I hardly slept. This is normal during the night before the summit push. Others didn’t sleep much either. We got up at two in the morning and spent an hour boiling the snow. One group had already gone up: the lights from their headlamps were slowly crawling along the dark slope. All the rest planned to leave much later, somewhere at 5 a.m. It turned out they were right: the wind here subsides in the morning.
The road was quite easy, but it was incredibly cold. Chris and I were especially unlucky with our new gloves: already in the first meters of the ascent our fingers started to freeze quickly. After a while, I stopped feeling them at all. I complained to Chris (after all, he chose and bought those gloves): he advised me to remove the upper part and wear only the lower down one, clenching my hand into a fist. This helped a little, but walking with trekking poles and with a fist was uncomfortable: the glove constantly slipped out. Often I had to go without the poles to keep my hands warm. My feet were also cold, but I got used to it from expeditions to Kilimanjaro and Elbrus. The main problem was my fingers.
I noticed that Chris is kind of weird today. Near the hut Independencia, Chris became ill: he was trembling all over and could not put on climbing crampons on his own. I tried to warm him up by hugging him and pouring some tea. I asked everyone to move faster so that Chris would not freeze completely from the cold.
When passing the traverse, a strong icy wind blew directly into us. We were barely walking. Not only did my fingers and toes hurt, but my eyes as well. I put on my ski goggles – it helped, although it was still dark. When we were approaching Canaleta, I noticed that Chris could hardly walk. I asked him to have a break on a rock and have some tea. I pulled out my thermos from the rucksack with my icy hands, handed it over to Chris and waited for him to open it and drink. Instead, he just sat helplessly and could not even hold a thermos for a minute: it slipped and flew far down.
At that moment I realized that Chris urgently needed to return and to go down. I have never seen him like this before. I went with him to the Independence hut and thought maybe he could go down further alone and I could continue my ascent on my own, but even there he was still feeling unwell. Just in case I had to go down with him to the camp Cholera. Up until that moment I forgot about the summit. Bringing Chris to safety was the only priority. However, when we got to the camp I felt very sad: I had to wait so long, to go through so much torment in order to miss the only possible chance of the ascent? I began to think about parallel plans: can I climb right now? Or maybe tomorrow? Or maybe next year?
To go up right now was not a good option – we arrived to the Cholera camp towards noon. I hesitated about the next day, but decided eventually to go down to the base camp with the others. Anyway, the weather was supposed to worsen tomorrow.
Mountains are beautiful, but family is the most important thing. I will have another chance to climb to the very top, but for now I am happy with my personal altitude record – 6660 meters above sea level.
The way down to the camp turned out to be difficult: the left side of my chest began to hurt, especially when I coughed (yes, this cough was still bothering me), I constantly fell, slipping in the snow, and in general my energy and mood were at zero. How glad I was when we finally reached the base camp. The doctor said that my lungs are fine. Most likely, the diaphragm hurt due to almost a month of non-stop coughing.
The next day, the other two from the team descended. They managed to get to the summit. I am very proud of them that they fought to the end, waited for the last weather chance and took it. After celebrating the end of the expedition, sorting out all the equipment, tents and food, sending it all down on mules, paying all expenses and checking out at the park rangers hut, we started our way back to the Mendoza Gorge.
I can’t wait until we’re finally back in Mendoza. I can take a normal shower, do my laundry, sleep in a comfy bed, shit in a normal toilet, and finally cure my cough, my fingers and toes (they lost their sensibility, especially the finger tips). How quickly we forget to appreciate this basic daily comfort!
There was only one long day of hiking through the endless valley to the Confluencia camp and through the gorge down to the border of the natural park. At the Confluencia camp, a surprise awaited us: a delicious lunch. Below, at the panorama site with views of Aconcagua, we took our common farewell photo.
Chris needed more time there: he stood there alone for several minutes, staring at Mount Aconcagua, without any movement and with full concentration. He will not return here again. He may even never climb such high mountains as he told me in previous days. This saddened me much more than the fact that we did not manage to reach the very top. After all, I dreamed so much of the day when I would knee down and propose to him on one high summit. Either I’ll have to look for another idea, or he will change his mind someday 😉
In the Mendoza Gorge we got back our equipment, said goodbye to the guys, then went first to a nearby mountain hut, and on the next day by bus to the city of Mendoza. A whole class of schoolkids played mafia there in the bus. It reminded me of my happy childhood. How surprising that Mendoza is so far from Bishkek, but very close in spirit: open and friendly people, wonderful cuisine with a lot of meat, similar looking cities, mountains and gorges. I felt at home here. Too bad we had to leave in three days. I wanted to stay here and enjoy it even longer. Especially when on our last day in Mendoza we were escorted and hugged by the hostess in our last guest house. It made my heart feel so warm.
P.S. My wish did eventually come true. Our flight was canceled and we had to fly one day later. We spent the last day in the sauna and by the pool, resting our minds and bodies before the long flight back to Berlin.