Posts Tagged ‘altitude’

So after a month in Bolivia it is finally back to the daily grind of what seems like five jobs – the day job and then working on the 360 Extremes project with training, sponsorship hunting, planning… the first week back and it was straight to the gym, and on the Sunday even back to Salesopolis for more rock climbing (completing grade six (5.10) climbs on the rock is always nice! Especially after a month away from it. More gym last week and then this weekend, I guess energy levels dipped completely it was a full rest, with just more planning and leisurely strolls down Paulista Avenue as well as a bit of cinema. I figured that after the last month and a half, a break would be nice. At the same time, I miss the mountains and it will be nice to climb another one soon… the problems with living in a country which relatively low and flat. 

High altitude climbs…

We are definitely feeling the effects of the training, however. I must have lost at least 3kg from the time in Bolivia – people keep commenting that I look much thinner, and indeed, I do need a new belt as there are not enough holes in my current ones to keep my trousers comfortably up – without a belt, I can easily fit a hand between my waist and the trousers, so there is a potential for embarrassment should I forget it! It is great for climbing though as I do feel lighter which helps. Also, I guess coming down from the high altitude, my breathing when I am running is better – I feel much more comfortable running for longer and don’t get breathless so quickly. Our nutritionist thinks that I might have lost too much weight too quickly and that I lost some muscular weight rather than just fat… which could very much be the case.  Burning muscle for energy is never good as you become more tired more quickly.

The training in Bolivia was meant to help us not just with mountaineering but also with working in difficult conditions that were challenging in ways that neither of us had experienced in any way: when we leave São Paulo in 2014, we are going to encounter situations that are going to be tough, so the challenging nature of these training projects will help us deal with them. Also, it helped us evaluate ourselves, physically and psychologically, in terms of what we need to do before we leave.

In assessing where we are… physically, we are doing well though definitely need to continue and build on our training. Walking up those mountains was exhausting! Okay, altitude was a massive factor (less than half the levels of oxygen than at sea level) and this was our first time at such altitudes… but to be in even better conditions to deal with this will be essential. At the Antarctic, we will be reaching altitudes of 5,000metres – in an even colder environment…. And there is a steep walk up from McMurdo to the plateau… And we will have even more weight.  I was proud of my own achievements in forcing myself to pretty much my limits in going up those mountains, and also in recognising when to turn back at Illimani… again, learning points for the expedition as a whole as safety is paramount. Better trying, turning back and trying again than killing yourself by pushing yourself too far.

Effects of illness

Illness affected our climbing – and indeed, dealing with illness is something that we will need to be prepared for: if none of us gets ill over the course of the three years, traipsing through the tropics and across the Poles… this would be a minor miracle. The importance of rest and the right treatments (not using antibiotics when we don’t need for example) again can’t be understated.

This also brings in the factor of food… the body finds it hard to digest food at higher altitudes though it is important to maintain high calorie intake in such journeys. With our guide being the guide and the cook, we certainly weren’t eating enough, regularly enough as we were dependent upon him. More varied snacks (not just twix and snickers) will definitely be important. Also, eating enough at regular intervals will help ensure that as little muscle is burned by the body for energy as possible. Lesson noted.

Psychologically, in terms of determination and working as a team, getting up early, going on the long hikes with heavy bags that seemed even heavier in the higher environment; moving onwards in spite of becoming physically drained… I might have snapped at Natalia once or twice, and vice-versa, but in general everything went pretty smoothly. Yes, I think we can give ourselves pats on backs… though this was only a month-long expedition, with breaks in La Paz every now and then; more time together on longer projects will be very important to making this whole plan work. 

Determination, however, isn’t something I am worried about too much – all of us are really working hard towards this project. I like to think that after 60 days traipsing toward the North Pole, with only each others’ company, I will still be saying this!

<— Marathon to high camp

Negative thoughts did include hearing avalanches and ice falls in the background after dark, and the thoughts of falling off the side of one of the knife-edge ridges that we were bound to encounter. Also, as I mentioned, it would have been nice being able to speak with Natalia. It was good being in the same tent as Caleb though as we were able to chat about everything, though he he had spoken with other climbers who were going down who had said they had completed the summit after leaving at 4am as opposed to the normal midnight. Caleb decided that would be okay to do the same due to the cold that can be experienced on the mountain, though we had said we would meet the porters to go down to base camp at 1pm.

Fine by me, and when I woke up, all of the negative thoughts had gone and I was ready to go. It took a little time getting everything together and getting the gaiters on, though everything was in order. It would have been pitch black outside were it not for the stars which were brilliant. The moon was hidden by the mountain and it was only a very thin crescent moon as well. We could also see the lights of La Paz glimmering in the distance behind us. Headlamps on, and off we went.

Immediately there was a slope which went up to a knife-edge ridge. Fortunately with the dark I was not able to see the consequences of any fall and I was able to get by without too many problems. Up and beyond that and the slopes just did not let up. In comparison to Huayna Potosi where there were relatively gentle slopes coupled with frequent platforms where one could catch one’s breath, this was just un-remitting slopes. Not gentle ones either.

