The big night arrives; countdown to the top.


January 31st 2016. I didn’t manage to sleep until around 1:30/2am. I was wide awake and just couldn’t drift off. I woke up grumpy, not helped by the condensation in the tent making the outer fabric of my sleeping bag damp for the second night running.

One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that however you’re feeling, it never hurts to behave in a positive manner; you never know, you might fool yourself into thinking you’re more cheerful than you are. If all else fails, bacon is a good way to start the day. Imagine my delight when we were served bagels with bacon and cheese again for breakfast. Delicious as usual. I had one and a half which was probably half too much but you can’t really say no to extra food on the hill. One thing is for sure, I have not gone hungry on this trip.

Today we moved up to high camp at 5900m to be reunited with the kit we’d stashed the previous day. My pack felt heavier today than any other so far. Tincho estimated it was only around 15kg so I suspect my lack of sleep and overeating at breakfast contributed to feeling less energetic. It was another hard slog but, as always, getting into a steady non-stop rhythm is the best way to approach a challenging day. Despite slightly heavier packs than yesterday it only took us 15 minutes longer to get to camp. It certainly helped that the snow was more compact having melted and frozen last night.

We pitched the tents and tried to get settled. The game was on. We started to get our backpacks sorted ready for summit push first thing tomorrow morning. There was a climber camping near us who made conversation as we were arriving. He was very odd. He made a strange attempt at humour which came across offensive; disparaging his guide and making some reference to Johnny ‘getting it from behind’ because he was sharing a tent with Tincho.  I thought it could have been American humour I didn’t understand, but upon querying it, Bruce and Johnny assured me he was just a dick. First uncomfortable experience with another climber on the mountain.

Camp was a bleak place situated on a large plateau with rocky stacks tinged with yellow from what appeared to be sulphur. It was very busy with climbers on the way up to the top, and on the way down. There was a mixture of sick, injured, exhausted, excited, elated and weird people. The whole place smelled a little like stale urine. The toilet area was very well protected from the driving wind which battered the rest of the campsite therefore there was a mountain of human waste everywhere you looked. So much for the strict ‘Leave No Trace’ rules on the mountain. I duly used my wagbag.

It’s challenging to do anything quickly at high altitudes and even walking up the hill to get down to the toilet area was a lung buster. I had the pleasure of visiting the shit pit around 3 times that afternoon, thanks to my conscious efforts to stay hydrated. I was determined not to let a failure to self-manage fluids (or food) be my downfall on this trip. Having got our packs sorted it was just a case of eating dinner and continuing to drink.

You know, I once spent the best part of a year travelling around the world. Around 4 months into the trip I stopped in Toronto, Canada to stay with friends. The first question asked was “what would you like to eat?“. I answered, “anything as long as it comes with mashed potatoes“. After travelling through Asia for months all I craved was a bowl of mashed potato. My delightful hosts obliged with the biggest bowl of mash I’d ever seen. It’s my ultimate comfort food.

Back to Argentina. When Johnny arrived at the tent with a bowl of mashed potato, topped with bacon and mushroom gravy, I could barely believe my luck. It was another delicious meal and perhaps the perfect pre-summit treat. I was absolutely made up. After a nice mug of Sweet Dreams tea (not taking any chances getting kip tonight) it was 7:30pm and we were in bed ready to rest. The summit push started soon.

From the IMG blog: “Jonathan checked in today, reporting that the team and he had made their move to high camp.  Weather is good and winds were light.  All members made the move without issue.  That was all great news.  Plan is to prep summit gear, eat and drink, rest (as much is possible at that altitude) and get ready for a summit bid in the morning.  Forecast is favorable.  Now’s the time to see if all their patience and hard work will pay off.  They’ve done all they could to put themselves in a good position.  We wish them the best for tomorrow.https://www.mountainguides.com/wordpress/2016/01/31/aconcagua/aconcagua-team-in-position/

Bacon again?!


30th January 2016. I woke up in the night after a strange dream about being in Russia. I had just finished reading the excellent book Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eicher, which is a true story about a disaster which occurred in the Ural Mountains in 1959 (highly recommended, but perhaps not while you’re climbing a mountain!), so it wasn’t much of a stretch to understand why I was dreaming about that.

I took a visit to the bathroom and when I returned I was chilled to the core. I shivered for another two hours in my cold sleeping bag which was soaked by condensation on the outside, before finally warming up and falling back to sleep.

