Aconcagua Blog #6! Celebrating the publication of my new book ‘Speed Freaks’ (Mortal Chaos) by attempting to Climb the highest peak outside of the Himalayas!

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.

For many climbers this was as high as they got. The sheer difficulty of pushing on upward above 6600 metres was enough to force them to turn back.

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?

Check out the tiny figures in the picture above: most are standing still as they battle fatigue!

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—

There were about twenty people on the top. Climbers from all nationalities—a great atmosphere!

But the clock was ticking. We still had 1500 metres of descent to go before we reached the safety of camp two.

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.

www.mortalchaos.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Aconcagua Blog #5! Celebrating the publication of my new book ‘Speed Freaks’ (Mortal Chaos) by attempting to Climb the highest peak outside of the Himalayas!

ACONCAGUA had already lived up to its tough reputation. At 5550 metres we were beginning to see many TEAMS and INDIVIDUALS give up their attempts. The combined effects of ALTITUDE SICKNESS and extreme cold—plus the rigours of carrying heavy packs of equipment—were causing more and more people to turn back.

 

Camp 2 at daybreak: v cold until the sun hits the camp!

Now Geraldine was having her own problems; a HEART PALPITATION had now been causing concern for more than 24 hours and she wisely decided not to risk her health by going higher.

The decision was the right one but it left just the guide IVAN and myself with a chance for the summit. We boiled down ice to make drinking water, each pan of water taking more than an hour to melt down. But hydration would be VITAL in the next 24 hours if we were to attempt the summit.

Because the weather prognosis was BAD (snow storms and high winds on the way), we made the decision to try and do TWO days in the space of ONE. That is, to skip out CAMP 3 and get to the top in a single hit from camp two.

That would mean a MASSIVE 1500 metres of ascent up to just shy of 7000 metres. A challenge which would surely test us to the limit.

We prepared the gear in silence, as snow continued to fall.

Would DEEP SNOW stop us on our way to the top?

Perhaps the HIGH WINDS would strike early—leaving us with an impossible struggle.

We tried to rest but sleep was elusive. At 2am we got up, preparing our kit, and having a quick gulp of breakfast before leaving at 3am.

The night was calm and brilliantly cold. Ahead of us was a VERY LONG DAY INDEED!

The final installment of Matt’s ACONCAGUA blog will be published on friday!

Matt’s new book ‘Speed Freaks’ is now available! The 3rd book in the Mortal Chaos series.

You can find out more at www.mortalchaos.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Aconcagua Blog #4! Celebrating the publication of my new book ‘Speed Freaks’ (Mortal Chaos) by attempting to Climb the highest peak outside of the Himalayas!

We thought that we’d had our fair share of problems—then came BAD BOOT FRIDAY! On this memorable day GERALDINE found out that Asif had inadvertently left with her footwear–leaving her with boots two sizes too big! Then my trusty ASOLO climbing boots decided to DISINTEGRATE on a nearby glacier leaving me in a very sticky predicament!

A true mountaineering disaster–the complete sole came off. Thank goodness it didn’t happen up high. That would have been really dangerous.

Luckily one of the porters at base camp had feet the same size as mine and he kindly agreed to HIRE ME the boots for a summit attempt. It was  a lucky break for me as these types of insulated boots are the only way to prevent FROSTBITE on the summit.

The hire boots put me in a pretty good mood even though they pinched like crazy!

We set off up the steeply rising slopes towards camp 1. This five hundred metre ascent was a load carry to get the tents and food in position. Later we came back and stayed the night on the way to the summit, each step designed to make it EASIER to acclimatise to the thin air.

Camp 1 was a dramatic spot, perched on a small outcrop. As we took photos of the sunset a snow storm kicked off and covered the terrain in dry granular hail.

The night was blustery but the next day dawned calm and it was back onto the slopes for the haul up to CAMP 2.

Now we were nudging  5550 metres and it was noticeable that all the singing stopped–even amongst the Argentinian teams!

At five and a half thousand metres EVERYONE feels the altitude.

I was just glad to get into the warmth of the tent— and the traditional chaos that I seem to effortlessly create. IVAN our guide was positive and upbeat about a fast ascent–particularly because the weather was due to deteriorate in a few days time.

But Geraldine was not looking well. A short walk across the glacier to had left her exhausted and she was beginning to suffer from HEART PALPITATIONS which were violent and worrying.

