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Thursday, 31 January 2013

Day 3 - Up to to Base Camp

Up early as the mules need to get up to base camp and then back down to the road head. The camp is very pretty prior to dawn with a variety of lights and reflective patches.

Spot of yoga before we head off.

Then we head across the river into the valley. As we are crossing it at about 07:130 and it is a rather chilly morning, the water is freezing and there is a rather painful few minutes until our feet go comfortably numb.
We turn into the Relenchos valley along a rather tricky riverside path (lots of scree and mudslides) and up to a col where we get our first really good views of Aconcagua. Then it is a long undulating walk up the valley

to base camp where we are greeted with kisses from the lovely Ilena who prepares an excellent lunch for us as we put up our tents.
Again the afternoon sun is really strong and we retire to our tents for some much needed rest.
Base camp is a semi-permanent group of large tents (dormitories, mess tents, cook tents etc) owned by various agents. We opt for the tough options and remain in our tents!


Tomorrow is a rest day to acclimatize before we start to lay provisions further up the mountain and acclimatize at higher altitudes.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Day 2 - In the Vacas valley

A fairly leisurely start and a similar day of trekking but with our first view of Acongcagua just before camp. This is the Casa de Piedro at about 3,200m.


We arrive at about 2pm and the sun is really strong - even the tents provide little shade - and the camp site is a very sorry place until early evening when the sun goes down. Then there is a rapid change and a very cold evening wind blows through. We have another BBQ but this one is much later and we are mostly too cold to enjoy it - may have to dig out my down jacket for evenings from now on!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Day 1 - Into the Vacas Valley

Clear blue sky in the morning and the sun hits the valley at about 8am. Perfect conditions for a bit of yoga despite the amused hoots from passing truck drivers.
Off to the entrance hut to check in and get our personal rubbish bags-

$300 fine if you do not return it when you leave the park - and then we start to hike up the Vacas valley. It will be a gentle trek over the next few days rising from about 2,400 to base camp at about 4,300m.
Today we climb up to about 2,800 at Pampa de Lenas. Not too long a trek but the sky is cloudless and the sun strong - as it is 8 chaps we obviously all get sunburnt; not too badly though. The valley is pretty steep sided and the rocks and plants provide a fine spectrum of green and browns which contrast well with the bright blue sky.

A couple of us go for a dip in the river on arrival at camp; refreshing doesn't begin to describe how cold the water is.
The muleteers are cooking a BBQ for us tonight and I am writing this next to the fire - it smells superb! I have very sensibly brought a couple of bottles of good Malbec up from Mendoza – the epicentre of the Argentinian wine industry.

The BBQ is pretty huge - the photo was just for one small group - by the end, the whole grill is covered with meat - two types of sausages, large chunks of beef and rib strips which are mainly fat and gristle and smothered in salt before cooking.
Somehow it turns out that the strips are for our group and I don't think that I impress the muleteers by leaving large amounts behind; luckily there is so much of the big beef chunks that we get some of those as well and they are delicious!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Inspire a generation

I will in the future be nominating some charities for support - the focus will be on the youth of today and outdoor activities. So I hope that for now you can share this with your various kids - and my various nephews and neices, honorary and actual!

Jago, Ben, Maddy, Saskia, Kiera, Freya, Joseph, Maya, - I expect to see all of you out in the mountains in boots and a backpack!

Please accept my apologies for any ommissions to this list but having been critical of timekeeping out here I now have 5 mins before we leave!
Mendoza - Day 1

Up early (06:30) and the sun is shining so head off for a run - the city is lovely at this time of the morning and I encounter a mix of industrious local bemused at a foreigner going for a run at this time of the day and rather less industrious locals staggering home from what appears to have been either an excellent night out (canoodling on benches or shouting from the sunroofs of cars) or a disastrous one (crying and shouting). There is a wonderful park and I find it rather energizing to run under the auspices of the mountains we are heading off to climb; however I impress myself by being mindful of not getting overconfident and spend quite a bit of time stretching and enjoying the view last time I go without any form of camera (apologies for this one and not to be repeated slip up).

Then it is a reassuring kit check and off to the permit office for a rather swift and very friendly procession of stops to pay and then pick up the licenses. Pop into a local shop to get some more gear and then lunch at a local mall. Luckily there is a grill there and a rather good steak - not sure how much (if at all) my enjoyment was augmented by the fact that the others I was eating with were all vegetarians and the salads were nothing to blog about!

Afternoon was shopping for the expedition. 7 chaps looking for an odd collection of items with little help from several very uninterested staff. Good fun and a good chance to get to know my fellow climbers a bit better. Then re-packing bags for the trek into the park, a quick swim and dinner. Service issues amused us again but food not to bad.
First Evening in Mendoza

Fairly painless flight to Mendoza - a smallish town of 1m people in the foothills of the Andes and then off for dinner. The town is actually pretty nice with more wide avenues and pedestrianised areas.  Lots of families are out enjoying themselves along with a number of well behaved groups of youths - T Blair's cafe culture seems alive and well here!