A few hours later we woke up to a still, bright and sunny day so the decision to carry to camp III was made.

This meant the plan was back on track and after the carry today, tomorrow we would move in to camp III , then attempt the summit early the following morning. We had our breakfast, packed up and set off.

The terrain was fairly gentle but the deep snow which fell yesterday meant some tough slopes, again around knee deep at times.

We made good progress and arrived at camp III, 5900m, in 3hrs 45 mins. This marked the highest altitude I’d ever been to (highest before being Kilimanjaro, 5895m). Despite only being 5m higher, I felt like I had left my comfort zone and was now heading into unfamiliar territory. We were still 1000m lower than we were aiming for so I found it interesting to assess how my body was adjusting.

I stood there in Camp III taking it all in as I remembered how exhausted I’d felt in the past reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro yet here I was at almost the same altitude but carrying an 18kg backpack and I still had gas left in the tank. It was very interesting making the comparison and I considered whether a contributing difference was my role on the expedition; here I was a client, but on Kilimanjaro I am always the trip leader where my focus is on the wellbeing of my clients.

That said, I was freezing and my calf had been cramping up for the last hour, so I actually felt a bit miserable. We stashed our gear before descending fast to camp II by 4:30pm to chill out. The sun had been warming our tents most of the day so Bruce and I took it in turns to have a good baby wipe wash (4 whole wipes!). I stayed in the warmth of the tent and relaxed while Bruce took in the sun.

A few hours later another spectacular dinner was served. On the menu today we had a bowl of rice topped with a mountain of bacon and parmesan, washed down with a mug of hot mint tea.

Fun fact: When you’re carrying all your gear on a mountain, even grams matter when you’re packing. As a direct result of this you start doing crazy weight-saving things cutting your closed-cell sleeping mat in half, removing garment labels, shortening your toothbrush handle or even re-using teabags.

Advice: If you’re planning on saving a few grams by re-using herbal tea bags, don’t! If you fail to heed my advice know that one herbal teabag has a maximum of two uses, the third is tasteless.

After dinner it was bed time, at 8pm. Good night!

From the IMG blog: “News continues to be favorable from Jonathan Schrock and his Aconcagua team.  Calm winds and sunny for their carry today to high camp.  Plan is to move to high camp tomorrow and take a summit shot on Monday morning.  Weather forecast currently is favorable, at least through then.  When the fish are running, it’s time to go fishing.” https://www.mountainguides.com/wordpress/2016/01/30/aconcagua/mexicos-a-wrap-aconcagua-looking-good/

Sun is shining, weather is sweet but the wind is brutal


29th January 2016. What a great start to the morning with delicious bacon and cheese bagels. As forecast the sun was shining and the sky was blue, so we packed our gear and broke camp. My first mistake of the day was overdoing it at breakfast with 1.5 bagels as I got really nauseous breaking camp. There was no time to feel sorry for myself and off we went up the hill to camp II.

My second mistake of the day was starting the day wearing too many layers (duh, idiot; ‘Be bold, start cold’). I spent what felt like ages faffing around taking off my jacket but I was soon back on track. Despite the clear sky and sunshine the wind was consistently high with 30-something mph gusts at times. The previous day’s snow storm meant we were left breaking trail through the snow on the never-ending scree slopes. For each step in the snow it was a gamble as to whether you’d sink, slide back or power across it. The energy sapping wind, deep snow and with me still getting over the nausea from the morning, it was a mental battle. At one point a gust of wind knocked me to my knees. We stopped for a break and I realised I was exhausted. We still had a few hours to go so I downed as much water as I could and we kept on moving.

Suddenly I found my rhythm, or maybe the terrain got easier, and I felt stronger. Stopping for another short break we rehydrated and continued up towards the col. The wind by this point was like walking up a downward escalator; you’re definitely moving but you’re not making any progress. It was a constant battle for us all to be stronger than the wind with our heavy packs.

As we reached the saddle we were briefly protected from the wind but our new challenge was thigh-deep snow. We plodded on, one slow step at a time, and arrived at camp. Tincho ‘the Invincible’ had gone ahead to pitch two of the tents which was a major help. We arrived into camp, all helped to pitch the final tent and moved in a few minutes later.

