Posts Tagged ‘mountains’

Okay, it has taken us a little while to go through all the video we got from Bolivia – quite a massive amount of content gathered, and so many hours in the day to go through it all, work at the office, and train, and organize everything. I hope you can forgive us!

This is just a short clip from the top of Huayna Potosi, the first time we had ever been above 6,000 metres, and only the third time we had been on mountains summits higher than 5,000m. So it was a pretty nice achievement, and I still feel pretty chuffed about managing it, though it wasn’t anything massively technical. At that altitude, every step is painful so, technical or not, a lot of work goes into it (and the body loses about 700 calories an hour!)

While it was exhausting, it was still amazing and had beautiful views of the surrounding mountains of the Bolivian Andes. As I guess I have mentioned a couple of times, however, my head for heights is pretty awful. I don’t like them! I have got used to the heights involved in climbing rocks, and that took a bit of practice… So going down the mountain was, with the knife-edge ridge down from the summit at least, absolutely terrifying. Makes me wince just watching this film and I hope you like it!

Thanks again to Casa de Pedra for their support with this project – and again to Kirk, for giving loads of help on the way down!

The World is our oyster… or at least it can be, if we dare to fulfill our dreams…

So it is about a year ago since the day I first started really thinking about this idea as a whole. Time has just gone by incredibly quickly and it is difficult to really go through all the changes and developments that have happened in this year in a short post.

Depois do sim hora de comer o bolo

A lot has happened over the year since this..!

The first time I mentioned the ideas to Natalia, just about the time of our wedding, it was more about speculation – why do people, when they think about going around the world, always think about going from east-to-west? Surely going north-to-south would be, though much more demanding physically, just as (if not more) interesting? From a geographer’s point of view: extremely interesting as we get to see the full range of climates from the tropical heat through to the polar cold… and then how people and animals cope and adapt to these climates. From the environmental point of view: because of the changing climate and how the very areas we will be going through are being threatened by these changes. From the cultural aspect: how the cultures change as go through the different countries and locations… and much more.

From influential bears…

At the first discussions, it was all just a pipe-dream, based on these interests and also childhood dreams and hopes of being an explorer. Further inspired by more recent adventures in British Colombia, seeing the bears there, and travelling through the Galapagos Islands. After more discussions and a lot of research, it became evidently possible: People have crossed the poles before – you just need a massive amount training and dedication to get to the right levels of fitness and capability to cross them. People have cycled through the Americas and through Europe and Asia before… again, training and dedication to be able to do this. It was a big step putting this website up at the beginning of the year though – this was something that really committed us to this project… No going back from then on!

…to mountain tops!

And so to the training… over the past year in preparation for this project, the transformation in our general fitness from pretty much average people to actually in pretty good shape now (still plenty more work to do though!) has amazed even ourselves. We have gone to Bolivia, climbing mountains of over 6,000metres – massive challenges for people who had just been used to just regular hiking at best; we are cycling at least 100km at least once or twice a week now, getting to know parts of São Paulo state where we wouldn’t have known otherwise. We are climbing at the Casa de Pedra gym in São Paulo during the week and maintaining regular fitness training at the gym there to get us into better shape. And shortly, we will be cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats. In winter – to help prepare us for some of the tougher conditions we go through before we get to either of the Poles. Then next winter, we will have our polar training up in Baffin Island…

It is all exciting, but it wouldn’t have been possible without support from Casa de Pedra and our climbing, training and equipment from them, and now, with Atticmedia and the development of our new website and logo. To be able to complete it all, we will of course need further sponsors – the Poles are not so easy! Though this is a fantastic start – just plenty more work to do over the next couple of years before we leave São Paulo on this circle…!

Patagonia – Near Ushuaia (c) Arangoa – Beautiful but perhaps not the most challenging of environments

The other ride we are considering, after John O’Groats-Land’s End and Buenos Aires-Santiago is my personal least favourite of the lot – from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas.

It should be… spectacular with the scenary. Going through the Patagonian landscape is not something one does every day. There are plenty of beautiful mountains to pass through and plenty of side trips that could extend this relatively short journey (approximately 700km if we did it direct), which go into areas like the Tierra del Fuego, and islands such as Cape Horne… To make it more challenging, we could go in July, the winter in the southern hemisphere, so we get to experience colder and windier conditions. We could also extend it to make it longer by cycling up to Puerto Deseado – something that would make it almost on par with the distances that we would otherwise cycle in the UK or in going to Santiago.

