Rumour has it that once the mountain bug bites you, it never truly lets go. And that maxim will certainly ring true for Celine Xuereb, a Maltese businessman who has just completed her third climb, conquering none other than the mighty Mount Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Andes and the tallest non-Asian mountain in the world.
Celine has never heard of a Maltese woman who has summited Aconcagua and was wondering whether she could actually have gone where no Maltese woman has ever gone before.
However, Celine’s trip sounds fascinating regardless.
After a travel buddy she had met while scaling Mount Elbrus reached out to her, Celine booked her trip in August, giving her less than five months to prepare for her trip. Living in Malta gave her a disadvantage as she couldn’t train for high altitude conditions, but she made up for it by training at least once a day, specifically trekking, core and upper body strengthening, circuit training, regular gym activity and climbing up whichever hills she could.
“Going up and down the same hill gets quite boring,” she said.
She travelled to Argentina in January and met up with the rest of the 12-person team, which was grouped together by the famed adventure travel firm Adventure Consultants.
Celine and the team acclimatised themselves by climbing to the lowest two camps twice, carrying their personal equipment to Camp 2, climbing back down and then climbing back up with the remaining items. And, just like that, the worst was over.
“I found basecamp to Camp 1 the toughest day,” she recounted to Lovin Malta. “The first bit was on loose rocks and the last bit was a steep scree trail and we’d climb three steps up and slide two back down.”
It took the team a total of 12 windy days to reach the summit from base camp and the final effort was particularly tough. Only ten out of the 12 climbers, Celine included, actually managed to reach the end.
“The toughest part of summit comes in the last part known as La Canaleta – a rocky gully that takes a couple of hours,” Celine said. “You can see the summit but it feels like it’s constantly moving further away. I was exhausted, but the second I got to the summit all the energy came back.”
“The feeling you get once you reach the top is indescribable. I was very lucky that I had no signs of altitude.”
Celine has now conquered three mountains – Kilimanjaro, Elbrus and Aconcagua – and she rates this last one as the longest and toughest one so far.
“It’s not technical but I would say this one is the toughest of the three and Kilimanjaro is the least tough,” she said. “The terrain made the climb more challenging. The fact that I hadn’t climbed to such altitude before was also on my mind; the final camp was at 6000m – which is higher up from Kilimanjaro’s summit.”
“I think this one was more of a mind game than any of the other two – you can’t underestimate the physical challenge but you can’t just go for it thinking it’s a walk in the park. For example, the day before summit was the day I had the lowest morale – not sure why, but it made me question if I’m capable of doing it. Luckily I had a great team and guides that helped motivate me. Thankfully, I woke up on summit night with a great morale and ready to take on the challenge.”
Three of the seven summits down, four to go. Is Everest next on Celine’s bucket list?