We left the hut the next morning and headed into the desert. We drove for hours, before getting stuck in a snow drift. We collected rocks and made a hard surface for the tyres, and I drove while Max and Pedro heaved the car out. Note to selves, avoid snow…
We reached a beautiful lake, and Max’s keen eyes spotted some Incan ruins on the shore. We already knew that Incas tend to build structures on the shores of, or overlooking, lakes. These ruins have been discovered before – we were not the first people to take this route. The water is filled with minerals, and totally undrinkable.
Well, onwards for us! One more problem though…a muddy river crossing which had us all holding our collective breath, and then a security checkpoint. It seems that the area containing our mountains is environmentally protected, despite a huge mine and an associated road going off into the mountains. We were nervous because we knew the people at the checkpoint would stop us and make us turn around. So…we didn’t stop. We just kept on driving straight through the checkpoint and up the road. The officials didn’t appear to chase us…perhaps because they knew we’d have to come back that way.
The road wasn’t great either, and we had some problems with deep snow, but after several attempts and some great driving from Pedro, we powered through:
Until we reached a huge patch of ice. Seriously massive. No going any further. We were disappointed as there were a couple of mountains we really wanted to reach, but there was no way we could get there, so we set up camp in the road. I fell over and smacked my face on the ice (typical), biting my lip which then made me look like I’d been in a bar fight.
We were definitely the first people to reach this place since the previous March, so no fear of getting in anyone’s way with our campsite in the road.
The following day, we decided to climb a mountain a few km away from camp. We had 8km of distance to travel to the top, and 1200m of altitude gain. The mountain was 5225 m high, and it took me 6 hours to get to the top. When I finally arrived, Max was asleep on the top! He’d been waiting there for quite some time, and it was freezing up there! Pedro took some nice photos when he arrived, and there were some Incan ruins on the top:
We headed down, and the following day decided that as we couldn’t go any further, it was time to face the authorities. We had a plan – Max would do the talking, and, if necessary, I would cry. We approached with some trepidation, having seen that they had followed us some distance up the road before turning back the previous day. We crept through the checkpoint, looking behind us all the time, but nobody came out to chase us.
We managed to cross the muddy river again (thinking hmmmm, please don’t get stuck here and have to go and ask the authorities for help to get out!) and we were away, back to Chilecito, my favourite place. Here’s a photo of the ‘main road’ back, part of the Dakar Rally route from a few years ago.
And that was our first mountain. We thought it was unclimbed (apart from the Incan ruins on the top) but we later found a report suggesting that a mountain of that altitude (roughly) near the mine had been climbed before, so we aren’t counting that one. Still, it was great for acclimatisation, and the adventure continues…