I was very dehydrated so made a concerted effort to drink 2 litres over the next couple of hours. This was all well and good except the ‘bathroom’ was behind a boulder located down the hill, across the frozen stream and up the other hill covered with 8” deep snow. After my second visit I realised I had a problem to solve.
The problem: long, arduous, cold walk to bathroom and no pee bottle (seriously, without a funnel – and who wants to carry that – do women really use pee bottles?).
Inspired solution: A 1-litre ziplok bag in tent vestibule. Win. It is moments like this for the female mountaineer that you really are grateful for an understanding and trusted climbing partner. Thank you Bruce!

We literally chilled in our freezing cold tent until dinner time, which was another treat of more awesome burritos. With our water bottles refilled and bladders emptied again, it was time for tomorrow’s briefing. The weather forecast looked bad again with heavy snow and strong winds expected. The suggestion Tincho and Johnny made was that they would do a load carry to camp III without the three of us (clients), so we could save our strength for summit. If weather was too bad for the guys to carry, we would all rest and either do a heavy full load move up to camp III the following day when the wind was expected to die down, or possibly hire a porter to help with this. We’d then aim to summit the following morning. (OMG! This is getting REAL!)

As always on Aconcagua, it all depended on the weather. According to Tincho, this was the worst season he’d seen on Aconcagua for at least 10 years. Certainly at that point no other IMG Aconcagua teams that season had successfully summited, and very few other teams had made it since the season started in late November. It felt quite hopeless.

We said goodnight and agreed to see what would happen in the morning.

From the IMG blog: “On Aconcagua, Jonathan and team pushed hard in spite of wind and new snow and got into C2.  What a weather year on Aconcagua!  This was a big move for the team as there’s a lull in the winds forecasted for early next week and the team’s trying to get into position to take advantage, if it occurs.  Everyone’s doing well and the chess game continues.http://www.mountainguides.com/wordpress/2016/01/29/aconcagua/orizaba-attempt-and-big-move-in-aconcagua/

Movin’ on up (to Camp 1)


26th January 2016. I slept badly. When I did finally drift off I had a horrible dream about someone I knew dying, which was disconcerting. All night I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath or get comfortable. I woke up out of sorts and disorganised, not the best start to our move up to Camp 1. I rushed breakfast so I could finish packing and break camp without delaying everyone else. I was shattered. I just wanted to sleep.

We shared out and packed the rest of the group gear and despite carrying packs almost as heavy as our load carry two days prior, the hike took us 70 minutes less. Acclimatisation really does work! That said, it wasn’t an easy walk and I did feel challenged at times.

It’s strange the things you take for granted. After days of walking through the low level valleys having the trails to ourselves, it was an adjustment arriving at Base Camp where there were lots of people. Of course the three course meals, heated base camp tent, lovely loos and lots of chill-out time made up for that. Now I felt strangely disappointed that we were sharing the trail with another team on the higher mountain. Despite taking the lesser-trodden route to the summit Aconcagua is still a vastly popular peak, not least because it is one of the Seven Summits. Reality check time.

When we arrived into camp there was a bit of a fiasco as we discovered another team had stolen the pitches where we’d stashed our gear a couple of days prior. Our kit was still buried under the wind-break stones surrounding each pitch but the other team had gone ahead and pitched their tents anyway. Tincho made sure they knew they weren’t being very respectful. We found alternative pitches, moved all our cached gear across the campsite and started pitching the tents in our new spot. Bruce and I were going to share a tent going forward in order to keep the group gear weight to a minimum.

After helping each other pitch the three tents, making sure to stake them down well knowing the windy conditions at this camp, we moved in and set up our beds. Johnny had collected our empty water bottles and returned shortly after with them refilled. A little later he brought round a pot of hot water for our flasks. At Plaza Argentina base camp we were provided with the choice of herbal teabags, soup powder and cocoa to take with us for the upper mountain section. I’d gone for a mixture of various herbal teas plus a few packs of soup to keep things interesting.

I hadn’t drunk enough water during the day so figured soup would be the sensible choice that evening for the electrolytes, extra calories and also to work well as an appetizer for our meal later on (yes, I know how that sounds – I was already used to being spoilt at mealtimes!). Bruce and I relaxed in the tent and debriefed on the day as we waited until dinner time. You may be noticing a theme here… food, walk, camp, rest, food, sleep. What a wonderful way to spend a day.

So we hear a knock at the tent and Johnny is there ready to serve our dinner and top up our hot water flasks. What service! So, you know when I mentioned about the amazing meals at base camp, and how spoilt we were? Well dinner was… cheese burgers! THREE each, served in a toasted sesame seeded bun with mayo, mustard and barbecue sauce. Three, full-size cheese burgers. Yes! There are no words for the pure joy I felt at that moment. I nailed two and a half before I was absolutely stuffed.

