Why? In the 90th I saw a documentary on discovery channel about a young dude that was trying to get to the top of the Aconcagua. The climb was non-technical, but it was the highest mountain outside the Himalayas. I never really forgot about this. In 2002 I have climbed and skied the Toubkal in Marocco (highest peak of North Africa). I had trained really hard, because it was said that I needed a very good endurance for it. I was imagining of searching for my last reserves to climb to the top, but in reality it was rather easy also due to good weather conditions. In the beginning of this year Marco was talking about climbing the Kilimanjaro, but I wanted a mountain that would demand me to go to my limits, where I would find my limits: The Acancagua.
On 2 December 2009 Marco, Harald and I met on the airport in Paris. They came flying in from Duesseldorf and I from Amsterdam. A day later we arrived in Buenos Aires. After I had negotiated 5 Pesos of our taxi-ride we drove into town. At arrival at the hotel Harald decided to give the driver 5 Pesos extra. Soon we found out that the national food in Argentina is meat, Meat, MEAT, A LOT OF MEAT!!!! The next day we took a tourist-bus-tour through town. I had warmed up M&H to do an open roof tour, but we ended up in a small closed bus, not very successful. After seen the main sights, have the first layer of burned skin (Marco had 5 burnt layers), finished several beers and cocktails and been to Friday’s we flew on the fifth to Mendoza where the whole group would meet that day.
On the plane I was sitting next to the first person of our group, Joel from the US/Canada. The total mix of the group were 5 Canadians (Chantal, Maude, Marie-Anne, Clement and Dany), the halfling (Joel), 5 Dutchlandpeople (Roel, Miranda, Marco, Harald and Paul) and an Austrian (Johann). The expedition was led by Pinky, Javier and Fernando, our local guides of INKA.
In the evening we picked up our rental equipment. I had decided to rent all down equipment and an ice-pick. The next day we went to get our permits and drove to Los Penitentes (2700m) where we would sleep a last time in a bed. In the afternoon we went for a short walk. I was restless and wanted to start. The waiting days took too long now.
On the 7th after breakfast we started walking. The first two days we would walk up to 3200m altitude, this slow increase was to get used to the higher altitude slowly. Each night we got measured our oxygen levels and heart rate, this to see how you adapt to the higher altitudes. The second day there was a very strong wind and Marco was having difficulties adjusting to the altitude. The next day to base-camp (4200m) he got in serious trouble. All the time I was drinking lots of fluids and eating a lot, because later this would become harder and harder. On the 10th of December we had a rest day. We had to go to the doctor in the morning to who checked our longs on fluids, our blood pressure and other doctor-stuff. While sitting outside the doctor’s office, a helicopter was bringing some stuff. The wind of the helicopter blew the iron doctor sign of the wall, it was just above Marie-Anne’s and my head and it fell just in front of us. If this had hit us then we would be moved in the heli and be flown down again. Instead we could go up. The next day we moved food to camp 1 and came down to base-camp where we had another rest day the next day. Going up went good. Pinky put in a very nice slow pace. Going down was harder, my boots were a bit narrow and I had a lot of pressure on my feet.
Marco decided to go down the next day, because his oxygen levels and blood pressure were not good. He needed more time to adopt than the given days. This was unexpected and more difficult to deal with than expected, because we wanted to go together to the top. The rest day was used to adjust to this new situation, only the two of us for over a week in the high camps. I called with Katherine at base camp and it was great to hear her voice and listened to her encouraging words. Especially Harald needed some pep talk to continue to the upper camps. The surroundings of base-camp were spectacular and we made a nice walk that day and talked a lot. After that we were ready to attack…
The 13th of December we left base-camp and Marco, who would walk back to civilization. The plan was to be in the base-camp at the other side of the mountain on the 21th of December. On arrival in camp 1 it started to snow lightly. For the higher camps we got poo-bags, so these had to be tested: the best technique had to be figured out. Also that night I tested my 1 liter pee bottle. I decided to do it without using the light. I was on my knees on my sleeping bag. After finishing I turned on the cap and went to sleep. The next morning I took it the throw it, but I saw that the bottle was filled almost to the brim. This made me decide to use the light next time.
The next day was a carry day to camp 2 and back. I felt good trying not to use extra energy and focusing to my steps without loosing balance. This whole mountain consisted of stones, rocks and gravel, which is great going down, but up is another story.
The next day was a rest day in camp 1, after that we moved to camp 2 and the next day to camp 3. The walk to camp 2 was hard at first. My foot hurt, but after removing my thick warm sock it was gone. I only worried what to wear from camp 3 because there the temperature would be real low. Joel came with a solution. I could use his socks, which were thinner than mine, but still rather warm. I Slept light at the higher camps. From 9pm till 1am I usually slept ok, but then I was awake for a few hours. Before I got up I slept for a few more hours usually.
