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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 :-)

 

 

 

 

The title rest day is a joke as it is spent planning and preparing for the following day and at altitude it's a big effort but basically at Base Camp we plan for the serious days ahead and our 1st target will be to take our food to Camp 1, a climb of 3000 feet , leave it there and return to sleep low - this is acclimatisation strategy , its painful but necessary and it does work ! Working out what food we will require for the next perhaps 10/11 days is vital and we all err on the high side and consequently our back packs weigh 25 kgs + and that really is a challenge and whilst I moan I must make mention of the 4 girls in the party who will carry a similar weight (less what they can pass on to their boy friends / husbands) - their effort throughout the trip was fantastic - take a bow ladies!

From base camp you can see the path we have to take to Camp 1 and its is daunting but at least people know what to expect.

 

The climb to Camp 1 starts at 9am and will take 7 hours - it starts with a steep climb from the camp for the 1st 3 hours , mainly paths but stretches of loose scree with just a single foothold between you and an icy dip in the fast flowing river before we hit the level ground of the glacier - the biggest obstacle then are the fields of Penitentes - large eroded ice fields where you have to negotiate between tall slivers of ice with again single footholds - no perilous falls here just the slivers trying to knock you off balance - not too difficult with your backpack bursting with food and other equipment . The going is slow but the pace being set by Helen or Andy is just right given the altitude which will be approx 17,000 feet at Camp 1.

 

The final obstacle is a large ice field on a steep slope and whilst there are good footholds the snow is getting slushy and slippery in the heat of the day and coupled with the weight on your back we are starting to tire but eventually we reach Camp 1 - another barren wilderness with little protection from the wind save some windbreaks that have been constructed from the many rocks littering this site.

We quickly unload our gear and cover it with more stone to prevent it being blown away before heading back down to base camp.

 

There are many myths re: going down mountains, yes they are quicker but not without its problems caused by the upward stretch and your thighs and knees feel the strain and going down steep scree slopes often means long distances on your backside - the skiers amongst us think it great fun and are soon miles ahead, goodie, they can get dinner ready for us slower movers! Time back to camp is approx 2 hours so we will have been on our feet climbing for some 9-10 hours, more than enough at this altitude!

Back at base camp we all head for the mess tent and that cup of black tea - volunteers are found for cooking and washing up duties whilst the rest of us head to the doctors for another oxygen test and good news I'm up to 86% and that qualifies me for the summit - all tests are dutifully recorder in the doctors handwritten log - his Argentinian English is more decipherable than any English doctors scribbling !

The following day is another rest day and again its decision time, what gear to leave behind and what to take to Camp 1, 2 and of course the summit. All non essential gear is left behind including soaps , towels , toothpaste but even then with the summit gear being packed the rucksacks feel heavier - not good news ! - the day passes quickly , its soon dinner time , bed and before you know it its 6am and time to start all over again……curses !

The usual breakfast then the last packing to include tents , stoves , all climbing gear plus other group equipment and yes those bags must weigh close to 30 kgs - not good !

When we return to base it will be as the conquered or conquerors so with grim determination we again set off to Camp 1 - again it's a pig of a climb by that I mean its steep and never ending and there is much heavy breathing and cursing so we don't make Camp 2 until 4.30, ( I don't have the words to convey the physical challenge but just take my word for it - its tough ! ) - its taken us an extra hour due to the extra loads we are carrying but what the heck we are there . With whatever energies we have left we pitch tents and for the first time cook our own meals, ugh, its boil in the bag time, a tasteless mixture of something pretending to be Lancashire Hotpot - a quick addition of some blue cheese gives it some attraction but not much. A quick brew of black tea takes the taste away and we are ready for a good nights sleep - we don't bother to clean our dishes, its already frozen as are the knife and fork to the dish - my dish is a plastic thing bought in Mendoza with a picture of Sleeping Beauty on it ………….how bizarre!

 

At this altitude, all drinking water is stored in your sleeping bag and your body heat prevents it from freezing but doesn't prevent my platypus from leaking - Oh the joy of a wet sleeping bag !

 

The next day is a rest day so nothing stirs until mid morning when the peace is broken by the cursing from various tents as they try to start their stoves to cook breakfast which again is of porridge - have you ever had a mixture of Lancashire hotpot and porridge - I don't recommend it , but who cares !

 

By mid morning the sun is out and out of the wind is hot but when the sun disappears the temperature falls dramatically so most of the day is spent in the pig-sty ( tent ) playing cards or simply trying to relax and plan again of what we will need the next day for the walk in to Camp 2 at 19.500 feet - again we will carry food up on the 1st day leave it there and come back to Camp 1 - I know from last year that Camp 1 to Camp 2 is a v: long and strenuous day so am not looking forward to it .

One thing I haven't mentioned and it's the most common question - what do you do for a loo or are there any loos - not at this height, so at night for the men its a question of a pee bottle - when you try and pee into a bottle and not over your sleeping bag or if it's a No 2 then find the biggest rock and………………the views are fantastic albeit though a little draughty - for the girls , its all big rocks I'm afraid or on the treks it's a shout of " look the other way please ! " At higher altitudes the pee bottle doubles up as a water bottle! - no need to be squeamish , urine is sterile , the only problem being to remember that you have used your water bottle for other things !

I believe Richard held the record for the most pees in the night ……….7 - just when did he find the time to sleep?

 

 

 

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View from Camp 1


Aconcagua Day 3


Refugio Pampa de Lenas


Punta de vacas


Move to camp 1 though penitentes


Camp 1


Dull Hill


Resting between camp 1 & 2


Aconcagua from the trail


Plaza Argentina