Technology is a wonderful thing, especially when three of your own are technically “off the grid” for three weeks attempting to summit the highest peak in the Andes mountain range! Fortunately, with their Zebra TC52s in hand (and some amazing Wi-Fi connections high in the sky), Simon Wallis, Jason Harvey and Mark Thomson are keeping our worries at bay with frequent journal updates. Read the latest dispatch we received today:
“13th Feb - Rest day...and we need it. The wind really picked up in the night, so we're stuck in our tents this morning. Micky and Mauri brought us hot water for tea, porridge and quesadillas in bed. We were not looking forward to venturing outside and, so far, we've not had to thankfully. It was so cold in our tents last night, our water bottles froze up and the outsides of our sleeping bags had ice crystals all over. The headaches the team was experiencing have mostly subsided, though, so we are acclimatising to the higher altitude. If the wind doesn't die down tomorrow, we may be forced to stay put for one more day at camp two before going higher. It's -30c with wind chill here and will be worse higher up. For lunch, we all went into a large communal dome and ate soup and quesadillas. We then spent the afternoon playing cards and relaxing in the tents. It's so cold up here, you can't be outside for too long. Micky, our guide, decided to carry some provisions to camp three to check the status up there. He said it was freezing... nobody is able to camp up there in the wind and the cold. The one tent that had stayed had been destroyed. On his way down, he was blown off his feet three times!
We ate dinner together in the communal dome, pizza this time. It was lovely. We stayed chatting with some other groups for a bit, then played more cards. Micky poked his head in the tent last thing and told us we won't be moving to camp three tomorrow because of the weather. He said the cold would be brutal, and we wouldn't be able to sleep and recover enough for the summit attempt. So, tomorrow we are likely to carry up to camp three and sleep back at camp two. If the weather improves, we still have a shot at the summit on the 16th.
14th Feb – It’s Valentine's Day, but there is no Wi-Fi for about 36 hours! Hope the people at home are not worried. Some of the team’s headaches were back overnight, so we had a slightly subdued breakfast at 8:30am. Fortunately, the weather today is much calmer. The winds have all but disappeared and it's cold but pleasant in the sun. Because of the weather, we are carrying up to top camp three (Colera) today to drop high altitude gear off and get some acclimatisation at the 6000m-high camp.
The climb to Colera was about 3.5 hours and a 600m altitude gain. It started steep and was relentless. The pace was quick and tough. We stopped twice to take on water and snacks. By the time we reached the camp, we were exhausted. There was a small Grajales dome we all bundled into to get some shelter for 10 minutes. It was very comfy and we all wanted to stay longer, but after 10 minutes we had to sort out our kits to drop off and then march back down to camp two. The downhill and lighter packs made going down so much easier than going up. We were back in just over an hour.
We've already climbed to the highest camp, so tomorrow we just need to repeat that to take our remaining gear up. It’s early to bed and then, if all goes well, we’ll summit early Sunday. The summit day is going to be around 13 hours, so we need to try and get some decent sleep between now and Sunday. We’re all going to dose up on ibuprofen to keep the headaches at bay so we can sleep as well as possible and use our remaining strength to get to the top.
15th Feb - We move up to Colera, the last camp. Last night we all slept well and are going through the usual morning drill of breakfast at 8:30am. Generally, we're all feeling good today. As we're moving on one last time, we had to pack down tents and all remaining gear to drag up the hill to camp three one last time. After breakfast and sorting gear out, we set off at around 11am with Mauri leading. The pace was fast. We stopped twice on the way up and the mood was positive. When getting into rhythm, you fall into an almost trance-like state. There is no energy in your body, but some how you’re managing to just put one foot in front of the other.
We reached camp in about 3.5 hours, but we were all shattered. We took a 20-minute break, but then we had to make camp by clearing space in the rocks and then working quickly in the wind. It’s really important that we have a solid tent so we can get as much rest as possible before summit day and so that we're protected against the weather.
We're now at 6000m, and everything is tough to do at this altitude. After the tents were up, we had to get water filled up and ready for tomorrow. At this altitude, there are no streams, so Mauri has to melt snow to make water. We then had snacks, sorted stuff out in tents and chilled for a bit to recover before dinner. After a few-hours nap, we were brought outside for a pre-summit meeting and dinner, and it was freezing! We need to be walking by 5:30am tomorrow so up at 4:30am. Dinner was basic, we scoffed it down and spent an hour trying to arrange what we could. It’s so difficult to do anything at this altitude with only 50 percent oxygen.
We've all saved some clean socks and underwear for summit day, and we'll sleep with our base layers on. For summit day, we will all be wearing a mid-fleece layer, thin down jacket, Gore-Tex jacket and summit down jacket on top of our base layers. We've got balaclavas, plus three hoods from coats to protect our heads. For our bottoms, we have walking trousers over long johns with down trousers. For our hands, we have three layers of gloves: thin inner gloves, mid gloves and then large down gloves to go over them all. We will need four litres of water minimum, adding four kilos to the backpack each for the 10-hour ascent and 3-hour descent. To prevent freezing, all of our water will be kept inside our sleeping bags along with extra socks for the summit.”
Clearly, the Three Amigos have quite a journey ahead of them! Please keep them in your thoughts as they head for the top of Mount Aconcagua. We’ll let you know as soon as they check back in, hopefully on the other side of the mountain.
In the meantime, you can catch up on their previous journal entries here and check out new pictures below: