Rochelle & Will
It was 5pm by the time we arrived at the Chimborazo national park having stopped in Guaranda for some supplies. We intended to spend a precious three days acclimatising on and around the mountain before making a summit attempt. But by the time we arrived at the park it had closed for the night so instead we found a hidden road side camp and parked up at 4200m with the foreboding 6268m Volcan Chimborazo behind us. After a bit of a sleep-in the next morning we returned to the park entrance, it took a lot of explaining to get past the strict rangers who kept insisting that we needed a guide despite only wanting to go up for acclimatisation purposes. Finally they let us through and we drove up the heavily corrugated road to the Carrel refugio. There were plenty of locals and a few tourists playing in the blanket of fresh snow but many were under dressed for the freezing wind and passing clouds. First we established that we could stay at the Carrel refugio for one night free of charge before making our way slowly up the 40 minute track to the 5000m Whymper refugio. We 'chilled' out there for a while talking to a few tour guides and the friendly hut warden. Here one lightly built bike tour guide asked if we were looking for a mountain guide. We said yes and after a bit of discussion realised he was one and was offering us his services. Glad we wouldn't have to drive the 40km to Riobamaba to find a guide we quickly agreed and came up with a plan to meet back at the refugio in two days time for a summit attempt that night.
Once back at the Carrel refugio we ordered a hot chocolate and a block of chocolate then claimed a bunk bed on which we sat and watched a movie. By evening it became clear that we would be the only ones staying that night so we offered to cook the refugio warden dinner which was simple spaghetti bolognese prepared by Will. We then huddled around the open fire eating dinner and chatting as best we could in Spanish. Our sleep that night was uncomfortable and noisy due to the cold drafty building and the powerful winds that blew relentlessly throughout the early hours. With mild headaches the next morning we decided to drive to some nearby thermal pools recommended by one of the guides we had met the day before. Later we learnt that the guide had actually never been to the pools and he might not have recommended them if he had. The car park and area surrounding the pools was muddy and the small pools were cram packed with locals on this rainy sunday morning. I contemplated not going in but Will started getting changed and once we walked our white shivering bodies over to the water there was no going back. After getting in I found it was best to not look into the water at the various things floating in it. The shock continued when some topless local ladies hoped in right beside us. Pretty soon we decided it was time to go so we showered off the extra pubic hairs in the ice cold water and got dressed as fast as we could without getting covered in too much mud. Afterwards we both looked at each other in disbelief that we had just swam in that "pool"….
We then decided to spend the night back at our previous road side camp where we could watch all the movies we liked without the watchful eye of the refugio warden. Over night the wind howled and shook the truck. By morning the low clouds were totally obscuring the volcano and light snow was falling. It wasn't looking very promising for our summit attempt that night. After brekie inside the car we drove back to the park entrance and asked about the weather and how we might contact our guide. Typically they couldn't help us whatsoever so we decided to drive the 40km to Riobamba and see what we could find out. On the way we spotted a mountain lodge that called itself the 'Chimborazo base camp' and jugging by its construction it wasn't locally owned so we drove in. Upon steping inside out of the poring rain we found a very interestingly decorated lodge with bright pastel pink and purple walls covered in animal skins, guns, horns and climbing photos. The two local workers there couldn't help us either but called their boss who spoke perfect english, we asked her about the weather and she said she would know more in three hours once her husband returned from a rekkie mission part way up Cimborazo. We then went to another lodge in search of our guide but the girl there said she thought he was up the mountain. Unsure what to do as the weather wasn't getting any better we drove back to the park entrance where Will had a hell of a time trying to get them to let us back up again because we didn't have a guide. We explained that we were meeting our guide up there but he replied that our guide Jose wasn't a mountain guide. Eventually another ranger corrected him and embarrassed he let us head up.
