Up early and the whole camp site has been covered in snow from an overnight storm, but it is a clear morning with a great view.
Other groups doing a small carry to Camp Cholera. Interesting to note the differences between the very laissez faire British style and the treat you as a kid and do and control most things for you US style - especially as I will have at least 2 US trips this year. Not sure how well I will take to that style (those who know me well must have a very rye smile now)...
Am was sitting around chatting and listening to music before the weather started to build just before lunch:
Snow started to fall at about half one so back into tents then. We all emerge in the pm for a bit - slight improvement in the weather and we are all getting tired of spending so much time in the tents. Forecast is similar for next few days- clear sunny am with winds and snow starting in the pm. But the weather in general has been pretty good for the past few days and I just hope that we don't come to look back at these rest days as having pushed us past the weather window - conditions can change very fast in the mountains.
The group is a two speed group so just hope that we can organize a two speed summit attempt to be up there in the much better morning conditions rather than letting them go by as we move slowly up the mountain and take the lottery of the afternoon weather. Had reserved reactions when raising this so far - will see what a more direct approach results in tomorrow.
Confusion over the changed schedule (or a risky approach given a desire to have had lighter loads on the carry days) means that one person has not brought up enough food from camp 1 for the summit (he is given some food by one of the others) and only enough for if we successfully summit at our first attempt - a little risky but hopefully ok.
This is final camp before our summit attempt tomorrow. We have another very slow start from camp and the speed at which people move continues to polarize as the altitude has more of an impact so we are likely to split into two groups tomorrow. Weather varies from being burnt by the sun, including its reflection off the snow and ice, to snow being driven horizontally by freezing winds.
The trek up to the camp at about 5,985 is pretty steep and it is now taking a long time to cover small distances.
This is now the highest I have been passing Kili at 5,895 shortly before the very steep slope into camp.
Yet again we have another stunning campsite above the clouds.
Very strangely is that even when there is complete cloud cover and you can't tell where the sun is, it is still very bright and dark sunglasses need to be worn. Pm is one of recovering, preparation for tomorrow, sheltering from the sun and getting prepared for the 5am start tomorrow.
Main task is to get water ready for drinking and eating today as well as drinking on the summit day tomorrow. Aim is to time your venture out of the tent to collect snow in the brief (ie less than a minute) sunny periods before the strong and rather chilly wind returns. Unfortunately it takes rather a long time to melt the snow so rising at 03:30 rather than 4 am is being mooted in order to have a proper breakfast before we head off.
Morning was a bit of a shambles with the much feared 40 minute wait materialising in really rather cold conditions at 5 am - no names to be mentioned to preserve reputations - before we were ready to set off:
From then on it was a cold trudge up steep hills but in beautiful surroundings once the sun came up.
Unfortunately we lost a further two of our party just above the Independencia Hut, leaving the crack team of me, Stu the guide, my 54 year old tent partner Mike, and the unknown quantity of Tim, barrister from London who is 3 months older than me! From the hut, Stu and I headed along the windy traverse although how any path which gains such altitude can be called a traverse is beyond me. This leads to the base of the Canaletta where we had a regroup, took in the view and very happily saw Tim and Mike making great progress to join us.
Reunited, we took out our ice axes and headed up the Canaletta to the summit - the Canaletta is a steep, long, rock strewn slope. Just what you need when you are fighting for breath at 6,800mts. The onto the summit just below 7,000 mtrs. For a few moments I am the highest human in the world (the Himalayan season has not started yet) before the others join a little later.
We take a number of photos (some less printable here than others) and enjoy the view as well as the sense of achievement of having made it here.
Key stats: 05:40 departure from Camp Cholera, 12:40 arrival at summit - the rest of the group arrived shortly after 13:00. Whilst it would certainly have been possible to have knocked a few hours off this by going at my own speed, the camaraderie of being there together has left a far more enduring memory.
I have pushed myself on many of the days as this has been a proving ground for the adventures ahead as well as a chance to learn from mistakes made.
The trek down to Camp Cholera was difficult in a different way as the sun remained very fierce and I think that I was on the verge of heatstroke by the time I got back to camp - certainly a danger that I had not thought too much about! This is the aspect of the trip that I have coped with worst (although the amount and strength of the sun has been exceptional this trip) and I will have to pick some more efficient headgear for the future as well as more carefully monitoring my clothing in relation to my activity levels more carefully.
I have kept my appetite all trip, at times forcing myself to eat when not that hungry to maintain the calorie intake for the mountain. Now that we have summited the need is no longer there. Also don't feel great after the day in the sun so in my sleeping bag early and just having some soup. Hopefully we will be back in Mendoza in a couple of days and great steak and local red wine await.
Terrible last night with a heavy, windy storm from about 11pm onwards. Hard to sleep through the noise and very, very cold. Snow is everywhere so packing and setting off at anything like reasonable hour is going to be tough. We are going to descend all the way back to base camp today so its quite a long way and therefore efficiency is going to be important.
My boots filled with snow overnight as I had not protected them sufficiently against the gale raging in our vestibule. So I spend most of the morning with frozen feet and in the carnage I can't find my liner gloves so I end up striking camp and packing with a variation of bare hands, slippery liner mitts and huge, undexterous outer mitts. Really not my best and it is my turn to require assistance and keep the others waiting - not very efficient but hopefully a very valuable lesson to be learning now in preparation for more demanding trips!
Everyone else struggles as well and a number of tents are damaged by a combination of the rocky ground and high winds. We clear our previous camp sites as we descend. Somehow there are all sorts of extras on the way down - helpfully the last group had left a series of stashes for us but were not sure what they were - as such we could not take any less up but with us but had to bring all their unwanted items down, thanks! I ended up with a pack of over 30kg for our five hour descent, as well as carrying some bags of food as I had run out of places to strap the extra bags on.
