Friday, October 28, 2011

Cerro Plomo Trek

Location: Cerro Plomo, Cordillera de los Andes

Rundown: Took advantage of a few days off to make an attempt at the 18,000 foot Cerro Plomo, just outside of Santiago.

After hiking in the mountains around Santiago for some time, under constant watch of Cerro Plomo, a glacier-capped, 18,000 foot beast in the Andes, my buddy Ben and I decided it was time to get our tails in gear and at least attempt a summit.

The drill seemed pretty straightforward. Drive to Valle Nevado, the local ski hill, hike some ten miles to the base of Plomo via a set of camps, then make a summit bid.

The trek started out like any other... we hiked up the now dirt trails that used to be ski runs. Along the way a stray dog that was following us fell into a ice-covered lake and Ben and I had to pull out the climbing gear to lasso and haul him out! It was good practice to get my 'huaso' on, and we made an instant friend. The bugger followed us for days.

Luckily caught a ride in the back of a high-clearance maintenance truck. The dog was the first in the back... right next to the open drum of fuel. Ah.... I love regulationlessness.

The truck dropped us off at Tres Puntas, the top of the ski hills at 12,000 feet. Only 6,000 more to go! We set off, following our new best friend.

Beginning to realize what 'still early in the season' means. Lots of snow, which means slow traveling. We ended up the first night short of our first intended camp.

Made a fabulous ramen dinner as the sun lit up Plomo and the temperature plummeted. Went to bed a little headachy and nauseous from the altitude.

The last red rays of light on the glaciers. Although the sun sets early due to the high surrounding peaks, light stays in the sky for much longer.

Woke in the morning feeling in better tune with the altitude. Not a bad view to stumble out to as well.

The valley became increasingly snowy as we progressed, including some steep snowfield traverses. Bent a pole on a self-arrest. Probably should have had the axe out.

Stopped behind a boulder for lunch. It's so sunny that you can be pretty hot while hiking with a big pack. When the wind kicks up the temp drops quickly. The differences are impressive!

More steep snowfields. The going gets slower. The hikers get more fatigued.

Didn't make it to FederaciĆ³n, but made our second camp just around the bend. I traded off my altitude sickness to my climbing partner, who crashed out, hoping to rest up for a early morning summit bid.

Melting snow for water, a seemingly endless task. It's a amazing how fast you burn through water!

Didn't quite make it to the summit. Had some gear problems, snow problems, and altitude problems that all added up to the decision to turn around. Probably a good one at that.

Plomo isn't going anywhere in a hurry. Will possibly have a second attempt in February when there isn't so much snow.