Does it look like I am enjoying life! – 20000 feet, sick and dissappointed in myself
Climbing Aconcaqua is apparently 70% mental/physical preparation and 30% luck (weather, injuries etc). My physical preparation according to the guides far exceeded anyone they had ever heard of or guided up the mountain and being stubborn the mental side was covered. The 30% is what I didn’t have and therefore I was turned around at 6400m on summit day a mere 562m from the summit (which at altitude is a lot more than just climbing Mount Hodges). The decision was the guides and it was the right one that was based on concerns for my safety. I had warned them of my stubborn nature and their job was not to push me but to make a professional decision to turn me around if necessary.
I had carried a cold from base camp which turned into a chest infection which despite antibiotics I could not get rid of. At 6400m I started to exhibit shortness of breath which even at rest I could not recover from, it felt like someone was sitting on my chest and I could feel bubbling on my left side lung when I breathed. With the respiratory problems I could not keep up the pace required to make the summit with enough energy to safely descend and did not want to be carried down by my guides or worse still be put in a body bag which according to statistics 10 people out of 1500 attempting the summit come down in. We retreated to high camp at 20,000 feet and were considering going down to base camp when the assistant guide had an incident with the stoves and burnt down the vestibule of their tent. I spent the afternoon sewing the tent back together so the summit team would have a useable tent.
Aconcaqua is a serious mountain it is the second highest of the seven summits and although our route was not technical due to the severe weather, height and as porters are not generally used it is a demanding mountain. The guides said without the respiratory issue I would have easily summitted and indeed should have a go this season to climb Denali as I am physically in great condition to do it.
As my first foray into high altitude mountaineering I must say I need to think seriously about doing it again. With illness it was unfortunatey not possible to enjoy the experience. Physically high alititude climbing is very similar to offshore sailing in the requirement (endurance is needed and your body is worn down by just keeping itself warm etc) and it was actually no more difficult then crossing an ocean – I lost 7kg in the 15 day trip but that is due to what high altitude does to your body and not physical exertion. I guess due to my training I did not feel like I was working my muscles hard at all in fact it was leisurely in comparison to my training regime!
Congratulations goes to Laura, Derrick and Jordan the 3 of our team that made it to the summit. I will post more about the trip but right now am very disappointed and will be trying to recover from the chest infection in Mendoza before meeting my parents in Peru this coming weekend. Thank you so much to Scott for keeping my blog updated you are a star. Also thank you to British Antarctic Survey for what I learnt about cold weather mountaineering from the field assistants (you all know who you are!) there was nothing new to be learnt except about how I personally deal with high altitude. Next time (if there is one) I won’t be joining a commercial expedition as I find them restrictive – I like to have more control of my situation than what they offer. Also thank you to Sam Doc for putting together the most impressive medical kit the guides had seen and for teaching me how to use it all.