My Aconcagua expedition Jan 2014

16th Jan 2014: In a misty mountain haze...

  1. Carl Roland

    [Note from Marc McLean, Liverpool, UK: Carl provides his diary entries via satellite phone to myself. During this conversation he could hardly get is breath and sounded very 'punch drunk'. This is as a result of the very thin air at such a high altitude]

    Had a rest day yesterday. Today I did a sheer uphill climb to Camp 3 with air which was unbearably thin due to the altitude. We are now at 5500km. It took us 5 hours. Then took about 3 hours to recover. Simply taking off my boots or going to the toilet leaves me absolutely shattered. I was carrying 19kg in my backpack - this is way too much, it is killing me. I need to go through my stuff and off load stuff I don't need....I think I have too much food.

    Been eating a lot at while at camp. Had a full English breakfast (at least 1000 calories). Strawberry crumble and custard. Chocolate and treacle desserts. Been eating lots of cheese too.

    Need to get our kit ready for our next ascent to Camp Colera at 6,000 metres - our final camp before the summit. Once we leave Camp Colera we'll be undergoing a gruelling 11 hour ascent. Boy, that's gonna be tough!

    We need to walk very carefully at a slow motion pace, like this >> Take a step, count one second, take another step, count one second, and so on.

    My last sleep lasted a good 11 hours. Some of my team mates just cannot sleep, the altitude has messed up their minds and they can't switch off. I must admit that I seem to be sleeping like I am in a coma...don't ask me why. I guess people react differently. Everyone seems to be vomiting...I am lucky that I haven't been. But make no mistake, I am feeling the altitude taking it's toll on me. This is such a hard state to endure. Kilimanjaro is nothing compared to this, I would say this is easily as difficult as The North Pole. The cold we have suffered so far is only minus 10 degrees, compared to minus 50 degrees at the North Pole, but generally in terms of toughness they are on a par with each other.

    The strange nausea just makes you fantasise about being "normal"...the luxury of being able to sit down and take a normal regular breath of normal regular air! My girlfriend Sophie back in the UK was very worried when I spoke to her earlier via satellite phone. She thought I didn't sound right, slurring my speech, etc.

    Don't worry's just the physiology effects of being here!

    Anyway....big trek tomorrow, probably about 5 hours again....and then after that a mammoth 11 hour ascent. Wish me luck!

14th Jan 2014: Blizzards in 120km winds - looks like a game changer in our summit quest...

  1. Carl Roland

    What did I say in my last diary entry about going at a slow and steady pace? Duh! I got a bit over-confident today and didn't follow my own advice and ended up paying the price. Today was definitely the hardest day so far, we encountered severe snow blizzards on our way up to the camp at 5002 metres altitude. It was personally a killer for me because I was going at a fast pace for a long while, and then suddenly all my energy zapped away. I should have stuck to a slower pace. Lesson learned!

    So now we have set up camp, pitched our tents in the snow. The camp we are at presently is what is commonly known as Camp 1 (see my previous diary entry which explains the camps, it can get confusing, different expeditions may define the camps differently, or they may set up their own camps)....but this is commonly known as the major Camp 1. Further up is Camp 2, then Camp 3. However, the plan now is to miss out Camp 2 completely and head straight for Camp 3. Originally we planned to reach the summit on we are aiming to make the summit on Saturday because of worsening conditions. The 120km winds are getting worse.

  1. Update from Carl's team mate Paul Fox (Monarch Airlines, Captain/Pilot)

    As Carl said, it has been a tough day and it looks like it is going to get worse. Our decision to bring our planned summit forward to Saturday will mean we miss out on a day of rest, but it seems the most sensible decision. When we make our descent after the summit we will be dealing with significant severe conditions but it is better we face the worst of it on our descent rather than on the climb. Missing out that one day of rest will be a shame but I am sure we'll be fine.

    Having previously done the Andes, Himalayas and Africa I can say I have gone through a lot tough challenges before....but I feel nothing could have prepared me for having to endure Carl's snoring in the tent every night.

13th Jan 2014: Camping it up on our way to the summit...

  1. Carl Roland

    Today we went up to what is known as Camp 1 at 5002 metres (by the way, this Camp 1 I am talking about is actually Camp 4 to us, the way we've done it, we have previously made our own stop-off camps a number of times to acclimatise)....but this is commonly known as the major Camp 1. Further up is Camp 2, then Camp 3.

    Anyway it took 3 hours to get up to this Camp 1, bringing our gear and supplies, then we rested there for one hour to get acclimatised and made our way back down to the lower camp where we will be staying in our tents until tomorrow, then we'll pack those up and take them up to Camp 1.

    Some of the team have been suffereing quite severe headaches due to the altitude. Thankfully I am pretty much doing OK with the altitude. The climb is getting much more steep and rocky, with some deadly drops....gotta be extra careful. I'll be wearing my Everest boots supplied by Adapt Outdoors in Liverpool. Will be fine, I'll go at a slow, steady pace. The plan is to make the summit by Sunday.

11th Jan 2014: The ups and downs of being an adventurer...

  1. Carl Roland

    The way it works when you come here to drag yourself up a 22,480 ft mountain is that you have to do it a certain way (well....that is is you wanto to stay alive) - doing it the most sensible and safe way, given the high percentage of deaths and casualties among those who attempt it. There will always be a higher success rate when you allow more time for acclimatization. To allow this, there are high altitude camps which are essentially stepping stones to the summit. We now have to perform our "carries" to the next higher camp: carrying up all our heavy kit 500 metres or so (taking tents and other common supplies, and then coming back down for the rest of the gear).

