On the 6th January, myself and the team met at Heathrow Terminal 3, this is the first time I have seen them all since our training camp in Chamonix back in September. I missed the last and final training camp in November as I was on another expedition, cycling the Carretera Austral.
A few weeks before our departure, I fell ill and spent a few days in hospital over Christmas time. At the time, I was really concerned that this might jeopardise the Aconcagua trip, I had some treatment in hospital, rested up well and a week later, felt rather good again. I joined Martin on a walk in the Peak District the Monday before departure and I felt good, so decided to go ahead with the trip.
As luck would have it, I started to not feel myself again on the Friday we were due to fly out to Argentina. I was rather concerned and it was on my mind for the duration of our three flights to Mendoza. I started a course of antibiotics as soon as we reached the hotel and then monitored myself over the next few days.
We made our way from the comfort of our hotel to an old ski resort in the mountain. On the way to there, we stopped for a bite to eat at a road side restaurant, had a few starters followed by the biggest steak I've ever seen. Cooked to perfection and it tasted amazing but far too big to finish. Once we arrived we sorted our bags into three piles, one to stay with you for the next three days, one that will wait for you at the middle camp and another that you won't see until Base Camp in three days time.
Making our way to Base Camp
The walk up from the rangers hut to the middle camp was really steady and easy, perfect for all of us to acclimatise and settle in. Everyone seemed in pretty good form and having no drama with the altitude and the distance covered for the day. At this point my left side was rather inflamed and painful when touching it, I just hoped it would stabilise in a few days being on the medication.
Day two in middle camp, we went on a acclimatisation walk for a few hours to view the South face of Aconcagua. We started early morning and I felt really bad, my legs felt slow and I was breathing rather deeply, but as we continued, I started to feel slightly better. We had lunch with a great view and not long after, made our way back to camp. A little afternoon nap was in order and I felt rather refreshed that evening.
Moving up to base camp will be a long day..... we have been warned. Our group leader Harry Taylor gave us a brief the day before on what to carry and what the terrain might be like. The cool air and breeze early morning is refreshing and very welcoming, it disappeared as soon as we entered the valley. Slowly the heat rises as the minutes tick past, I thrive in the heat and I feel good. Some of the other team members are not so happy, being ginger and in the sun is never a great idea 😜😊.
I really helped taking my mind off some of the pain and discomfort I felt and I think the meds were kicking in too, I thought as long as I can keep it stable.... I'll be okay.
We reached Basecamp and it was rest day. It was rather nice to have a late breakfast. We took a walk to a nearby unused hotel but I was blowing like a steam train and my legs felt like lead. Thank goodness we did not have to go up higher.
Camp 1 -> Camp 2
I had a fairly good night sleep, it was rather windy, but that's what Aconcagua is famous for... wind and cold. I kept a close eye on Dal, he suffered from heatstroke a few days ago and seems to take a bit longer to get used to the altitude. Apart from feeling slightly ill and a headache he was fine. Ten to eleven, some team kit gets handed out amongst everyone as we need to carry pots, pans, food, tents and plenty more. We did have 3 porters with us to help carry the load, these boys are heroes in my eyes, they can carry loads, twice as heavy as us and keep the same pace or even faster than us.
The pace was steady and everyone seem to be comfortable as we were putting one foot in front of another, gaining hight slowly. My natural pace is faster and with the permission from Andy our guide, I was on the front and slowly pulling away on my own.
I feel good and at this stage not feeling any effects from the height we were reaching or weight we were carrying. We arrived at camp 2 and the same process starts with putting up tents, eating and drinking water. We spent two nights here at camp two. We got hammered by the wind and even in the sunshine it was rather cool and had to layer up.
Camp 2 -> Camp 3
We set off from camp two and gained another 500 meters in height, I felt strong and on a few occasions I pulled away and then waited again for the rest of the group. At the 3rd rest stop, myself and Martin dumped our backpacks and headed down a few 100 metres to help some of the other team members that have fallen back slightly. We can all feel the struggle from our lungs in the thin air. We only spent a few hours in camp 3, arriving around midday and getting ready for our summit attempt 5 o'clock in the morning. With little sleep and thumping heart, I laid in my sleeping bag counting down the minutes until we'd get woken by Andy with a freeze dried breakfast bag in one hand and a canister of hot water in the other, which means one thing... Summit Day.
It was 04:50 , we were all outside the dome tent ready to go. As I'm waiting around, my hand was getting cold so immediately I changed my glove setup and hope it will warm up soon. The pace was far too slow for me, as we set off and over the next 90 minutes I constantly had to stop and swing my arm like a windmill to try and get blood flowing back in to my fingers. Once we stopped to put our crampons on, I had to crack open an hand warmer and changed my glove setup again. Now with my hands warm the attention switch to my nose, we broke over a ridge line and on to a long traverse. The wind was blowing hard and we were in the shade on the side of the mountain, my nose was cold and I feel paranoid that I might get frostbite. So I got Woody to constantly check for any white spots. Eventually we broke in to the sun, I sat down and felt like I wouldn't be able to get up again. At this point I was cold to my core, with a lot of effort and difficulty I put on every single layer/clothing I was carrying with me..... and I'm still cold!!
Now we start climbing, the rout goes vertical and with every step up I can feel my heart pumping harder and my lungs screaming for oxygen. I fixated my attention on the man in front of me trying my best too keep the distance between us and not fall back. I took 5 steps and have to stop and recover, my head was thumping and I struggle to think straight. The torture continues and it feels like it's never going to end, I had to stop myself looking up, as every time I did my heart sank as I realised how much further I had to go.
With a couple of metres to go with Martin in front of me we take our final few breaths in presentation to step on to the summit. On the top it was a pure sense off relief, I shared an emotional moment with Jake as I gave him a hug as he stepped to the top.
Only halfway there
With team and sponsor photos done we make our way down, getting to the top is only halfway there and with every step down the air was getting thicker. It took me more than three hours to get back to camp 3. Dehydrated, hungry and my head pounding, I headed straight to my tent to lay down.
After a rather relaxing morning, we packed up and got set to move down the mountain. As we made our way through camp 2 and camp 1 we pick up all the extra bits we left behind as we were making our ascent up the mountain.
Taking the shortest route down, we ran down some steep rocky sections. Finally back at BC we sat down and relaxed, reflecting on what was one of the hardest summit days I have ever had!
Now... it was time to get home.