Going to camp 2 and 3 was not difficult. When I arrived at the camp I felt like walking further that day. I didn’t want to stop. When arriving in camp 3, I thought, that the only thing that could stop me from reaching the top was the weather. (sooo naive….).
On the night from the 19th to the 20th there was a really hard wind. The next morning we had to start walking at 5:30 to try to get to the top. I didn’t sleep that night. The wind felt like it was lifting the tent. I kept thinking about what to wear the next day and about all kind of stuff. I had rather started now then to wait till the morning. At 4:45 I started to put on ALL my clothes for that day. I had nothing to drink anymore so I went to the main tent to check when I would get water. Outside the tent it showed that I had too many clothes on, also I walked too fast, so totally out of breath and too warm I reached our guides. They thought something was wrong with me and send me back to my tent. They came to measure my oxygen again, but all was the same as the day before. They would bring me water later. They asked me if I wanted porridge. Until now I ate 2 plates of it every morning, but since I was thirsty I couldn’t eat any. 5 Minutes before we started walking I got my water, so I had no time to eat before starting.
The past few days I felt strong when walking and had a lot of energy left, but this morning my legs were heavy from the start. Since I was wearing only 1 pair of socks I kept wiggling my toes from the beginning. Breaks were really short, so we would not get cold, but because I was wearing down mittens I couldn’t drink and eat easy. I started to suck on gels and eat some power bars. The sunrise was very beautiful. You could see the shade of the Aconcagua over the other mountains. After 2-3 hours we had our first bigger break. We had to put on our crampons, but my lace were frozen. I needed help to get them on. After some ice we reached “Windy Ridge”. In short: it was VERY WINDY. After walking further suddenly my sight wasn’t sharp anymore. I ate another gel and felt a bit better, I was really sick of it by that time already. I had to walk in front of Javier so he could check how I walked. After a few steps my sight got fuzzy again. I felt my energy being sucked out of me very quickly and I started to loose my balance. I knew that this was my limit, my top. It was only 400m more, but still 3-4 hours to go. I reached an altitude of 6550m and felt that if I continued I didn’t have enough energy to come safely down the mountain with my poor sight. Harald asked if he should come down with me, but I wanted him to go as far as he could get. He walked an hour further (100m higher) to the beginning of the Canaletta and then decided to come down. No more energy he told me later.
That day Pinky reached the top with Chantal, Maude, Dany, Johann and Joel. I was then already back in camp 3. I walked down the first bit by myself, Javier was watching me from a distance. Fernando came to pick me up at the little hut where we had our break. When I sat down there I felt how exhausted I was. When I got up I started walking down but I slipped on some rocks and ice. Slowly, very slowly I continued. After a bit Fernando told me to have a 5-minute break. I saw him walk to a rock to check out the view, meanwhile I fell asleep for a few minutes. I was happy to be in the camp. I forced myself to eat and drink a bit and then had a good nap.
We heart on the radio that there was an accident in our group when coming down. The following story has been told in different versions. Here is my version: After reaching the top, Chantal could see only for 10%. She told it, but nobody really realized it. At the Canaletta the group stopped and she tried to sit, but she stepped in a hole of ice and slid down, dragging Pinky with her. Both were wearing crampons and Pinky had an ice axe = very dangerous! After 40m Pinky could stop himself, but Chantal kept sliding over ice and rocks for about 120m. It took them 5-6 hours to come back to camp 3, but luckily everybody could walk down. Pinky had hurt his knee and Chantal had hurt her head and had bruises on her legs, eyes, back, and, and, and… Later the doctor said she was very lucky, because last year somebody fell there and broke many bones and had a fractured skull.
That night the wind was blowing harder than before, I slept really good. I didn’t care about wind or cold, I just wanted to sleep. In the next 2 days we were going down from camp 3 at 5950m to Mendoza at 1000m. We walked down on the other side of the mountain, so the scenery was new. It was spectacular.
On 22 December at Inpenitientes Marco was waiting for us, this was a big present surprise. He was the only one who had a shower in the last 2 weeks, so sitting between Harald and me, I had something fresh to smell at. The shower that night was very needed.
The next day we brought back the rental equipment and had some drinks with the whole group. After an Argentinean BBQ and some drinks (while being shown a traditional Argentinian Bachalor’s party: running around naked through the streets), M&H, Johann and I left on the 22nd of December to Santiago. Here we had two days to see Val Paraiso and the capital before the plane left back to Paris.