    This "up and down" process is now necessary because we are now too far up for the mules. Those humble beasts were tremendous, carrying such heavy loads for long distances, across rivers etc. I must say I felt sad saying goodbye to the mules....I am gonna miss them!

    We've had medical examinations and blood tests to check that we are all OK to carry on. All good so far. I want to say thanks to Adapt Outdoors for the foodpacks supplied...delicious!

10th Jan 2014: We're on our way...

  1. Carl Roland

    Today I got the first site of the actual mountain - wow! What a monster! An awesome sight with its peak of snow and ice. I shiver at the thought of being there in the 100mph winds and the temperatures as low as minus 40.

    So far, it's been one India Jones experience after another: crossing a wild river, the water chocolate brown from millions of years of mountain sludge getting washed down the river. Watching thirty-odd mules cross the river was a sight to behold. I was so impressed by their ability to manoeuvre through those rough, hazardous waters.

    We are getting hit quite badly from 60mph sand blizzards. It gets your eyes, in your throat. My hair is like wire. The temperature is still mega hot, 37 degrees. I have found my rucksack too heavy the past couple of days, carrying too much, so from now on I am going to carry a little as I can get away with.

    I would like to say a big thank you to my girlfriend back home in the UK. have been a great inspiration! The packs of snack supplies and chocolates you prepared for me are giving me the fuel and calories I need. I get the energy I need from eating them....delicious....and of course, thinking of you is a huge boost. Thank you so have been amazing in helping me get ready and prepare for this!

    Thanks to my dad, mum, my daughter Alisha - I am thinking of you throughout all this.

8th Jan 2014: All set to go...

  1. Carl Roland

    After a four hour drive to Los Penitentes, we arrived at our lodge at an alititude of 2500 metres to get acclimatised. The place has the feel of a real lodge, bunk beds and all. We did a bit of sightseeing, checked our kit again, weighed our bags for the mules to take us to base camp. We are using the mules to carry our supplies (for the entire expedition) to the base camp. We just carry our food for the day. I've just heard that 4 people died in the last 2 weeks! To take my mind off it I have been trying to chill, eating lots of food and watching a good movie "Pain & Gain" starring Mark Whalberg. We've been practicing setting up our tents...something we have to get right. In these light winds of 15mph it is hard enough, imagine what it will be like when I have to do it at 80mph?!

    I have just finished breakfast, drank 2 litres of water during my sleep - was getting up to pee all through the night. It's really hot here. To help get acclimatised it is recommended to drink 2 to 3 litres of water per day. I must say I am feeling OK with the altitude so far. Some of my team mates are feeling a bit nauseous though. On the whole, I am excited and looking forward to this! Just realised my last shower is gonna be my last shower for 3 weeks! I am growing my beard...I want to beat my North Pole beard from last year!

    P.S. You'll never guess what happened to me yesterday - a real dream come true! A car came "tearing-ass" past us in a cloud of dust and I yelled "what the hell what that?". "Oh that's the Dakar Rally", one of my teammates replied.

    What?!!!! The Dakar Rally??? - I remember being so into the Dakar Rally as a kid, following it on TV...and, low and behold, here I am at exactly the same time and in exactly the same place that this wondrous rally from my childhood memories is taking place. I never would have imagined that one day I would see it in the flesh - not in a million years! It was one of those surreal experiences. I am sure I will have a few more of those in store over the next three weeks.

6th Jan 2014: Arrived at Mendoza, Argentina today - setting off on our trail tomorrow

  1. Carl Roland

    My trip to Mendoza, Argentina has already got off to a dramatic start (basically, to catch my final flight I went to the wrong airport and had to take a two-hour taxi ride - the driver had to really put his foot down - we only just made it!). Anyway, it is 38 degrees here. I have been spending time with the guide and the team - there are nine of us. One of the guides told us that, from his most recent team of 6 people, only one person actually made it - the exhaustion and altitude sickness took its toll on the rest! Goes to show just how tough this mountain is - no wonder it is known as the scary summit!

    Today will mostly be spent getting our kit ready and discussing our plans. Tomorrow will be a 180km drive to the starting point!

    Just been told that by friday we can expect 115km winds - hope I don't get blown off the top! I am feeling that familiar weird sense of excitement and anxiety as I embark this expedition. I am missing Alisha, my inspirational daughter. I feel so lucky to have her in my life to give me the motivation to carry on when I face the harshness of these peaks - those moments where you just want to give up.

    This evening my team mates and I are going to sit down to a nice meal - looking forward to that....need my calories!

Getting ready for the scary summit - What am I letting myself in for?

  1. Carl Roland

    Uncomfortable statistics: There are many stats about the death toll on Aconcagua. Only around 20% of people who attempt the mountain manage to summit.

    There comes a time on every expedition when you think to yourself “What on earth am I doing here?” Its cold, you are exhausted and hungry, everything is wet and you have not had a shower in weeks. But hey, no one said it would be easy and so you persevere and somehow bumble through. Slowly over the months the memories of suffering and vowing never to do anything like that again fade away and all that remains is the view from the top and warm fuzzy feelings. 

    I’ve been on a number of expeditions so I have a pretty good idea of what to expect, and even though I love them, I am under no illusions that they are tough bastards that you often just want to escape from.

    Aconcagua is one of the Seven Summits. A mountaineering challenge which was originally undertaken by the Canadian Dick Bass – who wanted to climb the highest peak on each continent. Since then it has become a respected feat to undertake and thousands try each year. Aconcagua in a league of its own. Second only to Everest in stature, it is a non-technical mountain – however, it is still 7000m high. As a result Aconcagua sees more casualties than almost any other mountain in the world – people really underestimate how dangerous it can be.