But in comparison to the positives of the other two trips, with the altitude gain going into the Andes; the longer distances involved in those journeys; the weather conditions in the British winters… this just seems inadequate and won’t prepare us as well for the worst that the roads could throw at us. Though we would be going through mountain valleys, there would be relatively little in terms of altitude gain and loss by doing this route, and the routes would be largely flat. And finally, although we are in South America, getting around the place still isn’t the easiest task in the world, and neither the cheapest – and going down to Ushuaia could be as costly as going to the UK, and even take considerably longer due to the connections we would need to take.

So I will take some convincing to choose this route instead of the others. If you have some ideas about the route that I might not have considered, however, I would be eager to hear. As I say, going to Patagonia isn’t something we do every day…

For more about our time in the first few Bolivian mountains, see our posts about:

Condoriri

Pico Austria

Pequeño Alpamayo

Our journey to Illimani didn’t start out too well when the stomach bug that had hit us returned to affect Natalia. It happened early in the morning we were due to set out and it meant that we had to postpone this journey by a day to give time and hope for Natalia to recover. When we did set off, she did seem a bit better but it was clear that all was not fully well.

Though Illimani appears to be very close to La Paz, the journey there takes a good three-four hours. The roads are incredible: carved from nothing along the sides of mountains en-route, terrifyingly steep drops on the edges; spectacular views and can be good fun to drive on. You can see areas of the mountains where landslides have come down over the road though since been cleared up. The road to Illimani for me at least seemed more treacherous than the Yungas “Death Road”  we had cycled down at the beginning of our journey in Bolivia, with even more tighter corners and falls that maybe were not quite so vertical, but were equally lethal should a driver get a bit carried away. The only reason why the road was not considered more dangerous was because the Yungas Road was a main trunk road and the road to Illimani much less frequently used, so less prone to accidents.

What was amazing that along the road is that you pass so many tiny farms in the mountain, with a few Andean girls tending to crops and animals. It seemed so steep that it would be impossible to do anything there. But they, impressively, managed to make a living there.

Illimani slowly but surely grew larger before us as we went around the continual twists and turns in the road. Every now and then it became obscured by the slopes  but then peaked out in the beautiful weather – sunny, calm, blue skies… it was all set to be perfect climbing conditions over the next couple of days. Eventually the road came to and end in a small village further up in a valley that led to the base camp for the mountain – a camp that was a gentle two hour hike away. Again, splendid views of the mountain through the trees – the mountain looked even more fantastic to climb. A couple of mules and a small boy came along and this time we were able to load our main rucksacks on to them to carry to the camp. So it was set to be quite easy for us.

We got going at a gentle pace, though soon it was clear that Natalia had not recovered properly at all. Her stomach pains returned and in spite of having calmed down over the previous day, diarrhea struck. She kept going though the hike transformed into a four-hour struggle for her. We got to base camp an hour or so before dusk and she pretty much collapsed into the tent once it was set up. It was clear that she wouldn’t be able to continue to the next camp. So it was decided that she and José would remain in base camp: apparently there have been some robberies at the camp and disputes between local communities there make it slightly dangerous (in one dispute, one community had blocked off the stream that went to the other side of the valley and as such the other community put a dead animal in the water of the former…). Probably nothing would happen, though it was for the best. This meant that Caleb and I would tackle the mountain by ourselves, even though Caleb had never gone up it before. Furthermore, we would go straight to high camp in the morning instead of taking a day at Camp I, before attempting to summit in the early following morning. It promised to be a marathon couple of days.

The Serra da Canastra mountains are a gentle 550km away from São Paulo… a long way to go for a weekend, but that is where we are going this evening. We tried last night because of the long weekend, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be – even with extra busses on to take into account the increased demand, all the tickets sold out pretty quickly.

A seven hour or so bus ride, we will get there about 6am, so we shall hopefully get some good sleep in the bus (one of the really great things about Brazil are the inter-city buses – the seats generally always recline by 45degrees or so, even in the cheaper ones). At the mountains, there are plenty of hikes and trails to go on and as we will be getting early, we will still have a good two days there as the bus back to São Paulo leaves at around 10pm.

What we will be doing..? Walking with heavier than normal backpacks to get used to greater loads, and also hopefully see some of the wildlife – eagles, deer, maned wolves, ant-eaters… plenty of animals to see if we keep our eyes open… so here’s hoping!

The ideas behind the project are very simple – around the world but going around the Poles as opposed to along the latitudes, east-to-west… but the organization behind it all is much more complex, especially when we consider the ways we will be travelling – there are many logistical details to the journey that will need to be taken care of.