My body didn’t feel great at the start and the slopes soon started to have affect on me. Not sure if it was because I was still tired from the trek up to High Camp – Caleb, in a frank discussion about fitness, said that he thought I was above average fitness in comparison to others he had worked with. Problem is that at the altitude of High Camp, the body doesn’t recover quite so well from physical exertion quite so quickly, and it needs much more water to be able to function properly – more than I had been drinking, though from my urine I did not appear to be dehydrated at all. Caleb thought that the altitude at around 5,800 seems to hit me a bit like a wall and perhaps my body is still not completely adapted… I guess this will only come with practice though.

We kept going, though pausing frequently. At around 6.30am the sunlight appeared in the sky, though the sun was coming directly from the other side of Illimani, so we remained in the shade for a good while longer before the rays did eventually reach us. The wind was pretty strong and for the first time during the three weeks, I had all my layers on while walking, including my think down parker jacket and down mittens. My pace became slower though and though I was using breathing/walking techniques Caleb had taught us, I still had to stop every five or six steps or so to recover some more air. We could see the summit and it was slowly getting closer.

Passing crevasses to both sides of us, we weaved our way up and over the main glacier along the route, and up so we could see the trail in the side of the mountain leading its way to the summit. Caleb estimated that we were about 200-300 metres below the summit, though we would still need a couple of hours at my slow pace to reach it, and the time was already 10.30am… then we would need to get back down again. So it was I who took the decision: we would admit defeat and turn back.

Time and exhaustion were the main elements in the decision. It would have been nice to have had longer to complete the ascent, but there was nothing much that could be done now in this regard. The climb had turned into a continual struggle to place one foot ahead of the other and push mself up the mountainside, so I think it was the right choice. A shame, but the mountain will be there for a long time to come (hopefully with glaciers in tact, as they have been shrinking with global warming), and I don’t want to kill myself reaching any goal. I had done my best to get as far as we did (Caleb was pretty impressed that I had pushed myself as far as I got considering the struggle it proved to be for me). Am pretty confident that with a little more training, and a bit more time, I will be able to reach the summit of Illimani and higher peaks. Same with Natalia. Maybe we didn’t make it this time, though next time it will be a different story.

Thanks to Caleb for letting us use a few of your photos!

So yes, instead of hiking to just camp I (about a five hour walk away, at around 5,000 metres), it was decided that we would go straight past that to high camp (another couple of hours hike/climb at around 5,400 metres); get there for around mid-afternoon, rest and get up at about midnight for an attempt at the summit of Illimani (just under 6,500 metres). Altitude gain of about 2,000 metres in less than 24 hours. Something I wasn’t quite sure I was ready for. Apparently there was no water at camp I, and no snow to melt there. José, who had climbed the mountain a number of times, was to stay with Natalia, whilst Caleb, who had not climbed the mountain before, would go up with me. The one good thing was that we had porters to carry our heavier bags so we were able to go with lighter rucksacks with extra layers in case the cold got to us.

Hot drinks at 7am, though we left at 9am. The sun was still behind the mountain so it was still quite cool and a bit breezy. The walk was quite easy at first; steadily increasing in altitude along a reasonably well trodden path, going up around and over lateral moraines, down again into carved out glacial valleys, and back up over the moraine on the other side. We could see small streams with ice on the surface, with water running underneath, and in one of the small sub-valleys, there was a glacial stream running quite strongly – strongly enough that we were able to re-fill our bottles with it. We made such good progress that we completed the apparently five-hour hike in less than three hours, as we passed a small plateau where wind walls had been built from rocks to protect tents which had been encamped there. The tents had gone, and as we though, there was no water or snow to melt. So  passing that, and upwards.

Which was when the hiking turned into effective climbing and scrambling over scree, and steep, loose, rock surfaces. It was a struggle, that was for sure. We had to be very careful with our footing with the scree and the angles of the falls to our side gradually increased meaning that any loss of balance could have led to bad injury or worse. The fact that we had porters was even more gratefully received as had I had to keep my pack on going up those rocks, I would have … let’s say, had difficulties. Then when we got to parts where we had to cross over ice with steep falls to the side, I was even more grateful as I took step, then a breath, and further steps forward. Painfully uncomfortable for me.

It was more or less consistently like this for the entire two hours we took to complete the trek to high camp. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure: as well as the struggle over the scree  and rocks, the altitude certainly took its effect on me as well, and I gradually became slightly more breathless with the steps I took.  It was great to finally get there, above the snow line, on a small platform of ice, looking down over the valley of base camp and with amazing views of the various summits of Illimani. The porters had set the tent up for us which was even better, as I was able to move in and rest almost immediately. It looked like we would be the only ones attempting the summit in the early morning, as the only other climbers there were going back down to base camp.