Happy, happy. Post burger feast smile.

After dinner it was time to get into sleeping bags and keep warm. It was just 7:20pm but outside a snow storm was coming in and it was getting extremely windy. I had a slight headache due to dehydration and tiredness (or cheeseburger overdose) but I knew drinking plenty of water and having a good night’s rest would sort it out. Fed, watered and cosy in our little tent, it was time for a little bit of light reading (‘Dead Mountain’, my e-book about a fatal Russian mountain disaster) and lights out.

From IMG’s blog:
On Aconcagua, Jonathan Schrock and team have moved in to C1 (16,200’).  Plan is to make a carry tomorrow to C2.  Calming conditions forecasted for the weekend and team hopes to put themselves into position to take advantage of any good climbing conditions.” See here: http://www.mountainguides.com/wordpress/2016/01/26/aconcagua/updates-from-mexico-argentina/

Load carrying to camp 1 through the penitentes


24th January 2016.

It was a very windy and noisy night. I’d only been asleep an hour before I awoke wondering if the tent would fly away. After a futile few hours tossing and turning, I figured I’d try relaxing to music for a while. It worked. I found my eyes getting heavy and my mind quieting. I put in my earplugs and went to sleep solidly for four hours. The next morning we had another great breakfast of yogurt, pancakes and eggs before packing the group loads of food, fuel, pots and pans and so on, to carry up to Camp 1. I was anxious about the day and how I’d cope with my first heavy load carry, particularly after a rough night’s sleep.

We set off and the day started great with us all maintaining a strong steady pace. It was very cold so we kept our warm layers on. I was quietly glad of the cool temperatures to keep us comfortable despite the additional exertion of our load carry. After about an hour we stopped for a water and snack break and I adjusted my backpack which made life a little easier.

The next section of the climb was the part of the mountain I was most excited and curious about, los penitentes. Penitentes are icy blade-like formations which are found in clusters, generally facing the sun. They are caused by a scientific process called sublimation in which solids turn to gas without first becoming liquid. These otherworldly pinnacles tend to be found at high altitude in areas with dry air and sunshine, particularly between Argentina and Chile in the High Andes. The literal translation of ‘los penitentes‘ is ‘the penitents‘, named as such because they resemble the tall, pointed hoods worn by the Catholic penitents during Holy Week processions. It is also said that they look like crowds of people kneeling in penance, looking toward God.

There are few words to describe the beauty and mystery of the penitentes. These cold, faceless figures surround you like a dense winter jungle. They seek to trick you, enticing you with the illusion of easy passage through an icy maze. They drain your energy as you tentatively progress over their unstable and angular surfaces like the steps of a first dance.

I see the penitentes as a representation of the humility required in the mountains. Individually some penitentes are large, some are small but together they form something bigger than yourself. They are a vast obstacle and a formidable challenge. To progress through the penitentes you must weave your way through their path, you cannot forge directly ahead. At times it feels like a standoff, man versus nature, but fail to stay humble and respect your environment and their sharp edges will catch you and remind you into whose territory you are straying.

The wind was picking up speed and it was getting colder. Despite the challenging terrain of the penitentes I had settled into a comfortable breathing rhythm and I felt strong and was moving well. After another two hours and another two rest breaks the bitter wind roaring down the valley towards us picked up some more. I suddenly felt myself weaken. As the penitentes grew sparse we approached a field of loose rock and scree. One step forward, a quarter step back. You’ve just got to keep going. Another hour passed and it was time for a  break. I forced myself to eat and drink as much as I could. I needed my body to find those reserves. I was tired.

The final push into camp was briefly through more penitentes which made the going easier but it was short-lived as we soon progressed up a steep scree slope with multiple switchbacks. I paused, took a deep breath and switched mental gears. I needed to get back into the comfortable non-stop rhythm I’d enjoyed earlier in the day. I let the guys get a few steps ahead of me, put my head down and walked. One step at a time, not stopping. Johnny stayed behind with me for the final section, “dig deep, just 20ft to go Lexi”. I arrived into camp just 2-3 minutes behind the others having managed my pace and preserved my energy.

