Three members of a Cypriot mountaineering team that left the island at the beginning of January have managed to reach the summit of Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the western and southern hemispheres located in the Andes.
Led by expert mountain climber Alexis Economides, owner of Limassol-based travel company ‘Peak World Adventure’, the team faced oxygen levels of only 43 per cent compared to sea level and temperatures of up to -30 degrees Celsius.
The conditions during the trek were so severe that several members of the expedition team were forced to pull out.
“There was some pretty bad weather and some minor accidents on the mountain but luckily the group was safe and three of us managed to summit,” Economides told Cyprus Mail.
“It was a crazy, relentless, and freezing experience and most of us are still recovering. It’s amazing what conditions you can come across up there.”
The entire expedition lasted for around three weeks, including the trip to Argentina, the trek to the base camp at 4,300 metres and several acclimatisation hikes.
Mount Aconcagua has three other camps above base camp, located at 5,000, 5,500 and 6,000 metres.
“Our itinerary was to stay at base camp a few days to acclimatise while doing several higher altitude treks and having a few rest days,” Economides said.
“Due to bad weather and high winds, we ended up staying an extra day in our tents at the second camp, as we could not move up and eventually head to the last camp and go straight for the final summit push.”
Economides added that the conditions faced by the team throughout the entire expedition on Aconcagua were very testing, even more so than previously anticipated.
“There are many aspects that came together and made the climb so difficult,” he said. “Staying in a tent for days on end without much time to stand up fully or stretch. Sometimes it was too cold to go outside, especially at night, so we used plastic bottles to go to the toilet in the tent.
“In the mornings, everything is frozen, including water, toothpaste, and we had to scrape the ice off our sleeping bags.
“Furthermore, at such a high altitude, a full night of rest is unlikely with most people being lucky to get two or three hours of sleep at most.”
However, as expected, the most difficult thing faced by the team during the expedition was the severe cold.
“The temperature plummets in the night, which means that you wake up at about 4am or 5am shivering and desperately hoping for the sun to hit the tent at about 9am.”
Economides also recalled the day in which three of the team members reached the summit, which started in the middle of the night, at around 4am, in order for them to have more time before some of the snow melted.
“I was wearing everything that I had brought up with me and I was still freezing. The temperature was around -20 degrees Celsius and was about to get colder with wind chill.
“We started up the mountain with our triple boots and crampons. It was slow going as we were already at 6000 metres and we moved with the light of our head torches as it was pitch black.
“Half an hour into our summit push, we lost another of our team members who decided to head back down to camp three. There were now only half of us left for the summit attempt.
“My hands had started getting painfully cold despite me moving them as much as I could to keep blood flow. I was wearing my fleece gloves under my wind stopper tech gloves, but they were a little tight. About an hour later the sunrise started coming out in the east with all the clouds below it, it was beautiful! I even managed to take a picture.”
Despite all the precautions taken, he said that his mittens did not manage to keep him warm enough and the first symptoms of frostbite started appearing during the final push for the summit.
“Fortunately, one of us had some spare foot warmers and they did the trick. After a few minutes of holding on to them, I could feel my hands starting to painfully thaw.”
The final section before reaching the Aconcagua summit, called “La Canaletta”, a path made of flaky sulphur rocks pushing the snow to the left, was the most difficult, according to Economides.
“After over ten hours of high altitude climbing in high winds and freezing temperatures, we scrambled over the final rocks and were standing on the highest mountain in the southern and western hemisphere. The three of us had conquered Aconcagua!”
Tired after days of trekking in extreme temperatures and difficult conditions, the three members of the team only had very little time on the summit to admire the view before starting the descent to lower camps.
“When you get to the summit though, all your pains and aches disappear. Even the cold temporarily released its grip on you and suddenly forget everything, every painful step, every bad meal, every sleepless night, every day away from normality. It was all worth it.”
The entire team was eventually reunited in the town of Mendoza. Economides said everyone is already looking forward to the next mountain.
“Maybe Denali in Alaska, the highest mountain peak in North America or even the Vinson Massif in Antarctica. For now we all need to rest.”