At 22,841 ft (6,964 metres) above sea
level, Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, in fact
there is no summit higher in the whole world except for those in the Himalayas.
As one of the continental seven summits, it is a world renowned peak and is
highly sought after by many high altitude climbers.
On Jan 27th 2001, flew out to Argentina
in an attempt to reach the summit of Aconcagua. I climbed as a member of
Adventure Consultants Aconcagua Expedition 2001. Led by Kiwi Mountain Guide,
Guy Cotter. Climbing as part of a three-man team we reached the foot of the
Mountain in early February and set up Base camp at Plaza Argentina at the head
of the Relinchos Valley. After spending time acclimatising for a few days, we
set out to carry our equipment and food up the mountain. By mid February, we
were poised at our high camp on the North side of the Mountain, ready to make a
summit bid. The following is taken from my journal of the expedition to
Thursday 8th February 2001
Saw an amazing electrical storm away in
the distance last night, I am a glad it was a few valleys away from ours, it
looked lethal, even from a distance. I spent my second night at camp one pretty
much as I spent the first, very restless, not sleeping much at all. When sleep
finally did come, so did the sun, illuminating the inside of our tent in a very
vivid bright orange, making any further sleep impossible.
We left camp one at 10.00 am, my pack
wasn't as heavy as it was in the carry up to one. I quickly settled into a
rhythm, and was moving upwards very confidently with a lot of energy. After a
few hours of this shuffling up hill in the relentless heat I started to feel the
altitude as we approached the 6,000 metres of camp two. Eventually after 5
hours of climbing, I collapsed at the spot, which was to be our camp two,
nestled under the Polish Glacier. My head was pounding as I reached the camp,
and I had to keep very still, as every movement made the pain in my head
intensify. I drank a litre of water from the nearby glacier pools that were
scattered around the moraine and instantly felt a lot better. After 20 minutes
or so, my headache had gone completely and I got stuck in with the task of
pitching out two tents, and erecting stone walls around them for protection from
the vicious winds that were sure to whistle across this desolate plateau. I
started to enjoy the fact that I was higher than I had ever been before in my
life, it was an amazing feeling that warmed me inside.
The summit seemed so near from this high
camp, and I felt confident of reaching the top for the first time in the whole
expedition. Due to the foreshortening effect what in effect looked a little
over a few hours away, would in all reality be a torrid 10-12 hour climb to
7,000 metres. I pushed this thought from the back of my mind, and began to
prepare myself for the journey back to camp one.
Today had only been a load carry, yet it
had also been a very useful acclimatisation foray. What took 5 hours to ascend
took 35 minutes to descend. Guy set off down at lightning pace while the third
member of our team Arnold took a more leisurely approach to the descent, in
order I feel to protect his knees. I pretty much kept up with Guy the whole way
back and we whipped down in no time at all.
Our plan was to rest up for the
remainder of the day and then climb up to two tomorrow after a much needed
rest. However if Arnold or myself doesn't feel like going up tomorrow then we
shall rest another day. We are so close now, it would be a shame to succumb to
altitude sickness and have to descend. This summit is so important to me, and I
am relieved that I am still very much in the hunt.
The route we have opted for is the Falso
de los polacos, which is an alternative to the polish glacier route. Instead of
ascending straight up from camp two onto the glacier, we will traverse right
across the bottom of the glacier and reach the summit up through the canaleta.
It was good to be back at camp one,
where the air felt richer, even at 5'000 metres. It has been pretty exhausting
work in just getting this far, and I hope I have enough in reserve to be able to
continue on all the way to the top, to the place of dreams.
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