We unpacked and cached our loads but not before weighing our packs. I was amazed that we were carrying only 19kg each. I calculated later that I’d carried 35% of my body weight from 4200m to 4900m that day. Tincho carried double; 38kg.

Now it was time for the descent. My right calf was screaming and I was feeling pretty drained. We were keen to move down the scree and penitentes quickly but in doing so Rick stumbled and snapped his trek pole arresting his slip. Fortunately he was unscathed. At 6:50pm we arrived back into camp after a very long day. At 7:30pm we tucked into a dinner of hot soup, vegetable stew and a tiramisu style cake with fruit. Our energy levels were so low we were all freezing. Only Tincho and Johnny finished their meal.

As we sat at the table I saw Bruce turning pale and he said he felt faint. We got him laying down on the ground, legs elevated, to recover. Our group tent had a gas heater so there was some semblance of warmth so we got Bruce huddled up next to it as he hydrated and recovered. Nobody said it, but we all knew how Bruce felt. We felt it too.

After dinner we had a chat about the day, debriefed on how we’d progressed and discussed the onward plan. It was then we learnt that the thunderstorm we had been admiring from above when we arrived at Plaza Argentina had caused 20 landslides (18 minor, 2 major) on the main highway between Argentina and Chile blocking the progress of 36,000 vehicles between the countries. As a direct result of this crisis all the emergency helicopters in Argentina had been dispatched to help with recovery. Consequently Aconcagua National Park rangers had to close ascents to the upper mountain from Base Camp because helicopter support in the event of an emergency wouldn’t have been possible so it was not worth them (and us) taking the risk.

Our plan to move up to Camp 1 the next day was put on hold. A mandatory rest day at Plaza Argentina was in order. At 9pm it was time for bed and to get cosy and warm in my sleeping bag.

Settling in at Plaza Argentina base camp


22nd January 2016.
For the past few days we had been travelling north along the Vacas Valley but today we were going to turn west and head towards the mountain through the Relinchos Valley up to base camp at Plaza Argentina.
To get to the valley we had to cross a wide multi-stream river with fast flowing water and soft sandy ground. It was without question that we would be taking the mule taxi service across the river. I was delighted by this. I love animals and riding a mule would be a great experience. Bruce was not so thrilled.

It was a chilly morning for the first time since arriving in Argentina, so it was nice to get cosy in a hat and warm jacket. I was the second last to cross and as we bounded across the river the gaucho suddenly stopped halfway, dismounted from his mule and started walking away. He popped up a second later holding my water bottle which had fallen out of my backpack thanks to the bumpy ride! I’m amazed (and grateful) that he heard or spotted it drop.

Once Tincho had joined us across the river, we started our walk through the Relinchos valley, a gentle amble along another stream. As the sun rose the blistering heat began again so I stripped off the layers and got sweating again. Who needs saunas and spa treatments when you can hike in Argentina.

Finally, we had a reprieve from the flat valley terrain to enjoy an hour-long ascent of a steep hill to gain some altitude. This was my favourite part of the day. I was feeling so strong, enjoying the pace, loving the scenery and taking it all in. At the top of the hill the walk continued on undulating terrain which, with the temperature around 32C the rest of the day, was pretty tough at times. The 7-hour day was broken up with a small river crossing higher up the Relinchos Valley. On a hot day there is little more therapeutic than walking through ice cold water.

The final push into base camp felt very long as we trudged along more flat, open plains but we made it in good time and great spirits.  Plaza Argentina base camp is vast. I knew it would be a big place but I had absolutely no grasp of how big. It was a town of tents nestled into the side of the mountain. It reminded me of a smaller, tented version of Namche in Nepal.

Grajales, the logistics company who were supporting us, has huge permanent dome tents used for meals, socialising, meetings etc. at Plaza Argentina. Our first stop upon arrival was to our dome tent where drinks and snacks were waiting for our arrival. We had mango cordial, fruit, olives, cheese, popcorn, ham, savoury snacks and a drinks table full of various teas, coffee and hot chocolate with huge flasks of hot water. I couldn’t believe the quality of the service.

We pitched our tents (still using one each) and chilled. I had a quick wash and checked out how my blister from the previous day was doing. I had used a Compeed hydrocolloid dressing but the edges had stuck to my sock so as I tried to remove the sock I started to tear off the dressing. I figured the best thing to do would be to cut off the dressing entirely and start again. Fail.
As I cut into the dressing I caught the blister at the same time, making it worse by leaving a raw patch of skin open to the air. I cleaned it up and covered it lightly to dry it out. Tomorrow was a rest day and I knew I would be able to fix it up properly then.

