A Grand Day Out 1: Dinner In The Mountains

by Iain Bisset Feb/2009
This article has been read 2,493 times
Celebratory dinner at 5400m, Aconcagua January 2008

The weather forecast did not look good for the day after tomorrow. It reminded me of Nepal when two metres of high snow turned us back before the summit. ”You become wiser after being turned away from a mountain than from getting to the top,” a more experienced climber once told me. Since then I had become a bloody genius! We were given the choice of pushing for the summit from camp two in one long day or turning back tomorrow, the vote was unanimous on what should be done.

A shout of “Hot water,” went out sometime after 3am and I woke from the best sleep I had ever had at altitude. It took over an hour to slowly put my clothes on, eat a handful of dried fruit and fill up every possible container with hot water. We had to ascend from 5400m to 6962m and be back before nightfall. It was pitch black when we set off; at a pace that was painfully slow but not as painful as our bodies felt. No one spoke, even at the rest stops the banter from the last two weeks had ceased. Tired eyes made contact as we assessed each other and who might make the summit.

At the start of the morning we had the strength to think. I thought about my girlfriend back in Europe, probably still in bed recovering from New Year celebrations. By the time we had reached the fifth rest point we were down to three people and all I could think of when we set off was; 'left foot, breath in, right foot, breath out, and repeat.' Abruptly the sound ceased, the Canaleta appeared and our hearts stopped. Fifteen steps then a rest, ten steps, eight, and four. Karl and I started to crawl; we hadn't seen Alex for thirty minutes since his crampon fell off. We could see the summit now, ten metres away, but neither of us could move, I was positive it could be done in one push “She's all yours mate.”

I stood up; 'left foot, breath in, right foot, breath out, repeat.' I was walking, robotic and slow, but I was walking. Something empowered me. I was two metres away from the top. I wanted to turn back, staring at the final two metres I would rather turn around than find the strength to carry on. A concerted effort brought the last gasp of Herculean strength needed and a contender for the highest beached whale top-out ever performed saw me lying on the summit plateau. I started to cry before falling asleep.

I could have been the highest person in the world at that moment, but I didn't care I wanted to go down. I waited patiently for Karl and Alex to appear and radioed my Dad back at base camp. “I did it.” We descended. I didn't think it could possibly be worse but it was. I last drank water at six thousand and hadn't seen the bottle since. I couldn't remember where my walking pole was. We arrived back to applause from our friends, pasta and sparkling wine prepared in our plastic bowls and mugs.

It was the best meal I ever had.

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A Grand Day Out, 154 kbimage © Mick Ryan

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