But must take my hat off to Stu who was bringing down a pack of almost 40kg! The rest of the afternoon is just resting and recharging in our tents and a chance to inspect bodies after a few tough days. The altitude has had the predicted and depressing impact of muscle loss, as the body burns muscle as well as the food consumed at altitude. I ,even more depressingly, seem to have gained some padding to combat the high altitude and cold so I will probably need to start exercising when I get back to Mendoza!
It turns out that our summit day was the end of the weather window (as we experienced with the storm earlier) with the next potential summit day not for another 4 days. Some groups seem to be preparing to ride it out up high while others have come down the mountain in the hope of having an easier time until then. The poor weather seems to be following us down the mountain as the temperature has really dropped and it is now snowing - a far cry from the crippling sunshine of the earlier part of the trip. This evening and tomorrow are well deserved recovery and organizing after two long days on the mountain and not much sleep.
Chicken and bacon pasta for breakfast. The meat freeze dried meals are nowhere near as good as the vegetation ones.
No lunch as we are descending at this point but there is a great spread awaiting us at base camp including spicy guacamole - just what burnt and cracked lips need but fresh vegetables as well as some fresh melon are just what the body wants.
Lasagne - mountain style: ie with all sorts of meat and veg in it. Very tasty after a week on mountain food.
Pretty lazy day really. Bit of areorg of high altitude /technical gear, food, cooking equipment etc; more general chat about future trips and where this ranks among them; reading and a bit of a nap after lunch; and perhaps most importantly a shave. No shower facilities but back in Mendoza in two days - looking forward to being clean for the first time in over two weeks.
No washing may sound fun kids but believe me two weeks is far too long - especially when the chap in the tent next to you (and by that I mean only inches away) isn't washing either! It is bearable when you are aiming for the summit as you are in fact putting up with much worse, but after summiting the main thing that you are looking forward to is getting back to a town and sorting yourself out.
Mixed breakfast of cheese, ham, cereal, melon. Pretty good spread again.
Roast chicken piece with a bit of salad.
Roast lamb chops with roasted vegetables - not bad with my final bottle of celebratory Malbec for the mountain
Another storm overnight, but mainly wind and little snow. The tents are now in a bad way and quite a few have holes and rips in the fly sheet as well as ground sheet.
Quick breakfast and then organize ourselves to leave Base Camp. After only taking small steps for the past week or so (due to steep or tricky ground, if not both, as well as heavy packs) it is a delight to be able to take large strides and we make good ground - there is also a surprising amount of oxygen at 4,000m!
The storms that we have suffered higher up seem to have brought the valley to life and there is green everywhere. In fact this turns out to be little more than a green mossy covering to the various thorn bushes - much to our amusement and Tim's discomfort when he tries to sit on one!
Rather than be boring and follow the main path we end up next to the river and have a great time scrambling and traversing various rocks as well as multiple river crossings to get down into the main valley.
This continues when I get to the main valley, carrying on down the side which the mules use - it looks a lot more fun and it is always more interesting to avoid retracing your steps on the return journey - but I soon see the others on the other side of the valley. I can't face heading all the way back up to join them and my journey is great fun; very flat and straight at first (so time saving) and then lots of traversing scree slopes (while being vigilant of the avalanche risk from above), bouldering, scrambling and little bits of climbing the rocks next to the river to make it down to camp just in time to see the sun descend behind the neighboring mountain.
It is a pretty solid 7 hour hike over tricky terrain and this is the most tired I have felt from exercise (rather than from a mixture of the cold and altitude)- glad we did not push on getting all the way to the road head today as the others don't arrive for another hour or so.
Mixed breakfast of cheese, ham, cereal, melon. Pretty good spread again.
Packed lunch including ham, cheese and tuna sandwiches: one on white bread and one on brown. There is also a very acidic orange juice which leads to several sharp intakes of breath as it comes into contact with our burnt and chapped lips. Promptly followed by a second round as those laughing at the first lot split theirs.
Last camping dinner - pasta with tomato sauce. Not too bad once covered with cheese and a bit of lemon mayonnaise. Still, nice to think that this is last (until next time).
Up early and off. Long hot walk back to road and arrive at 12:30 Then typical S Am delays and confusion as no transfer is ready to take us back to Mendoza. Then we are told that the storms we experienced have caused a series of landslides and that the roads are closed back to Mendoza - not the best news for Tim who has just spent rather a lot on changing his flight back home to tomorrow am!
Then we are told that in fact the driver has stopped in Upsallata for lunch -this news comes at about 3pm and whist there is relief we will get back to town tonight it is tinged with annoyance that we are having to hang round for the driver.
In the meantime we find that a superb BBQ has been prepared for us - as much beef, pork and sausage as we could possibly eat. This is followed by a few hours lazing in the sun / shade at Penitentes before the transfer finally arrives at about 5pm.
The transfer is, it turns out, full with another group out from Mendoza who, understandably and just as we did, had a good lunch on the way out.
Anyway, we head off and have great fun with the drivers choice of music; Greatest Hits of the 80s!The time flies as we reminisce about the era when you could hear the words and the music had a beat that you understood! We get back to Mendoza at about 21:30 and it is off for dinner and drinks to celebrate a successful and injury free expedition!
Accounts and photos of completing the Explorers Grand Slam - 2 Poles and 7 Summits. By Sebastian Merriman. Aconcagua, Ama Dablam, Carstenz Pyramid, Denali, McKinley, Elbrus, Everest, Kosciusko, Kilimanjaro, North Pole, Arctic, South Pole, Antarctic, Antarctica, Vinson, vertigo, climbing, mountaineering, skiing to the pole, skiing to the poles, seb2poles7summits, seb27, Seb Merriman, seb2poles, mountains, poles