Mountaineer Derek on his South American Climb
My latest Seven Summits’ expedition was a success but unfortunately with only one summit of Mount Bonete at 5,000 meters and not Aconcagua, the main event.
I was and still am so, so disappointed having worked so hard ahead of the expedition and was in no doubt and confident that I’d reach the summit of Aconcagua.
I was physically and mentally in a great shape and had at no stage doubted myself. However, due to a number of reasons and for the right reasons for me, I turned back just below the summit, 400 meters below.
This was a first non-successful summit and something I’ll process, breakdown and post-mortem the circumstances so as to not make the same mistakes again. Out of nine people, only one summitted.
During the previous week, expeditions retreated from the mountain due to weather, temperatures, high winds, physical and mental fatigue. Three people died on the mountain of both pulmonary and cerebral edema (abnormal accumulation of fluid in certain tissues within the body due to altitude). This week compares with the annual average of three.
The gravity and seriousness of climbing in altitude was with us all on summit night which is always the case. Some of our expedition members were overwhelmed by it and turned back only meters from high camp at 6,000 meters, which was our starting point.
The weather was perfect with clear skies and no real wind as we climbed. As we moved to the west side of the mountain, the snow drifts and wind velocity and a chilling -35 degrees saw a few more turn back. We rested at 6,500 meters leaving the lead guide turning back two other climbers. My climbing colleagues were suffering and had slowed considerably. The golden rule is “the lead guide’s opinion or decision is final. There is no discussion’’.
As my core temperature dropped, my energy levels also dropped and for the first time, I began to feel very unwell. With a screaming headache, I tried to offset this by eating more and drinking more but the headaches continued and when the lead guide returned after his lengthy discussions, I had decided at that stage, to turn.
I was so aware of how I was feeling and knowing the symptoms of edema, it was the right decision.
I returned to high camp at 6,000 meters feeling a little better but very tired. I slept for 30 minutes, ate and drank again, and discussed with the 2nd lead guide what had happened. I’ve to send a full report to the expedition heads but as said I made the right decision for me. It was just circumstances beyond my control.
To be honest, I am proud of myself having taken such a decision. I’ll be armed with so much more next year and with a different expedition company, I’ll be 100% confident of summitting again.