I have woken up early this morning because of the sun shining through the jeep’s windows.
I’ve been sleeping in a 4 X 4 the last few days… No, I’m not (yet) living on the streets because I spent all my last savings on the last trip, I am infact in Iceland on a filming project with the boyf. The view outside is spectacular as I write this, we drove off road to get to where we are now and today we plan on scaling one of the higher peaks to get some cool drone footage on the ridges. I’m an expert drone pilot now!
I digress. Anyway, I woke up thinking of Argentina and the tales to document on here. This to me is like an online, saved forever, diary so it’s good to note some of the big events in life.
Tim and I woke up early in anticipation for summit day. We were climbing in Cordon del Plata. It’s home to endless 5000-6000 metre peaks and no one heads there because everyone flocks to Aconcagua in order to cross out one of the seven summits.
We had gone to Argentina with the intention of climbing it but were told when buying permits that the price had gone to winter prices (£1000!!!) and that we couldn’t go without a guide. Screw that! It’s not worth it! So on we went to seek out a less commercialised area with no rules, permits or people. We found out about Cordon del Plata and knew we’d hit the jackpot.
Getting there was a bit of a faff, we had to find a local with a 4×4 and pay him to take us up the mountain to 2900 metres. Next we had to ferry 2 bags up and down to each camp because we had so much camera gear and food (we were staying 2 weeks).
Finally, all our kit was in one place high up the mountain at about 4200 metres and now we could focus on summiting some mountains!
First we went for Mount Rincon and had such a great day. The clouds were beneath us and everything looked simply gorgeous. I felt so strong that day, everything was fitting into place nicely.
After a rest day by the stream, we decided to head for Mount Vallecitos.
It wouldn’t be a super long day but it had a reasonable altitude gain in a short period of time. I was game, I had felt strong on Rincon which was a much more technically demanding peak than Vallecitos so Vallecitos should be piece of cake yes? No.
The morning of summit day I woke up weak. I’d been developing a cough that would get incredibly aggressive when I stopped moving or attempted to sleep. It would exhaust me in seconds as I struggled to catch the little oxygen there was.
A delicious, hefty breakfast of 800 calories worth of porridge by Bewell expedition foods and I thought I’d be raring to go just like usual.
We began our summit bid. Tim went ahead at his comfortable pace as I attempted to put one foot in front of the other. Climbing at altitude is so hard to nail down to those who haven’t experienced it. Every step with a pack on uphill drains the energy from you. I was having to concentrate incredibly hard just to persuade my brain to move my legs up the hill.
After the first twenty minutes, my legs were starving from oxygen more than usual. They were empty.
As I crawled up, I could see Tim had stopped for some water. That must be it I thought, I must just be dehydrated so I’ll have a drink up where Tim is.
It’s always a mission in itself to get enough fluids in at altitude and my pee was sure enough not clear.
As I approached Tim, he was getting his pack on again about to leave.
My heart dropped a little, I needed to stop, just for a little while, before we made our way up the steep 90 minute climb that would bring us up onto the ridge.
I very feaberly called out “I just need to stop and get a drink.” Tim looked back at me and was obviously happy to wait for me.
Then the panic struck.
I was 5 meters from Tim and I stumbled. An easy mistake to make I thought? I bent over and put my pack down in a flustered state and as I stood up again my vision failed.
I could no longer see straight. I couldn’t focus in the centre of my field of vision and the edges were blurry and distorted. The light was bright on my eyes and it shocked me. My hands went up to rub my eyes in an attempt to clear my sight. Nothing.
Even though I was in a confused state, I had full consciousness and was aware Tim had seen me having some kind of problem. I remember him moving closer and me desperate to look at him for reassurance but my eyes just wouldn’t focus. It got to the point where he was standing up close to me looking at me directly in the eyes yet my pupils were darting about the place, everywhere but at him. My balance was going fast. I felt as if I had been spinning round and around.
It all came as such a surprise and of course I wanted to tell Tim I want having problems seeing and being spacially aware. I opened my mouth to say “I can’t see” but nothing came out.
I couldn’t talk now either.
Somewhere in my head, the signals from my brain to my mouth had got tangled. I had no control of my mouth which then developed to having no control of my whole face.
I remember feeling confused and worried, I knew things were not right and were worsening.
Tim would say “look at me Lucy, look at me, talk to me Lucy, talk to me.” His voice comforted me. He was remaining calm and collected but after the second time asking if I could talk, his voice cracked and I could sense he was getting considerably concerned.
I was deteriorating fast. Tim grabbed my bag and put it on my back. “We’re going down. Hold my bag and follow.” He turned me around and I held as tightly as I could to his rucksack so not to stumble further.
We descended fast, I mean bloody fast. The oxygen levels got higher with every step and my balance began to come back and my level of confusion was getting less.
It only took 200 metres or so and my speech returned. Shortly after my eyesight settled down and went back to normal.
I had come uncomfortably close to a much more serious situation that day. It felt exactly as I imagine a stroke to feel like. It felt exactly like the onset of the terrible Cerebral Edema. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s pretty much when your brain gets a hemmorhage and it’s one of the common killers at altitude, alongside pulmonary edema which is the build up of fluid in lungs. — Altitude is fun, eh?!
I don’t quite know what happened that day but I do know that without Tim, I may not be here today. He got me down and took lead when I was in no state of doing either. A hero.
Will I climb at altitude again? Of course. I’ve been fine in the past. Things like this can happen to anyone and all you can do is learn from it, know what to do, and climb with others.
All I have left to say on this post is – Sorry mum and dad that I do these things. I hope you appreciate me keeping these horror stories secret until I’m safe at home.