The highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayan range – this was always going to be a big ask.
I had left full time employment and was looking for an adventure. A 7 Summit peak was the obvious choice but the only problem was I had left my decision very late. It was November before I decided to join a Grajales team climbing Mt Aconcagua in January, only 30 days training time before stepping on a flight from Sydney to Mendoza.
You need to trek for 3 days through some of the most magnificent valleys before you even see Mt Aconcagua. As we meander up the valley trails the Arrieros and their mules carrying our duffel bags speed by taking the most direct route The valleys are long and wide and dusty but it’s a fantastic experience being there.
Our climbing team comprises 3 local guides and a collection of team members from around the world, Ireland, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Poland, Denmark.
As a team we gelled well, and the first 3 days passed very quickly as the Irish humour propelled us into base camp on the eastern side of the mountain.
By the time we started on the “climb high, sleep low” days that are needed to acclimatise to the altitude it was apparent we had an impending problem. We arrived back in base camp to a weather forecast that suggested storms were on the way and the mountain was going to be in less than favourable condition to summit.
In the end that’s exactly how it went down. We left camp 3 around 4am to push for the summit only to be blocked by bad weather and avalanche risk on the slopes leading up the “The Cave”.
It was an obvious call for the guides to make but one that eventually signalled the end of the summit attempt for all but 2 of us in the team. We turned, and descended all the way to base camp, Plaza DeMulas, on the western side of the mountain, a descent of almost 1,800m.
Milo (Poland) and I were able to extend out stay on the mountain with the hope of making a second summit attempt, the others packed their bags, confronted with an early exit from the mountain.
We spent 4 days in camp with others waiting out the storm higher on the mountain. On day 4 we got a favourable call on the weather and our guide, Milo and I set off.
Our extended acclimatisation period now allowed us to progress all the way through to camp 2, overnight there, and then push on to camp 3 for a summit push the next day.
5am and we are already on the way up and at 7am we’ve stopped for food at the Refuge Independencia, the traverse and then steep climb into the Cave before continuing on up the Canaletta to the summit. We summited just on 2pm, we had 20 minutes for photos, congratulatory hand shakes and food before starting the decent. Bad weather was on it’s way to the west our guide was pointing out snow showers, they were only a few hours away at best.
By the time we arrived at The Cave, it was snowing, windy and the temperature was plummeting. To cap it off a climber from another group had suffered a heart attack and the guides from various teams, including ours, had assembled into one group to sled him off the mountain to base camp where he was flown into Mendoza.
The teams now joined together and with limited guides available made the decent back down to High Camp. It was a long and slow procession of climbers that eventually returned to camp at7pm. We had been on the go for 15 hours in some extreme weather conditions at high altitude – we were buggered but the job was done.
2 days later we were back in Mendoza enjoying the red wine an beef stakes that the area is famous for. It was a fantastic feeling to know that I had reached the highest point in the world outside of the Himalaya’s!
3 months later I was on my way to Mt McKinley, Alaska…
Click on this link to view photos from the Mt Aconcagua gallery.