We will be going through tropical climates, mountainous regions, deserts, more reasonable temperate regions, and polar regions. It won’t be possible for us to carry everything with us all at once, and the equipment we will need for the different stages will be very different. Consider the North Pole for example – we will only be able to pull the essentials for Polar travel with us going across the ice cap. But what about the rest of our gear? What shall we do with it..? Then, when we leave the North Pole, coming down into Northern Europe, we won’t be able to continue along with just sleds and skis… that would be slightly tricky!

What we will do is to have a series of supply points where we can pick things up and drop things off. These will have to be strategically located for each of the regions to ensure that costs are manageable and the loads that we are carrying with us are reasonable. This makes it sound pretty simple as well, and it is the broader scale organization of the project – there are details such as going through the Grand Canyon and the Cotahuasi Canyon which will also need more planning. Also… organizing all these parts – working out exactly what we will need for the specific stretches, then getting all this gear to these points (whether Canada, Norway, China or Australia) will still require a lot of work.

Our Humble Abode

When I finally peeked my head out of my sleeping bag, I could hear a wind blowing through the trees. When we fell asleep there was no wind, so this was not a good sign – wind = cold. After scarfing down some oatmeal and warm water, we put on our boots and packed our stiffened bags. Our pants from the day before, frozen solid, remained horizontal. Despite my best efforts to dry my gloves, they too were frozen. Wearing them was out of the question. I would have to face the day without them.

Right before taking off we took a look at the map. Our options were to continue up Sugarloaf and try to make it to Devil’s Tombstone campground or at least our original Mink Hollow lean-to for another night. Most of our gear was already wet. Our spirits, despite sleeping well, were quite low as we had at least two descents ahead of us and descents were what got us the most wet. We also had the option to bail. In the valley between Twin and Sugarloaf mountains the red Devil’s Path trail intersects with the Blue trail which leads to roaring kill parking area. The last thing we had to consider was the 90% chance of rain and snow that was supposed to start that evening.

Were we willing to risk a couple more dangerous ascents and descents today? Would we be risking hypothermia by staying an extra night? If we did stay, did we have another “out” in case things got bad? To those reading; what would you have done?

Before we left the cave we decided we were in over our heads and did not have the technical gear to complete the full path. Considering we only made it a third of the entire path on the first day, the next 3-4 days were too unknown – and too treacherous – to venture into confidently. All we needed was some freezing rain that afternoon, plus below freezing temperatures at night, to leave us really in a dangerous situation.

That last descent down Twin turned out to be extremely precarious. Thin, icy trails with rocks on the uphill side and steep slopes going down hill forced us to walk slowly and carefully. Glissading (mountaineering term for sliding) stretches were much longer than the descent down Indian Head, meaning we were picking up a lot more speed. On top of long stretches of sliding, the trail often took switch backs; which meant if you didn’t hit the turn just right there was a good chance you’d miss the

Down Climbing backwards was often needed

trail and go sliding down into trees. This proved twice as dangerous for the second person as the first person would clear the snow, leaving a trail of slippery, exposed ice. At one point we had to face backwards and down climb a steep, icy rock face, carefully holding onto a small tree as our only anchor. Sweating, wet, and panting for a breath after barely an hour of descent, we were happy with our decision that it was time to go. When we finally reached the intersection of trails in the valley, it began raining.

As we drove away, I took one last look at the Catskills. The summits of the mountains were obscured by thick clouds, with larger, grayer, more ominous looking clouds quickly rolling in. As I pointed out the sight to Paul, we both exhaled a sigh of relief that we were again warm and safe. For all we know, we just skirted out of the path of the devil before he would really unleash some hairy conditions on the mountain. The rain only fell harder as we drove further away.

Usually when Paul and I go on adventures, we complete them. This Devil’s Path taught us some valuable lessons – most importantly, the thought of underestimation and it’s dangers. When traveling

Confirmation that we made the right decision

into the wilderness, especially during the dangerous months for that specific environment, you can never over prepare. Even over packing, despite carrying a heavy pack, can save your life if the gear is practical to the journey; that extra liter of water, the crampons you might not use, the waterproof shell. It can all become valuable depending on the situation that presents itself. Lastly, we learned how even the most unassuming hills and mountains can be dangerous places. The most mild winters at sea level can drastically change after a few thousand feet of elevation.

Most of all, it left me wanting more. I can’t wait to get back outdoors.

With the adventure said and done, we were grateful for the experience and the chance to get out of the house. In my last post on the Devil’s Path, check in for a mini-gear-review session with the good, the bad, and the ugly of the gear I used.