Up at the lodge our guide was nowhere in sight so we mucked around talking to some americans while it snowed around us. Another guide then informed us that Jose would be coming as agreed at 2pm. So we decided to get packing and at least try to summit. When Jose arrived we made our way slowly up to the Whymper refugio. At 4:30pm we cooked a dinner of vegetables and pasta and headed to bed at 6:30 despite wanting to stay up and talk to all of the new arrivals; only one of which was also hopping to summit that night. In our sleeping bags it was cold and drafty and despite the clearing clouds the wind blew to dangerous gale force levels. At 10pm we woke up to check the weather, it was clearish but blowing so hard I was almost getting knocked over by each gust. We agreed with the guide to check again in an hour before calling the climb off. So we went back to bed and after another windy hour passed we didn't even bother getting out of bed we knew already by the groaning of the roof that we wouldn't be attempting to summit that night.
We both had disturbed cold nights sleep and by 6:30am we were up and ready to leave for a warmer climate. Downstairs we discovered the door had blown open during the night and there was snow inside making it very slippery and explaining our cold sleep. We trudged back down to the car and cleared off the snow which was the most exciting part of the summit attempt; snow at the equator! Then we drove to Riobamba to drop off the guide who still asked for a full payment even though all he had done was sleep. We had cooked dinner and given him a ride but he had no compassion. Finally we drove out of Riobamba more than ready for some hot weather with endless blue skies and ocean swimming. No more mountains for a while we agreed.
Rochelle & Will
For many reasons we need to keep this trip moving but the lure of the Cordillera Blanca proved too much. We knew we might never return to this amazing place comparable to the Himalayas, so couldn't help but climb at least one of the many beautiful summits.
In order to do so we returned to Huaraz for two nights to investigate our climbing options. After some research on the popular alpine web page Summit Post, we figured that it was easy enough to climb Nevado Pisco without a guide despite everyone telling us we needed one. At 5700m the popular Pisco wasn't really what we were looking for though, we wanted remote and over the yet to be conquered 6000m. So we hit the tour agencies for information about climbing the 6034m Tocllaraju. The first place offered us a four day all inclusive package for $1400us which is more then we usually spend in three weeks! It may have included a cook and donkeys but we didn't really need that. After more recommendations we went to Andean kingdom who weren't particularly interested but did say that we could defiantly climb Pisco without a guide. In our last attempt we headed to the Casa de Guias (house of the guides), here we met a experienced mountain guide called Percy. He had been up Tocllaraju only the day before so knew the conditions well, it all sounded good until he started outlaying the price totalling $940us. It was $150 per day for his guiding services over four days. $30 for two donkeys and $30 for the donkey driver to supply a round trip. $30 for the cook and $10 per day per person for food ($40 per day $160 total for everybodies food). Even this was a reduced price having opted out of the porter, a third donkey, tables, chairs and mess tent. He had us hooked that we really needed the donkeys and cook even though we had managed just fine without them on pervious climbs so we agreed on the price and left to get some cash. It was while back at the hostel after having some time to think, compounded with the state of our bank balance that we realised there was no way we could afford this climb. Besides we are kiwis we don't need all the fancy stuff like cooks we are quite capable of cooking for ourselves and carrying our own packs. So we told Percy it was too expensive then did some more research on climbing Nevado Pisco before hitting the road the following morning towards Yungay and the entrance to Huascaran National Park.
On the way to Yungay we stopped off at the Chancos hot pools. We had been told that they had special natural saunas carved into the hot dripping rock face. While they did indeed have these saunas it was very much a local affair. Still we got amongst it and after our 46 degree sauna and changing room was hosed out from the previous users we were aloud in for our 20 minutes. We got changed eyeing the door to the dark stifling sauna with some apprehension, but once inside it was a glorious if a somewhat sweaty experience that we would absolutely recommend. We then took freezing showers to cool down and red faced headed back to the main road.
