Monday, February 21, 2011

On Top of the World (Outside Asia)

So, after quite a few doubts before and even during the expedition, this past Tuesday 15th of February, I stood at the summit of 6,962-metre Cerro Aconcagua with five others from our original expedition party of 11. About two hundred metres from the summit I felt a sudden warm glow as I thought of all my family and friends who might be proud of me for making it and could in some way share in the achievement. About a hundred metres away, when the last boulders that have to be clambered over came into view, I felt tears welling up. It was the culmination of a long and often distant-seeming dream and it was an emotional experience to stand on the summit, hugging and high-fiving team mates and guides.

Aconcagua tends to be presented in general descriptions as a relatively simple, non-technical mountain that is useful as a an introduction to high altitude. It's sometimes referred to as "the world's highest trek". Our guides and the base camp doctor who was doing his fourth season on the mountain all lamented this publicity as misleading. I can just about see how this description could be close to accurate on the Normal route under certain conditions. But by the end of the trip , I and I think every other member of the group were convinced that Aconcagua was all mountain -- and subject to cruel and unforgiving moods.

During the expedition, we experienced some of the worst sustained weather on the mountain in 10 years, with practically four days of snow including a pretty intense storm. Getting from camp 1 to camp 3 was a real trial both in physical and mental terms. Three people died on the mountain in the last week and a number of others were evacuated with frostbite (pretty much all due to bad decisions). Our guides said it was the most snow they had seen on the mountain. However, this was made up for on our summit day which was a beautiful morning with almost no wind -- even, incredibly, on a 3-hour traverse where the books and our guides coincide in saying the wind is usually relentless. There was so much snow we could go all the way from camp 3 to the summit and back with crampons. While that made it slightly tricky in some parts, it was probably easier in others

I can't speak highly enough of our guides Matias, Leo and Agustin, who did an incredible job and did an enormous amount to get us through safely. It's been quite an experience. I like to think I learned a lot on this trip and have improved as a person in some small way.

In future blogs I aim to do a bit more of a blow-by blow account of the expedition as well as listing some of the surprising things I found to be important, thoughts on gear and preparations, and some tips that might help people who are thinking of trying this expedition themselves.


Cecilia said...

Woohoo! I am in awe.

terence said...

Wow. Well done!