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Nest of the Condor (Nido de Condores)

April 14, 2018

Saturday 17thFebruary

The evening was still and mild when I went out at 0200. Well, as mild as an evening at 5000m can be. In the far, far distance on the horizon, a pale orange light. A high town perhaps in the general direction of Chile. The sky is clear but the recently set moon still lights up the sky over the horizon in the west, so the Milky Way is not as luminous as it usually is. We are now camped so high lightning from a distant, unseen storm lights up the sky. There is no sign of any cloud from horizon to horizon yet the flash reaches us from forever away.

But when I wake (after dawn) the breeze is up and low cloud fills the valleys below us. That’s new. It’s clearly below zero but it’s hard to tell by how much in this dry atmosphere when no ice forms any frost. You can’t say anything like “Oh, we’ve had ten degrees of frost” by looking at the ground. The burning sensation on your skin is a different measure. So too the fact that the Nalgene water bottles in our tent are frozen up. With no breeze the sub zero temperatures are actually very tolerable. But the slightest feather of a breeze cuts you deep and is to be avoided.  Read more

Canada

March 18, 2018

Friday 16th February

I’m sitting in our tent at Camp Canada. The wind flaps and chops at the tent. Kavitha is eating lunch even though it is close to dinner time. The sun warms the tent but the breeze is very cool and I can feel the chill of the ground seeping through the floor into my right buttock which is hanging over the edge of the foam mattress. Even the ink in the pen is retarded and struggles to lay itself on the paper (I have a pencil back-up). Outside our front door the Portuguese speaking trekkers are in their usual animated conversation. We set up a little stone table at the front door of our tent and that has become the focal point for coffee, tea and conversation. Read more

Kavithitis

March 12, 2018

Thursday 15th February

I went to sleep at 2200 last night and woke at 0700 which is an excellent sign the acclimatisation is working. Not even a pee break in the middle of the night. It’s calm at 7am which is a good thing but the wind soon picks up and whacks the tent around. But as long as you are out of the breeze you can be quite comfortable. Being an acclimatisation rest day we have breakfast at 0900. We sit in a cool mess tent that has a fridge like feel to it, until the sun finally reaches us at 0940 and instantly turns it into a hothouse. All around us are groups gathering gear and heading down the mountain to Mendoza. It’s the end of the climbing season and most have already come and gone. Tents vanish overnight as expedition companies start to pack up. And of course there are the solo travellers who pack up and vanish as well. Everyone who departs gathers in the little plaza outside our mess tent, take group photos, applaud (justly) the support staff, give each other high fives then clump off down to Confluencia 18km away, and thereafter to the front gate of the park followed by a bus ride to Mendoza. There is something other-worldly in the concept that at the beginning of the day you can be in a frozen outpost like this, while at the other end of the day you can be sitting in a warm restaurant in a cosmopolitan centre eating a freshly cooked meal and drinking a just-opened bottle of Malbec. Mule trains flood in from pre-dawn to pick up their gear, and expedition company gear as well, snorting and clopping their way past us then clattering back again after they are fully loaded up with everything from backpacks to gas bottles – the latter making them appear rocket propelled, what with a tank strapped on either side. Read more

St Valentines in Canada

March 1, 2018

Wednesday 14th February .

Its 1741 and we are all sitting around the table somewhat stupefied. Maybe it’s just a matter of regathering our strength. Or a matter of reflection, or both.  We have climbed to Camp Canada, departing at 1100 on the dot, and ascending to 5150m, a total lift in elevation of 850m. We covet every metre so when the altimeter shows we have climbed even another 50m above what was advertised we are exultant. 50m does not sound like very much but when you lift your head and see how far above you it is, then drop your chin again and start grinding out those small steps, 50m has a lot of currency. It’s very valuable indeed. (On the descent of course the value of the currency looks like the Papiermark in 1923. Wouldn’t buy you a crumb of bread!). We moved at a very slow pace – fortunately. But as Danilo reminded us, distance in these mountains is not measured by kilometres but by hours. It’s interesting to note Canada is only two kilometres away but we covered it in four hours, hitting the spur on which it sits a few minutes after 1500. It was a surprise because the whole while we were plodding this out, if you glanced up (never a good idea) you could see other climbers high on the mountain, crossing a vast sweep of ridge, at that excruciatingly slow pace. Coloured dots on a dun scree. Turns out that is the leg from Camp 1 to Camp 2 and we did not have to go up there today at all. But I didn’t know that until a few minutes before arriving at Camp 1. Read more

