28/02/2011

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Climbing Mount Aconcagua - Argentina

A good friend, Alistair Grice recently accomplished the ascent of  Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, at 6962m it is the highest peak in the world outside the Himalaya. The climb was made as part of a guided mountaineering expedition. We caught up with Alistair recently and asked a few questions about his incredible experience.

Why choose to climb Mount Aconcagua ?

Having successfully completed a number of high altitude peaks over 5000m, the Aconcagua ascent in the High Andes has always been the ultimate trekking goal. The opportunity to attempt the highest trekable summit outside of the Himalaya with a group of equally like minded people was not to be missed.

How did you prepare for the ascent ?

As you would expect for this type of Expedition the minimum requirement is for a very good level of fitness, an excellent level of stamina and a positive mental attitude. Bear in mind that no amount of training can prepare you for an ascent of this nature and the effects of high altitude on the body. A solid fitness regime is key in preparing for the demands of achieving a climb of 6962m in a harsh climate and at high altitude. Consequently for the five months leading up to departure there was an obvious need to increase the gym sessions to five per week focusing on cardiovascular work, increasing lung capacity and building up additional muscle and body fat. Reducing the alcohol intake to one or two glasses of wine a week is also advisable one month before the expedition.

What time of year did you travel ?

Aconcagua's treking season is between December and March so the conditions in February proved to be ideal. The climatic conditions above 5000m can change rapidly with very little notice so summit day attempts can be delayed or even abandoned if local conditions prove to be too unpredictable or indeed dangerous. Summiting is optional, getting down is mandatory !

How was your time pre and post climb in Argentina?

I was in Mendoza for a couple of days before the group arrived just to get the lie of the land, and when we did meet up at the briefing we collected the permits and headed to the hills. The group had only one scheduled night pre and post trek in Mendoza. You may want to take a couple of extra days at the end of the trip to savour the Aconcagua experience and celebrate with a glass or two of Malbec wine of the Mendoza region.

What special equipment did you take into the Andes Mountains ?

For this type of high altitude expedition the amount of kit required is fairly comprehensive including plastic mountaineering boots, crampons, ice axe, duvet jacket and a four season sleeping bag as temperatures can hit minus 25 degrees C. This equipment can be pre arranged to be hired locally.

How long did the ascent take ?

In order to provide sufficient time to acclimatise safely and so increase the chances of summiting, the slow ascent from the Aconcagua National Park Gates takes 2 weeks, with summit day from Camp 3 taking approximately 9 to 10 hours for the ascent of the final 1000m.

What was your worst moment ?

The night before summit day, in a two man tent at 5900m, howling gale force wind and blizzard conditions combining to batter the tent walls. Unable to sleep but physically shattered and mentally drained, constantly pondering the next 24 hours and what the future held.

The Jaw Dropping Moment ?

Summiting at 3.45pm on the 21st of February, the unbelievable euphoria of achieving our collective goal in reaching 6962m, the top of the Americas. Seven out of the team of twelve who set off made the summit, an excellent success ratio of 60%. The overall success rate for summiting for the season (December 2010 - Febuary 2011) was only 25%, so we quite literally defied the odds.

What can you see from the summit ?

The 360 degree panoramic vista across the Andes as you would expect takes some beating, despite the wind blown conditions and semi cloud cover constantly shrouding the peak. Its worth emphasing that given the capricious nature of Cerro Aconcagua's forever changing climatic condtions, the group was incredibly fortunate to be a given a summit window of opportunity to clamber through. 

Any advice for those wanting to do the climb ?

Aside from the key areas of being in the best possible health and physical fitness, the correct mental approach is a pre-requisite as well as ideally possessing previous high altitude trekking experience. It's a real challenge in a dramatic Andean mountain region, one not to be missed.

If you are inspired to climb Mount Aconcagua...

...And want to mark the following year with a life achievement, the next small group ascent of Aconcagua is dated 05 February 2012 for departure returning on 26 February. Priced from £3799 per person. For further details and to book please email info@escapa.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

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