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Aconcagua

Summit of South America, 6962m

                 

 

On the new 7summits site we will place trip reports to the 7summits, so send them in and we will add them!

Below is the report of 7summits' Harry Kikstra climbing the Falso de los Polaccos route.

Happy reading :-)

 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

 

Click the pictures below to enlarge:

We start with erecting all our tents and carrying the rest of our luggage to our sites. Finally after another hour Don emerges on the edge of camp and we rush towards him, take over his pack and lead him to the site we reserved for him. He is clearly over exhausted and not the strong man he normally is.

We sit him down and ask his advice on how to best set up his tent. He doesn’t even want to drink the soup we made and gets inside the moment he is able to. The rest of the evening he only drinks some tea we supply and barely eats dinner.

Our dinner slightly surprises Mike: 

´What the hell did you bring?'

´Just Nasi Goreng with fresh salami, fresh onion, some fried onions, cocos and some kecap-peanut sauce to top it off!´ 

 Unfortunately the fresh peppers we brought were squashed and had gone bad, so this would have to do....

 

21/12/2000

The next morning we wake up, ready for our difficult task: acclimatizing! This means sitting in the sun, relaxing, filtering and drinking water, tea and soup, eating something and maybe listen to music. It’s a hard job being a high altitude mountaineer...

Even this leisure program is too much for Don and although he seems to have waken up a little better than the day before, he still isn’t the strong guy I know he normally is. He has no big headaches, so we decide to see what happens after another night at this altitude.

 

22/12/2000

The next morning everybody feels better except for Don. There is a medic in the base camp and Don heads off to him. We and the rest of the team had decided that today we will make a carry to camp I at 5000m, so we can move up the rest of our gear the day after. But Don returns quickly with a sad grin on his face. 

 ´It seems that the virus that bugged me a few weeks ago at home hasn’t left my system yet. It has caused a pulmonary infection that can easily turn into a pulmonary oedema. I have to go down immediately...´

A pulmonary oedema is one of the most common and dangerous high altitude diseases; your lungs slowly fill up with slime and you start coughing pink saliva. If you wait too long (= a few days) it can easily kill you.

Justin, Andrea, Mike and Barry are already packed and ready to go for their carry when Don breaks the news, so Erik and I have to make the necessary arrangements. Besides the fact that we hate to see our buddy go, it also means that a lot of practical things have to be arranged. First of all we must decide how to get Don down. The situation is not life threatening (yet), so we cannot use the helicopter that is stationed at the park entrance. A horse to ride Don out will cost a day and $300 so that’s both too late and too expensive (´cash please´). We decide to rent a mule for Don’s gear and have him walk down with a light daypack. This also costs $160, but can be arranged right away. Other problems involve Don’s rope (we decide to continue without) and the food portions: Erik and I packed 10 days of food for 3 persons, it’s not all that easy to transfer this into 15 days for 2 persons, but we will manage.

Erik and I start taking down Don’s tent and pack his stuff. Meanwhile a group of Australians is packing as well and they tell us that they have placed 13 out of 15 people on the summit, a very good number. But they also tell us that an Irish woman they met earlier has died this week after a fall around one of the high camps, so the happiness is mixed with sadness.

We sadly say goodbye to Don around 12.30 and decide to go for a carry to camp I after all as we need the acclimatization. Also, as we will be traversing the mountain at high camp (6000m), we cannot leave any stuff behind in base camp. Therefore we must carry everything up the mountain, so we’d better start with it.

We fill up our packs with surplus food and gear and slowly start walking up the moraines. Soon we encounter the first field of ´penitentes´, snowfields that have been formed by the strong winds and look like an army of narrow snowmen. But we are lucky, they are not extremely high this year, about a few feet each and it is easy to walk through.

Erik and Base camp: Plaza Argentina

 

 

Acclimatizing is hard work...

Cooking Hutspot!

Polish Glacier as seen from the 'minefield' between camp I & II

We continue on the opposite moraine ridge and slowly gain altitude. Every now and then the path is not completely clear or there are more options and sometimes we split up. During one of these moves, Erik takes the low path and I take the high one (´when in doubt, always take the high one!´, one of the famous Harry-mountaineering truths...). This seems all right, but the moment I place my foot a meter away from a large boulder, the ground starts to move beneath my feet. I see that I am actually sliding into a dirt covered crevasse, but my immediate concern is the boulder that is sliding towards me. It’s about 80cm in diameter and therefore heavy enough to break some bones if it hits me. So within a split second I start sliding downwards towards the crevasse, while pushing the also sliding rock away from me with all my force. This helps and I end up a few meters down at the crevasse floor while the rock remains stuck between the narrow walls, just besides my hip. Erik saw the thing happen within a second and asks if I am all right. 

