K2 And Cotopaxi

 Mick Conefrey|   | 

Climbing Cotopaxi, thinking about K2

I'm just back from Ecuador. I went on the hunt for traces of Edward Whymper, the great Victorian mountaineer, and climbed three of his conquests - Corazon, Iliniza and Cotopaxi. I'd have liked to have gone up Chimborazo too, but I'll save that for the next visit. 

Whymper was one of the first climbers to  research the effects of altitude and Ecuador was his laboratory. His didn't come back with any specific recommendations for how to deal with it but he was one of the first to conduct systematic research, which demonstrated the effects of altitude on climbing speed. 

For my part, I found the experience mixed. I couldn't walk and talk when going up hill in Quito, but was suprised at how easily I coped with the altitude of 5100m Iliniza, just three days after I arrived in the country. I didn't suffer any headaches, but I did have to move very slo o o wly, especially on Cotoapaxi. My sister Helen, a Quito resident for years, definitely coped better, on the ascents at least. The extra 5 kilos of wine, women and song that I was carrying didn't help, but the fact that I'd been to altitude before probably did. 

In between climbs, I was working on my K2 book, and it was interesting to think what the characters in that particular story had gone through, particularly those who were new to  altitude.

One of the most poignant stories concerns Dudley Wolfe, the rich American who died on K2 in 1939. Dudley went to the Karakoram hoping to climb the mountain, but he was woefully out of his depth, or height to be more precise. No-one knows quite what happened to him but it appears that he spent his last days on his own in his tent, surrounded by his own bodily effluents. 

He had decided to stay alone, while his the friends descended to prepare for a third attempt, after the first two had failed. His death prompted a huge controversy, and later there were those who speculated that the altitude had got to him and impaired his decision making. It's a fascinating story and one that I go into a lot of depth with in my new book.

Back at sea-level in the UK now I'd been looking forward to a high altitude fitness boost, but alas the wine, the women.......












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