Moving up to high Camp 3 (6 000 m) - 17 Jan 2012

jayson practising with his ice axe sAs expected, the morning was freezing cold with a chilly wind blowing and whipping up the snow, so everyone was wearing ski goggles and masks, which made it impossible to recognize anyone. Packing up the camp under these conditions was an exhausting and time consuming job. The tents and rocks and ropes had become entombed in ice, and each one had to be individually chopped out with an ice axe.

So, we only got going at 11:30am. After a short while, we realized that we needed to be wearing warmer gloves, so most of us had to make an ad hoc stop to adjust our kit for the extra cold conditions.

The route to Camp 3 followed a steep slope, which had been heavily covered in snow, so it was now very slippery, which Jayson described as dangerous and scenic. We could now see that we were higher than all the surrounding mountain peaks, which gave us a proud feeling. It was a day of achievements.
At one point, we passed 5 663 m, the same height as Mt Elbrus (highest point in Europe). Then, as we climbed higher, we passed 5 895 m, the height of the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro (highest point in Africa).
It was odd thinking that we would be sleeping two nights higher than Kili's summit. Jayson was getting mild symptoms of altitude sickness with nausea, stomach ache and headache. He collapsed and wanted to throw up, but after lying down, he was feeling a little better. I was also feeling very short of breath, so I sat down next to Jay on the path. Several others like Frank, Mike and Phil also took the opportunity to take a break. Sibu came over to us and told us that we were doing it all wrong, and that we must walk at our own pace and breath more frequently with each step forward. We tried this technique and found we could cope much better.

jayson with pee bottles sWe were delighted to arrive in high camp at about 3:30pm. The altitude of camp 3 is about 6 000 m, so this was the highest that Jay and I have climbed before. As we arrived in camp, we passed the permanent refuge bay.

The rest of the team, except Phokwane, had already arrived in high camp about 10 minutes before us and had already set about erecting tents. The wind was very strong and it took four team members just to hold the tent down while others looked for large rocks to anchor the tent securely. It was good teamwork, and we were relieved when all 7 tents had been erected in about an hour. Our next crucial task was to collect and melt adequate ice for drinking water for the summit attempt. It takes forever to melt ice, and so we were busy until after 9pm. We both battled to eat, as we were feeling a little nauseous, so we only ate a small portion.

Sibu came to brief us that we will all leave for the summit attempt at 5:30am tomorrow.

Rest Day in Camp 2 - 16 Jan 2012

ra and jay cozy in their tent sIn the morning the winds had begun to die down, but Jay and I weren't keen to leave the warmth of our sleeping bags. I eventually needed to visit the toilet tent, so I kitted up with my full thermal outfit to bear the cold. Everything in the tent was frozen solid, including the wet wipes, which was our only means of washing, until we get off the mountain. Outside it looked wonderful, seeing all the high mountains surrounding us, some covered in snow. There was a plume of snow blowing off the summit of Aconcagua, so it didn't look like a good day for being near the summit. I only managed to take a few photos of the camp, then the batteries died due to the cold condition. Later, I would keep the batteries in my sleeping bag to keep them warm.

ninja jayson sOur little water hole had frozen solid too, so we needed to collect snow and ice to melt for drinking, and also for cooking water. We used our ice axe to break it up and then used our bare hands to collect the large chunks of ice in a large plastic bag. It took us nearly two hours to melt enough ice for the rest of today and the whole of this climb tomorrow. We need to be drinking a minimum of 3 litres per day at this altitude.
This was a good time to sit outdoors and have a chat. The funny thing is that it was very difficult to recognize anyone, as every part of them was covered in clothing, including ski goggles and motorcycle masks for protection from the cold and sun's rays. Phil commented that he thought that the camp had been taken over by a group of masked robbers.

Later, when we had finished with the water, Sibo asked us to try out our ice crampons, which we needed for summit day (only two days away now!). The crampons have razor sharp spikes, so need to be handled carefully. We found it was quite easy clipping the crampons on our ice boots, but it might be another story trying to get them on where there is no rock to sit on, and if you need to do it with your inner gloves on. Most of the team members took a short walk on the ice and snow around the camp and quickly got the hang of it.

