I’m going to condense the next three days into one post. Suffice to say, we climbed four 5000+ metre mountains. The first one, called Laguna Brava, was close to our camp (at 4100 metres) and was 5304 metres high. Pedro and I set out first, and Max followed us up the mountain. I reached the top after just over three hours (400m per hour ascent rate), and waited there for Pedro and Max (who climbed it in 2 hours 37 mins!). It was a beautiful summit, not too cold, and the views out over the lake were spectacular. There were some rocks on the top, but it’s hard to say who put them there…
This one’s for you, lovely Bowline swans:
Right, well, day two. First thing, a 5050 metre mountain close to our lovely camp. Max and I raced up there in an hour and 37 minutes, with a 2 and a half hour round trip. You can see a pile of rocks on the top – we were not the first to get there…
Well, because it was such a quick climb, we decided to make lunch (Max is actually quite a good cook!) and move camp to a place where we could go for two more mountains. We did that, and I was just about to take a siesta….when the boys dragged me out of the tent and we went up another mountain. This one was Loma Colorada, 5268, and we raced up in 1 hour 37 minutes. On the top was an apacheta which is a high pile of rocks built by the Incas. We believe that this mountain is unclimbed, and were the first to see this structure!
Well, we raced back down for tea. On that topic, I brought about 90 sachets of delicious milk tea both from Japan (thanks Sarah!) and Singapore (thanks Gina and Kai!) and Max mercilessly mocked me for bringing so much with me. Ha, well, one day rather than making their usual sickly sweet black coffee, Max and Pedro tried a sachet of my tea. They are now properly addicted, although they insist on adding yet more sweetener. I think I may have found a continent whose sweet tooth rivals even mine!
Ok, back to the climbing again. They promised me a lie-in when they persuaded me to climb two 5000ers in one day, but took it all back the following day, and we broke camp and headed for our fourth 5000er in this region. This one was called Morado, and we believe is unclimbed. It’s 5223 metres, and took Max and me one hour and 40 minutes to climb (we’re now moving at 500 metres of ascent per hour if it’s not terrible scree, although I know Max can go much faster). We found absolutely nothing on the top. Nothing Incan, and nothing modern. Interesting…
Well, this post cannot end without one final tale of high tension. Max and I came down from Morado and started the car. It coughed some black smoke (as usual) and started ok. We then noticed that the fuel gauge was showing 1/4 full. The Argentinian border will not allow anyone to pass with a spare container of fuel, and they won’t sell fuel at the border either. There was no way we could have carried more diesel, however we had many tens of km to drive off-road through thick sand to get back to a small track, and then 120km to the nearest town where we could buy fuel. We started heading back, frustrated because we were super-acclimatised but stressed about the fuel situation. The tyres had only 15 psi in them to get us over the rough terrain, which wasn’t helping our fuel consumption. The fuel light came on shortly after we left, indicating 100km left in the tank, of tarmac road type driving. Shit. Pedro was calmly driving, while Max and I were calculating and re-calculating the distance to travel. We made it to a mine and talked to the miners, but (despite having about half a dozen diesel vehicles and a diesel generator) they refused to sell us any fuel. We carried on, now having 120km of driving along a track. We were feeling seriously tense. We put the car in neutral at every opportunity, calculating continually how far we’d have to walk if we ran out of fuel. We didn’t see any other cars, so no hope there. The gauge finally showed empty with 44km to go to the nearest town. We held our collective breath and urged Conway onwards. It was a long drop into the town, and we were doing 120kph in neutral at one point, cursing a bus that got in our way. We promised Conway we’d fill his tank with gin if he’d get us there on the fumes that remained.
Max and I had been having a debate about Alanis Morisette’s song Ironic over the last few days. Rain on your wedding day? Irritating, but not ironic. A black fly in your chardonnay? Really? No. Managing to get 130km on empty in your 4×4, with 20km to go and getting held up on the final climb before descending into the town by a lorry carrying DIESEL?? Yup, that counts as ironic to me.
Anyway, as you might have guessed, we made it. Pedro refused to pull into the first petrol station, declaring the fuel low quality, while I shouted from the back seat that I didn’t care if it was kerosene, but it turned out he’d spotted another petrol station a bit further on, and they were open. This was our fuel situation as we pulled in:
We filled up and drive 200km further to Copiapo. We’re staying here for a few days, picking up our photographer, and heading back to the mountains on the 8th. Wish us luck!