Another stormy night of UNCERTAINTY set in. Would Geraldine recover in time for a summit attempt? Would the DODGY WEATHER subside? Would my hired boots stand the course? They were already breaking up!

CHECK OUT THE NEXT ACONCAGUA BLOG HERE IN 48 HOURS!

Matt Dickinson’s new book ‘Speed Freaks’ is now available from OUP (the 3rd book in the Mortal Chaos series.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

ACONCAGUA BLOG #3–celebrating the publication of my new book ‘Speed Freaks’ (Mortal Chaos series part 3) with an attempt on the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas.

The PLAZA DE MULAS base camp was a fascinating place to explore. Teams from ALL OVER THE WORLD had gathered here for an attempt on the mighty ACONCAGUA and there was lots of socialising to do. We met great characters from Zaragoza, from Quebec, from Argentina and from Portugal.

In all there were probably about 500 people in residence.

We went out to do some acclimatisation trips; exploring nearby GLACIERS and getting some practice with ICE AXE and CRAMPONS.

But ASIF was still having a hard time with the ALTITUDE and that night he woke with a SPLITTING headache and difficulty breathing.

Asif’s OXIMETER (his blood/oxygen level) reading was a worryingly low 75%. A normal reading would be above 90%. The medic gave him an emergency injection of DEXTRAMETHASONE but it was clear that the only real remedy was a quick evacuation before the symptoms got critical.

Next morning the decision was made: an emergency call was made to the PARK SERVICE helicopter service and ASIF was evacuated back to 2700 metres and down to Mendoza where he recovered immediately.

It was a sad moment to watch our friend and team member fly off from the helipad. We knew there was no way he could come back. At least not this time! But at least he was safe and well looked after.

Now we had to buckle down and look to the next vital stages; building CAMP ONE TWO AND THREE. The high Altitude camps that would be the stepping stones to the summit.

CHECK OUT THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE ACONCAGUA BLOG on MONDAY!

MATT DICKINSON’S NEW BOOK ‘SPEED FREAKS’ IS PUBLISHED BY OUP (THE THIRD BOOK IN THE MORTAL CHAOS SERIES!)

www.mortalchaos.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

ACONCAGUA BLOG #2–celebrating the publication of my new book ‘Speed Freaks’ (Mortal Chaos series part 3) with an attempt on the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas.

Our first days on the ACONCAGUA trail were going well. No signs of trouble as we trekked for long hours up a side glacier to view the awesome SOUTH FACE. The Confluencia camp site had been friendly and relatively warm–our sleeping bags (designed for 19 degrees below freezing INSIDE the tent) were doing a perfect job!

Then came the raw encounter with the SOUTH FACE–with its hanging glaciers, towering SERACS and avalanche slopes just ready to thunder down. We were at 4200 metres here and the air was starting to get thin. Our guide IVAN pointed out the few perilous routes that the face offered. One of them had first been climbed by world famous climber Rheinhold Messner.

The silence was intimidating in this natural amphitheatre; the face seemed to offer no natural lines to the summit. There was no safety up there, just constant threat of sudden death. The next shot shows the biggest of the hanging glaciers—milions of tons of ice poised on a hair-trigger and waiting to fall. When? No-one knows—natures answer to Russian Roulette.

Next came the long trek up the Horcones Valley to the PLAZA DE MULAS base camp. For this part of the journey we loaded our kit bags onto the many MULE TRAINS that ply up and down the track–supervised by tough GAUCHOS who work the summer season here up high before returning to their normal haunts on the PAMPAS grasslands of the south.


As we tackled the final punishing slopes up to BASE CAMP at 4300 metres we got our first HINT of trouble to come. Our team member ASIF found himself sudenly struck with the effects of HIGH ALTITUDE SICKNESS. Despite his exceptional fitness, he found himself exhausted, struggling to put one foot in front of the other.

He toughed it out; reaching BASE CAMP where a medical station would be able to give us assistance. But the incident had cast a shadow over the project; would ASIF recover completely and be able to continue up high? Or was this a more ominous sign that more serious altitude problems awaited?

Look out for the next installment of the ACONCAGUA BLOG in 48 hours!

MATT DICKINSON’S NEW BOOK ‘Speed Freaks’ is now published by OUP. ‘Speed Freaks’ is the 3rd edition in the Mortal Chaos series.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Aconcagua Blog Part 1! Celebrating the publication of my new book ‘Speed Freaks’ (Mortal Chaos) by attempting to Climb the highest peak outside of the Himalayas!