Caleb later radioed to José to say we were okay. I could hear him outside the tent talking with him, and I heard him say that he didn’t think it was possible for me to speak with Nat. I guess this was because I was in the tent and he was outside. I didn’t say anything at the time, though I was a bit annoyed about that. I later asked if possible to radio back to them though he said that the radio at the bottom would have been switched off for the night. Definitely would have liked to have spoken with her before I went up the mountain, and I went to bed with slightly negative thoughts about the climb.

Leaving the Condoriri base camp to go to Huayna Potosi… quite a change

Leaving the Condoriri base camp the day after summitting Pequeño Alpamayo was straightforward enough. We were mostly in cheerful spirits and all of us felt reasonably well and accomplished after the six days spent at the place, in spite of the bugs that had gone around and the varying degrees of illness we all experienced. Natalia still felt slightly bad because of the stomach bug, but was able to manage with the heavy rucksack. All of us turned back on a number of occasions to take last glimpses of the mountains behind us. Now we would have a day’s rest in La Paz before going to Huayna Potosi – what would be the first time any of us (with the exception of Caleb and Kirk) have been higher than 6,000 metres.

It was nice to get back to the hotel and have hot showers, and even get some laundry done, though it wasn’t long before we were up at dawn getting our re-packed bags downstairs to take to the first camp. The itinerary for the journey would be for us to go to base camp for one evening (4,800m), a couple of hours away from La Paz, and from there we would hike for about four hours or so up to high camp (5,200m), and whilst we would arrive there in the afternoon of day 2, we would start our summit attempt at 2am on day 3. Easy.

Huayna Potosi reveals itself

Driving to the mountain was quite impressive. On leaving La Paz, you can only see the peak of the mountain, however, after an hour or so, the full body of Huayna Potosi reveals itself and you can really see how beautiful it is. Also, looking at it up close for the first time filled each of us with a bit of nervousness as we all thought “are we really going to climb that in a couple of days..???!”.

When we got the the refuge at base camp, Caleb decided that we would stay in a small hostel building which was there, rather than pitching our tents. Much easier and much more convenient and even vaguely comfortable – though we could not wear our boots inside and the floor was freezing. We did have chance to play Uno though (which, miraculously enough, I managed to win!) whereas if we had been in our tents it probably would not have been quite so social. In the afternoon we also went for a hike in the area nearby, though Augusto was feeling worse and was not able to come with us. This was the first proper time Natalia wore here heavy mountaineering boots over difficult terrain as well, and it took her a little while getting used to them, but she managed okay with a little coaching.

In the evening, Augusto said that he would not be able to come to high camp as he was feeling terrible. He had just not been able to recover from the stomach bug and needed to get back to La Paz. Not much that could be done about it unfortunately, and it was clear he was not well in the way that he needed to leave the refuge to go to the outside toilets every half an hour or so. So the day after the remainder of us packed our things and began the walk. And it was a tricky hike. We were going over a mixture of loose rock and black ice at a steadily increasing gradient. There were a number of people who passed us as we went down as well and a few of them stumbled. This, again in conjunction, with the altitude, made things extremely slow as though the falls were not the steepest in the world, with rocky landings and our heavy rucksacks, we could have given ourselves significant injuries should we have lost our balance. We were all pretty much exhausted by the time we made it up though – especially considering that most people had used porters to carry their equipment up and we were carrying our own. Our team had used one porter and he had carried up the tents and sharp objects, but at least it was good seeing that the tents had all been setup for our arrival, so Natalia and I were able to crash down in to ours. I just had one task to do before taking  a nap before the summit hike – waddle down 15 metres of snow and ice to refill our water bottles from a water hole made in the ice. Doesn’t sound the hardest thing in the world to do, but after that hike… tiring!

Cada um no seu saco de dormir tentando parar de pensar no que nos espera e dormir. Nas noites anteriores foi possível me ouvir cantarolar enquanto o Ben tentava dormir. Eu com minha energia fora do comum faço isso quando meu marido não tá muito afim de conversar – eu sei que deve ser uma coisa meio irritante, mas não consigo me controlar – nessa noite o que era possível escutar eram mais uma vez gemidos leves. Dessa vez as coisas pareciam melhor para mim. Acordamos às 2am e começamos a nos arrumar. Já pronta comi um pouco de granola com leite, obrigada pelo Ben, demorei um pouco para me encontrar com tantas luvas e casacos e acabei atrasando um pouco. No começo tudo meio familiar já tínhamos feito esse trajeto antes, pelo menos eu, Bem e Kirk. A trilha até o glaciar leva mais ou menos uma 1h30, e é uma caminhada fácil. A noite não ajuda muito por ter muitas pedras e poças mas nada que me derrube. Enquanto ando vou sentindo pontadas no estômago e no começo vou as ignorando. Tento me concentrar nos passos e em seguir a pessoa a minha frente. Com o passar dos tempos as pontada vão ficando mais contínuas e já começo a pensar em abandonar o time enquanto ainda é possível voltar sozinha para o acampamento. Mais uns passos  e definitivamente essa não será a minha noite. Chamo a atenção de todos e comunico a minha retirada. Augusto diz que eu conheo meu corpo então sei o que é melhor. Caleb pergunta se posso ir voltar sozinha respondo que sim mas José diz que nem pensar, pega minha mochila e vai me acompanhando. Pelo caminho vamos conversando o tempo todo. Ao chegar no ponto onde é possível ver o acampamento peço que ele volte para o resto do grupo porque daqui em diante não tenho como me perder. Nos despedimos, e no caminho até a barraca sei que fiz a coisa certa. A dor se transforma em naúseas em com passar dos minutos tudo vai se revoltando dentro de mim. Uma noite recheada de cólicas e vômitos. Pelo jeito minha sorte tinha acabado mesmo e me via nas mesmas condições de Ben, Augusto e Caleb. A dúvida ainda fica se foi melhor ou pior para mim ter que passar por uma noite dessas sozinhas, me cuidei a base de muita água, massagens e compressas improvisadas. O problema de estar sozinha foi pra comer, na nossa barraca só tinhamos biscoitos, chocolates e coisas assim. Durante a tarde não me aguentei e revirei a bolsa de comida do Caleb e peguei um bagel seco e nada gostoso mas que saciou a vontade de comer algo salgado.