That afternoon we arrived at the entrance to the Huascaran National Park it's 65 soles for an adventure entrance and only 5 for a day entrance! Kicking ourselves we hadn't said we just wanted to drive through the park we paid our 65 soles each and didn't even get a map before continuing. After asking a few exhausted looking people on the side of the road we found the beginning of the Pisco and Laguna 69 hike with the first campsite just down the hill. Though we opted to sleep in the car around the corner at an abandoned grassy camp site. Here we packed our gear for the next day and cooked dinner amongst the curious cows. While just drifting off to sleep that night we were startled by a strange noise. It sounded like some one was rubbing the car with sand paper or as it turns out cows licking the car because of the mud/salt on it. We tried to stop them by yelling them, turning the car on, tooting the horn and also by throwing a water bottle but they persisted most of the night having a great old time at our expense. We also had a few trucks stop strangely in the middle of the night next to us making Will and I a little concerned about leaving the Dodge unattended for the next two nights. To combat this we locked everything away in our four bags then chained all the bags together. We also removed everything from the front seats which don't have the tinted windows like the back and parked in a tight spot halfway down a hill. We set out for Laguna 69 with our fingers crossed that the Dodge would be safe.
We took our time getting to Laguna 69 with heavy packs and increasing altitude accompanied by rain and then freezing sleet. But once at the picturesque lake the weather cleared and we cooked dinner in the moon light with the place to ourselves. During the night we were startled by a massive thundering ice fall and the next morning we were again woken by a curious high altitude cow not far from the tent nosing for some breakfast. During breakie an awesome Californian couple Eric and Jessica appeared as well but before long the first bus load of tourists arrived and it was time for us to leave towards Pisco's high base camp.
The walk to the high camp took bit longer than we anticipated and required almost a complete back track. Rather than go all way to the refugio we cut up through the nearby moraine valley, it was hard going bolder hoping over huge unstable boulders and loose gravel. We didn't make it to the high camp until 4:30pm so quickly set up the tent in a small spot above another beautiful lake. Not seeing any others we were wondering if we would be summiting alone but the next morning we found out that the actual high camp was a bit further up over the ridge. At 2am the first footsteps of climbers from the refugio passed our tent so we hastily got ready and followed the line of head torches above us. After roping up at the start of the glacier the route was simple enough and we followed in the tracks of the others with only one real snow bridge crossing. It was quite steep at times and after the previous days extended bolder hopping we felt pretty exhausted, but still made respectable time reaching the cloudless summit at 7:30am. We took a few photos of the breathtaking (literally!) panorama and chatted to the others there, with about half the groups having guides. I was quickly getting cold so we soon made our way back down taking a few rests and snap shots along the way in the light of the new day.
We finally made it back to the tent at 10am. Utterly exhausted we cooked up some noodles and slowly packed up while being watched by a group of resting Asians (without packs) and their porters (with gigantic packs). They were apparently heading to the summit the next day. We then started the mammoth walk back down to the car having already walked for 8 hours that day. First we had to get through the moraine valley which looked horrible but wasn't so bad. Then halfway down the main rocky donkey poop covered track we took a break and had a lay down in the sun. It was here where some of our fellow summiteers strolled passed us without their packs saying the donkeys took them and they had stopped for lunch at the refugio. We started to wonder if maybe we should have used donkeys too. Were we being tough or just plain tight with our money..?
Soon enough we did make it back to the Dodge and amazingly it was still in one piece with nothing stolen or tampered with. So we cruised out of the park and onto Caraz home of the Los Pinos Lodge overlanders camp where we splashed out on a room for two nights and caught up with our Canadian friends Aleskey and Dawen who were about to set out on the Santa Cruz trek.
Next stop Kuelp ruins.
Rochelle & Will
Started at Fiambala @ 1500m
Ojos del Salado 6893m, highest volcano on Earth and the 2nd highest peak in South America.
6.3.13 Car camp 1 @ 3672m
- Side of Mt Pissis access road. Small stream 50m away, very windy afternoon, noisy cattle grazing the valley, amazing sunset, nil altitude effects, flat battery in morning waited until 2pm for jump start from Hilux. Drove to next camp. Took old route track was washed out had to back track a little.
