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Aconcagua

Summit of South America, 6962m

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This is the story of Tim Hirst from the UK about his climb to the Falso de los Polaccos (Polish traverse) around Xmas 2003 

 

Happy reading :-)

 

 

 

10 am the next morning we begin our " walk in " to Aconcagua, the 1st day is leisurely and lasts for some 6 hours walking up the Vacas valley. The valley is deep with a river at the bottom in full flow from the melting snows further up and the mountains on either side are spectacular and most have a snow covering, Walking is on paths and river beds where the surface is littered with large rocks and small boulders - no problems as we are only too pleased to be in the fresh air and at last on our way. The day temperature is high and it is essential to cover up or use layers of sun oils.

 

Dehydration is a constant concern and we do our best to drink a minimum of 5/6 litres per head per day - obviously with all this drinking you pee a lot and often is heard the shout - " Yippee its white ", referring to the colour of your pee and the fact that the colour white indicates you are drinking enough water. At this altitude the mountain water is clean enough negating the use of Iodine but some still insist fearing a fear of the " trots " !

Most people use a platypus which basically is a flat plastic container which holds up to 2 litres and you place that in your backpack with a tube and mouthpiece attached - during the day you simply suck on the mouthpiece and you have a mouthful of water - this is far better than the usual bottles which invariably means that you have to take your backpack off to access them - that OK but when a backpack weighs 25 kgs + then it's a pain /nightmare so the temptation is not to do so which in turn leads to dehydration - a vicious circle !

 

Lunch on such days consists of anything left over from breakfast, a cereal bar, perhaps a tin of tuna squeezed into some rather dry bread some fresh fruit and more water.

Late afternoon sees us reach our 1st camp which holds many emotional memories for me as it was here last year that a North Korean fell to his death a mere 100 metres away from us - whilst none of us knew him, by being on the Mountain he was one of us and so I take time out to privately lay a small flower at the spot where he fell - after a few moments of silence, a word with " him" upstairs, the odd tear and then I return to the team.

This is our 1st night out, so tents are pitched quickly and efficiently and the volunteers quickly start a brew and commence cooking the evening meal of chicken soup and some revolting veggie dish but what the heck I'm hungry and appreciate a mixture of carrots, pasta and tinned tomatoes - what no Tuna !

 

8pm and I am in my sleeping bag absolutely knackered so a good nights sleep is essential before a 6am rise the next day.

 

Early morning starts I hate but needs must so following a bowl of porridge and the 1st of many mugs of black tea , we quickly pack the tents , clear the site and begin the 2nd days trek further up the Vacas valley by 8am ..

Quickly the sun is up, the sky is blue and on goes the sun lotion - the day is spent travelling in a flat, wide river basin with the usual obstacles on the path but good progress is made by all and we are rewarded late in the afternoon with our 1st glimpse of Aconcagua - its awesome, magnificent and frighteningingly majestic ( if there is such a word ! ) and we all stop to have our photos taken with Aconcagua as the backdrop - I have to admit that minutes earlier I had excited all by referring to another mountain as being Aconcagua and I well remember Richard stating how small it was with an obvious air of disappointment ……..oops !

 

That nights camp is a good un with a flat surface to pitch the tent and there is a buzz in the air having seen Aconcagua and seeing the task ahead and with the thought of being at base camp tomorrow we really feel that we are making good progress - however at the start of Day 3 there is a surprise for all !

Day 3 sees another early start and we depart camp after the usual porridge or cereal in shorts and sandals - why,? because we have to cross the valley river which is flowing well direct from the glaciers above and is at a temperature that actually hurts you as you wade through it !

 

Suddenly there is a cry of " Foul " as we notice that certain members of the party have paid the muleteers for a ride across the icy cold stream - being a man I wouldn't dream of such things so I wade across and yes it is cold and yes it does hurt! . Richard is our resident photographer but his prized video camera will not function as he strives to capture those moments live and the air is full of oaths as he asks people to wait before crossing - finally he gives up and the rest cross with anguished cries.

Whilst the previous 2 days have been easy going today gets tougher with some steep climbs over paths narrow in the extreme with the waters some 100 feet below waiting should you make a mistake - or higher up as you struggle up the paths the mules come chasing up the hill and they don't stop so its time for a quick exit to a safe haven.

 

There is a chill in the air as we finally make base camp at some 13,000 feet but we are pleased to be here for tomorrow is a rest day. Base camp is a barren site spread over several acres and is dotted with many tents and the odd portable loo - its bereft of vegetation, its always windy but its going to be our home for the next few days so we will have to make the most of it . For the mules and muleteers it's the end of the road for from here we carry all our own gear.

There is one tent resembling civilisation and that houses Daniel the muleteers agent and he recognises me from last year so I receive a big hug and he amazes me by producing a photo of me from last year - to celebrate we buy some coke but the celebrations are cut short when we discover its $5 a can - shit that's £3.50!

 

At base camp we share a mess tent and it actually has some gas rings and so the meat eaters flex their muscles and cook the 1st decent meal of the trip- fantastic!

One new innovation at Base camp this year is the doctor and we all have to be tested for oxygen in our blood - this is a means of gauging how well we have become acclimatised. Most peoples are the min 80% but mine comes in at a miserable 74% and am told that I cannot leave camp for 2 days and I will have to take a drug called Diomoxin to help the process - I'm distraught and I fear I may miss out on the climb all together but the Diomoxin and copious amounts of water during the day work and a test later in the afternoon sees me at 80%. ………yippee !

 

 

 

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Camp 1


Tim at basecamp


Polish Glacier


bolloxed


Just above the col


Refugio Pampa de Lenas


Polish from camp2


View from Camp 1


Pampa de Lenas camp, day 1


Polish Traverse icefields