At camp the toilet facilities were again really great. There were two pit toilets in the vicinity of our tents which were made of metal and even had a sliding door for privacy! Better still, there was toilet paper provided. This trip was turning out to be far more luxurious than I imagined.

Fast forward to dinner. We started with a meaty broth with croutons, followed by a delicious ham and leek carbonara covered in loads of cheese, and then a honey pudding. The food was restaurant quality flavour and there was plenty too. After our meal we played a few games of Hearts and chilled out. The boys must have been envious of my outfit as they seemed to find a talking point of my bright purple socks, royal blue calf supports, scarlet shirt, grey shorts, and jacket in canary yellow, bright red and ice blue. I think I rocked it.

Keeping hydrated at altitude is so important and with the Grajales team constantly refilling the jugs of fruit cordial and topping up the flasks of boiling water for tea and coffee, we spent a lot of our evening back and forth to the facilities. Had this not been the case we may have missed the incredible cloud inversion. In the Vacas Valley a massive lightning storm was developing and from Plaza Argentina we were looking down onto the top of the thunder cloud and see the lightning flashes within it. Above us at camp the sky was clear with the moon shining bright and the stars twinkling. I have never seen anything like it.

Shortly after the clouds came in, the temperature dropped and a light rain started falling. I went to bed and fell asleep to the sound of the rain on my tent. Unfortunately I didn’t sleep brilliantly as it was still too hot, even at 4200m. I was pleased though; I had spent a lot of time (and money) on warm sleeping gear for the higher mountain so it boded well.

Aconcagua… or is it?


21st January 2016 We set off from camp for a gentle 6-hour walk through the valley, excited by the prospect of catching our first glimpse of the summit of Aconcagua closer to camp. It was blistering hot again but more manageable thanks to choosing long trousers and long sleeves instead of shorts. I’d made a conscious decision to cover up as much as possible because the amount of dust I was covered in the previous day was such a waste of my 0.5 per day baby wipe allowance and I wasn’t sure how many more camps would have running water.

We followed the stream most the day including crossing a very precarious rickety old bridge. I’m not a big fan of bridges over water and the sign ‘Pasar de a una. One at a time‘ did little to comfort me.

The terrain today was flat and dry again, up until a point where we had to negotiate a sticky bog which added a little excitement to an otherwise pleasant but uneventful day. As we squished through the muddy mess I spotted a little paw print that had been left by some kind of local mammal (I still don’t know what it was).

This one IS Aconcagua (I think!) 🙂

As we extracted ourselves from the mud and came lower down into the valley along the river bank I heard Tincho call out my name. “Lexi…Aconcagua!” he said, pointing across the valley towards a snow-capped peak in the distance. I was so excited! I grabbed my camera and started snapping away before I noticed Tincho chuckling to himself. “Okay, maybe it’s not Aconcagua” he said. It turns out Tincho was just winding me up (as he does all his gullible clients) and I was looking at the no-less-beautiful Ameghino, Aconcagua’s little sister. You can imagine that I was dubious when we walked a little further and the call went up again, but this time Johnny got his camera out too and offered to take photos of us in front of another beautiful snow-capped peak – this time our objective! What a beauty.

We arrived at camp to find we had the place to ourselves again. We pitched our tents and got sorted. Amazingly there was running water at camp again and the guys were cooling our drinks for dinner in the icy water! Bathroom facilities were again excellent, a pit toilet which appeared to be freshly dug. Happily my previous days’ tummy problems were resolved.

As we freshened up three climbers on their descent arrived into camp. Only one of them had managed to summit after horrendous conditions including high winds and seriously cold temperatures. They didn’t have a guide and hadn’t managed to secure any mules for their gear for the walk in or out, they were shattered. We met Scottish Alan who was living in Cambridge and two ladies from the USA. It was great to get their perspective on the climb ahead and meet some other climbers after having the trails to ourselves for two days. We said our farewells and they wished us a safe climb.

Instant dirt tan

I fixed a blister I’d developed that day, washed my clothes, hung them out to dry, then chilled out and re-hydrated before dinner listening to music (yes, it was Justin Bieber) in the warmth of the afternoon. Asado again with barbecued chicken, salad and herby Parmesan potatoes with another nice bottle of Malbec. Another restful day, another amazing meal, another evening of feeling amazingly happy. Loving it!