As horas ia passando e só conseguia pensar em como eles estavam e quanto tempo ainda faltava para chegarem. Entre um cochilo e outro ouço ao longe um chamado. A voz e o sotaque não tem como se enganar. Augusto e José chegavam felizes. Me perguntavam como eu estava, como foi o dia e tudo mais. Depois que respondi começo a ouvir Augusto contar os pontos altos. A verdade é que ele estava chateado em não termos tido aulas técnicas sobre uso de crampons e que isso poderia ter facilitado as coisas para o Ben porque em um dos momentos teve subida na rocha com os crampons e que ele ficou aflito em ver as dificuldades do Ben, mas foi bom saber que todos conseguiram chegar ao cume. Ele ficou pouco no topo e como estava só ele e o José a descida foi rápida.

Daqui em diante fiquei ansiosa e dando voltas do lado de fora na expectativas dos outros chegarem, do Ben chegar. Um par de horas mais tarde e vejo ao longe os 3 acenando. Visivelmente mais magros mas com um sorriso gigante.

Ben mal chega e se deita na barraca, está exausto. Fica todo empolgado me contando sobre as piores e melhores partes. Mais uma vez diz que o apoio de Kirk e Caleb foi essencial. Conta sobre a parte da subida na rocha e que se não fosse José vir e tirar seu crampons provavelmente teria gastado o triplo do tempo tentando se entender. Me disse que ficou apavorado num momento em que teve que andar numa pequena cresta bem no alto do Pequeño Alpamayo, que olhar para qualquer um dos lados só o fazia se sentir pior, a questão é que esse britânico tem medo de alturas e que naquele momento estava quase tendo um ataque de pânico. Passagem superada, chegada ao cume cansativa. Ele não conseguia parar de pensar que chegou lá mas que ainda tinha que voltar.

Foram 13 horas, +/- 1000 metros de altura, 4 barras de chocolates recheados, 2 litros de água, + de 5000kcal, tudo para isso para conseguir subir a primeira montanha.

Não vou mentir que no meu dia de espera não chorei, chorei sim, tentei lidar com a minha propria frustração. Foi duro pra mim ter que lidar com tudo isso sozinha. Ao final fiquei feliz sim, e orgulhosa de ver que ele conseguiu superar seu corpo e sua cabeça. A minha chance ainda virá, espero não ficar doente por mais dias.

Thanks to Casa de Pedra of São Paulo for your support! And thanks Augusto for the picture!

<—- Ascending the mountain

The guys helped calmed me down and I went on ahead with them securing me. It was now a scramble down a rock face about three metres wide, with crampons on  – something I had not done before. Fortunately, as I went down, José caught up with me and saw that I wasn’t a particularly happy chap. He asked if I had climbed with crampons on before and on receiving the negative answer, he took my crampons off and accompanied me down the rock face – something I was particularly grateful for considering my near panic after the thin pass.

Photo: Augusto Petacchi

We all got down the rock face eventually and now it was time to go up the slopes. Though much steeper than anything beforehand, it was relatively straightforward: using the ice axe to secure your upperbody and then a couple of steps up digging in the crampons, and then repeat this umpteen times until the top of the slope; another small platform to rest, then another steep slope. Straightforward, yes, but still extremely tiring – especially considering the altitude. The whole body just seeped away energy and everything seems in slow motion and takes so much longer than normal.

At the top, the views were beautiful, though I was too drained to really enjoy them. I probably managed a couple of pretty pathetic “wooos!” and just stayed sat down trying to recover my breath. Kirk, full of energy, stripped off down to his chest, much to the amusement of everyone on the peak. In the back of my mind I knew that we had to go back down the same way we had come, which meant crossing that horrible pass again. We must have stayed at the top for about twenty minutes or so, though we noted that dark clouds were forming over the summit – clouds which did not look like they boded well for climbers who would be stuck under them (we did meet a German and British climbing pair who were going to the summit an hour after we had got off it, and we hoped they would be okay).

