Aconcagua base camp life

Who knew that “rest days” could be so frustrating?

It’s the weather. It appeared that a window was going to open up on Sunday but soon, 60+ km p/hr winds were in the forecast. Now, it looks like Tuesday 18th is going to be the attempt – fingers crossed, the weather looks much better, the wind calmer, the skies bright and clear.

We just need to have patience and wait for it.

That being said, many other teams headed up the mountain a few nights ago – only to return this morning, some via helicopter. Only 3 people have summited this entire season. The winds were brutal last night, and even in our 10-person dorm, the wind battered and shook our tent until the door fell off (repeat this about seven times, until we had to rope the door shut!). I can’t imagine what it would be like at Camp 2, 1000m higher. I’m glad we’re safe and relatively comfortable down here.

So I thought a little blog about what base camp life is like might be interesting to those at home!

Plaza de Mulas is not a beautiful place – there are exceptions, like when the sun sets and paints the rock around us in a rosey hue, or in the dead of night when the skies are filled with more stars than I have ever seen. However, during the day, it’s a bit like living on top of a big quarry – dusty, rocky, sparse – nothing green for miles. Long drop toilets stand like sentries at the edge of the valley, which drops down to a small lake and then rises up again to the eerie site of an abandoned hotel. Chris and I are walking over there today to stretch our legs – others have come back with reports of menus still laid out on tables, flags hung on the walls, books on shelves – as if the inhabitants of the hotel just walked out one day and left. Calling Michelle Paver – I might just have found the site of your next remote ghost story.

Lunch and dinner starts always with a bowl of the same virtually tasteless vegetable soup (improved with chilli sauce and another necessary way of ingesting fluids). This is Argentina though, so we’ve been treated to a couple of delicious asados (barbecues) with round after round of delicious meat. Not going to lie, I’m looking forward to a huge plate of broccoli on my return! But the staff here do a great job of making sure we’re kept full and healthy on a mountain diet.

Harder to deal with are the extremes in temperature – from boiling hot in a sun-baked tent to freezing cold if the sun disappears. When boredom sets in, we read (I read A Lot!) or play cards (I haven’t played that many rounds of President since high school), or nap or take a stroll. By 9pm, we’re snug as bugs in our sleeping bags and praying we don’t have to go to the bathroom too many times in the night.

Does it sound like a hard life? Probably not, but it’s amazing how quickly frustration sets in. Still, all the decisions that have been made have absolutely been the right ones, and we are at the mercy of the mountain. For me, I can’t help the anxiety and anticipation that grows every moment I stop and stare up at the summit of the mountain, knowing that despite all the rest days, one day soon I’ll be waking up and climbing that huge Stone Sentinel once again. So I’m trying to enjoy and make use of the rest days as much as possible, practicing patience and storing up as much hydration and energy as possible.

Because before too long, I’m going to need every ounce of energy I’ve got.

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Aconcagua calling…

Hello readers!

A proper 24 hours of (relatively) pain-free air travel later, Chris & I have arrived in Mendoza! I had forgotten what a beautiful city this is – so lush and green and with a dramatic backdrop of the Andes – and it’s so strange to have crossed not only a few time zones but a few seasons as well, back into the warmth of early summer in the Southern Hemisphere. But of course, it’s this season that allows us to attempt to our goal: to summit the Stone Sentinel, Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas, standing at 6962m tall.

It might sound obvious to say, but this is not as straightforward as it sounds! Despite being known as a “technically easy” mountain, Aconcagua can potentially throw many challenges our way. At our briefing last night, the expedition leader Nims Dai went over a few of the potential risk factors. Aconcagua is low on “objective risk” like crevasses or avalanches but weather (extreme winds and cold) is a major danger. We mitigate that with gear and keeping an eagle eye on weather forecasts, but it’s still the most common reason people don’t make the summit. And then there’s “subjective risk”, like fitness level and how well a person adjusts to altitude. We’ll be following the old mountaineering adage of “climb high, sleep low” and taking it slowly to give ourselves the best chance at acclimatisation.

Still, it’s worth noting now – before it all begins! – that the summit rate on Aconcagua is quite low (I’ve seen ranges online between 30-60%), so while the summit is absolutely the aim, it’s not the reason. Aconcagua is going to test my limits and push me way out of my comfort zone – plus offer the experience of a lifetime, no matter what the outcome.

After a fantastic al fresco dinner last night of juicy bife de chorizo and lomo de cerdo, the team is all acquainted and ready to get started. We’re skipping the first stop at Penitentes to give us an extra contingency day for summiting, so we’re starting the trek straight away after breakfast this morning! Next time I update this blog will probably be from base camp Plaza de Mulas at 4260m in a few days, so acclimatisation will be well underway.

Wish us luck! And don’t forget to follow along on Instagram too… @amymccullochbooks

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