Irish duo conquer Aconcagua & raise over €7000 for Dublin based charity

On 16th December 2011, Paul Devaney from Killoe in Longford and Niall O’Byrnes from Castledermot in Kildare reached the summit of Aconcagua, the highest point in South America, the tallest peak in the western hemisphere and the largest mountain outside of the Himalayas at 6962m/22,841ft. Their fundraising efforts has netted over €7000 for Irelands first Childrens Hospice – LauraLynn House.

Their success on Aconcagua sees Paul and Niall complete their fifth summit in their bid to complete the Seven Summit challenge – climbing the highest mountain on each continent. Prior to Aconcagua the duo had successfully completed an ascent of Denali, a 6194m mountain of ice and snow in the Alaska wilderness which is the highest point in North America and one of the coldest and most demanding mountains on the planet. Prior to that they had taken on Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Elbrus in Russia, Mont Blanc in France and Kosciuszko in Australia.

Both men are keen to use this experience to benefit others, and have focused their efforts on fundraising for charities including Make-A-Wish, Concern, Self-Help Africa, Positive Behaviour Ireland and Susan G Komen. Having already raised over €16,000.00 for charity during their previous expeditions, the pair set themselves the target of fundraising €7000 for their summit bid on Aconcagua and with the help of friends and family they have exceeded their goal. Here is a brief summary of their experience.

“Aconcagua is situated in a desert region and with the environment and the infamous winds in the Andes range there is rarely much snow to be seen. Instead the rock is exposed most of the way up the mountain. The rocky surface made for a much more demanding climb than on snow or ice, with lots of loose stone on the steep sections, which caused the 2-steps-up-1-step-down phenomenon and at times it was as much a mental challenge as a physical one. We carried 25kg loads between camps on the upper mountain, a testing weight which proved a big challenge as the altitude started to weigh down on us in the approach to 6000m. In the evenings the katabatic winds from pacific air passing over the mountains and roughed us up a bit, leading to some interesting conditions, but thankfully nothing more than blue lip and freeze burn. Most of the bad weather occurred at night when we were all wrapped up in our tents. We were indeed very lucky with the weather because Aconcagua is famous for its unpredictable and deadly winds. It was a tough but spectacular climb, certainly the toughest mountain we have ever climbed and with only 40% of the team making it to the summit it is certainly the lowest summit rate we have experienced.

Summit day itself started at 5:30am at high camp at 5852m which is equivalent to the summit of Kilimanjaro. It was dark and incredibly cold so we were wearing all of our summit gear, encased in goose down and protected from the elements right from the start. The sunrise above 6000m was really something – at one point i looked down behind me at the clouds and mountain below and you could actually see the distinctive profile of the mountain peak above us, projected as a shadow onto the valley below – that was something. It took over 9 hours to reach the summit and another 6 hours to get back down to high camp, so including time spent at the summit it was close to a 16 hour summit day. There was a constant wind blowing which made it colder than expected, and pretty uncomfortable for much of the time. Our hands and feet were tingling with cold until the sun came up and we were constantly wriggling fingers and toes for most of the morning to avoid the tingling turning into anything worse. We stopped for our last break 2 hours from the summit. At that point 8 of the team decided to turn back due to mixture of exhaustion and altitude sickness. We had already lost 3 team members earlier after they were helicoptered off the mountain at base camp due to altitude sickness, so ourteam of 18 climbers was now down to 7 including Paul, Niall and Till from Irish Seven Summit team. The last 2 hours was very steep and exhausting but the infamous canaletta of loose rock was frozen making the going easier than itcould normally be, so we were in luck. There is a moment on every summit day where you know that you are going to make it, and half way up the canaletta we had that overwhelming feeling of victory when it was clear that the weather was going to hold, our energy was going to keep us going and we could finally see the summit. At 2pm on 16 December, we finally climbed onto the summit and at that moment we were probably the highest active people on the planet because the only mountains higher than Aconcagua are in Himalayas where it was night time and winter so there was probably no-one climbing higher than us at that point. Its a nice feeling to think that you are the highest active person on the planet at a single moment in time. Being on top was quite spectacular with the whole of the Andes stretched out before us. Our colleague Till even managed an incredible head stand on the summit – the video is on our website.

Reaching the summit was a mixture of exhilaration and reflection. Exhilaration that out of 18 climbers who started the adventure some two weeks previous, we were lucky enough to be among the 7 to make it to the top. Reflection on all that had happened since we last attempted the mountain 3 years previous and reflection that #5 of the Seven Summits was now conquered. After that you try your best to take in the views and cherish the moment. So 5 of 7 now complete and over €7500 raised for LauraLynn House in Dublin. Next up… Antarctica!”

Paul and Niall are now shifting their focus to tackling Vinson Massif in December 2012 – Set in the frozen wastelands of Antarctica, Vinson presents significant temperature, logistical and financial challenges, and will bring them one step closer to Everest and that Seven Summits prize. More information on Paul and Nialls climbs, their Seven Summits challenge and their ongoing fundraising efforts can be found at www.irishsevensummits.com.

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