Photo: Augusto Petacchi

In going back down… the first parts, the steep slopes, were very easy: Caleb belayed us down which meant we just needed to lean back with our full body weights, and enjoy the ride. Getting to the rock formation was straightforward. Unfortunately, José had already left and gone well ahead of us, so nobody was there to accompany me up. My rock climbing mindset from Casa de Pedra set in and slowly but surely I worked my way up. It is not the steepest climb in the world, and there are plenty of rocks to grab hold of, but the lack of security if one falls stayed in the back of the mind, and the falls to the side… would have consequences. Made it up and recovered my breath, and now for the hard part – the snow pass. Going down it was even worse than going up it as this time I was forced constantly to look at the falls. Onlookers who had already reached the other side looked on worriedly at the rookie crossing the pass.

Again, thankfully, no incidents and I managed to get across, pretty much by sitting down at some points and inching my way forward. My fear of heights (or fear of falling? interesting question – not sure exactly what, but ultimately it’s a fear!!!) pushed to the back by a very real need to concentrate. This was the last really challenging part of the climb and it lasted an eternity, and it must have looked like I was drunk once I had actually made it to the other side. Kirk was behind me, telling me to slow down as he was on the dangerous part and didn’t want me pulling him off! Fortunately I heard him, stopped and just sat down.

The weather really closed in when we were going back down the glacier and it began snowing quite heavily – by this time the two climbers we had met earlier would have been on the summit, and the hints of thunder in the air made us worry even more, though there was nothing we could do. We made our way down, knocking the snow out of our crampons and with me occasionally stumbling because of the fatigue. It was great getting off the glacier when we could take the crampons off, though it was even better an hour or so later when we eventually saw the tents of base camp with the mountain behind us completely obscured by cloud, and I saw Natalia there. We had made it.

Reaching the summit and descending the mountain —–>

After final preparations with more skills training on the afternoon after coming down from Austria, we went to bed in order to wake up at 1.30am to go up Pequeño Alpamayo. The reason we get up so early to go to the mountains rather than getting up during daylight hours is that it is much safer to complete the majority of the ascent when it is dark – once the sun is out, ice starts melting and things become a little less stable. Also, in these parts of the Andes, the weather has a habit of starting perfectly, and then turning bad in the afternoon as air from the rainforest rises… and the forecast for this day was for poor weather to come in after midday.

So it was; we woke up at 1am to get our stuff ready. Natalia was feeling better so we decided that she would give it a shot, and the weather was still, dry and completely clear – perfect conditions. Caleb called out for hot drinks and we had our cereal… headlamps on… and off we went. It was an hour or so hike along steadily higher terrain to the start of the glacier which we would ascend to begin the main assault on the peak. Unfortunately as we got closer to the glacier, Natalia’s stomach pains returned with aggression and she felt nauseous, so we thought that it would be best for her to go back. José went back with her, and carried her rucksack, which was a good job as later Natalia later commented that even with the headlamp it was very easy to lose the trail. We went on to the glacier, where we put on our crampons and linked into our rope team. I was with Kirk and Caleb, and when José got back (really, he has masses of energy and didn’t take long to catch up with us in spite of having been back to base camp!) he linked up with Augusto, who admitted that he felt pretty slow.

The glacier was straightforward. A gradual ascent, with no crevasses and no nasty falls. When we got to the top, it was sunrise and we could see the red light falling across the valley behind us as well as glowing on the snow on the peaks above us. The summit of Pequeño Alpamayo was not immediately visible. We still had to go up a number of other slopes until we got to see it. When the peak did reveal itself, however, both Kirk and I looked at it and just thought “wow”… it simply towered above us with steep 45-50 degree slopes leading up to it. The glacier itself had been nothing in comparison to what was to come and it was clear that we still had a lot of work to do.

As the sun rose and we moved onwards, we eventually got to a point where there was a snow platform from which we would have to traverse a narrow pass to climb a rock formation. It must have been about ten metres long with a steadily decreasing width to the thinnest part which was about couple of feet wide. On either side of these two feet were almost vertical falls going down for… I don’t know.. I guess a few hundred metres or so. Enough. Remembering how altitude has the effect of making things go much slower, this was not good, and with my not having the greatest head in the world for heights, this was not something that looked particularly enjoyable to me. Rock climbing is different – you are generally protected against the falls. With this, I was in a rope team with two other people and if I fell, I would have to depend on their reflexes to secure themselves with ice-axes to stop the whole team from falling. With these thoughts in my mind, the pass was simply terrifying for me. Augusto later commented that he had his heart in his mouth when he saw me going over it, with there being a bit too much slack on the rope and it getting tangled in my crampons. By the time I did get across and join Kirk and Caleb on the other side on the rocks, I was almost hyperventilating… but I managed it.

