This harrowing account of the team's attempt to reach the summit has just come through.
By Terry Byrne
All night the wind was howling and I doubt anyone slept. We were three to a tent and it was -20 degrees outside. This caused massive amounts of condensation, so all night we had drops of moisture landing on our sleeping bags and quickly turning to ice.
At 0300, one of our guides, Andy, brought some warm water for us to drink. The intent was to wake us up but most of us were already wide awake or at most barely snoozing. It is hard to sleep at altitude when your heart is racing and you cannot seem to take in enough air with each breath. Nausea and headaches are other symptoms that we have just learnt to get used to.
Andy's arrival meant that it was time to attempt to summit Mount Aconcagua. Eventually, after months of planning and training, we were on our way to ticking another challenge off on our way to completing the Adaptive Grand Slam. At least that is what we thought.
The temperature was still below -20 degrees as we collapsed the tents and, despite the forecast being otherwise, the wind was up. Harry made the call that we were good to go so as a team we all filtered out onto the steep first section.
We had around 1000 metres of elevation to gain and the first section felt almost vertical. I had quite a severe migraine from the altitude and the oxygen level was so low we were covering a tenth of the pace we would normally do at sea level. The wind was picking up and it was an almost impossible challenge to keep our extremities warm. My lips, nose and cheeks were becoming heavily wind burnt despite preventative measures, and my toes and fingers gradually became numb and painful. I still can't feel them properly 24 hours later.
After climbing for around 5hrs we came to a windy pass at around 6500m. We could see the summit but reaching it was another matter. We were battling against a 65 Km/H head wind creating a wind chill factor of -43 degrees. As well as the penetrating cold, the power of the wind made movement along the pass unpredictable and dangerous.
Harry has the experience of numerous climbs on numerous mountains and we all know that his judgement is spot on. After assessing the situation he had to make the difficult call to turn back less than 400m from the summit. The group were all absolutely gutted but knew the decision was final and that it was the right call. It wasn't the time or the place to do anything but follow his wise direction. Although it was not clear to everyone at the time, he could see that several team members were showing early signs of frost bite and another 4 hours in worsening conditions could have led to serious injury or even death. Some of the team's prosthetics were now barely functional having taken a battering with the steep rocky terrain and sub-zero conditions.
The walk back to Camp 3 was quiet and depressing. This was in marked contrast to the indelible confidence and buoyancy that the team had possessed until this point. We are fit, motivated and strong and the thought of failure had barely figured. The truth is that no team, without almost definitely risking life, could have reached the summit that day. We could handle the biting cold or the high winds; but the combination of both together defeated us.
On return to Camp 3 the mood lifted. We were more sheltered and the temperature was slightly more survivable. Initially we resolved to form a plan to make a second attempt; but after an assessment of the weather, injuries, supplies and equipment; it became very clear that this was not going to be possible. Several prosthetics were damaged to the point of being unusable, and the cold injuries several people were carrying meant they could not risk further exposure.
As the realisation that we weren't going to make it to the top this time sunk in, the resolve that we would be back soon to finish the job kicked in. We were beaten for now, but one day soon we will all be stood at the top of that mountain and nothing will get in our way.