Last Great Unclimbed Mountains

Climbing Antofalla, 6,500 metres (nearly)

Antofalla was to be our first 6000 metre mountain.  Actually, it’s nearly 6,500 metres in altitude.  Maybe not the best choice to hit first, but nevertheless, the first on our list.  We drove for hours along dirt roads to get to the mountain itself, seeing only the occasional pack of vicuna grazing by the track. We tried to drive to 5000 metres, but the terrain was too sandy, and yet again we had a lengthy rescue operation with the two cars, using winches to pull them out of soft, steep sand.

Max thought he could get much higher on the motorbike, and carry many litres of water, and our tents up higher for us, so we had to carry a lighter load to high camp.  It turned out that he could only get to less than 5,100 metres, and so we carried our tents and clothes and food and sleeping bags only a brief way up the mountain.  For those of you who know me well, this should be ringing alarm bells.

I have had some bitterly painful summit days over the years; some have taken 23 hours to complete, others resulted in me sitting down and falling asleep with exhaustion on the way down.  Summit day strikes some degree of fear into me, and the longer the anticipated summit day, the worse that is.  So, realising that we had nearly 1,500 metres of ascent to do for Antofalla wasn’t the best news for me.

I went outside at 4:30am and saw three bright shooting stars, which I took as a good sign!  We set out at 5am, and climbed for hours and hours, in places battling a rather ferocious wind.  As we got higher I was reminded that every 100 metres above 6000 is well-fought for!  We reached false summit after false summit, hopes dashed every time.  The last false summit was so convincing that I could have cried when I saw another bit of mountain ahead of me!  Here’s a photo of the last push:

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But, we eventually made it, and lay down on the top of the world.  There’s an Incan platform on the summit, which is totally flat and the views are incredible. Max fell asleep!

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Not for long though – we had a long way to go to get down again.  Max, Gabriel and I were climbing together, and all three of us were exhausted on the descent, and were stumbling as our feet weren’t quite going where we wanted them to.

After arriving at the tents, Max and I then walked all the way down to the cars to get food and water for another night.   We were so tired it seemed such a long way.  We struggled down, got the supplies, ate and drank, and regained enough strength to walk back up to camp.  We slept like babies that night, but we had made our first 6000 metre mountain!