7.3.13 Car camp 2 @ 4305m
- Towards black lava from salt flats. No water nearby arrived at 3pm, went for a walk, wide open dry barren sand and salt flats, saw Vinucas, quite warm high clouds. Calm but cold night, good sleep. Nil altitude effects. Had a wash in a frozen trickle of water we found in the morning.
8.3.13 Car camp 3 @ 5030m
- On approach to El Arenal base camp. Big day of 4WD through sand scree rocks and 2 bogs, little track at times. Lots of Vinucas. Truck going good, noticed we are nearly at 1/2 a tank of gas... Went for a route finding walk to 5295m. Very sore head after cooking dinner, took 125mg diamox each, mixed sleep, cold and windy outside. Ran truck for 10mins before bed to reduce risk of freezing and flat batt.
9.3.13 Car Camp 4 @ 5479m 18,000ft!
- Slept in until 11am. 20ltr solar shower froze on bonnet overnight. Low range 4WD all day big rocks, had to attempt a steep section twice. Broke front bash plate reattached with chain, nearly got bogged in long wet sandy section. Saw first penerite ice feilds, little bit of snow melt water around. Walked to 5582m end of vehicle tracks. Found spot for last car camp tomorrow. Altitude having effect heavy breathing & Little appetite taken another 125mg diamox to help with sleep. Boiled potatoes for dinner yum. Bloody cold night, everything frozen, water, olive oil, engine coolant. Nalgene froze solid inside car, layer of ice on all windows Est -20.C overnight.
10.3.13 Car Camp 5 @ 5542
- Boiled water to pour over radiator and engine block, truck started! Drove 2km to end of vehicle tracks. Last car camp, tomorrow we continue on foot. Spent the day resting and preparing/packing for the climb. Cold but nil to light winds clear blue sky no clouds. Haven't seen a person since the first day. Disconnected battery and removed radiator cap.
11.3.13 Base Camp @ 5932m 19,400ft!
- Nice morning spent 2 hours doing final pack before heading off. Goal was to find a suitable camp around 6000m. After an hour or so found some old tracks which we followed up the main valley towards Ojos. Walking required frequent stops and brought on fatigue and heavy breathing. Wind picked up in the afternoon making progress cold and slow. At about 3pm found an exposed campsite @ 5932m on a ridge below the lower crater lake summit. Had to clear frozen snow/ice to fit the tent, wind was very strong broke small part of the tent putting it up, pegs wouldn't go in, had to tie guys to rocks. By now altitude had induced a strong headache. Into sleeping bags by 4pm. Pasta dinner at 5pm was cold in 2 mins, no appetite. Wind was whipping tent severely. By 7pm light was starting to fade and the already cold temperature plummeted. Took 125mg diamox, 2 panadol and 2 nurofen+ to combat the now excruciating migraine still spent the entire night sleepless. Water bottles froze solid between us. Listened to the nearby glacier shattering throughout the night. By the morning the altitude sickness which had progressed to dizzying nausea along with the gale force winds and at least -20.C temps made us come to the difficult decision of abandoning our summit attempt and heading for refuge below.
"Have to leave this one for another day"
Hope you enjoyed this brief account of our expedition.
Rochelle & Will
After leaving Santiago loaded to the hilt with extra food for our upcoming climbing expedition we were super excited to be back on the road with a problem free vehicle. From Santiago we cruised 400km north on the expensive but smooth Autopista, taking a detour at the end to miss the final toll and passing through Ovalle. Ovalle is home to many grape vines that are used to make Chile's drink of choice Pisco. With our still broken Spanish we tried to buy some tasty looking grapes off a lady on the roadside but instead she kindly insisted on giving us a handful from her bucket so we had our fill of fresh grapes. Later that day we parked over looking the city of Vicuña where we spent the night and after a quick look around the shops as Will needed new jandels we headed to the border of Paso Agua Negra.