Reaching the summit and descending the mountain —–>

O segundo dia não melhorou, quer dizer melhorou um pouco pelo menos para o Ben. Ele acordou um pouco mais forte, os vômitos continuaram mas mais espaçados. Em compensação Caleb e Augusto acordaram com os mesmo sintomas. Caleb não teve nem coragem de sair da barraca enquanto Augusto vomitava a cada gole de água. Eu e o Kirk eramos os únicos fortes e saudáveis e por isso mesmo ficamos meio que cuidando de todos. Levamos o Ben para uma volta enquanto os outros tentavam cochilar. A caminhada não foi longa mas acreditávamos que um pouco de exercício iria ajudá-lo.

A parte complicada foi tentar esquentar a água. O fogão eo combustível era algo que de olhar não dava pra entender como funcionava. Bombamos, viramos e reviramos a bomba de gás tentando ascender o fogão. Todas as tentativas frustradas. Acabamos pedindo ajuda a um rapaz da barraca ao lado. Tato, um argentino sem sotaque argentino no espanhol ou no inglês, super atencioso. Levamos o fogão até sua barraca e ele nos mostrou como fazer. Pareceu simples e ao voltar para nossa tenda tentamos novamente. Que frustrante o fogo ascendia e apagava segundos depois. Tentamos por uns 15 minutos até que Kirk pediu pra eu ir de novo ao Tato e trazer ele. Ele veio e ascendeu, oferecemos chá quente e o convidamos para um bate-papo. A melhor ideia do dia, o rapaz era bem conversador e acabou distraindo um pouco o grupo de doentinhos. Ele é guia de montanhismo na Patagônia e matou a curiosidades de todos sobre o lugar. Kirk contou a sua história no Aconcágua e ficou perguntando sobre outros lugares para se conhecer na América do Sul. Caleb resolveu se juntar e conhecer o argentino que repetia o tempo todo a vontade de ir escalar no Alaska. Os dois trocaram informações sobre a cidade de cada um e as diferenças e similaridades dos dois lugares. Caleb ficou impressionado com o jeito relaxado em relação a segurança com que se levam os turistas para conhecer os glaciares, sem segurança eu diria, nada de cordas ou cadeirinhas.

O bate-papo durou quase 2 horas e depois os mais cansados voltaram para suas barracas.

Eu e Kirk preparamos sanduíches de salame, e outros de pasta de amendoim com geléia. Ben foi o único que conseguiu comer e não passar mal. Ótimo sinal, e com certeza acalmou os medos que tínhamos antes de voltarmos ao Brasil sem subir uma montanha sequer.

O dia foi passando e cada um foi mostrando sinais de melhora, o único a não demonstrar reação foi Augusto. Dava pra ver como emagrecia a cada hora. O pior é que ele desistiu de comer, porque achava que comer só ia piorar e nesse momento estava se desidratando. De manhã havíamos decidido que todos os doentes iriam começar a tomar Ciprus, um antibiótico que tivemos que trazer no kit-med a pedido da agência. Augusto foi o único que começou a toma mais tarde e por isso mesmo devia se o que mais demorava a se recuperar. Horas se passaram e de noite nos reunimos na barraca do Caleb para o jantar. Nada muito substancioso mas quente e acolhedor. Uma sopinha de tomate, e bem picante do jeito que nosso guia americano gosta. Não me pareceu uma escolha sábia porque coisa picante tende a ser agressivo ao estômago e a sopa sem calórias ou vitaminas suficientes para tudo o que a maioria perdeu nos ultimos dias. Depois de uma conversa rápida todas para cama.

Finalmente eu e o Ben tivemos uma boa noite de sono, eu até fiquei cantando na barraca antes de dormir o que me rendeu vários pedidos no dia seguinte. Acho que de fora da barraca minha voz parece boa, porque enquanto o Ben sofria com minha desafinada voz o Kirk e Augusto achou bem relaxante.

Apresentações feitas vamos as jornadas porque cada dia é uma maratona. A noite antes da ida ao acampamento já é bem exaustiva. Difícil controlar a ansiedade e organizar o tempo para todas as coisas que uma saída de 6 dias na montanha exige. Arrumar a mochila para quem nunca tinha feito isso antes se mostra muito mais complicado do que poderíamos imaginar. Você tem que pensar no balanço, organizar de acordo com as possíveis necessidades e ainda assim tentar deixar tudo o mais compacto possível. Saber escolher bem o que levar e o que deixar, por isso mesmo acredito que montanhismo é um esporte um tanto sujo, por uma bagagem mais leve e mais fácil de se carregar por longas caminhadas o montanhista abre mão de trocas de roupas. AS únicas peças que você leva a mais são roupas intimas e meias. O resto se resume á uma camiseta, um conjunto de calca e camiseta um pouco mais quente, outro conjunto de fleece (um tipo de moleton), uma jaqueta pesada, um corta vento. A maioria dessas roupas você usa diariamente.

