From the top
As I took my final steps onto the summit I felt such joy and emotion. I was so proud of myself. I had been patient, I had learnt from last years’ experience, I had listened and had taken onboard so much advice. The long wait was over, the long hours of training were done, the mental preparation and my strength were stronger than ever, the “moment’’ was ahead of me to be enjoyed. I stopped at the summit cross covered with mementos, prayers flags, small national flags, beads, braids, cards and of course the signature box. I stood and stared at it as I realised what I had just achieved. I had succeeded, and the reality of this overcame me.
I had planned to record a touching few words thanking everyone while singing George Ezra’s song ’There is a mountain top that I’ve been dreaming of’’ but I could only piece together a few words!
Tears that had begun running down my face were freezing as they rolled off my cheek. I stood aside, letting the rest of the summiteers enjoy their moments, and sat down. I took a few moments to gather myself and take in the magnificent views of the other mountain ranges and the clouds below me. To look north and south up the spine of The Andes is just breathtaking. I felt so privileged. I felt so at peace with myself, the Mountain God’s and Mother Nature. I was at peace. I was, on top of the America’s ….
The Journey Up
Returning to Mendoza was exciting as was meeting my new expedition Russian climbers. After acquiring the necessary National Park passes and Mountain Permits we departed Mendoza for Penitentes (a winter ski resort) at 2,400 meters arriving early afternoon. Prior to staying overnight, a trek to 3,000 meters was planned which we all enjoyed.
Penitentes - 2,400 meters
Confluencia - 3,400 meters
The next morning, we moved into the park and trekked 4 hours to Confluencia at 3,400 meters where we again stayed overnight leaving next morning for Base Camp (BC) – Plaza De Mulas at 4,300 meters. This is an 8 to 10-hour trek over difficult ground but the mountain ranges each, the views, and snow topped Aconcagua kept me entirely enthralled. Arriving tired, fulfilled and excited to be back at BC, we were greeted with hugs and congratulations, fresh fruit and drinks. I was eager to get settled in and sit with the guides and confirm our rotation / acclimatisation plans. Our summit push was still scheduled for the 28th / 30th but high winds and a lot of snow and very cold temperatures were a worry having already turned back four previous expeditions. There hadn’t been many summits in the weeks prior to our arrival but we had time and the weather forecast was improving. However, Aconcagua is renowned for his weather changes, good and bad, so we were hopeful the Mountain Gods and Mother Nature would be good to us.
Camp 1 - Canada - 5,000 meters
Camp 2 - Nino de Condores - 5,500 meters
Having returned to BC from our final rotation and overnighting at Nido de Condores at 5,500 meters it was decided to push for summit two days later, the 28th. We again slept at Nido de Condores and pushed onto Colera at 6,000 meters to rest, eat and push for summit next morning at 4.00 am. The altitude was having its effect. With 50% less oxygen available at this height completing anything such as setting your tent, organising gear for the morning, lacing or tightening boots left you gasping and needing to take some time to recover and breathe. At this height it is like someone sitting on your chest with your mouth and nose covered. It’s a real struggle! … Headaches, upset stomachs, nose bleeds are common and can be treated but anything worse can be dangerous. I was lucky this time not to feel any effect. My blood oxygen saturation levels were 87 and my heat beat was easing to sub 70 bpm. I knew I was in good shape and was still very happy and very positive.
Camp 3 – Colera – 6,000 meters – Summit in the background.
Summit morning is always exciting, anxious, nerve-racking, very cold and uncomfortable. Getting all your gear on can be very tiring but planning and not rushing is vital to conserving energy. Eating breakfast even though you are not hungry is imperative as is hydrating. We knew summit would be 10 to 12 hours. As we headed out I thought of last year and was looking forward to 6,500 meters again and breaking through where I turned. I knew I was stronger, and I had no doubts about my capability of summiting. The cold and wind were chilling. We moved slowly and as a result I stopped to add a layer and an additional pair of gloves. I followed the slow heels of my colleague and kept confirming to myself ‘’I can do this all day, I can do this all day’’ …. As day breaks it always gives you a real lift. The light edges over the horizon and the sun appears. You want to cheer but decide to stop to eat and drink and take a photo as the best option to conserving energy. The temperatures begin to rise. We stopped to again eat and drink at 6,500 meters. I was feeling very comfortable. I was still very strong, both at heart and mind. As we moved through The Cave and The Canaleta the summit was in view. The climb is relentless. The gradient is steep and seemed to be getting steeper, but every step was a step closer to the summit. Finally, after 12 hours we reached the summit. As I gathered myself I took the final steps to the summit cross while repeating to myself ‘’stay in the moment Del, stay in the moment’’ …. I was filled with emotion. I had succeeded. I was very proud of myself.
Reaching the summit at 6,962 meters "I was filled with emotion. I had succeeded. I was very proud of myself"!
After taking several photos and appreciating the breath-taking views we turned to descend and head back to Colera and 6,000 meters. The 4 long hours retreat was exhausting. Next morning, we returned to BC and onward to Penitentes and Mendoza for a well-earned steak and a glass or wine!
What a climb, what an experience!
Lasting memory – moving through 6,500 meters where I turned back last year and leaving all those memories behind.
Now I can start planning for Vinson in Antarctica in December and number 5 of the 7 summits.
Bring It On! Derek
DBA my friends …. Dream, Believe, and you will Achieve.
Derek, is supporting the mental health charity, GROW, raising mental health awareness.
Here is an interview with Derek after his trip and summit to Aconcagua. The interview was carried out by Alan Bluett.