We just received a new dispatch from the Three Amigos who, at the time of writing this, are hunkered down in camp 2, unable to continue on with their Aconcagua adventure due to 70mph+ winds and a -30c wind chill. They took the opportunity to update us on how things have gone throughout the past week, up until this brutally frigid point:
“7th Feb - REST DAY!!!!!! We've been looking forward to this day. 😀 We had breakfast at 9am: scrambled eggs, bacon and tea. We all had to have a medical (exam) at 10:30 to check blood pressure, oxygen level, lungs and heart rate, plus check generally how we are getting on... we all passed and doc was happy we carry on tomorrow. After that we had a hot shower....wow... first in 4 days and it was lush! Although there was a big mirror there and we hadn't properly seen ourselves in a few days. We are all looking shabby!! We had a late lunch at 2pm, rice with tuna and cheese and veg. It was lovely. We decided after lunch to go... Jason, Mark Werner and I headed out over the glacier field. When we reached the other side, we bumped into another group of climbers, one from the UK, that we had chatted with before. We spoke for a while then carried on. A few minutes later, we saw Dee bouldering with some other people up a hill. We split groups: Jason and Mark going over to see Dee, and Werner (Simon's tent buddy) and Simon carried on towards the glacier, where they ended up walking for another 2 hours and climbed 420m above base camp. Dinner that night was at 7pm and we ended up having quite a lot of malbec and the local spirit Fernet to drink. We all sang along and ended up even bouncing around to the music before crashing around 9pm for bed. It's been a great day. We're all looking forward to seeing camp one tomorrow.
8th Feb - breakfast at 8 a.m. today. Once again, we were treated with scrambled eggs, bacon and pancakes ...so much for coming back thinner! Today was a load carry day up to camp one, somewhere between 4800 and 5000m depending on whose smartwatch you trusted. This was a tough day and our first carrying a relatively heavy load (around 20 kilos). This is made up of food mainly that we would need at camps one, two and three. We split this between the seven of us on our team, including the guides. The route today was extremely steep and we burned between 6000 and 7000 calories in one day. The high climb to the summit and back, which is a very tough day, we're predicted to burn 16000 calories. That means the food we take now needs to sustain this continued effort. Today, the route consisted of steep sections of loose rock, as well as sections of sand and scree, which were reminiscent of climbing a sand dune. Try that with 20 kilos at altitude.
We also spent time walking on the glacier, the highlight of which was passing the ice statues, aka Penetentes. (Checkout zippy looking at them). Just beyond them, we finally reached camp one and unloaded our gear, staging it for our return in a day or two. After half an hour's rest – and now thankfully with lighter packs – we descended at pace. In less than 1.5 hours we had descended the route it took nearly 5 hours to ascend.
Our wonderful camp team laid on quesadillas, olives and melon to welcome us back. Another day done, tired but happy. Plenty more to come, but spirits are high in the group with no injuries or signs of altitude sickness.
9th Feb - Another rest day. We all slept well last night, best in the tent so far. It's been a very lazy day with breakfast at 9am, a shower, lovely lunch and dinner. We mostly sat around playing Scrabble. Simon beat Mark and Jason 4-0. Werner was the only one to leave camp for a walk/ hike. He ended up on the opposite hill to base camp on a rock overlooking us. We were watching him go, and we took pics when he was at the top. He was mad that we were watching him. He’s got so much energy, it's like he's made of Duracell batteries. And, whilst he won't tell us his age, he’s got to be somewhere between 60-70 years old. We're moving on from base camp tomorrow and we will miss the team here... they've really looked after us.
