Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cerro Plomo Summit!

Location: Cerro Plomo (~18,000 ft)

Rundown: Trekked three days in to summit the looming, glaciated Cerro Plomo.

Took a few days and drove up into the mountains to attempt to summit Cerro Plomo... again. Last attempt was met with too much snow to drive in. Cut down a good six hours of hiking by driving to the top of Valle Nevado to Tres Puntas.

Hiked several hours in on the rocky, clinging paths following the glacial runoff stream that cuts the valley. You can see the glaciers of Plomo behind me here.

Set up camp just beyond the first flat spot, Piedra Numerada. Didn't feel the altitude as much at this camp. Made some chow and watched the setting sun ignite the tall walls of the valley. Gorgeous. The stars come out in force at night. I'd love to go back when I'm not conserving energy for a summit to just lay out and watch the circus.

Hiked past Federacion, a refugio that could hold 3 or 4 climbers in a storm.

Brought a lot of food and ate like crazy. The excellent thing about mountaineering; it merits constant chowing!

Full packs.

Had a few hotspots with my new boots. Miranda taped 'em up tight before the morning of our summit bid.

Made it up to La Olla, the highest camp before the summit bid. Crashed out as early as possible, about the same time as the moon rose over the hanging glacier. The glaciers ooze into a moraine and ice blue lagoon near camp. You can hear them creaking and groaning as they pour down the mountain side.

Up at 3 AM to make our summit bid. Slept in our hiking gear and summit packs waiting to go. The wind was howling and the trail up was sketchy in the dark. You could hear the noise of the loose rocks clattering down the slope disappear into the wind.

Almost had to turn back because of the temperature and wind. Much colder and windier than we expected. Had to scramble from depression to depression to keep out of the blasting wind. Made it up an hour hiking hard and were still chilling too quickly. Eventually found and hid out in the Refugio Agostini for an hour as we waited for the sun to come up. Can't say what a little wind break will do for you.

Made a big detour to catch the first rays over an easterly ridge which involved two steep and ugly scree fields in the dark and the wind. Nearly turned us around. The opposite side of the ridge provided the windbreak and sun warmth we needed to keep going. When I staggered over the ridge I think a few tears came to my eyes (and quickly froze). The sunrise over the Andes was one of the most beautiful and welcoming sites I've seen. Would've been frozen and turned back without it. Took a few minutes to recover our nerve and stamina.

Our prospects kept looking up as the sun rose and the wind abated a touch. Hiked along some amazing ridges overlooking the snowcapped peaks.

Tried to take a picture and ended up with a little video clip.

Approached the cross of the Iver Glacier. A poorly placed step would send you for a good 3,000 foot slide back down to La Olla that would land you on the broken body of the glacial moraine below. Yikes.

Donned crampons and wielded our ice axes. Crossed the thing without a hitch. The small peaks below in this shot are called the Pirca del Inca, a ritual burial site for the Incas! They would march a procession up here and sacrifice young boys and girls to the gods, leaving their bodies and other gifts in circular burial tombs.

The Incas apparently used to take perfect children adorn them with gifts and ceremonies thne take them up into the mountains and perform ritual burials. They would give them chicha (fermented corn alcohol) until they were drunk and then leave them in the circular tombs where the cold would quickly kill them. The mummified body of a young boy was found recently (1954). His remains well preserved for some 500+ years in the extremely dry and cold environment. (Not my photo below. When I get to the museum, I'll get my own!)

Crossing the glacier was a highlight for me. Coming from a snowy environment, I always assumed glaciers were just fields of snow, but they're completely blue ice and behave very differently.

Two hours after the glacier cross we staggered up the the summit of Cerro Plomo. The Chilean flag blazing in the wind, but little else around aside from mountain peaks and snaking glaciers. Just amazing.

Ten hours after we left camp, we topped out at just shy of 18,000 feet. Hard to breathe, hard to think, hard to stand.

Managed to get a shot right before the camera blew over.

And then back down we went! Took us four hours to get down with a second glacier crossing and burning legs.

Fourteen hours after we left camp we staggered back into it exhausted out of our minds. I don't know how, but I got the stove going and made some of the best ramen I've ever had in my life. You know what they say, oxygen deprivation, unbearable cold, and muscle rending climbing makes the best seasoning.

Tired. Very tired. Slept 14 hour in the tent before descending in one push the next day.

This isn't my shot, but shows the general route up from La Olla (misspelled on the picture).

Monday, February 13, 2012


Location: Marrakech, Morocco

Rundown: Spent a week reeling in the chaotic, spinning world of middle-eastern souks, snake charmers, and mosques.