It was here at the border we ran into our first problems… apparently as we weren't Chilean residents they wouldn't let us take the car out of Chile without prior authorisation???? WHAT!! This being our 6th border crossing we couldn't understand why we suddenly needed this bit of paper from a notary (law office) to say that we weren't exporting the vehicle, even though we kind of were. However the PDI officer wouldn't budge despite our many many attempts, so we gave up and drove the 80km back into town to get the necessary paper work, quickly realising it was a Saturday and the only notary office in town wasn't open until Monday! We really didn't want to waste time in the tiny town that wasn't even mentioned in the guide book so we headed 500km north towards the next border of Paso San Fransico. Thinking this crossing might be the same we spent Sunday night in the larger town of Copiapó near the border and on Monday found the police who directed us to a nearby notary office. At the office the lady explained she couldn't give me the authorisation paper we needed as we had brought the car too long ago and in a different city, bloody hell what difference does that make we thought, but our Spanish wasn't good enough to argue the point. Will decided that notary offices might be as irregular as border crossings so we asked another policeman if there was more than one office and he directed us down the road where we queued in a mosh pit of forty Chileans for over an hour. Finally at the front of the queue were told by the lady not to look so worried as she can do this for us easy! Five minutes and $12 later we had the papers we needed and had also doctored our hand written insurance papers so the since expired second month read as the seventh month. So far we had not been asked for this so called composlary Argentinian insurance at all, but there is always a first time. We now had all the right paper work to cross the border, phew!
Once again we then headed to the border and they DIDN'T I repeat DIDN'T ask for the insurance or the authorisation paper!!!! But the lady had a small problem with our RUT's because we are not from Chile ours have different numbers than most but finally after a phone call and another guy checking it they let us pass. It was getting late now and the Argentina border entry was about 125km away over a very high pass so we decided to spend the night in no mans land between the two countries. We found some deserted natural hot pools abandoned probably because they weren't actually that hot. We knew we were also quite high around 4,400m and wanted to see how it affected us, walking resulted in puffing and we both had slight headaches. That night as we slept Will had problems and woke up twice for a walk in the freezing wind felling unwell, I was ok until dawn where my headache pain increased ten fold. We left quickly in the morning without breakfast though only after Will had a quick dip in the sulphur smelling pools. We were just talking about wether or not we could climb this volcano given the nights events when we came across a German hitchhiker in his sixties who had spent the night in a freezing shelter. In broken English, Spanish and German he asked for a lift down as he had had a bad night suffering from the effects of altitude. Glad we weren't the only ones we dropped him off at the border hut and we easily crossed into Argentina with out a single look at the car! Finally in the small town of Fiamballa and thirty degree heat we were feeling much better but our problems weren't over as the only ATM in town was out of cash and we were out of fuel luckily they accepted our emergency US dollars at a good exchange rate!
We then set off to find the recommended local mountain guide but once again our timing was bad as it was midday so everything was closed for the daily siesta until at least 6pm. Instead we found a cheap campground where for $16US total we got sometimes hot showers in a mud brick hut and a sink to do our washing. Though honestly it was lovely under a mass of grape vines and all the grapes we could eat. Later at the climbing guides office he explains that you can no longer hire mules like we were planning but that anyone with a good 4x4 can drive almost to the base of the volcano around 5,400m over natural gravel. The guide named Johnson was a little worried we didn't have a proper GPS only the iPhone and memory maps app which works just like a GPS so he lent us his prised paper map with everything marked. We also had our Yellowbrick tracker which we can send short messages from this allowed us keep in contact with our parents daily. We slept in the next morning and not wanting to rush our acclimatisation we drove to the very start of the 4WD track at 3,672m where we spent the night and later woke up to a flat battery!! Not deterred we waited half the day for a jump start and then drove a short way to the next camp. I'll stop my story here and let Wills diary tell the rest of the tale in the next blog.
Rochelle & Will