My Aconcagua adventure began at Heathrow on the 29th of December with a short flight to Madrid, before a painfully long flight to Santiago, Chile and concluding with a final short hop to Mendoza in Argentina. We then loaded our gear into an open top pickup truck and drove the 200km to the edge of the National Park and the starting point of our march.
We bedded down in a hotel used as a ski chalet in the winter months and tucked in to our first steak and red wine dinner - everyone is a carnivore here! There were an assemble of different size and nationality teams in the dining room, all bedecked in a vast array of fluorescent climbing clothing - by contrast we wore shorts, t-shirts and flip flops.
The following morning I awoke feeling I had swallowed a whole cow. Steaks and me simply don't agree. I sorted my kit and after a brief breakfast reloaded the truck and drove the short distance to the start point. It was 41 degrees - it felt like a blast furnace.
We took our first steps and kept walking in the baking sun for a further 5 endless hours, before arriving at out first camp for the night. The camp was simply a cleared space in the shadow of vast mountains with a small hut for the park ranger and a log corral for the Gaucho's horses. I admit, I was a little surprised that things were quit so basic.
We erected our tents and Marco our Argentinian guide set about creating a cooking area for the evening meal, which eventually consisted of a vast plate of barbecued meat and very little else. The Gauchos cooked the meat over an open fire - it was delicious but it meant I had now eaten two cows! This was New Years Eve 2016 - bottles of champagne appeared at the appointed time. I called home using another climbers sat phone and spoke to Vanessa briefly - my Thuraya sat phone doesn't work in South America - doh.
We awoke early and the second day of the trek into Bc began - slightly less hot, but as endless and boring as the previous day. The mountains loomed around us and the snow covered peaks of our destination gradually moved closer. Hour after hour passed - I was saved by my music. One foot in front of the other, head down, listen to the tunes. The sun beat down relentlessly - factor 65 was a prerequisite.
Our second camp was very much like the first and we reached it in another 5 hours of walking. However, this journey had been populated with numerous barefoot river crossing - the water was glacial and very painful and at one point was raging just beneath waist level. My shorts dried in 15 minutes so hot and dry is the atmosphere. Luckily my iPhone survived the surprise drenching - I think I would have turned and gone home if I'd lost my music.
The afternoon at camp 2 was spent trying to find shade. The heat was unbearable. Too hot in the tent, too hot and harsh to sit in the sun - we all prayed for the sun to go down. We sat in the evening around a small table and ate pasta cooked on a tiny stove and shared a bottle of red wine. All our kit and the kitchen equipment travels alongside us on the back of vast herds of mules. We agreed to wake at 6 and get going before the sun rose and started to bake us again.
At 5am the American team decided to get going - so, confronted with such a row, we decided to get up and get going too. We left camp at 6:30 and wearing my flip flops rather than my boots which I carried in my pack, we crossed the vast river basin and waded the river once again. The water was incredibly cold, surrounded by ice. My feet were totally numb by the time we reached the other side. We carried on.
An hour later we stopped for a drink and my feet were still largely numb! I took my boots off and rubbed them back to life - the sun broke over the mountains luckily and my foot temperature returned to normal.
3 hours later the two cows I was carrying around inside me decided they had reached "full term" and it was time to be born. I detached myself from the group and as they marched on, crouched down. However, mid operation, 25 horses herded by 5 Gauchos emerged over the crest of the previous hill and caught me "red handed" - I can't remember being so embarrassed. They all laughed and jeered as they rode past - nightmare.
We finally walked into Aconcagua BC at 1pm. The BC is huge and virtually permanent - a city of sorts. There appear few individual tents but many dome tents which has improved the comfort level on expedition vastly. Remarkably, the wifi, via satellite, is good enough to FaceTime people. I spoke to Ethan, my son the moment I arrived - it's incredible.
So, today is a full rest day - one of our group had a proper altitude headache last night, but tomorrow we leave for C1 (5100m) before C2 (5600m) the next, C3 (6100) the next and the summit (6975m) the next. We are not yo-yoing up and down the mountain this trip. We have all climbed much much higher so we are being more aggressive. All being well, and the high wind dropping, we should summit on the 7th. Then I run for home.
Anyway, these dispatches are a bit rushed - sorry, but the whole trip is a bit rushed. I didn't have the chance of appealing to collective generosity and asking for Nspcc sponsorship.
However, I am climbing for both myself and the Charity so if anyone would be kind enough to make a contribution that would be excellent. I am saving my proper appeal for a potential 6th Everest in 2017!
Anything at is appreciated though.
I will be offline for the next few days - but will backfill all that happens once I am back down. Right now the winds on the summit are 100km - but expected to drop. 100km will kill us. Fingers crossed.
More later (images on FB and Twitter)