´I think so, although my leg hurts. Hold on a second..´ I check all my muscles but the damage seems to be just some bruises on my left leg. Just to check, I throw a little rock in the black hole that appears just behind the stuck boulder and to my surprise it takes a while before I hear it hit the bottom of the crevasse, far down. Because the entire glacier is covered with rocks and dust, you forget it’s a glacier at all, but mountains have subtle ways like this to remind you...

We take a little break and continue to the big rock in the middle of the 'minefield' as I used to to call this section. On the way we met Andrea, who felt strong this morning, but had to return below the snowy headwall. She has given Justin her luggage and we see him climbing up the last part together with Mike, two tiny dots on a large sheet of white paper.. The AAI group is resting besides the big rock and enjoys fresh fruit spread out on a large plastic sheet. This looks like Kilimanjaro!

We continue quickly to the rest of the minefield but it takes a while before we find a sensible way through this maze. It ends up at the bottom of a large snowfield of about 35 degrees and a few hundred meters high. We are affected by the altitude now and need to rest every few steps, while taking care that we do not slip on the snowfield.

After another hour we finally emerge onto a small plateau, where a few people are camped: camp I, 5000m, higher than the Alps! It is windy and cold and I feel a terrible altitude headache coming up and am glad that Erik is arriving as well. We quickly load all our luggage in one big duffel bag and place it behind one of the stone walls that marks a camping spot. We quickly exchange a few words with some people already camped there and head down.

This is where the fun starts as besides the quite steep snowfield there is an even steeper screefield! Every step is more a slide down and with the help of the poles we work our way down the first couple of hundreds of meters in a few minutes, back into the ´thick´ air! But even back down my headache is desperately asking for some aspirin.

Back into the minefield we notice some nice Mexican guys that are re-marking the best route (it's way easier to spot the route from above) with new ´stone men´. This certainly helps and the way down is a piece of cake. We show them our way across the penitentes and soon we can see our base camp again.

Andrea is still not feeling well, but in general everybody is happy with our accomplishments. We do decide however to take another resting day tomorrow. Yes! More music, sun and tea!

 

23/12/2000

We have slept a bit better last night, seems that the number of red blood cells is improving, so we can extract more oxygen from the thin air.

We take it easy but notice that Andrea and Justin still haven’t left their tent around noon. When Justin finally appears he looks sad. ´Andrea has a pulmonary oedema, she is already coughing up stuff and we will have to go down today...´ We are stunned as they are such a strong couple, but on the other hand that is often the reason that people get sick: because of strength, they push themselves too far, or ascend too fast, with acute mountain diseases like these as a result.

Andrea decides to descend right away and leaves while I am still resting in my tent, suffering from the last remains of my headache. Justin has problem now: yesterday he brought up all their stuff to camp one and now he has to get that first. He does not hesitate long and heads up again for the hard trip.

The remainder of our ´group´, Erik, Barry, Mike and me spent the rest of the day filtering water, drinking, sunbathing and relaxing in general. When Justin returns after a couple of hours we have already prepared some Dutch food for him: hutspot with hamburgers! He thankfully accepts and decides to continue to go down immediately to the campsite where Andrea will be waiting.

Sadly we see him go down as well while the setting sun is shining on his back. They are a really cool couple and I am sure that they will be back for the summit one day.

 

24/12/2000

Today is a very tough day, we are going to move the rest of our gear to camp I, 5000m. This means, taking down the tent, getting everything in our packs and slowly hiking up to the camp. We have much more stuff than Barry & Mike and they move faster as a result. But even though our packs are even heavier than during the carry (about 22kilos), we do all right. Even the steep headwall has some nice steps we can follow and a few hours later we arrive at the plateau where our cache is.

Out of breath we enjoy the good weather and put up our tent quickly, feeling the thin air. Mike and Barry still haven’t put up theirs, although they had arrived at least one hour before. All the people we had seen during the carry have already moved up to camp II at 5900m, so it’s mostly just us, Barry & Mike and the AAI group up here.

