It was at this point in the climb that I started to actually think about
reaching the summit, which couldn't of been much further now. However the
terrain ahead up to the junction of where the north summit connects with the
south summit looked atrocious, far worse than any thing we had come up so far.
This part of the climb is up through the Canaleta, a most notorious part of the
climb. It is a 400 metre, 33 degree chute filled with disagreeably loose rocks.
At some places it consists of mind-numbing scree, while in others the chute
features rocks too large to be classified as scree but too small to be called
talus but still loose just the same. This challenge is overcome not by any
technical skill, but rather by superior mental and physical stamina necessary to
keep moving despite losing 1 metre of progress for every 2 metres gained.
At the top of this we would ascend onto the cresta del guanaco, where only a
short scramble up to the summit awaits.
We began up what was easily the worst part of the whole climb; its notoriety
was well founded. Guy moved up it with such speed and skill that you would think
he was actually flying up as opposed to climbing. After an hour or so of this
torturous style of climbing we reached the crest of the ridge, I collapsed in a
heap at the top, and panted for breath with violent gasps and coughs. I sat,
drank from my bottle and looked all around me. We were now at an elevation of
6,860 metres. Only 100 metres short of the summit. We had been on the go now for
over 10 hours, and I was very tired indeed.
The most remarkable thing about today was that the winds that had been
ravaging us for the last few days had simply vanished. We climbed in near
perfect conditions, not a hint of wind or nor a cloud in the sky. We couldn't of
asked for a more perfect day to reach the summit of Aconcagua. The weather gods
had granted us a rare day of stillness and tranquility, and I was extremely
grateful as I suspect we all where.
We started up the final rock section that paved the way to the summit. I
started to become emotional as I realised I was going to reach the summit, I was
actually going to do it. This was awesome, it truly was.
For all my efforts I was about to be rewarded with a view from 6,964 metres
from the highest point in all the America's. For those final few metres as I
clambered onto the summit of Aconcagua all the cares and worries of the last 12
months just drifted away leaving me with a brand new confidence and vitality. As
I reached the summit cross that marks the true high point, I took off my pack
and collapsed flat on my back, as the tears of joy welled up in my eyes. Myself,
Guy and Arnold all hugged one another in pure elation. We had all spent the last
three weeks living together and working towards this moment, and now here it
One thing that struck me was that although Guy would undoubtedly go on to
achieve even more greatness, this was the first time that he had climbed
Aconcagua, and that felt very special. To share such a great day with
illustrious company made me feel extremely proud and lucky to be where I was.
I also now knew that Aconcagua would not be the end of my climbing dreams
now. I had begun to set my sights on the Himalayas, even whilst on the summit of
Aconcagua. I snapped off photos all around this 360° panorama. I made sure that
I got that important summit shot of me with a picture of my little angel, my son
I placed a photo of Aaron and his beaming smile at the foot of the summit
cross, and took a photo of that. All in all we spent close to 40 minutes on the
roof of the America's. It was magical. A summit plateau, which frequently has
winds ripping across, was calm and serene. After 40 minutes we noticed ominous
clouds forming over the summit, and decided that it was time to descend.
The descent back down to camp two was going to take roughly 3-4 hours and I
started in a real bad way, I felt exhausted coming down off the summit, and I
tripped and stumbled my way down the canaleta.
I became very aware of my own mortality and realised that had I been on the
summit of Everest or any 8,000 metre peak, then I would be in dire danger right
now, as Guy reminded me. I had committed the cardinal sin of mountaineering; I
had given my everything in reaching the top that I left nothing in reserve for
the descent. The lower we descended though the better I became, and what started
out as a potential disaster ended on a high as I zipped into camp much quicker
that I had expected. I was exhausted and collapsed onto the glacier where I was
congratulated by an expedition camping quite close to us. Guy turned up shortly
after I had safely arrived, and he congratulated me on my recovery. Once again I
had learnt a valuable lesson, one that I was so acutely aware. Reaching the
summit is only half the job done; you still have to get back. And most
fatalities in the big mountains happen on the descent. I had been lucky, had I
been on a Himalayan peak then I fear I would not of been so lucky.
Still nothing was going to detract from my moment of glory, I felt as though
I had just graced the land of the mountain gods, and an aurora of invincibility
swept over me, making me feel like never before. I slept a solid 16 hours that
night and the following morning began to pack up camp for the descent to base
At base camp, we all united with our base camp cook, who congratulated us
with what I had been looking forward to for weeks. A cold beer.
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