Into the valley | Steak asado


20th January 2016

We loaded up the gear and drove to the trailhead. 7 people in one 6-seater meant a tight squish. We pulled over to the side of the road, put on our hiking packs and started walking. The expedition had begun.

Unlike the majority of commercial groups we were not taking the ‘normal’ route to the summit. We were taking the Guanacos Variation of the False Polish. This route takes you first through the Vacas and Relinchos Valleys, up to a False Polish camp, around to the Guanacos high camps and up the False Polish route to the summit. On the way down you traverse the mountain and descend on the normal route via Plaza de Mulas, and out of the Horcones Valley in a single-day push. For full details visit: http://www.mountainguides.com/aconcagua.shtml

It was late morning by the time we set off, and wow, it was hot. After 20 minutes I checked the temperature on my watch and it was reading 37C. The landscape was beautiful. The trail was totally flat, there was a trickling stream on our right, desert plants and flowers all around and rugged, rocky and dry cliffs towering above. It reminded me a lot of the Atlas mountains.

After about 90 minutes we stopped at a stream to enjoy a break for some fresh watermelon and cool ourselves down. I was so glad for the Cobber body cooling neck wrap I had brought with me. Unlike the other group members living in San Diego, Kansas, Oregon and Mendoza, I was not quite as well equipped for the climate being from England.

After another 90 minutes we stopped for another snack break, sandwiches and fresh oranges, in a shaded spot under an overhanging rock. After hearing stories of people saying how ugly and boring Aconcagua is, I was blown away by the beauty of the landscape.

We arrived into camp dusty, sweaty and smelly so were amazed to find a flushing toilet, running water and camp to ourselves. We pitched our tents, one each, and relaxed, rehydrated and washed at camp, taking it all in.

It wasn’t long before I became very grateful for the flushing toilet as I discovered I had the first case of diarrhoea. I quickly dosed myself up with Imodium, downed another litre of water and felt much better. 5 months earlier I’d learnt an important lesson on Mt Elbrus about stomach complaints; ‘letting it take its course’ is a recipe for dehydration and weakness. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again!

I felt positive, at peace, and unbelievably happy to be there. Nothing would stop me from giving this mountain my all. To top off my enthusiasm and round off a great first day, the dinner call went out and we were greeted with a real treat.

 

 

Cheers! Malbec in a Nalgene

It was steak asado (BBQ) and salad with wine for dinner. I could not believe the quality of the food. We heartily tucked in and no food went to waste.  We went to bed feeling full, happy and excited about the day to come.

 

Onward to Los Penitentes


19th – 20th January 2016

The following morning we loaded up our gear and food into the van and started our 185km journey from Mendoza to Los Penitentes. For such a small team (5 of us including guides) it was astonishing how much we were taking and the thought of us having to carry it all up the mountain was daunting.

We stopped for lunch en-route at a local restaurant for another steak (when in Argentina…!) before arriving in the very dry, very windy town of Los Penitentes. During the winter it is a popular ski resort and in the summer it is used for climbers and hikers visiting the area. I found it a bizarre, uninspiring and pretty desolate place. We got checked into Ayelen Hotel de Montana then Bruce and I went out to explore.

We walked down to the street to the ‘Mini Market’ which was simply a corrugated metal container containing a freezer. A lad was trying to communicate with the elderly lady in charge but she didn’t speak English and he didn’t speak Spanish. I tried my best to translate and it turned out that the Mini Market didn’t have any food or drink available. It didn’t look hopeful that Bruce would be able to find a memory card for his camera (which he had just discovered he didn’t have in his camera).

Bruce and I headed across the street to Refugio Cruz de Cana where we grabbed a Coke and caught up after quite a hectic few days travelling. It was a really cool place covered in flags, photos and mountain memorabilia. Johnny and Tincho were at the Grajales HQ sorting out the supplies we’d brought from Mendoza and separating them and our gear into loads for the mules the next day. It was an incredible thing to watch.

The following morning we had an amazing breakfast, chilled out and got our kit loaded up in the van ready to hit the trail.

