737 Challenge - 8th January 2012

Hey guys, I bet some of you were starting to doubt whether I would be writing a summit blog! I'm sorry for the delay it's been an epic few days since my last entry. The last time we spoke I had just arrived in camp 2 at the foot of the polish glacier at 5900m. The weather was totally bluebird (blue skies) for our rest day, which was a little worrying as it seemed that this year she (Aconcagua) hadn’t shared too many summit days!

We were all pretty beat up at this point of the Exped. The heavy loads had begun to take their toll, not to mention the fully loaded climb to camp 2 and erecting the tent in 60+kph winds the day before.

All day I stared up at the polish glacier, the route that we'd come to climb. For a mountain that gets bad press for being boring, the East side of the mountain/polish glacier side is pretty awesome in my books! At any given time we were one of only 2 or 3 tents, unlike the mega busy normal route. I know that I made the right call not to attempt the polish glacier as the ice conditions were pretty ropey to say the least, but I was gutted - it looks so beautiful. It's very similar I guess to the Lhotse face on Everest. About a vertical km of hard and steep windswept ice from 6000m to 7000m. The difference is that here the route isn't fixed with safety ropes and you have crevasses and seracs to contend with, and you're not as acclimatised as you would be on Everest. We'd only been on Acon 7 days at this point!

Anyway, enough now, I/we had made the decision so it was now about the best strategy to summit via the 'true false polish glacier route'. I knew we were strong in the team and that the sun rose about 7am. Ironically two of us were carrying relatively recent frostbite injuries, so I had a plan to best protect our toes! If we backed our ability to climb efficiently and therefore fast, we could leave after the sun came up avoiding the bitterly cold night. The down side was that the winds were due to increase in the afternoon. We decided to get up at 6am and leave at 7am on summit day.

Summit morning is the closest thing that I'll get to a pre match rugby changing room. There’s not much talking in the tent, just deliberate conversation and action. It's a great feeling. The other team, from America, that were attempting to summit via the same route had left camp almost 2 hours before us, and seemed miles ahead of us. The first part of the climb is a 3/4hr traverse from the East side of the mountain around to North side rising from 5900m to approx 6200m. Then you join the 'normal climbing route' and the masses! Luckily the poor weather had meant that there were relatively few climbers attempting to summit this day.

Once on the North side of the mountain the climbing route steepens with a series of zig zags and another long traverse to the bottom of the 'Canaletta'. This is the final 2-4hrs of the summit push and probably the most dangerous part of the climb. By the time we had reached this point we had caught the rest of the teams up, although having been climbing for 2-4 hours less.

The weather from Dad was accurate and the winds did begin to increase significantly, but still within the realms of safe mountaineering. We summited on the 3rd February at 15:45 local time, 18:45 GMT in 60+kph winds and around -28 degrees Celcius, after an 8hr summit climb. For obvious reasons we didn’t stay long on the summit, conscious of getting back down safely.

I did however manage to take some photos with my Marie Curie Cancer Care 'Tea Pot' and 'Daffodil' for the Great Daffodil Appeal! I’m not sure they've come out as expected but at least they are authentic!

The down climb is always the hardest both mentally and physically in my opinion, and it didn't disappoint! We got back to the safety of my new MSR tent shattered, but content! A 12 hr day in total.

The following day turned out to be the toughest day ironically!! Mountains have a funny way of kicking you when you’re down! All good character building! We had a map which showed a trail from camp 2, gently traversing down and around the mountain to 'Nido' camp at 5500m. This was the first day that we had 'everything' loaded in our packs, about 30kgs each! To cut a long story short, we dropped down from camp 2 only to realise that there was no trail and the scree slope was too steep to traverse with heavy packs on. This meant a painful 2 hr climb back UP to another camp called 'Colera' to drop down into 'Nido' camp! All above 5700m! A savage twist!

The next 2 days were non-stop down climbing firstly to Plaza De Mulas, the base camp on the other side of the mountain, and then down to the park entrance at Horcones. Once out the park the adventure for the night was only just started! Trying to flag a bus down in what is the equivalent of a motorway was the beginning, and the end was a bunk bed underneath a ceiling fan!! The Argies aren't too hot on health and safety! Ha!

This trip has been very different to last years climb as part of my 737 Challenge. It's been awesome in fact! Bloody tough, but great! I'm still pinching myself, from the depth of depression around my forced retirement 2.5 years ago to now being able to safely head into the mountains is just awesome. Not many people traverse Aconcagua because it's tough. Done properly, without support, the loads are equal to Denali not to mention the extreme altitude. I'm really proud to have safely summited, especially as its been a difficult year due to weather on Aconcagua. I'm even more proud to say that it seems as if my climbing partner on this trip and friend Aniko Molnar was the first Hungarian to successfully traverse Aconcagua. Nice work mate!!

I'm home at the end of this week and straight back into the fundraising! This trip has recharged me and allowed me some clarity (in life and..) to do what needs to be done in order to maximise the time left fundraising in aid of Marie Curie. We still have a long way to go until July, but many exciting initiatives to get there! Even since I've been away, I know the 737 Challenge team have been on it and the support from you guys is still incredible!

P.S. The truth is this was all a mega high altitude training session for First Nation Home in March! Ha! I'd fancy a punt on us Welshies to bring it home!!