Last Great Unclimbed Mountains

Stitches (not me!), lessons learned so far, and plans

Ok, first let me finish the story of my solo ascent of Colorados.  I came down from the summit pretty pleased with myself and full of the joys of spring.  I arrived back at the tent, and yelled to the boys (two of whom had decided not to climb that day).  Max replied from the tent ‘I think you’d better stay out there!’ to which I replied ‘Why, what on Earth are you boys doing in there?!’ (given that they were in the tent that Max and I share).  ‘Well’ said Max, ‘there’s been a bit of an accident’ at which point I ripped open the door of the tent and found Max with a gash in his thigh, a bottle of whiskey in one hand, and a needle and thread in the other, sewing up his own leg.  I think he’d drunk half the bottle and poured the other half over his wound…

Some small drama later (I’m pretty squeamish!) the wound was sealed with four huge stitches and some tape and looked to have largely stopped bleeding.  Max had been propping up his motorbike and it had fallen, crushing his leg against the sharp rocks underneath – ouch!  Several days later I’m glad to say it looks ok – no infection despite all the dust that had been ground into the wound.

On a side note, I had forgotten what it’s like to be covered in dust, all the time.  Dust in our hair, in our eyes, ingrained in all our clothes, a thick layer on our skin all the time drying it out and making it crack apart.  I think I need to be sponsored by Norwegian hand creme next trip – that’s the only stuff that seems to help when our skin splits open!

The point of this post was actually to outline a few of the stupid things we’ve done so far, and what we’ve learned. For those who came to my public lecture a few weeks ago on the topic of last year’s expedition (thanks so much for coming by the way!) you’ll know that we made many mistakes, and I thought we’d learned loads of lessons. It turns out that perhaps we didn’t learn as much as we should have done….

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The point of this post was actually to outline a few of the stupid things we’ve done so far, and what we’ve learned.  For those who came to my public lecture a few weeks ago on the topic of last year’s expedition (thanks so much for coming by the way!) you’ll know that we made many mistakes, and I thought we’d learned loads of lessons.  It turns out that perhaps we didn’t learn as much as we should have done….

  1. It’s actually quite hard with six people; we have inertia which is hard to overcome so mornings are frustratingly slow.  Plans are made in Portuguese and not translated to English, or vice versa, and there’s often confusion.
  2. Obvious things are overlooked, like releasing some pressure out of the tyres when ascending 3000 metres in altitude such that they aren’t over pressurised and liable to puncture easily, checking that the jack is functioning properly BEFORE getting a puncture, checking that the wheel nuts can be removed with the tools bought for the purpose BEFORE getting a puncture…(thanks to the lovely policemen who happened by and got us out of that fix!)
  3. We should have split up our money and hidden it in several places in the car rather than in a rucksack – we did that to keep it with us at all times, but it was too easy to steal when thieves smashed the car windows.
  4. We need to learn to ration our food properly, and not just eat whatever we can find because we’re hungry (boys), as this results in us running out of food a week later….

On the plus side I would say that we now know we can use Western Union even in the most unlikely of places, to collect cash from the UK and Brazil, if needed, and that has really saved us.  Thanks to Mum and Dad for the emergency funds wired over to us in Salta – we’d have been working off our debts if it wasn’t for their help!

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(lovely 360 panorama of drive to Fiambala)

To overcome the stress and boredom of being stuck in Fiambala, yesterday I baked a rather fine batch of cookies (though I say so myself) with ingredients that were largely unknown (not speaking Spanish I played Russian roulette in the supermarket, selecting ingredients at random), and today I made a reasonable batch of Scottish tablet to take up into the mountains tomorrow! Even Jovani looked surprised when I poured a kilo of sugar into a pan with a can of condensed milk…

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The boys?  Well, they made barbecue….

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The people of Fiambala have been fun too.  A lovely old lady came over to me yesterday and advised me to move into the shade because she was afraid I would burn (quite rightly, I did burn!)  I had a great spanglish chat with a guy who was helping me source some brown sugar about Leicester City football club, and the guys digging a hole in the ground outside where we’re staying shout ‘hello’ and ‘where are you from?’ every morning, despite me shouting back ‘I’m from the UK’ every morning…

Our plans are changing every few hours now (see note above about making plans in Portuguese that somehow never make it into English) and it looks like we don’t have time for me and Max to climb Pissis (as was the plan).  Max will go alone on his motorbike because he can get 1000 metres higher than the cars, and will be able to climb in one day, rather than two.  I’m of course gutted that I don’t get to climb Pissis for the sake of a single day, but there isn’t much I can do about that.  Our time is eroded from being held up in Fiambala over the permits, and we don’t have enough days to spare.

I keep saying this….but tomorrow we really are going to leave Fiambala and head up into the mountains.  We’re climbing Condor first (6,500 metres), then Max will climb Pissis (grrrr) and then we go on to Toro and Majadita.  I’ll turn my SPOT tracker on only when I’m climbing (red dots).  Hopefully I’ll be able to write another update in a week or so.  Whatever else these expeditions are, they’re an adventure!  Never a moment without some sort of drama…