Great hopes of starting with a famous Argentinian steak are dashed as the restaurant for the evening turns out to be a rather mediocre Italian. 
I do get the chance to continue refamiliarising myself with Spanish, translating and ordering a series of pizzas, salads and drinks.  Plan is for an early night as everyone is pretty tired after a long days travelling but we don't get back to the hotel until almost midnight - the speed of the service being balanced by being able to eat outside having come from the depths of Winter in London. 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Flight to Argentina

Usual fun and games on the flight – tug truck has a problem and despite the pilot requesting a replacement truck to be sent as well as the engineers, only the engineers turn up. Surprisingly after half an hour they can’t fix the problem and agree that it might have been wise to have requested a replacement truck as it will take another half an hour for one to arrive!. Pretty ordinary films (Sweeny and Taken 2 – don’t rush to watch either) and then Xanax comes to the rescue again giving me a good 7 hours or so sleep until just outside BA.
Immigration and customs are absolutely packed so it takes over two hours to leave the airport – luckily my next flight to Mendosa (from a different airport in BA and a 1.5 hr transfer) is not until 17:45 as I certainly had not incorporated the four hour delay!

BA looks pretty nice in the Summer – lots of greenery and open spaces. Sports facilities everywhere including open air swimming pools. An interesting mix of colonial and modern architecture with wide roads certainly confirms the impression of a high quality of life.
Prep week
A further series of enjoyable (!) shopping trips and organising punctuated superbly by dinner with the parents at Pied a Terre and a rather special roast duck lunch with a marvellous vintage claret as my final meal in the UK.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Climbing week
A week that veered from enjoyable and informative to exhaustive and rather worrying.  This was a chance to add some technical skills and tricky condition experience to my prior and rather old school approach of going fast and light to power through the terrain and weather – not really an option on the beasts to come!
First was a crash weekend course in beginner’s winter skills (crampons, ice axes etc) run by Mat followed by a week of trying out my skills and equipment in anger led by Zac (see his blog Jan 14th to 18th for a bit more of the detail -
Highlights include:
·         Rarely getting off the mountain before dark.
·         Climbs included: Ledge Route, Curved Ridge, Aonach Eagach Ridge,
·         Getting to the top of my first proper climb (using crampons, ice axe and rope) in time for a stunning sunset.
·         Finding that my ‘tester’ grade III climb had changed into a grade IV in the conditions – cue moments of reflection as to what I was doing whilst teetered on a very narrow ledge with only one prong of my crampons and a rather precarious grip on my ice axe preventing me falling several thousand feet! To put things into perspective, I was also roped at the time but had not yet come to ‘trust’ the rope and so far from finding it a comfort it was still then a source of concern as being asked to put it on clarified that we had reached a particularly dangerous section of the route.
·         Spending time in the national ice centre and trying out the climbing wall in my Everest boots! More importantly, this included jumping off practice; it is amazing how much easier climbing becomes once you have realised that other people are not all incompetent and that a slip won’t lead to you plummeting to your death!
·         Getting to the highest point in the UK (Ben Nevis) in 85+ mph winds. Walking while leaning at something like a 45% angle is certainly an experience.
The drive back down was more fun and games with the wretched sat nav and an unfortunate petrol stop on the Southern Glasgow bypass became a battle of wills to get back onto the motorway. I claim victory on this occasion but the lady gets revenge when (still refusing to accept the existence of the M6 toll road) she cunningly diverts me onto the M1 rather than the M40 from Birmingham with allowing her to direct me though all the major traffic jams on my resulting traipse across London.
About as much fun as you can legally have in the snow!

Emerging from the shelter at the top of the Ben to face the winds again

Grade III suddenly becomes IV - don't look down!

Leading up to CrowberryTower.

Part way to the top...

Walking can be tricky when the wind is 85mph on top of The Ben.

Rather impressive conditions on the way down from the Ben.

More fun climbing.

Not far now...

Spot of lunch in the shelter at the summit of the Ben.

Summitting the curved ledge. Rather good view!

Tricky conditions in Scotland!

Sunset on the Buachaille.


Friday, 11 January 2013

Another long day - 6 hours in the Adventure Peaks shop. Given my attitude to shopping (even for sports gear) it is not long before my interest starts fading and I resort to my usual tactic of just asking for 'one of everything I need and make it the best you have'...
I am going to look very shiny and new but need to avoid the potential for 'all the gear, no idea' accusations once on the course.
After that another long drive in the dark up to Onich. A small village between Fort William and Glen Coe in the Northish West of Scotland.
Swine sat nav decides to thwart my best efforts to avoid the centre of Glasgow and all my good progress on the motorway is undone as I spend a good hour crawling through the city.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Day 1 (as it were). Driving from London up to Ambleside in the Lake District to buy all (or the vast proportion) of the gear that I will need for the various expeditions. Taking a large car and several credit cards just in case!
Long journey through the dark but get into Ambleside just before 9; in time for a quick visit to the gym and a spot of dinner from the only available place in town - the local Chinese!
Spirits maintained by the lively debate with the satnav over whether the M6 toll road actually exists. I provide a speedy circumvention of the Birmingham evening traffic on an excellently built and traffic-free road therefore I am, versus 'computer says no!'.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The rough program is as follows but please see my website (linked above) for more detail:
January   -  Kitting up and training in Scotland
February   -  Aconcagua
March  -  Argentina
April   -  North Pole
May   -  Training
June  -  Denali
July  -  Elbrus
August  -  Carstenz Pyramid
December  -  Antarctica
January  -  Antarctica
April  -  Everest
May  -  Everest
Hello and welcome to my blog. This is my first one so please expect a series of changes and updates whilst I play around the various fancy features available as I discover them.

I am spending 2013 and the first part of 2014 trekking to both the poles and climbing to the tops of the highest mountain on each of the seven continents - please see the above link to wikipedia information on the 7 Summits for more information on this.