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Aconcagua

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

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 12th February

 

 

We turned in last night at about 6.30pm, with the intention of leaving at 3.00 am, should the winds die down.  I didn't sleep a wink at all, I was too nervous and the sound of the wind made sure that sleep was impossible.  I started to doze on and off when I became suddenly aware of something!  Outside there was no noise at all.  I sat bolt upright and looked at my watch, the time was 2.48 am. This was it we were on!

 

The winds had blown themselves out.  As I looked outside our tent all I could see was the night sky and a billion stars twinkling brightly like never before.  The miracle had happened my prayers had been answered.  We brewed up and replenished ourselves with some much-needed fluids before the final climb to the summit.  It took the three of us well over an hour to get ready into our high altitude gear.  One thing that I did become aware of was how cold it had become, my fingers were starting to freeze, and so I wasted no time in putting on several pairs of gloves.

 

We all left camp two at 3.30 in the pitch black and freezing night temperature.  Upon checking my thermometre I was alarmed to see that the reading was -30c.  We were climbing in frostbite conditions, so it was important to keep moving and keep blood flowing to the extremities.  This was without doubt the coldest I had ever been in my whole life.  I followed the beam of my head torch, which gave off a pathetic amount of light.  In fact, I gave up after an hour and turned the torch off, allowing my eyes time to adjust to the darkness.

 

We began climbing the glacier, higher and higher we went, I used my ice axe for support over the steeper sections of snow and ice, and was very grateful to have it with me.  It gave me an element of security, knowing that it would break a fall should I be unfortunate to slip.

 

Before very long I didn't feel too good at all; I felt exhausted; I felt like I was going to wretch at any second, but most worrying, was the fact that I was dropping behind Guy and Arnold at an alarming rate.

 

I knew that I needed to stop and empty my bowels, yet my head was telling me to keep going.  The thought of having to remove layers and warm clothing, and undo my sallopettes and then expose my bare bottom to the freezing night time temperature was not very appealing at all.  I was worried that I might freeze something very dear to me, you can survive without the odd finger or toe, but I couldn't live without my John Thomas, no way.

 

Anyway the urgency of the matter got greater and I had no choice but to find the most convenient looking bit of ground, and strip and squat, holding on to my ice axe, which I planted firmly into the ice.  I was extremely relieved to relieve myself of some excess baggage, and the minute I began climbing up again I noticed I was moving with much more conviction, and I felt much stronger than I had done since leaving the tent over an hour ago.

 

My feet quickly froze into two blocks of ice, and I resigned myself to the fact that I may very well catch frostbite.  I caught up to Guy and Arnold and discovered that they too were having a hard time with the cold temperature.  A shooting star whizzed by overhead and I allowed myself a wisp of optimism to creep in.  Upon checking my altimetre, we were now at 6,300 metres and still moving strong for the top.  We climbed up through 3 snowfields, using my axe for support. It reminded me of ascending up through a mini icefall, very invigorating it was.

 

When we came out over the other side of the snowfields, the sun was beginning to rise, away to the east.  We made our way on up heading for the ridge on the skyline, the icy darkness was beginning to become lighter and more of the route could now be seen.

 

 

After 3 hours of climbing we reached the ridge that we had been aiming for, and at exactly the same time, the sun rose fully into the sky.  I felt the immediate effects of its heat as I felt my frozen body begin to thaw out.  From here on in, we would be climbing to the top with the sun showing the way.  Although I could now feel my feet, I realised that I was still in danger of frostbite, and my feet pretty much remained frozen solid for the remainder of the climb.

 

We passed 6,400 metres then 6,500.  I was setting a new altitude record with each step up.  We stopped for a rest on a slope of at least 60 and I was alarmed to discover that my nose had started to pore with blood.  I thought that surely this was the end of my climb, that this was a serious condition to be faced with.  However, Arnold who was climbing quite near by reassured me that it was perfectly normal at altitude to experience nose bleeds.  I decided to continue on.  The terrain became even more desperate and I began to become extremely tired.  Yet we had only been climbing for over 6 hours.  We still had several hours to go.  Scree fields and boulders the size of houses had to be negotiated with monotonous regularity, and it all became very energy sapping indeed.  To say that the terrain was torturous doesn't even come close, it was hell on earth.  It seemed as if the whole mountain was ready to slip down onto the glacier below.  For every step upwards, you slipped back three. Very demoralising.

 

After climbing for a further 2 hours we stopped for a rest in the sun, with the summit ridge not far above us.  Guy took off his boots, and tried to massage some life back into his icy cold feet. I elected not to, as I dreaded the thought of finding two badly frost bitten feet within...

 

 

 

 

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Plaza Argentina


Dull Hill


Rivercrossing


Just before Basecamp


Punta de vacas


Pampa de Lenas camp, day 1


Casa de Piedra camp, day 2


Just above the col


Resting between camp 1 & 2


Move to camp 1 though penitentes