Tang

March 1, 2018

Tuesday 13th February
Rest day. I wake at 0500 with a serious case of nausea and an elevated headache. Despite that I was able to drop off to sleep again (after the necessary pit stop under a starry sky) and was woken by Kavitha at 0845 in time for breakfast at 0900. We’ve all had the doctor check us out and the results, especially the 02 saturation levels are encouraging. But the 3.5 litres I drank yesterday is still not enough and he urges us both to drink more. We load up our bottles with Tang in an effort to get more fluid down. The challenge with that sort of course is that we are constantly running to the nearest toilet, or rock!
We spend a little bit of time watching other groups do the slow grind out of here up to Camp Canada (Camp 1) which sits 850 m above us. It’s supposed to be a five hour round trip. We will do it tomorrow and take some of our gear with us. It will be interesting to see how the logistics work with the porters.
But right now we make the most of a hot tent and the urging by our guides to rest. It is tempting to explore and I am inclined to go over and check out the abandoned hotel. Indeed I feel somewhat guilty for lying around, but twice I am chided by guides for not resting so I take my cue from them and do as I am told. Unusual hey?!

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First Entry in the Aconcagua Journal

Plaza de Mulas

February 27, 2018

Monday 12th February.

A horrendous night with the bladder chasing me out of the tent every couple of hours. Bonus – the night sky. Double bonus – knowing I’m hydrated. It’s 7am and I’m listening to the camp murmur awake. Interestingly the temperature has plummeted since I was up before dawn. That’s a phenomena we will observe over and over again. Mild in the still predawn, freezing just as the sun gets cracking.

We have had to organise to get our sleeping bags at the pick up point for the mules by 0645 so that is now all done and I’ve packed my bag prior to heading up to the mess tent for breakfast. The light is just kissing the tops of the peaks but we are in chilly shadow for a couple of more hours. I have already learned to temper my enthusiasm for the sun, and to wait its own good pleasure. Read more

Wile E. Coyote

February 25, 2018

Sunday 11th February.

The night was still and mild – tested at 0300 when I stepped outside for a pee stop. It is always a remarkable thing in the mountains to realise the light, which is quite bright and sufficient to illuminate the inside of your tent, is cast by stars. Mountains in my experience are always light if the sky is clear. So you find yourself in a half asleep stupor supposed to be minding one thing while you end up gazing at the heavens and being mesmerised by the lights and the occasional meteorite. Take care that you don’t lose your balance! Read more

Danilo

February 24, 2018

Saturday the 10th 

Dinner last night was also a good way to get to know some of our fellow travellers a bit better and the conversation with our new compatriots was a highlight. Kavitha was sitting next to Danilo, one of our three guides and found him to be very forthright and clear about the plans /planning. He might be the answer to some of our communications challenges.

Despite wanting to nod off during dinner we found ourselves wide awake by the time the lights went out – usual, given digestion picks up the metabolism. That was not helped by the fact that the road outside is the main highway between Buenos Aries and Santiago and if there is a speed limit through town no one observes it. Perched three stories above the highway we finally fell asleep to, and were regularly woken by the sound of trucks roaring through this collection of ghost resorts, encouraged no doubt by the long straight section of road in the middle of torturous winding mountain highway that offers no overtaking for very long stretches of time. Read more

Aconcagua – HeadSpace

December 11, 2017

Aconcagua Diary: 12 December 2017

In less than eight weeks we will be on the mountain. The training continues its regular beat and we were back out on the Berowra escarpments on the weekend, this time with fellow trekkers who are our regular walking companions (and fellow Kilimanjaro veterans). The mental game associated with the climb started some time back, mainly with visualising the climb and the summit, though this has been through a ‘glass darkly’. Last night we finally printed off some high resolution images of the mountain and pinned them to a wall in the kitchen. Each is marked with the camps and the appropriate altitudes of each of those. It helps to see equivalent altitudes and be able to say “That camp is the same as the summit of Kilimanjaro.” Or not! But it helps to see as much as you can before climbing. In the early days of this sport the best you had was a sketchy map and part of the adventure was the exploration of the routes and finding a way up these things. Visualisation was on the back of written notes from early, and perhaps unreliable travellers.

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Aconcagua Diary – It Starts Here

December 5, 2017

 

Aconcagua Diary: 2 December 2017

The climb out of Berowra Waters is so familiar I could it traverse it in the dark but today it feels a little tougher than usual. The humid air drapes its wet blanket over us and slows us down. We are barely begun and the sweat slicks off my arms, and salts my eyes. The cicadas are out for the first time this season, and the orchestra that is the Australian summer thrumbs deeper and harder the higher we climb. There are moments when we pass between one on each side of the track, both vibrating at the same time and their chorus feels like it’s resonating in your head. It makes my ears hurt until I step on and up. Is it my imagination or are there less and less cicadas each year? There are certainly less Christmas Beetles. Where have they all gone? Once upon a time thousands would inhabit the bush at this time of the year. Last weekend I saw one lonely sample who had come inside – and came perilously close to being killed by those he startled. Read more

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