By 6pm it was blowing a storm in camp, and everyone, except the bravest, departed for the warmth of their tents. Weather permitting tomorrow, we will move up to final Camp 3. I am quite concerned as the mornings are freezing and we will need to pack up the camp in the cold.

Moving up to Camp 2 (5 460 m) - 15 Jan 2012

jayson buffed up sWhen we woke, we realized that the tents were heavily snowed in. A river had formed under our tent, so our first job was to divert the river. It was going to take everyone much longer to pack up the camp, because everything was wet, so they moved the departure time to 10:30am.

We could clearly see our initial goal in front of us, as we had to climb a steep, slippery slope up to the col. Our packs were very heavy, so we all laboured up the slope. There were many other small and large teams on the move, and teams would often stop to say hello and find out where we were from and which route we were taking. Although it was hard work, there was a jovial atmosphere and absolute breathtaking views of distant snow covered mountains and white clouds bellowing above.

The narrow path would zig zag up the slope to reduce the steepness, but by now the path had been heavily trampled and the surface had turned to ice, so it was getting quite slippery. This meant that you had to concentrate on every little step, and needed to anchor the two ski poles firmly in the snow. My foot slipped out from under me on one of the bends, and I slid a short distance down the slope to Sibu's amusement. He couldn't help stating the obvious: that it is best not to fall (ha ha). Every so often, somebody stands on an ice covered hole and falls through, sometimes as deep as the knee, which gives them a big fright... ask Jayson as this happened to him once.

Near the col we caught up with Phokwane as she had set off earlier to get a head start. We had a light lunch at the col and drank some refreshments.

Looking at our team, it is quite amazing how much talent we have, which is great for inspiring the other team members. Obviously Sibu is our hero, with what he has achieved, and continues to achieve, with his 7 summits and long distance running. Phil is amazing, how he is able to race up and down the slope getting great video footage and seems to have unlimited energy. Rod is also very strong, and it is clear he takes climbing very seriously. Johan was a top SA cyclist only seven years ago, and was a contender for winning races such as the Argus Tour. Although I might not have nearly as much talent or experience as many of the teammates, I feel really privileged to share this great adventure together and to learn as much as I can.

jayson icy cold sJust on the other side of col we came across another small camp. Somebody in the camp recognized Sibu, so he stopped for a chat. The path traversed the mountain at a slight incline that kept us out of breath. I took it slightly slower, as I wanted to stop and take some photos of the views... and because I wanted to conserve some energy for the summit push, which could be in the next three days. Frank also seemed to be battling with the altitude, and so we kept each other company with Bob right with us.

Eventually we reached Camp 2 (although the sign board says Camp 3?), after a four and a half hour climb. We set about erecting tents, collecting water and preparing meals as we knew that the weather would close in like clockwork in the late afternoon. By 5pm, it was snowing and Jay and I were already tucked up in our tent. Although we had used suntan lotion and buffs to try and shield ourselves from the sun's reflection off the snow, it had not been adequate, and so we both had red glowing faces. We will need to be even more careful in the coming days.

We received news that there were high winds and lots of snow about Camp 2, which is currently preventing anybody from reaching the higher Camp 3 or the summit. We are hoping that the weather will be kind to us and open a window in the next three days.

By 8pm, Jay was still hungry so he prepared a second meal of Cottage Pie for us, which tasted out of this world. We sat and chatted about our lives and shared some experiences that had shaped our lives. We realized that we have a lot of similar traits. We were glad to be in each other’s company. We both went to sleep smiling.

In the early hours of the morning, the wind was gusting through our camp and putting out tents to the test. I was worried that perhaps we could have done more to tie our tent down. It is not an exact science, as each of the stones that we tied the tent to be of different sizes and shapes. It was not easy finding suitable rocks and some had to be carried quite some distance. It is freezing in the tent, about minus 16 degrees, but we are cosy and warm in our sleeping bags. I hope the winds die down soon so that I can get back to sleep.

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