Falando assim parece pouca coisa afinal a roupa dá pra colocar em uma mochila de ataque, mas ainda temos que carregar o saco de dormir, as botas para neve, capacete, colchão térmico, isolante térmico, lenços umedecido, papel higiênico, pratos, mugs, e garrafas de água.

Depois de horas e horas conseguimos finalmente terminar essa façanha. Dormimos um pouco e antes das 7am estamos descendo para recepçao nos reunir com todos e checar as últimas coisas. José chega com seu jipe e começa a colocar tudo em cima. Uma grande montanha de mochilas e malas se forma e ele cobre com lona e amarra com cordas de forma com que não balancem ou se perca algo no caminho.

A viagem de La Paz ao acampamento do Condoriri é de mais ou menos 3 horas, passando pela parte do mercado e dos postos de gasolina com filas gigantes, muita fumaça dos carburadores dos carros e uma grande bagunça no trânsito de pessoas e carros. O tráfego aqui é uma verdadeira bagunça carros se enfiando em qualquer lugar, pessoas atravessando e quase sendo atropeladas a cada metro. Não existe preferencial ou sinalização que ajude a multidão de motoristas apressados. A quantidade de lotação e ônibus é impressionante e pelo o que pude entender não existem pontos específicos de parada, as pessoas param em qualquer lugar tanto para subir quanto para descer. É uma grande emoção estar a bordo de um carro aqui, a todo momento você se espreme para um dos lados e suspira aliviado por ainda não ter colidido.

Ao chegar na estrada a vista muda, ao invês de fumaça, casas de tijolos em construção, e  um mar de carros velhos se transforma em um calmaria, a linda cordilheira real ao lado direito, casas de tijolo de barros, llamas e ovelhas do lado esquerdo. Ao passar pelo pedágio várias cholitas tentam nos vender sacos com uma espécie de suco. Ninguém tem a coragem de tentar. E o Augusto fica tentando tirar fotos da chola com a criança presa no pano nas costa. Irresistível não tirar fotos delas todas com sorrisos de ouro e roupas super coloridas. Com certeza as cores das vestimentas é o que dá vida a Bolívia.

Saindo da auto-estrada, entramos em uma estradinha de terra e pedra, com pontes que pasam por cima de buracos que devem ser lagos em alguma época do ano, alguns lagos sobrevivem e congela uma parte fina, deixando a água barrenta com uma textura estranha. As llamas a esa altura estão em toda parte grandes, calmas e com fitinhas coloridas em suas orelhas dão uma graça especial a os campos secos e intermináveis.

Chegamos a entrada do acampamento, daqui partimos a pé até o acampamento cada um carregando a sua pesada e grande mochila, os burros carregam somente as barracas e as malas de comida. Numa trilha de mais ou menos 4 km, passamos por lagos, cascatas, e avistamos o Condoriri com sua imensidão e beleza. Difícil dizer em que momento ele é mais bonito.

Para mim a caminhada até o acampamento foi fácil, preferi manter um ritmo e não conversar com ninguém, segui atrás do Caleb e do Kirk, enquanto o Ben e o Augusto vieram mais atrás conversando e tirando foto o tempo todo, a mais ou meno 15 minuts de caminhada esperei o Ben e chequei se ee estava bem. Ele disse que sim um pouquinho de dor de cabeça, bebeu água e continuamos a caminhada. Uma meia hora depois ele estava se com ânsia e um tanto deconfortável. Ao chegar no acampamento não tinha forças nem para nos ajudar com as barracas, tinha frio e sede. Dei um pouco de água com maltodextrina, mas foi o tempo dele engolir e começar a vomitar. Daqui em diante o dia foi piorando pra ele. Vômito, diarréia e nauseas constantes. Caleb vinha checar o tempo todo e disse ser muito agressivo para ser somente altitude que podia ser infecção intestinal ou algo parecido. Queria levar-lo  de volta a La Paz, mas Ben pediu para esperar até o dia seguinte.  A noite foi intensa e interminável. Acordava a cada 10 minutos pedindo água e indo ao banheiro. Eu estava preocupada e forçava ele a tentar comer, a tentar beber água. Momento tenso para nós dois, ele doente, irritado e frustrado com a possibilidade de não poder subir a montanha e eu tentando fazer ele se sentir melhor, e também frustrada com a possibilidade de perdermos grande parte do dinheiro investido.

Phew! Quite a tiring few days – a lot has happened, so to write about it in one post would be almost as exhausting as the trip itself. We are in La Paz at the moment with a day and a half of rest before we go to Huayna Potosi, and the rest is welcome. The six days we spent at the Condoriri base camp were mixed with some sort of food poisoning; heavy snow affecting one of our climbing days; mountaineering skills training; and finally a successful attempt at climbing Pequeño Alpamayo, a 5,400+/- metre mountain in the Cordillera Real, a couple of hours away from La Paz.

