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A-Z of a Climber 

A is for Aconcagua

10 November 2008

Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).

I’ve never been to Aconcagua and I doubt I ever will.

Firstly I won’t climb anything I can’t easily spell and Aconcagua is a tough cookie. My rule is that if you have trouble spelling a mountain then you’ll have trouble climbing it. That’s why I don’t go to the Himalayas or climb volcanoes in Mexico, preferring mountains that would appear in the Oxford reading-tree books, mountains like Mont Blanc, Fitz Roy and the ultimate for the spelling challenged; El tap.

I reckon that instead of trying to hump an 8,000m peak why not have a spelling Bee instead? You could get all those climbers together and stick them in a gymnasium in Norwich or Wigan and ask them to spell out each of the 8,000m peaks.

Sounds easy?

Well forgot to mention that they would be inside a pressure chamber which would whisk them up to the correct altitude first and you’d perhaps give them a big dose of laxatives so they’d have to do it squatting down on the toilet, along with a good dose of haemorrhoids.

“Mr Hinks, can you hear me?”’ The test master would say into his microphone, “Spell Dhaulagiri.”

Inside the chamber, there would be a brief pause, as Al, his brain robbed of oxygen and Newcastle Brown Ale, grasps at the letters until the words begin to march out one by one,

“y -o- r- k -s- h-i -r-e-p-u-d-d - i- n-g.”

I know that this would perhaps take some of the glamour and razzmatazz out of this comedy cavalcade of comedy correctors, but at least it would set a good example for the kids. If it came to a draw then you could go for a tie break and get them to spell out the surnames of the first five climbers to climb all eight (Messner - a bit easy that one, Kukuczka, Loretan, Carsolio, Wielicki and Oiarzabal). Now I’d pay to watch that.

Another reason I don’t want to climb Aconcagua is that it sounds a bit too easy.

Now I’m sure there are lots of readers who’ve climbed or tried to climb Aconcagua who will be pissed off at such a comment, thinking that I obviously don’t know what I’m talking about, pointing out that more people die on Aconcagua than on Everest.

Well on that last point all I can say is that more people die on Stanage than the North Face of the Eiger, but I wouldn’t call Stanage dangerous, after all there is no such thing as a dangerous mountain anyway, only dangerous climbers.

My evidence in proving that Aconcagua is, in fact, too easy is that it’s been climbed in three hours and 40 minutes, which is faster than most hard boulder problems. Yes, I know that people have climbed Everest really fast as well, but I’d just say so what?

Everest is easy as well, just loads of wealthy punters making a big deal out of a walk.

My rule is: if you can run up it, then it isn’t a climb.

I also don’t like the idea of feeling I’m on this hostile mountain, fighting for my life and sanity, trying to juggle the summit or my toes, only to have some miserable fell runner with Vaseline on his balls and nipples jog past me in his dayglo shorts.

It sort of spoils the moment.

To further prove my point I read once how two guys had gone almost to the top on dirt bikes for goodness sake! Now wouldn’t that piss you off, struggling for breath only to get a mouthful of carbon monoxide from some motorbiking Jeremy Clarkson; come to think of it, it could be worse, it could be Jeremy bloody Clarkson.

But of all the reasons not to climb Aconcagua, the number one must be that a bloody dog’s walked to the summit. Yes, you heard me right, a four-legged canine, how depressing would that be, planting your flag on the top only for a dog to come along and cock its leg on it?

The best thing about said dog is that it’s a great way to deflate the egos of high altitude idiots, a breed of climbers that represent the worst about climbing. These people generally tell you that they work in the city, which could just mean they work at the MacDonald’s or Starbucks, yet generally is a way of saying: “I can’ buy myself the top of any mountain.”

(On the subject of money and mountains, I never understand why people get so excited by rich people climbing, especially when you get some city banker’s son skateboarding up Everest, or rollerblading down Mount Vinson. Sure it’s impressive an 18-year old being able to bankroll such an expensive walking holiday, but it’s more impressive that the Sherpas go for free. In my book, a true climber is the one who climbs without spending a penny - and I don’t mean bladder control. The climber who hitches all the way to Chamonix and climbs Mont Blanc is more than any mountaineer who uses their gold card to reach the top whatever the cost. Rant over. )

So, back to the dog, Yes it’s great when you come across someone who is big in the city and thinks they’re big in the mountains, mouthing off about how they’re going to make the first British ascent of Aconcagua by a colour blind climber and how dangerous it will be, how hostile, about the crevasses, bandits, man-eating parrots etc.

Being able to watch them deflate like the Wicked Witch of the West when you say: “Don’t worry mate, it can’t be that bad - even dogs climb it” makes the sacrifice of never climbing Aconcagua seem worthwhile.

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