Page 15 - 2016 AMA Autumn
P. 15

                                 European Alps summits yet cutting around in shorts and t-shirts with volcanically heated hot springs nearby to relax in.
From here we completed our second and third acclimatisation treks; up to a ridge on Mulas Muertas at 5600m and to the summit of San Francisco at 6018m. Both climbs were long and slow with depressing rate-of-ascent statistics and further reminders of altitude effect on the body. It was great to get all team members – which included several beginners – to the summit of a 6000er in good order. Back at base, pulse oximeter readings were being taken every breakfast and dinner to add to the evidence of mild headaches and Lake Louise scorecard discussions; we were at serious altitude and one or two individuals were starting to show the signs.
Just about acclimatised sufficiently for the main objective, it was time to plan the summit strategy. Based on the progress of the group and a closing weather window (high winds forecast) the decision was taken to advance the itinerary by 24 hours. This meant only one night at Refugio Atacama (5200m) and no load-carry to Refugio Tejos (5850m). We would climb from Atacama to Tejos and after a short rest and feed (which we always knew would not be a time to write home about) depart for the summit the following day at 0400.
The jump from Laguna Verde to Refugio Atacama to Refugio Tejos in little more than 24 hours proved too much for two of the group whose AMS symptoms prevented their summit day departure from Tejos. The remainder of the group set off in minus 15 degree stillness of the night reaching 6300m before the last JSMEL was struck by dizziness and unable to go onwards. With six of the
group fighting fit and in sight of the summit it was a brave and tough decision – but certainly the right one – to turn the whole group around and descend immediately when the group might have pressed onwards under the local guide; the mountain is there for another day as they say.
So the first British Services expedition onto Ojos del Salado will be recorded in the archives as a ‘fail’. However, a more holistic summary of the expedition will record 12 High Altitude First Aid awards, 10 Winter Mountain Foundation awards and 10 successful ascents of a 4000er, 5000er and 6000er not to mention the priceless experiences of leadership, planning, decision making, surviving in remoteness, teamwork and acclimatising at altitude. Back in Copiapo at the end-of-expedition night out there was plenty of talk of ‘what and where next?’... AT is a drug.

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