Posts Tagged ‘descent’

Aconcagua: Descending

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

When we last left off, we were about to head down the mountain as some weather was coming in. I wanted to follow that post with an in-depth narrative of our descent all the way down the mountain. However, after considering what I wrote on the last post, I just couldn’t write anything that lived up to what I told there. So what follows are some of the pictures worth sharing and a brief description of each. If you want to see bigger pictures make sure to click on one of them to be taken to the gallery and maximise your browser for best quality.

Click for full-size gallery. Ryan leading the way down, and you can see clouds starting to form behind him.

Ryan leading the way down, and you can see the clouds starting to form behind him.

Click for full-size gallery. Me with the other face of Aconcagua visible in the back.

At this point I stopped to have my picture taken with the other face of Aconcagua visible in the back. One thing you’ll notice is that I don’t have my backpack, we had left them a little before the summit, so we are now on the way back to get them. You can see the line of people still making their way up, I am quite sure that we were the first group of people to head down that day.

Click for full-size gallery. One last look at the summit.

After coming down a little more, we take one last look at the summit, where we can still see people posing for pictures or videos before the clouds come and swallow the view up.

Click for full-size gallery. Emil behind Ryan working their way down.

Here we see Emil behind Ryan working their way down, where the clouds in the distance form a nice puffy texture of cotton candy that looks absolutely delicious! One thing I wanted to comment on here, coming down this mountain is a hundred times easier than going up. Now it is true that most climbing accidents happen on the way down, and you have to be very aware and cautious as you go down. That said though, there are no technical sections on this mountain that require that much skill, so it’s basically just a cautious walk down. Just thinking back to being there as it’s happening, the distance covered going down was unbelievably fast (compared to going up). This just shows how difficult it is to be going up at this altitude, the amount of energy required and the difficulty in being so high, as once your body doesn’t need to be huffing and puffing, things become a lot easier.

Click for full-size gallery. We continue to pass people on their way up.

As we descend lower and the clouds come up higher, we continue to pass people on their way up. The ones on this picture will likely still make it to the top, but won’t have any kind of view. We met people further down still, making their way up, that had absolutely no chance of making the summit with the way the weather was coming in.

Click for full-size gallery. Tired, thirsty, cold.

By the time this picture was taken we were well within the weather system, and I had put my camera away. But Emil had his more handy, and shows the painful expression I had on my face from being tired, thirsty, cold, and generally not in a comfort zone. Thirst was the big thing, I was thirsty already on the way up, without enough water to quench it. It’s practically impossible to take as much water up with you as you would want to drink, as you end up losing through sweat and every single high-altitude breath. I had nothing to drink for the last bit of summiting and the entire way down.

Click for full-size gallery. Our camp, shrouded in fog and falling snow.

We finally reached our camp, shrouded in fog and falling snow, but shelter none the less. It was quite a rewarding sight, as we had spent about 11 hours outside going up and down in the cold. I also want to mention the out-of-body feeling that I had on the last part of the way down. From the thirst and tiredness and the cumulative effects of the entire trip, on the way down I felt eerily not inside my own body. I felt as if I was looking down at myself in the third person, as you see me in the picture above, a disconnect between body and mind. Take that for what it’s worth! Once we reached camp 2 we drank, ate, drank, slept, more or less in that order. The thing with these summits is you get back mid-afternoon so there is still half a day of time before the sun sets. We rested and prepared all we needed to pack up and go down the next day, where we would go past camp 1, all the way to base camp.

Click for full-size gallery. A glimpse of the mountain as it peeks out from under the clouds.

Here we catch a glimpse of the mountain as it peeks out from under the clouds, the last look we would get from that high up.

Click for full-size gallery. This part was not a walk in the park, mainly since we had to carry down in one go what we had carried up in several trips.

On the way down to base camp we passed camp 1 and spent one day descending what had taken us 6 days to ascend. On the picture above you can see that even this part was not a walk in the park, mainly since we had to carry down in one go what we had carried up in several trips. My bag was never fuller or heavier than on this day, you can see that my 95 litre bag is filled over capacity and the top compartment is extended to cover the top.

Once we got to base camp we passed on the normal camp meals and went to a “restaurant” for the most delicious plate of lasagna I have ever had! I ate every last crumb, licked up every last bit of grease from the plate. That’s the kind of appetite we all had for “normal” food!

Click for full-size gallery. This is the start of a day during which we would walk 33 kilometers.

In the picture above we are about 20 meters into our trip from base camp to the lower camps. One difference you can see from previous base camp pictures is the amount of snow all around. This was the weather system we were in at the top, that it left snow all around the mountain. This is the start of a day during which we would walk 33 kilometers to the first camp we stayed at, Las Lenas (with the flush porcelain toilets!)

Click for full-size gallery. We took off our hikers and crossed this gentle-looking stream.

On this 33 kilometer day we would have to take off our hikers and cross this gentle-looking stream that was really not that gentle. But the feet sure felt good after their first wash in a couple of weeks!

Click for full-size gallery. The point where we crossed the stream on mules almost two weeks ago.

Here we get to the point where we crossed the stream on mules almost two weeks ago. After crossing (this time on foot) we sat in the sun, let our feet dry, and relaxed while having lunch. After this stop the weather became bad again (as it had the first time we came to this spot two weeks prior, the beginning and end of our weather trend), and the rest of the way was a little more wet and windy.

Click for full-size gallery. Last picture of the trip, the after picture.

Last picture of the trip, the “after” picture. Emil, Ryan, Kerry, and myself, with everyone that can grow facial hair showing it off proudly! While you can’t really see it in this picture, when I looked at myself in the mirror later that day I did not recognize myself. I had aged 10 years in two weeks. Also when taking a shower that day was the first time I noticed how much weight I had lost. It was the first time in my life I could actually feel all my ab muscles. I did not weigh myself so I cannot even guess how much I weighed, but I had an enormous appetite for months after (I was still eating big probably long after I had gained it all back!)

So that’s the story of Aconcagua 2009. Hope it shed some light on how exactly these trips look and feel. Take care, until the next mountain!