After hearing countless mountain fables that the night at Cholera would be the worst night of your life, I was mentally prepared for anything! Previously I avoided sleeping that high due to bad weather and my deteriorating health, but this time all the arrows were pointing towards this as the best option.
We arrived at the camp (6000m) and awkwardly set up the tent in the wind and snuggled into our sleeping bags ready for battle. The wind died down and the tent heated up. We had melted all of the snow that we needed for the summit climb and had finished all other summit admin. We set our alarm for 6am and the plan was to get an early night in order to be ready in the morning but I was way too excited to sleep. Finally I had a good weather window, and I was feeling strong and well adjusted. After a total of 39 days on this mountain this was by far my best chance to finally stand on the roof of the Andes.
Finally 6am rolled over and I was expecting the boys to wake up in a state, complaining of ailments and the worst sleep ever but instead I was greeted by enthusiasm and excitement. Oh its on now! We smashed back some porridge and readied our packs with the essentials. Normally if you expose your fingers or toes even for a second at this camp there is little to no chance you will be able to warm them again for days. Mike stands outside the tent in only his socks and asks “should i wear one or two pairs” I quickly answered “bro! put your boots on, you will loose your toes” thankfully Mike still has all of his toes but it was not until later that day that he could feel them again.
We set off at 7am (the last climbers to leave camp) because the weather was so good it was safe to make an afternoon summit and we could avoid starting in the freezing darkness. We reached the first hurdle Plaza Independencia (6500m) at 10am and by this stage had managed to overtake some other teams. We started the long two hour traverse underneath the summit face to the cave. I was in full guide mode, calculating times and altitude on my Suunto Ambit 3, while Mat was in his element taking incredible photos. Mike was still battling his stomach issue coupled with fatigue so his climb was becoming more mental than physical in order to keep momentum.
We reached the cave to find about 20 people all resting in various states trying to psych up for the final 300m ascent up the snow climb. It was at this moment that I knew no matter what I was going to summit and nothing was going to stop me. Even though we still had 3 hours of climbing left I had already started visualizing my summit moment. I was so excited that I could not rest and just started chatting and walking around the cave annoying everyone immensely. We continued our climb and due to my inner teacher we had grown from a team of three to a team of seven people that I could use my cheesy climbing cliches to encourage. Inch by inch, step by step, we slowly edged our way up the snow wall toward the final summit traverse. We all had our moments of weakness and that is why climbing in a team can be really helpful so you can lean on each other at different times.
Finally we reached the ledge which meant we were only a few meters from the summit. We decided we would take the last few steps together but while we were organizing this plan we all started crying and the gravity of the moment hit me. This was finally the moment I had dreamed of for so many years, as this was the summit that had eluded me and caused so much self doubt and anxiety but was now providing me with the greatest sense of pride and fulfilment of my life.
Sometimes we build something up in our head so much that it actually transforms into something we perceive as intangible and even mystical. When you manage to finally rise above that perception and take control of your destiny the feeling is actually indescribable with my very limited diction. I was now standing on the roof of South America and this bastard was officially knocked off! Third times a charm!
Now lace up your shoes, take the path less traveled and take control of your life with no excuses or justifications. The harder the challenge the greater the reward.
Mental Health Foundation of NZ
Samantha Hayes and TV3 News
Physio Mechanics- Takanini
Jay Harrison Nutrition