So I guess, I will start at the beginning (makes sense, I suppose!). We got up at around 7am to leave the hotel before breakfast (the hotel breakfast only starts at 8am so we had to eat dry bagels with a bit of salami in the car with the guide). The drive to base camp was half spent going through the markets, traffic and smoke of El Alto above La Paz city – always interesting to go through – before taking the main road towards Lake Titicaca. Somewhere around half way along the highway, we turned right on to the rough and bumpy track towards the camp and towards the mountains which started to loom before us. And they did loom – they looked massive!

Passing herds of llamas, alpacas, sheep and a few cows here and there, and a few isolated mud-brick houses here and there, we gradually increased altitude to about 4,700metres (almost the same height as the camp which is at 4,800m). We got out of the car once or twice to take pictures and I started to feel a bit light headed. I just thought that it was the altitude. Eventually the road came to an end and we unloaded our equipment for the 3-4km trek to camp, with donkeys carrying the tents, though we still carried our large rucksacks. It was easy enough at first, gradual climbs along the well-used track. Then, about half way along I started feeling quite nauseous and my pace slowed dramatically. One of our fellow climber, Augusto, stayed with me and gave some breathing technique suggestions. We stopped for a short break and I asked Natalia for a chocolate bar just to get some more energy. Drank some more water and started walking again, getting to a large lake the other side of which was camp. More rest, more water. It was getting colder now and I just wanted to get to the camp so I went ahead. The rest soon caught up and started passing me.

Not a nice feeling…

I got to the camp a few minutes after them, and the guide was showing how to put up the tent. I couldn’t help as I had absolutely no energy, so I sat on a rock looking at them. Natalia gave me water which had an energy powder in it, but as soon as I took a mouthful, I just vomited. And that was the start of about 24 hours of vomiting and (how to put it nicely…?) intestinal dysfunction… okay okay, sorry… chronic diarrhea. It was looking bad. The guide even seriously thought about sending me back to La Paz, and came to our tent to discuss this as night set in. He didn’t know if it was severe altitude sickness, a stomach bug, or a mixture of both. He would have been happy to trek back with me to meet a car right then. I said I would see how it goes over the night and the following day – certainly didn’t want to give in quite so quickly. He agreed, adding that it would be… an uncomfortable night.

…Which is exactly what it was. Every few minutes I woke up, either needing more water or needing to go to the toilet. Not good. Eventually dawn broke though, and was I feeling okayish. However, the more surprising thing was when the others got up, Augusto looked dreadful and the guide himself was vomiting outside of the tent. I guess this ruled out the altitude sickness. It also gave me some more time to recover…

Recovery and getting ready to climb —->

Seeing deaths in any sport is never good, and mountaineering is an activity that sees its fair share of fatalities. Last week has been bad when we look to see how there were four deaths on Mount Everest, near the summit. Happening just before our adventure into the Andes, the timing for us reading about these things isn’t great either in terms of making us nervous.

Photo by Lesley Weber at Alligin, Scotland. Beautiful region; potentially deadly without the right preparation…

Mount Everest might be the highest, but it isn’t the hardest mountain, technically speaking, in the world to climb. Hundreds of people climb it each year. Tamae Watanabe has become the oldest woman to climb the mountain, at 73 years old. Other mountains are much more dangerous – on K2 for example, around 25% of those who have attempted it have perished. But people still get killed climbing Everest, just like they do on lower mountains. The mountains in Scotland are by no means the highest in the world, but people still get killed climbing them. One of my sisters, Lesley and her boyfriend Billy frequently venture into the highlands – they can easily talk about how the conditions in the mountains can change from pleasant to terrifying there…

Things can go wrong, even for the most skilled and experienced mountaineer, no matter which mountain range they are going up.

Up in the mountains, the weather can change in the blink of an eye, and if you find yourself in a blizzard, you can quickly find yourself disoriented. Even with experience you will be in trouble, though with inadequate preparation, you could easily become lost, frostbitten or falling off the edge of an unseen precipice…

After 2,500 metres, the altitude starts taking effect. Though there are times of day and periods when the risks of avalanches are higher than others (fresh, heavy snow is always a high risk, and as the temperatures warm up, so does the likelihood of snow falling), you can always be unlucky to be on the wrong end of one….

Above 5,000 metres and you are reaching the extremes already. Couple this with the physical exertion of mountaineering, and you are taking risks. Going too high too quickly will make things even worse and increases the risks of disaster. Becoming fatigued and arriving too late in the day at the summit will increase risks of exposure to the elements… equipment problems won’t help…

A host of other reasons can contribute towards a tragic end.

Not the best thoughts to have as we start on such an expedition, huh? Maybe not, but at the same time we always need to remember how we need to always be as careful as possible. Huayna Potosi is generally considered one of the “technically easier” mountains, though in spite of this, we will not be taking it lightly in any way; we are there to climb, enjoy the experience but also respect the mountain; we are there to learn and to train for greater challenges ahead, not take unnecessary risks with our lives. Indeed, respecting the mountain and being aware of all of the risks and possibilities is a good way to start minimizing the risks as we are making our ascents.