10th Feb - Today we are packing down base camp and moving up to camp one. It's a beautiful day. After a good sleep last night, we woke at 7:30am and got up about 8am to start sorting kits out for the next push. We need to pack a bag to go down to Penetentes for stuff we don't need any more on the climb or don't want to carry on from here. Then we pack our small ruck sack with a change of clothes that gets sent to Plaza de Mules...the base camp on the south side that will be there for our descent. The rest of the kit we pack in our large ruck sacks to carry up. It’s heavy today – 20kgs – and we have a 5 hour walk up a very steep slope. Before all that, the usual breakfast at 830 of huevos revueltos, pancakes, toast and tea to fuel us for the day. Then we pack down the tents. We've been here for four nights, so it started to feel like home and it’s a bit sad to pack away. We set off up the hill at midday today, so before that we had a little time to sort last little bits out and send a few messages home. Just before setting off around midday, we said goodbye to the base camp Grijales staff. They were so good to us. We all put in $50 each to tip the team and had a lovely send off from them. The walk today was brutal. We stopped every hour or so and made good progress through the rocks and scree, having to put our helmets on occasionally to help protect against falling rocks. Whilst staying in camp one, there were three rock avalanches close by, probably our biggest risk on the climb. We reached camp one finally around 5:30pm to find the porter had put up our tents. As we were on our last legs, this was a welcome sight. Just needed to set up our beds, stow our bags and fill our water up from the stream before 8pm otherwise it freezes up. There is only one mess tent for the guides and porters at camp one that climbers are not allowed in whilst cooking is happening, so we chilled in tents until 7:30 when we were given ravioli, sauce and cheese, which was lovely. We ate in our tents because here we're in shadow from about 6pm. As soon as the sun is not on you, the temperature plummets quickly. It's going to be an icy night. Dinner finished and packed up in sleeping bag by 8:15pm today ready for carry up to camp two in the morning. Camp one is definitely not as glam as base camp.
11th Feb - We all had a really bad night's sleep... worst so far. We all have headaches from the increased altitude. It's tough whilst acclimatizing. Not much to do apart from taking ibuprofen and drinking as much water as possible. We forced some breakfast down as we need the energy for the hard climb and carry today. We all started to feel a little better after breakfast and morning tea. Provisions and high-altitude gear stowed in our packs, we had another 20kgs or so to haul up the steep scree slope to the south col above camp one. It was tough going, but we got to the top in about 1.5 hours. From there it was another 1.5 hours to camp two across the col, so we stopped for 15 minutes to take on water and snacks. The views across the snow-capped Andes at this point were stunning. After traversing a small glacier field, we arrived in camp two in good time for a well-earned rest. Bizarrely, at this little remote spot 5400m high, we had WiFi. So, we’re able to send a few messages. But after too few minutes we had to head back down to camp one...much easier with lighter packs and downhill. We made the distance in about 1.5 hours. By the time we got back into camp it was about 3pm. We had snacks in the sunshine and chatted to another group and about 4pm, we had a siesta. We were absolutely shattered. At 6:30pm our team and another team all huddled in the communal tent area and ate dinner together (lovely beef stew) and chatted, then had cookies and tea. It was lovely, and thankfully the headaches had not returned. With the sun disappearing over the mountain at 6pm and the temperature dropping to below zero rapidly we quickly nestled into our down sleeping bags by 8:30pm hoping for a better night's sleep than last night. Tomorrow, we pack down camp one completely and head up to camp two. We're getting close now and the higher we go, the harder it is to sleep, the colder it becomes and the more effort generally everything becomes. We can't wait for a hot shower and our beds!
12th Feb - Last night we had another broken night’s sleep because of the constant wind against the tent. We're leaving camp one today and heading up to camp two, so everything needs to be packed and ready to go for 10:30am. It was a really windy night last night and very noisy, and the wind is still blowing some this morning. We had a group breakfast outside trying to shelter from the wind and just bathe in the sun to warm up. We had bacon, eggs and porridge this morning, important to take in fuel to get up the horrible scree hill to south col one last time. We were feeling strong and, generally, spirits were high. We set off mid-morning and Mikky kept a slow and steady pace, making sure all of us were able to conserve energy. It was a brutal and never-ending climb out of the valley, and on the second break we all felt like we were running on empty. Simon and Jason were struggling with bad headaches. Each step gaining altitude seemed to make the headaches worse, so we kept our heads low and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Around 4 hours of walking we finally made camp two. We felt broken and were struggling to concentrate because of the headaches. We took ibuprofen and forced some food down, took some tea and had water. We then crashed in our tents for a couple of hours to try and recover. Simon joined Mark and Jason in their tent before dinner for a chat. Mark was feeling pretty strong but Jason and Simon felt broken. We had a cheeseburger dinner at 6:30pm, but it's so cold up here at 18000ft and there's not much to do but eat and huddle back in the tent. The headaches have abated a little and we're all feeling more human. Thank goodness we have a rest day tomorrow. We need to focus one day at a time right now.....
The Three Amigos”
Though we may not hear from Simon, Mark and Jason again for a few days, let’s all send them our support and keep them in our thoughts. They can feel the spirit of Zebra Nation cheering them on!