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Summit of South America, 6962m

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This is the story of Ellis Stewart about his climb to the Falso de los Polaccos (Polish traverse) around February 2001






Friday 9th February


Woke to find winds scowling outside the tent, which has delayed our move up to camp two for the time being.  There is no point in battling against strong winds, risking frostbite.  It is much safer to stay here in the comfort of our tents.  However if the winds drop at any point today then we will probably make a move up, which will put us back on track for a summit attempt real soon.  If not, then this becomes another useful acclimatisation day, even though I am anxious to get going.


Aconcagua is very famous for its strong winds and we are certainly experiencing that today.  I feel good myself, despite having little sleep again.  The usual pattern of finally succumbing to a deep sleep at first light.  There was a wonderful full moon last night, which bathed the whole of camp one in a brilliant white light.


Although we still have time on our side, our permit only lasts for 20 days.  We have been on the mountain now for nearly 10, which gives us 10 days to wait for the right weather to safeguard our route to the top.  Well there's nothing more to do other than batten down the hatches and listen to Matchbox 20 on my Walkman.


By midday there was still no let up in the strong winds hammering into our tent.  Guy is pacing up and down outside our tent pretty anxious to make a move.  To be honest we all are, I want to be a day closer to the top as much as any man.  We made a decision after speaking to an English team on their way down the mountain.


We packed up camp, and decided to head on up the hill in the hope that the winds would subside a little.  We set off up the col in 50-60 knot winds, and after moving up for over an hour Guy and myself reached the col, where we waited for Arnold who was moving slower than his usual self today.  When Arnold finally reached the col, he wasn't too happy with the wind conditions at all, and suggested that we retreat back down to camp one.  We discussed the implications of deciding to continue and what may happen if the winds worsen.  One things for sure, you could guarantee that it would be blowing a hell of a lot worse up at two than it was here.  After discussing the pro's and cons, we decided to head down back to camp one.


All the valuable height that we had just climbed, we lost in a matter of minutes, which was a huge shame and also very frustrating as I knew we would have to now do it all over again, once these winds passed, if at all they did.


Back at one, we quickly pitched out tent again, and settled in for another night down here disabled by the weather.  After today I was starting to feel very strong, and I could feel my body adapting to the rarefied air.  All I need to do is keep this up for another 18-20 hours of climbing and I will be on the summit of Aconcagua.


Guy is talking about descending down to base camp to fetch more supplies, that's if this weather doesn't change soon.  We are using all our food just hanging around at camp one waiting for this break.  One things for sure, if we deplete our food stores, then we are on our way down.  We can't reach 23,000 ft on an empty stomach.


Saturday 10th February


To go or not to go?  That is the question this morning.  It is a glorious sunny day interspersed with the odd sudden blast of wind.  It is these sudden blasts of wind, that are concerning.  If these winds are more persistent up high then we will have to retreat back down to one as we did yesterday.


To be frank, I really couldn't be bothered or able to come back up for a third time, if that happened.  I feel that we either go today or this expedition could be over.  Camp two or bust!


Guy gave the orders to pack up camp at 9.00 am, so that is what we did.  I set off at 9.50am; the winds had died down now sufficient to the point that I wasn't being blown off my feet today.  So for the third time in three days we ascended up to the col. 

I moved very fast and was the first to reach the col, unsurprisingly as Guy and Arnold didn't leave camp one for at least a good hour after I had left.  It was good to reach the point where we reached yesterday, knowing that this time, we were moving up instead of down.


I passed a large contingency of fellow Brits on the way up, who were moving fairly slowly, so I zipped past them exchanging pleasantries as I went.  I have found a good steady pace that I am comfortable with, and I seem to be able to move quicker than most people on the hill, which is a great confidence boost as I move into the last stages of the climb.


I have resigned myself to the fact that Guy is super human in his abilities at ascending up hill.  He moves up with the speed of a man on a mission and I have no way of keeping up with his speed on the hill.  Not surprising, considering his very impressive record in the big hills, which includes two ascents of Everest, and also he has twice gave up the summit to assist unwell and tired climbers down from as high as the south summit.  It has been a very rewarding experience to climb with someone as resourceful and experienced as Guy is.  A mountaineer of the highest order, no mistaking that.


Arnold Witzig, my 59-year-old climbing partner and tent companion also moves very fast uphill.  I have been most impressed with his raw grit and determination at getting to the top.  He has plans to climb McKinley in June, after which he too has his sights set on Cho-Oyu and then Everest.  For a man of his age I find that remarkable and most inspiring.  I hope he succeeds.  He will be well on his way to the seven summits, if he summits Aconcagua in a few days time.  He already has Vincent Massif under his belt, which he climbed last December, again with Adventure Consultants.


Once again when I saw the familiar sight of the tents of camp two, I had become completely exhausted with my efforts at getting there, and I collapsed in a pathetic heap at the sight of our make shift campsite, set deep into this wind-swept place.  This time though, the headache that I had feared upon arrival did not emerge, and I regained enough strength after my ascent to go and fill all our water bottles, for some much needed liquids.


Whilst on the mountain we had all been drinking vast quantities of water to ward off dehydration, which can be a killer at altitude.  It is vitally important to keep the body fully hydrated; therefore we have been consuming at least seven litres a day.


Tension flared up for the first time in the expedition today, when the tent that Guy & Arnold was pitching got caught in a gust of wind and very nearly blew away over the summit ridge of Aconcagua itself.  I was sitting down at the time, resting.  Guy didn't take too kindly to this lack of teamwork, and rightly so.  Mountaineering is all about teamwork, and at that exact moment in time, when our tent nearly blew away I wasn't being a member of the team.  Had the tent blew away, then it would have been game over, time to descend.  I cursed myself for my lack of help and vowed that from now on I would be on full team work mode.  The slightest mishap up here means the difference between success and failure, and I for one have no intention of failing under such stupid careless circumstances.  Today I learnt a very valuable lesson.





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Casa de Piedra camp, day 2

Resting between camp 1 & 2

Tim at basecamp

Dull Hill

View up from Camp 1

View from Camp 1

Just before Basecamp

Plaza Argentina

Camp 1

Pampa de Lenas camp, day 1