The Aconcagua expedition was a success but unfortunately with only one summit of Mount Bonete at 5,095 meters, as I didn’t reach the summit of Aconcagua. I am very disappointed having worked so hard ahead of the expedition and was in no doubt and confident I’d summit. I was physically and mentally in shape and had at no stage doubted myself but there are never any guarantees on these peaks. However due to a number of factors beyond my control but for the right reasons I turned back just 400 meters below the summit. This was my first non-successful summit in my climbing career and something I’ll process, breakdown and examine over the coming weeks and months so as to not to encounter the same issues again.
Out of our group of nine climbers, one made summit on a day which only saw 10/12 people in total summit, far below a daily average of 20.
During the previous week, expeditions retreated from the mountain due to weather, very low temperatures, 75kmph winds, physical and mental fatigue. Three people died of Edema on the mountain the same week (Edema is the abnormal accumulation of fluid in certain tissues within the body due to altitude) against an annual average of three! With that in mind, summit night was tense which is always the case. Some of our group were overwhelmed and turned back only meters from high camp at 6,000 meters, which was our summit start point, while others did not climb beyond that.
The weather was perfect with clear skies and no real wind as we climbed. As we moved to the west side of the mountain the snow drifts and wind velocity and a chilling -35 degrees saw a few more turn back. We rested at 6,500 meters leaving the lead guide sending back two other climbers which escalated from an instruction to an argument. This was inexperience on both parts. My climbing colleagues were suffering and had slowed considerably and had forgotten the golden rule, ‘’the lead guide’s decision is final. There is no discussion’’. The lead guide has a responsibility. That responsibility is your life! And his decision should be respected without question.
As my core temperature dropped, my energy levels also dropped and for the first time I began to feel very unwell – screaming headache and I felt ill – I tried to react by eating more and drinking more but the headaches continued and when the lead guide returned after his lengthy discussions I had decided at that stage, to turn back. He was so distracted and angered with the other climbers he never enquired what was wrong with me nor did he seem to care. His awareness of me and his focus had been totally distracted by the arguments with the two other climbers. However I was in touch with myself. I knew what I was doing. I was not distracted. I was so aware of how I was feeling and knowing the symptoms of Edema, for me it was the right decision. It was too dangerous for me to continue and in hindsight, which is always genius, climbing further with the guide who’d lost focus was another good reason to turn.
I returned to high camp at 6,000 meters feeling a little better but very tired. I slept for 30 minutes, eat and drank again, and discussed with the 2nd lead guide what had happened. He agreed with my decision and questioned the lead guide’s attitude and protection of his climbers. I remain convinced I made the right decision and do not blame the lead guide but just circumstances on the morning which were beyond my control.
To be honest I am very proud of myself having taken such a decision just below summit despite my focus and determination to summit. I was asked only a few days ago, ‘’How do you deal with such disappointment’’? I replied, ‘’I played golf for many years. Golf is an abbreviation for disappointment’’.
My plans to climb Aconcagua again next year are already in motion. My preparation will be as ever meticulous with a few minor adjustments but my determination and focus will never waiver.
Aconcagua my dear friend, I’m coming back.
Take Care and Keep Your Dreams Alive!
Derek, is supporting the mental health charity, GROW, raising mental health awareness. If you’d like to donate please click the link: Donate to Derek Mahon 7 Summit Challenge Charitable Fund.