SETTING out on his trek up the first of the world’s highest mountains, Emerald’s Luke Richmond saw the casualties of a cruel sport.
Reality set in on day one of the climb up the 6962 metre high Aconcagua mountain when, fighting the killer cold and horrific winds, Luke passed two climbers who had perished before the climb reach had even begun.
He didn’t know it yet, but four more climbers would die on the climb.
“I knew it was bad weather, and when our local guide told us it was the worst to hit in 10 years, we all knew it wasn’t going to be an easy summit,” Luke said from Brisbane the day after returning from South America, and just two days before embarking on pre-training for his next summit – Denali in Alaska, USA.
“I walked past two dead bodies frozen in the ice… it was a real eye-opener.”
Not to give up on his life’s dream of becoming the world’s youngest mountaineer to conquer the seven summits, Luke, 26, trekked on.
“I expected the snow and the ice, but not the severe weather. We made it to Camp 1 and just had to bunker down and wait the storm out,” he said.
Three days of confinement in his tent played psychological havoc and Luke ran the risk of altitude sickness kicking in at any time, sending blood pressure soaring and destroying any chance of focus for the climb ahead.
The severe weather finally subsided, bringing perfect conditions for the group of 11 climbers and three local guides to continue their trek.
But it was at Camp 3, called Independencia, that mortality was once again thrust to the front of Luke’s mind.
“There is a small UHF radio shack perched on top of Independencia that has an open roof, as I gazed inside the opening out of curiosity I was brought sharply back to reality by a body wrapped in a silver body bag lying motionless in front of me,” he said.
“This was one of the climbers that we were told about… one of the unfortunate English team to perish on the mountain during the three-day storm.
“I decided to not alert the rest of the team to the body’s presence as I think it would have broken the focus of some.”
That focus, he said, is what got the six of the original 11 to the top of the almost 7km high mountain.
The majority of deaths occur during the descent from the summit, and is a time when climbers need the most support.
“Two of our team members began to trip and stumble from fatigue so Matias (the local guide) made the decision to attach ropes to them and guide them for the remainder in case they were to pass out on a fatal stretch of ridge line,” Luke said.
“It took us just over eight hours to make summit and a further four to have everyone safely back in their tents and recovering at Camp 3.
“I gained knowledge and confidence from Aconcagua and am more excited then ever to get to Alaska, but for now its training time.”
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