One week before leaving for ACONCAGUA in SOUTH AMERICA I googled the peak to see if there was any current news. The result was sobering; a small team of American climbers had got into trouble on the 6959m high peak and two men were missing. As NewYear came around the bad news was confirmed; Eric Nourse and David Reinhart had died from the effects of ALTITUDE SICKNESS on the tough POLISH GLACIER DIRECT route.

It was a stark reminder of ACONCAGUA’s extreme height; sufficient to cause acute mountain sickness in dozens of climbers each year.

We left on the 2nd Jan, flying to MENDOZA in ARGENTINA, a charming town famous for its excellent malbec wine and succulent meat. ASIF and GERALDINE, my fellow team mates, got stuck into a steak which weighed about a kilo; and that was the small one on the menu!

Next came a serious packing session; our guide IVAN came round to check out our gear, scrutinising out many hundreds of pieces of specialist equipment with an expert eye. The hotel room ended up like an explosion at a Cotswolds camping store, with bits of kit strewn everywhere.

 

 

We got our permits sorted (840 US dollars each–ouch!) and travelled up country into the ANDES and the Park Entrance where we began our trek. We had our first team photo at the famous Inca Bridge—a well known tourist destination and a good place to stock up with last minute snacks!

We picked up our trekking poles and started the walk into base camp. The weather was calm and we revelled in the first views of the mighty peak itself—the ice clad summit jutting high above the surrounding ridges.

After four hours of dusty trail we reached our first destination: the CONFLUENCIA camp site at a height of 3400 metres above sea level. Inka Expeditions had a big base here and we were greeted by the welcome sight of cheese and olives and crackers! Plenty of hot sweet tea restored our fluid levels—keeping hydrated is an important part of acclimatisation.

Spot the team (naff or what?!) COWBOY HATS!

That night was a restless one; savage GUSTS of wind blasting through the campsite and sending blasts of DUST into the tents. In the morning the trek would continue–a long acclimatisation day involving almost one thousand metres of ASCENT up the GLACIER to the SOUTH FACE viewpoint of the mountain.

After so many months of planning and training it was a great feeling to be finally engaged on the climb and everything felt right.

In fact the very NEXT STAGE of the climb would push one of our team members into A CRISIS which rapidly became dangerous.

ACONCAGUA’S FAMOUS sting in the tail was about to take effect–and we had hardly begun the adventure!

SEE THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE ACONCAGUA BLOG IN 48 HOURS.

MATT DICKINSON’S NEW BOOK ‘SPEED FREAKS’ IS NOW PUBLISHED BY OUP—THE THIRD EDITION IN THE ‘MORTAL CHAOS SERIES.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Speed Freaks now available at www.amazon.co.uk

Very exciting news—and timely for christmas! Speed Freaks—the third edition of Mortal Chaos—is now available at amazon.co.uk. Hope you enjoy! I certainly got a kick out of writing it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Training in the Pyrenees with team Aconcagua!

Training weekend in the Pyrenees

Team Aconcagua together for the first time!

Just back from the Pyrenees and a three day training session with Seni Glaister, Sara Cooper, Asif Moghal and Jon Stefani. We travelled up on the Friday evening to FONT ROMEU in the French Pyrenees and had three very enjoyable days trekking and climbing up to the 3000 metre level in these gloriously underpopulated mountains.

Considering that this is one of the most beautiful mountain regions of Europe it was telling that on two of our trekking days we saw NO other walkers or trekkers. But we DID see mountain goats, deer and—for one breathtaking moment—a huge Golden Eagle which was working the thermals on a small ridge.  The wing span must have been a good metre and a half—and we could clearly see a flash of golden plumage on its breast.

Our first day was a shakedown trek up into the valley of PEAK CARLIT. I was hoping that the peak might be in condition to climb but there was too much ice on the traditional route so we traversed to the other side of the valley and reached an un named little peak which was about 2500 metres. While we were up there the weather started to look threatening so we beat a hasty retreat and made our way back across the plateau of gorgeous crystal clear lakes where brown trout could be seen darting for cover.

Jon Stefani kept us amused with his forays out onto the frozen ice of several of these lakes. I think he regretted not bringing a small fishing rod and a selection of flies.

Great steaks and chocolate brownies rounded off a superb eight hour trekking day.