Getting water is already a bit more difficult now as the stream has completely frozen into a solid waterfall. But the ever-present ice axe helps: cut a big hole and the water will flow. It’s so clean that we don’t even have to use the filter.

I take out some X-mas decorations from my bag as it is X-mas eve! While I am decorating the interior of the tent I notice the wind getting stronger and stronger. There are very strong gusts that make the entire tent move suddenly and loudly. We eat quickly and try to go to sleep, but this is hard: not only the altitude is keeping our bodies awake, also the strong wind has turned into a real storm and our tent is flapping and moving like crazy. I think back in my mind: this tent, the North Face Mountain tent, can officially stand a 110km/hour storm in the open. The gusts are already much stronger, but we are behind a little stone wall. It has already survived a big storm on Mt Elbrus and several storms on Denali, but this one seems to top them all. The frightening thing is not the strong gusts but the preceding silence. Camp I is beneath high rock walls and before the winds hit the tent you can already hear then coming down from the rocks like an intercity train: sjjjjjjiiiiiiiieeeeeehhhhhKABOEMMMMMflapflapflapflap.... and this happens a few times per minute, not really your favorite background noise for a comfortable night...

Erik, same spot

Erik at camp I

 

Erik, listening to music in our X-mas tent

 

25/12/2000

We seemed to have survived the storm as the tent is all right. As it’s X-mas morning I take out my special little bag and take out some gifts: Dutch chocolate letters! I had brought a ´D´ for Don, but as he’s not around I give it to Mike & Barry.

Although we had some plans to carry some stuff to camp II today, it is clear that the wind is too strong. The rest of the day we spent in the tent as the winds are too strong to stay outside too long. It’s quite an adventure to take a dump in this wind I can tell you!

That night the storm continues to strike the tent, but my mind has been put at ease by the strength the tent has shown the previous night and we sleep a lot better.

 

26/12/2000

Still too much wind to go up and carry and we decide to stay where we are. Our decision to stay gets justified even more by many people who are suddenly appearing in the afternoon.

 

´Where are you coming from?´ I ask 

 ´Camp II´ 

 ´How is it up there?´ 

 ´If you think the wind is blowing here, you should go up there, it's crazy! We have camped at camp II for 6 days, waiting for better weather, but it is getting worse every day. Everybody that was at camp II has come down, there is nobody on this side of the mountain higher than we are now. And to be frankly, probably the other side of the mountain is worse as it gets the direct hit of the storm...´

This gives me mixed emotions: first of all I feel bad for all the people on the normal route, on the other side of the mountain. I know their camps are much more crowded and exposed and I am sure many tents will have been destroyed. Also I feel bad for the guys that just came down. Although they say they’re acclimatized enough to bid for the summits from base camp, I know that that’s easier said than done. Once you are down, you need to be very strong both mentally and physically to get up to the hostile upper part of the mountain.

On the other hand I know that these storms normally don’t last longer than a week, and if these guys already have been trapped for 6 days... I decide to see the weather in the morning and if it’s not completely bad we will at least do a carry up to Camp II. I go to sleep with mixed feelings crawling through my mind and have a restless sleep.

 

27/12/2000

I take a peek through the tent’s backdoor: thick grey clouds move quickly across a dark sky, but no sudden gusts of wind. Hmmm... An hour later I check again: same grey sky, it even seems that it might snow, but also the sun seems to have poked a few blue holes through the grey blanket; it is a lot colder as well though. I wake up Erik and tell him that we will carry today. Erik is not too sure about this and tries too convince me otherwise, but I am stubborn and the appointed trip leader, so... While we prepare for our load, we hear from Mike that Barry is going down as well. He has had a cough for a few days and it doesn’t seem to get any better. Barry is already packing his stuff and seems very happy with his decision; not only will he be getting down to civilization, his wife is also in the area and he is looking forward to meet her.

So that’s 4 down, 3 to go out of our original team of 7. But before I can say this out loud, Mike approaches and tells us he’s going down as well. First he says that he doesn’t want to be alone at camp II and he has so little stuff that he doesn’t need to carry and can move at once, but I also see him feeling his frostbitten finger with a painful and worried face. 

