Climbing in the NIGHT is always exciting. The sense of isolation and focus is somehow enhanced by all that enclosing darkness and it is easy to HALLUCINATE or LOSE THE WAY.
Luckily we were still going strong at DAWN, the encroaching daylight revealing spectacular views across the ANDES.
Ivan the mountain guide was steady and sure in his pace, and we passed CAMP 3 after 500 metres of ascent. There were plenty of other climbers setting out on the summit trail but DEEP SNOW was going to delay us all.
A long traverse followed, right across an inclined slope which was at about 6200 METRES. The problems of moving at this altitude caused long delays and I found myself getting DANGEROUSLY COLD as we were forced to stand still in the bottlenecks.
Luckily, by late morning we were through it, and up in the region of the notorious CANALETTO, a scree covered with sugary snow which sapped our strength with every step. It was hard going up those three hundred metres and I was eating and drinking a lot to keep myself in good condition.
The line of climbers got slower and slower—me included—as we hit the final ridge line ascent up towards the top. I was down to twenty steps before stopping to breathe and recover. The nagging doubts about the ‘double’ day we were doing was a constant concern. Were we trying to do too much? What would the effects be?
But finally we breached the last crest of the ridge and the summit of ACONCAGUA was ours! That first summit photo was a great feeling!
Pedro–one of our PORTUGUESE friends, was there at the same time, and we took a summit shot together—
On the way we would get involved in the rescue of a German climber who was suffering from altitude sickness—a common occurrence on this most lofty of peaks. Reaching our little tent was a fantastic moment! We had been on the go for sixteen or seventeen hours and were dead beat.
There was still SNOW to be collected before we could drink though. I wandered out to the glacier to collect it as IVAN fired up the cooker.
ACONCAGUA had been a great challenge. We had approached the mountain with respect and humility and had watched two of our team mates forced back by the serious nature of the climb.
Now we had Mendoza in our minds—and the great food and wine of that tree lined city!
Matt Dickinson’s new book ‘Speed Freaks’ is published by OUP (the 3rd in the Mortal Chaos series.