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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 :-)

 

 

 

 

It soon morning and its Camp 2 today and we leave Camp 1 at 8am and all day it is a long, long climb, traversing some very steep slopes of scree at a very steady pace - the lunch break is spent on a very windy coll which does none of us any favours so we move on quickly and finally hit Camp 2 at around 5pm - everyone is shattered but the views across the Andes is almost worth the pain and almost on cue the sun comes out, the wind drops and we enjoy a few moments of bliss before we again pile our gear under stone before returning to Camp 1 - we have spent a good 10/11 hours on the hill by the time we get back !

 

Same routine at Camp 1, a rest day, sorting out the gear to take to Camp 2 and deciding if you can afford to leave any gear behind - few people do as Camp 2 is the launch Camp for the summit, we have allocated 4 nights to our stay there, this allows us flexibility if conditions are bad and we have to wait for a summit attempt so it is vital that we have sufficient food for this stay, if not then down you go !

Getting water at altitude is a problem and here at Camp 1 we have to wait for the nearby stream to thaw - the trip to the stream is a pain as it is some 50 yards away and the return to camp from the stream is uphill and takes ages - sods law that I am on the early water carry when you have to take your ice axe to source the water!

 

Same routine at night, cook another nasty boil in the bag, by now the are many tastes in my Sleeping Beauty bowl not having cleaned it for some days and we play spot the meal competition!

 

Morning comes quickly enough, today we have to pack tents, sleeping bags etc and again the backpacks are heavy and that just adds to the burden of the day. Again Helen leads off but soon stops suffering from headaches which refuse to go away and she makes the brave decision to return to Base Camp, her trip over , but her health is far more important that some bloody mountain - by the time we return to Base Camp she is fully recovered other than a rash - I suggest she is allergic to mountains or Argentina , she smiles and murmurs " old fart " under her breath .

 

Losing Helen at this stage is a blow but we all know it can / could happen to us so on to Camp 2 we go - further problems just below Camp 2 as Steve almost comes to a halt due to lack of water, he is suffering headaches so he is reminded of the need for both water and a Paracetamol, does as he is told and finally makes it.

When we arrive conditions are different to the earlier visit, its cold , windy and dull and there is little room for tents on this barren , damp landscape standing at some 19,500 feet . Water is at a premium as the stream is only accessible for water for the odd hour at 4pm ish - we are too late for that and finish up using ice axes to break the ice on various small ponds that litter this camp - the ponds look dodgy so Iodine makes an appearance.

I know Camp 2 well from last year for this is as far as I got due to adverse weather conditions - I feel good, I feel confident, I feel relieved to have to got as far as last year.

You know the routine by now, a rest day but this time with a difference - we have to take an extra man on board and suddenly the pig sty that Alex and I have shared for these last 10 days has to make space for a 3rd ! That's OK if the 3rd man is compatible - this one aint, he is old, all of 50 and seems to have a lilo for a permarest and a sleeping bag big enough for 2 - this is not good - he is also fussy, appalled at our eating gear and starts to clean up - Jeez what an old woman!

 

Now for the biggie - Summit day tomorrow - Andy briefs us all on the dangers etc , what to take , how long it should take us , if you turn back you do so on your own and you have to find your way back . If you cannot summit by cut off time you have to turn back and finally his word is final. It's a long briefing session but vital and could be life saving at this altitude - we agree to depart Camp at 3am, so up at 1.45am breakfast (yes porridge again but in clean bowls! ) get dressed and be ready to depart at 3am.

 

You do not of course sleep, far too exciting (frightening) for that so when the alarm goes off at 1.45 am we are (all 3 of us, Alex, me and the old woman) ready . What we were not ready for was 3 men trying each to put on 4 layers of clothing - we get the old woman to cook breakfast - ah! room at last and dressing is completed - I feel like Michelin man - but at 3 am we are all ready for the off .

 

3 am at Camp 2 is dark, its min 10oC but there is no wind - so using head torches to light the way we are off like miners going down the pit. Progress is steady with Andy setting the pace upfront but it is not long before our old woman feels that today isn't his day and returns to camp - I am not surprised as he has been taking Imodium for the last 3 days!

The first obstacle is having to traverse a large ice field and for this we need to attach crampons - never easy in the light but in the dark much worse, my good friend Ed a builder from Notts takes pity on the old man and does the deed for me - I am thankful beyond words and then moan at other people who are taking so long to do theirs' and its getting bloody cold!

 

I love crampons and easily traverse the ice field - thankfully the dark hides the fall in store for anyone who misses his or her footing - phew!. At this point one of the girls calls it a day amidst much emotional out pouring - we all understand what she is going through and soon she is heading back to camp.

 

We are blessed with the sight of sunrise in the Andes but almost ignore it in our selfish application to the task ahead and we are making good progress and spirits are high. Daylight shows us exactly what lies ahead but what the heck, we have come this far there cant be anything worse .can there?

 

Late morning and we are just below the Indepencia camp at some 21,000 feet and again we lose another member of the team, Jane - the effort, strain has proven just too much for her despite a bloody good effort and she also returns to Camp 2 but this time accompanied by her partner who makes a successful return the following day and summits - well done Richard!

 

Richard I hate! - he is so fit and as the self appointed team camera man he ensures that he is always ahead of the team to record your thoughts as you struggle to overcome the difficulty of the day with a chirpy question and his video camera complete with sound effects slammed in your face - I just cant wait to see / hear it all on DVD .

Jane I love - and more so when I discover our mutual liking of Vino Tinto - oh what a pity that Mendoza lies in the very heartland of the world famous Norton Estate and thoughts turn towards that bottle(s) of Malbec - meanwhile back on the mountain -

Conditions are changing and the wind is gusting strong enough to blow you off course - from the Indepencia camp you climb to a long coll leading to the entrance to the Canaletto which lead to the summit ridge. It is along this ridge that I decide also to call it a day - the winds are powerful (gusting to 50/60 mph) and the wind chill factor is in the region of -35/45oC and I know that I will not summit. It's a strange feeling, no cursing, almost at ease with the decision - I am delighted to have reached 22,000 feet, disappointed yes but content .

 

 

 

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Plaza Argentina


bolloxed


Refugio Pampa de Lenas


View up from Camp 1


Polish Traverse icefields


Between Basecamp & Camp 1


Polish from camp2


Mules


Camp 1


View from Camp 1