 ´It’s your finger, right?´ I ask him. 

 ´Yep, I don’t think it was a good idea to get here with this frostbite, if the weather would have been perfect for 2 weeks I would have had a chance, but even this cold is already hurting my finger like hell. If I go any higher, the risks of losing it are too high. The mountain is not worth that much...´

Although I hate to see him go, I support his decision. It was stupid to get here in the first place with a finger like this, but it’s very human not too cancel a trip that has been arranged for a long time, based on wishful thinking...

So that actually means I have to update my team numbers again: 5 down, 2 to go out of our original team of 7 people....

Let’s see if we can get our heavy loads up today, all the way through the strong winds to camp II. If we make it, will we ever be able to get up again and see our stuff?

Mike suddenly points out a large moving spot on the mountain, about the same altitude as our camp, but a few hundred meters to the side. What is that? We see a big Guanaco, a large animal that is related to the Lama, slowly stepping up the headwall towards the col with Cerro Ameghino. It moves so graciously and constant that we only notice afterwards that it takes him about 20 minutes to do a part that will takes us 4 hours tomorrow... 

After saying goodbye to both Barry and Mike, we feel a bit weird. Wasn’t this mountain supposed to be a ´walk-on mountain´? If so, then why is everybody we met already out of the game? Weird indeed. Well, no time for useless thinking, let’s start the constructive part of today: the carry to camp II, 5900m, so 1 km below the summit. 

We pack as much stuff we can in our packs to avoid having to drag up a really heavy pack during the move tomorrow or day after. Slowly we start doing our moves: step, breathe, step, breathe, step, and breathe. After every few hundred steps a longer ´breather´ and after about every 125 vertical meters a rest where we take off our packs and drink and eat something. The AAI group is moving to col camp today, a camp halfway our camp I and II. Although this is better with regards to acclimatization, the expected winds are so hard that we rather skip this one and try to get some good sleep below, which is equally important as gaining altitude at this point. But it's nice to talk to Willy (the guide) and his group every now and then and before we know it we are at their col camp, at about 5500m asl. They start to make camp, but we continue quickly as we have a difficult scramble to do up the loose scree hills towards camp II. 

The thin air tightens it’s grip on our systems and soon we have to take a breather after every few steps. In the meanwhile we have gotten really magnificent views of a large portion of the Andes mountain range on one side, a beautiful view back to our camp on the other while the impressive Polish Glacier has emerged from above. This is what it's all about: looking at a very beautiful and large part of unspoilt nature and us being two tiny little spots, hardly noticeable from a distance... 

´5700m, there should be some camping spots here!´ 

´well if you see them, please let me know, cause all I see is this annoying scree slope!´ 

 

There should be 3 campsites: 1 at 5700m, the official camp II at the base of the polish glacier at 5900m and one at the same altitude, but towards the traverse route. We are getting really tired now, but none of the sites can be seen. I have entered the GPS waypoint of our traverse camp into my little e-trex GPS unit, put it just points toward some high cliffs and no camp can be seen from here. We have to rest after each step now and I feel a slight headache entering my brain. After gaining another 100 meters without any sign of a campsite, we decide to save this problem for another day, cache our stuff and go down. We go in the direction my GPS tells us to go for the traverse camp, take out our duffel bags, fill them up with our extra gear, tie all of it together and to a large exposed rock, mark this waypoint on the GPS and down we go. 

 

We had already seen the ´highway´ coming down when we stepped up and now we find out why it is called this way. It goes down a quite steep scree slope in nothing less than straight line, so with the help of two poles you can really run back into the thicker air of camp I. As a comparison: the way up from 5000m to 5900m took us nearly 7 hours, the way down... 39 minutes. But even the thick air does not take away the uneasy feeling in my stomach and I spend about 15 minutes, regaining some of my strength. Although the part to camp II is technically not difficult, it is quite a big step to go up nearly 900m at this altitude and my body lets me know that it doesn’t like it.

 We shoot a long video update and make some dinner. That evening the wind comes back and seems even stronger than the night before, but I sleep a lot better as my confidence in the tent is completely restored. The x-mas decorations have become annoying and we have hang them outside... 

Lonely but strong Guanaco

 

Saying goodbye to Mike at camp I

 

Erik, resting above camp I

 

View up near col camp, 5500m

 

View down from 5600m

 

 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3