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).

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