Day two was pretty grim; rolling clouds and drizzly rain. We trekked along the side of LAKE BOUILLOSES at 2000 metres and pushed our way up into the Couloir of PUIG PERIC—one of the best known of the 3000 metre summits in this massif. We waited for a shift in the weather and ate some of the many kilos of COLESLAW that seemed to form the mainstay of our diet but the low cloud cover wouldn’t shift and we called off a summit attempt at that point and went to explore a different valley system to the south west.

While we were there we circumnavigated a truly beautiful frozen lake which had an ethereal, almost other worldly vibe to it. The lake was off the trails; an isolated and special place.  In all it was another eight hour day—good fitness training but the lack of visibility and cold conditions were a bit of a dampner.

On day three we really hit lucky. Despite a mixed forecast we decided to go for another dawn start and to try again on PUIG PERIC. It was a good effort by the team as Seni and Jon were both feeling less than one hundred percent. Three hours of trekking brought us once more into the couloir and we were rewarded by stunningly good conditions, with a perfect blue sky and light scattering of snow. We ascended to the col and then made our way up on the one hour ascent. The slopes were a bit frosted with snow but the zig zag trail could still be followed and the climb went well.

The views at the summit were worth all the effort; the entire Pyrenees mountain range laid out before us with glittering frozen lakes between the peaks. A few quick photos and it was time to leave for the descent back to FONT ROMEU and the drive to Barcelona for late night flights.

My thanks to Seni, Sara, Asif and Jon for being such amusing company through the training weekend. It was an inspiring three days and it makes me think that ACONCAGUA could go really well in January.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Tales from the Edge #7–would you eat a dog on toast?

TALES FROM THE EDGE #7 by Matt Dickinson

Question: Would you eat dog on toast?

Mission: Filming Reconnaissance in Greenland.

Take a look at a map. Cast your eyes on Iceland then shift to the North and West. You are now looking at GREENLAND—the BIGGEST ISLAND IN THE WORLD, a staggering 840,000 square miles of glaciers, ice caps and rugged shores.

I landed a job with a production company who were looking  at the idea of  Greenland Expedition  film.  My mission was to sort out logistics. I flew up via Iceland in a tiny turbo prop plane, landing in the amazing town of Angmassalik on the East Coast on a runway which was Carved out of Solid Ice.

I had to go inland—to a tiny fishing and sealing village where the film would be shot. A snowmobile was on offer but I TURNED IT DOWN.

I wanted to do it the old Inuit way, with a DOG TEAM AND SLEDGE. It would take a few days more but I knew it would be worth it. And I might learn something along the way.

Winter had barely finished and the DOGS were desperate to get out of their kennels and get out on the trail. We hitched them up in a line, the EXPERT LOCAL DOG MUSHERS sorting out fights and overly amorous hounds by slamming them bodily on the ground to ASSERT dominance as the leader of the pack. It was a pretty brutal display and I realised that the locals regard their DOGS as a tool, and will work them very, very hard.

For two days we weaved through huge valleys, heading towards the vast GREENLAND ICE CAP. It was hard to convince the Inuit to let me try mushing the dogs but by the third day they were ready to let me have a go.

The DOG TEAM was AWESOME. So much power and speed for such relatively small animals. And with an endurance which has to be experienced to be believed. On some of the days we were SLEDGING for 10 hours AND THE DOGS WERE still keen to keep going. They are the perfect pack animal and can survive on a couple of kilos of frozen fish a day. We even went virtually the whole way up a mountain, humans pushing at the back.

One call sends them to the right. Another to the left. A call of Huarrrgh might MAKE THEM STOP! You learn a lot about their personalities—some are kind hearted, others quite vicious, or sly.

By the end of the expedition I could appreciate why ROALD AMUNSEN had used dogs for his successful trip to the SOUTH POLE…and why SCOTT had failed without them.

The thing I think I would really struggle with is EATING ONE. You build up a real bond with these dogs. They grow on you and they are expert at cadging an extra morsel of food out of gullible travellers.

But many polar explorers DO EAT THEIR DOGS to avoid starvation or just for a snack. Fancy FRIED HUSKY? DOG ON TOAST?

Me neither. They’re far too much like humans. But stronger in so many ways.

DEEP OBLIVION—the second edition of MORTAL CHAOS is out NOW!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

BATH FESTIVAL OF CHILDRENS LITERATURE

Just back from the Bath festival of Childrens Literature. Had a fabulous time speaking with Amelia Hempleman Adams about her South Pole adventure. Really had a great time in one of Englands finest cities.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bath-childrens-literature/9578021/Bath-Festival-Of-Childrens-Literature-A-tale-of-two-adventurers.html#

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off