Flew into Marrakech and took a bus into the busting city. The day was pleasantly warm and dry. Unloaded in a tiny, crowded back plaza and walked through the twisting, turning, narrow streets to our riad.

Riads are calm oases in the uproar of the city. There are generally few windows to the outside, but instead have a central courtyard with a water fountain in tile. Like many other building interiors they are lavishly decorated.

The town was a mess of brick rooftops, mosque towers, and satellite dishes. From above not one straight road could be picked out below.

Diving into the souks takes a leap of faith. People are hoping to separate you from your money in the souks, but generally it is by price gouging and not actual gouging.

This shot makes the souks look tame... calm almost. Not so. Souk goers are constantly bombarded by the goods and bads of the markets. The whine of the motos zipping dangerously past in close quarters...

...the glint of silver teapots and lanterns...

...the sweet and savory smell of the tajines cooking slowly over rough charcoal...

Everything is over the top. So bright, so flavorful, so colorful, so loud, so crass, so rich, and so poor. It's so overwhelming!

I found it fascinating to wander through the souks. I could likely spend a week lost in the labyrinth and never be satiated. Exhausted yes, satiated no.

Some things are so new. Everyone has cell phones. Gents in long robes and great beards chattering with waving hands. Other things haven't changed for millennia...

Met many friendly cats. Lots of friendly cats. Not all were this well maintained however.

Rubber-necked our way through several stunning palaces.

...with wide arches and decorated wood doors...

...intricate ceilings and tiled floors...

I feel I have gotten complacent living in South America and being fairly fluent in Spanish. I forget that when I travel other places I have to actually work to understand things. A few pleasantries in Arabic, a little French that is still spoken extensively, some basic hand gestures, and an understanding of geometry gets most messages across.

Everywhere you walked orange trees sprouted from the dry earth. The low branches were always picked clean and peels littered the ground under them. How could a population go hungry with so much fresh fruit for the picking. (I know how they can still go hungry, please don't email me.)

Found out what they do with all those oranges!

Copious stalls in the plaza. Some sold candied fruits. Dates, oranges, figs, nuts, wrapped in a newspaper cone for the munching on a jaunt through the plaza.

Several times a day the loudspeakers on the modest mosque towers wound up in long, monotone entreaties to worship. (Invitations for Muslims only. Non-muslims are not allowed in the mosques.) All over the city different mosques, some only a few blocks away appealed to the masses, "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar".....

The main plaza, Jemaa el-Fnaa, lit up like a circus every night. Locals came to meet, eat, barter, and gawk. The drums pounded into the night...

Moroccans sat around food stalls like this vendor who was cooking a massive pot of boiled snails. He'd scoop you a bowl, and refill it when you were done!

Some nights the smoke from the cooking fires obscured the other side of the glowing market.

Excellent, inexpensive restaurants ringed the plaza. Had some wonderful meals while we watched the swirl from above.

Harira. A bean and lentil soup with veggies. Fantastic.

A Moroccan tradition. Mint tea, served in bright silver pots with lots of sugar and poured from great highs into tiny shot glasses to mix the sugar. The nights were cool and the hot tea always welcoming.

The food was one of the many highlights of our trip! We tried as many things as we dared. Never had a hungry night!

Couldn't resist. Back into the souks! The darkness and shadows in the tight corners deepens the colors... and the suspense.

Essaouira, Morocco

Just a few hours drive by bus from Marrakech is the fairy-tale town of Essaouira. Along the straight, flat road the desert stretched out for miles and miles unbroken. The Atlas mountains (not pictured here) looming in the distance.

Along the drive we encountered camels waiting out the sun's heat...

...and goats looking for a better view across the sand.

Arriving in Essaouira we were greeted with the smell of the sea and the squawk of the gulls. The great fortified walls of the city stretch out along the ocean, looking out over sea and broken, craggy rock.

The corroded cannons still pointing out to sea, reminiscent of Cartagena, Colombia. Sitting in the huecos brought back good memories (although there were no cooler-carrying vendors selling frosty libations here as drinking is prohibited!)

The city somehow reminded me of a book, I Had Seen Castles, that I read in Mrs. Schapperkotter's class in high school. The whole place was whitewashed, and the blazing white of the paint and tan of the walls stuck out in stark contrast to the azure sea and sky.

The town also held a small port, sheltered by an island that with Roman ruins. The history upon history in this area of the world astounds me. The little blue boats with their high prows to brave the Atlantic waves bobbed happily in the murky water.

Right next to the port small seafood shacks were grilling up fresh fish, calamari, shrimp, crab, and mussels. We plunked ourselves in the sun at a table and smeared seafood all over our faces.

With full bellies we walked around the blue and white city and soaked up the rough details of the place.

So fun to explore Morocco with my Mom and Denny!