across and with another Cirque du Soleil movement I was on the other side. Sometimes little excitements can make your day, well, no doubt there will be more thrilling moments waiting ahead of us..

Day 4, 25 December Base Camp Plaza Argentinas 4200m
Arriving at Base Camp yesterday was a relief. It means the dusty days are over from now on we must wear double/triple boots and crampons heading up.
Having a day off on Christmas Day is great but there's not an awful lot do around here. It’s only my guide and me at the local company’s tent in BC at the moment, which is actually nice, certainly quiet. After breakfast I hiked back to the camp entrance with a gift box from my friend Nick. I was really excited to see what this surprise parcel contained! When I grabbed the box I could hear Nick's voice telling me to stop faffing with the wrapping paper! Whilst listening to cheesy xmas tunes on my Ipod, I picked up the first prezzie from the top; a xmas card with a very lovely message. It melted my heart and was quite close to welling up when I picked up the print outs underneath, full of funny stories and jokes. And buried under the paper I found not one but at least 30 little funny gifts from a mini bottle of JD, party crackers, mini playing cards to Christmas scratch cards (would have been nice to win..) all carefully sticky taped and placed like a jigsaw puzzle (oh I got some of those as well) so every item would stay in place. (Thanks Nick!) After consuming everything in the box that was made of chocolate, I had a little read in the sun (One man’s Everest by Kenton Cool, awesome read!) and asked my guide if he fancied a little stroll. He said it was a day off and he wanted to rest so I filled up my water bottle and hiked up to the snow line towards Camp 1. Took it very easy and only ascended a hundred vertical meters, better play it safe on my own. Stayed up there for a bit to take some photos and headed back to BC for lunch thinking this is all going to get hard from here.


(Pictures: the penitentes used to be over 3m tall)

Day 8, 29 December Camp 1
“Morning guys, breakfast time” I heard the familiar voice. Opened my eyes and was about to unzip my tent door when I realised the call wasn’t for me. It was someone who guided me up another mountain a year ago. My breakfast was much less appetising than their scrambled eggs from the frying pen. I had camping food for breakfast and dinner since leaving BC until we get to BC on the other side. According to the weather updates we received today, summit day (when the wind is less than 75km/h) has moved forward and is now on the 1st or the 2nd. Very windy already, don’t remember wearing my big down jacket in the tent even in Antarctica! Big day tomorrow, moving to Camp 3.


(Picture 1&2: Camp1, 3: lunch break on the way to Camp 3)

Day 10, 31 December Camp 3

We moved to Camp 3 yesterday skipping carrying. Windy doesn't quite describe the journey; we hiked like a brunch of drunks heading home from the pub on a Friday night. We eventually made it to camp and felt really good so Mauri and I made a plan to go up to Camp Colera to acclimatise today. We are moving there tomorrow to hopefully make the most of the only weather day on the 2nd, we haven't received the weather forecast yet but the other teams are doing the same. Very much doubt I'll be able to stay up till midnight tonight so Happy New Year to all! ☺


(Picture: Camp 3 from up and above)


“Have you got everything you need from inside?” asked my guide. We had to collapse the tent before leaving for the summit; the wind took 19 tents in previous season from this camp. We couldn’t risk loosing our only shelter.
Around 6.45am we set off. It was still dark but we didn’t need a headlamp, with some luck daylight would break shortly and the sun would come up and warm our backs. We headed up towards Rocas Blancas (White Rocks) where we decided to have a quick break then moved towards Black Rocks. Reaching the Independencia hut at 6380m was a huge relief; I knew we’d have a long break there. I crawled into the roofless wobbly hut pushing my backpack inside and sat on a pillar and leaned back. This is tough I thought and we were sooo far from the top. Must have rested there for a good 20minutes or even more when we decided to push on. Fitted our crampons on and continued our long climb. By now we met at least 6-8 people who turned around, they were from the Argentinian company. No sign of anyone else on the mountain.


(Picture: Aconcagua shadow on summit morning)

There’s a long dragging path up towards La Cueva (The Cave) at 6650m. All I remember is that we passed two guys, one looked like a guide and one a client and they were going no further. Every step was heavy footed and with every breath I had access to less and less oxygen. It would be so easy to stop and call it a day, but we made it this far in these conditions with all the crap I had to go through. I am not going to stop. I turned all my anger into energy and kept pushing on. It was an eternity but we finally got to the Cave. We had another long rest here, around 3pm. This is where we met an Argentinian guide and his client, the very few who summited that day. My guide had a chat with him and I also congratulated but when I sat down and turn around I could hardly believe my eyes. The sharp and snowy peaks of the Andes all laid at my feet. I was higher than all these majestic mountains (except one of course behind me) How very beautiful. Grabbed my camera to take some photos when Mauricio asked me to get the move on. We were quite late now and the snowstorm was lurking around the peak.
“One more push Ale, just one more push and we are on the top”
“Let’s go Mauri and get the job done”
This last section, weirdly, reminded me of most of the Denali climb. A snowy and steep face requiring attention and focus but I truly enjoyed this section. I was right behind my guide the whole time buzzing about the prospect of reaching the summit of Aconcagua. And at 5.15pm local time, we did reach the summit of this incredible place. 6962m. The 360 degree view from the top was splendid. The winds were high so we didn’t stay there for long, summit pictures, hugs and patting on the shoulder. We MADE IT!


(Picture 1: Summit 5.15pm 2nd of January 2016, 2: view from the top, weather's closing in, 3: mules carrying expedition load, 4: last day, walking off the mountain)