 

Photo by J. Shrock

From the IMG blog:
“Another expedition has started on Aconcagua.  Jonathan Schrock, Martin Lucero and team are heading to Penitentes today.  Final packing occurs there and the approach starts tomorrow morning.  Here’s hoping for favorable weather.  The mountain has not made things easy so far this season.” http://www.mountainguides.com/wordpress/2016/01/19/aconcagua/news-from-the-south/

Photo by J. Shrock

“On Aconcagua, Jonathan Schrock sent this photo before Martin, the team and he began their approach march.  Three days of enjoyable walking to get to base camp, Plaza Argentina.  They’re ready to rock and roll.”  http://www.mountainguides.com/wordpress/2016/01/20/aconcagua/and-theyre-off-9/

 

What I packed for trekking Kilimanjaro in October


This is the exact list of items I packed for my most recent Kilimanjaro trek as a tour manager for The Different Travel Company for St Elizabeth Hospice in Ipswich on the Rongai route (12th – 21st October 2013).

Clothes and shoes:
Scarpa leather hiking boots
4x pairs trek socks (mainly Bridgedale)
1x Compression/flight socks
1x Thermal top (pyjamas)
1x Thermal bottoms (pyjamas)
TNF Boulder Penelope shirt
Trespass lightweight trek trousers
Rab Power Stretch pants
1x Altura L/S merino base layer
1x Odlo Ninja base layer
1x Striders Edge L/S full zip hoody
1x Mountain Hardwear waterproof jacket
1x Rab Neutrino Plus down jacket
1x Rab Generator primaloft jacket
1x Marmot PreCip waterproof full-zip pants
1x Trilby hat
1x Warm hat
1x Buff
1x Mittens
1x Liner gloves
1x Fingerless gloves
10x underwear
2x Shock Absorber Sports bras
Cheap emergency poncho
Work t-shirt
Sandals for Moshi
2x Dresses for Moshi
1x Pashmina
Bra
First Aid Kit:Dramamine anti-nausea medication
Sterile gloves
Antiseptic wipes
Plasters
Wound dressings
Blister plasters
Antiseptic cream
Ibuprofen
Antihistamine cream
Antimalarial medication
Antihistamines
Paractamol
Imodium
Zinc oxide tape
Throat lozenges
Micropore tape
Tiger balm
Chapstick
Ibuprofen gel
Mouth ulcer gel
Diamox
Rehydration
Scissors
Tweezers
Off! insect repellent
Pack of kleenex
Food/Drink:2x Supreme Protein cookies n cream
Powerbar protein plus vanilla
Berry flavour Zero tablets
4x army ration ‘cherry beverage powder’
2x Asda fizzy cherry cola bottles
1x bag Milky Way Magic Stars
1x berry and cherry dried fruit
6x Mr Kipling lemon slices
Biox Aqua tablets and Steripen
1l Sigg bottle with thermal cover
Camelbak 2l
750ml water bottle
Miscellaneous:Plastic bags of various sizes
Paperwork / work manuals / Kili book
E-tickets
Cash and cards
Passport & copy
Sunglasses
2x Pens
Gaffa tape roll
2x Karabiners
6x Hand warmers
1x Padlock
Toiletries:Travel size sun screen
Body spray
Panty liners
Tampons
Moisturiser
Travel sized shampoo
Travel shower gel
Loofah
Razor
Antiperspirant deodorant
Hairbrush
Toothpaste and toothbrush
Baby wipes
Hand sanitizer
Toilet paper (1.5 rolls)
Nappy bags
3x hair bands / 1x headband
Electronics:Camera, spare batteries & battery Charger
Video camera
Chest mount for GoPro
2x GoPro
Mobile phone x2 and charge wire
New Trent portable battery pack
Petzl Tikka 2 head torch
2x spare head torch batteries
Spare LED torch
Luggage:Mountain Warehouse 100l Wet & Dry bag
Small holdall for gear to leave in Moshi
35 litre Berghaus daypack
2x Exped waterproof dry bags
Sleeping:Rab Expedition 1000 sleeping bag
Snugpak Thermalon sleeping bag liner
Ear plugs and eye mask
Thermarest 40th Anniversary Edition

1393096_10151611049186467_122651395_nObviously many of the items above include things I only used in Moshi or while travelling. My final kit bag for the mountain weighed just under 10kg and there are a few things I didn’t end up using that probably account for 750g:
The protein bars, dried fruit, one pack of the fizzy cherry cola bottles and most of the Magic Stars.

For this particular trip the only thing I wish I had brought was a few more packs of beverage powder. The purification that our porters use to sterilise our water is very chemical-tasting and I didn’t have quite enough to mask the taste. Keeping hydrated is so important and being put off the taste of water is not ideal.

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