Last Great Unclimbed Mountains

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Leaving Chilecito!

We left the hostel in Chilecito at 5am and drove straight to the roadworks.  We  got there well before 7am (when they conveniently close the road for 12 hours) and went over the pass.  Then it was off-road and we drove up to 4500 metres, passing some awesome ruins built in the 19th Century.

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Unfortunately as the terrain was so rough, Conway got a puncture, right in the middle of the open desert with no protection from the wind.  It was totally freezing, but the boys changed the tyre in no time!

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We then had a choice – go on with no spare tyre, tens of kilometres into the desert with no roads, or go back to the last town (a few hours back down) to try and get the puncture repaired so at least we would have one spare tyre.  We went down, but, of course, it was the middle of the siesta.  We asked around and some lovely local guys phoned up the mechanic (who was at home, asleep) and he came and fixed our tyre!  Then we were off again, but we had lost quite a bit of time so we made it to the ruins and slept there.  We made a fire in the hut, and put our tents up in there, so the mice wouldn’t nibble us in the night!

Max is here, Conway is fixed, and we’re off!

Ten days in Chilecito was definitely more than sufficient!  We’re happy to say that Conway is fixed, and we’re ready to head to the mountains again.  Max has joined us after a successful ascent of Elbrus in Russia, and we have planned a great route into the mountains.  We hope to leave this evening, travelling to 4000 metres to sleep tonight.  Wish us luck!

Siestas

I just wanted to add a note on siestas, which are driving me crazy!  All across Argentina, the shops open at 9am.  Then, at 12:30/1 o’clock, they inexplicably close.  For four hours.  Nothing at all gets done in the afternoon, as everyone goes home for a sleep.  Gradually, around 5pm, things begin to open again. Unbelievably frustrating when you need to buy supplies and you can’t find a single shop to sell you anything.  Even the local animals seem to take a siesta!

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More adventures in Chilecito (waiting for Conway to be fixed…)

Undeterred by my minor brush with the law, the following day I set out again.  This time I walked out of the town on the road.  It was a pretty boring walk through the desert landscape, but better than sitting around all day.  A few miles later, I could see a green oasis and headed in that direction, telling myself I’d turn around and head back when I got there.  It turned out to be the house of a famous citizen, Joaquin V. Gonzalez, from 100 years ago.  He had been a great scholar, judge, painter, writer, photographer, you name it, and I gather there’s a city named after him somewhere near Salta.  He had cultivated a farm, which has been maintained to this day, with primary crops of grapes and olives and I bought some beautiful fresh raisins from the farm (yes Steve, the grapes were wasted on raisins!)  I met a lovely lady called Carolina (we communicated in Spanish, which tells you I probably didn’t understand most of what she said) and she showed me around then left me to walk around the grounds.

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I found a really tranquil cave near a statue and sat there for hours in total peace.

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It turns out that they even encourage you to climb the hills here!!

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I was so happy, I climbed them twice, once for fun, and it turns out you can get back to Chilecito over the hills (a sneaky shortcut) so I climbed up there again.  Here’s a picture of the shortcut – turns out I wasn’t far from the city at all as the crow flies!

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It was a great day, and just goes to show that adventure doesn’t come to those to spend their days chilling in the hotel…

Resting in Chilecito

Well, it’s been ten days since my last blog post.  There’s a good reason for that – I had nothing to say!  We felt few aftershocks from the big earthquake, but otherwise things have calmed down on that front.  We have been waiting for Conway the Landrover to be fixed after having frozen him on the last mountain.  It took a long time because Landrover parts are hard to come by in South America, but it’s finally done!  Pedro wrote an article about the science labs at 5000 metres on Famatina that we discovered had been burned, which was picked up by the national news and they want to interview him for the radio!

Many of you may know that patience has never been a strong point of mine.  In fact I have none, and sitting around here for ten days has been pretty tough.  Pedro has been barbequing huge lumps of steak every day, and I have discovered that the local shops sell delicious fresh avocados and tomatoes and sweetcorn.

One day I got so fed up with sitting around (with very limited wifi) that I decided to go for a walk around the city.

 

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I climbed up to the massive Jesus at the edge of the town:

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There was a lovely view over the city.

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I decided I could slip under and fence and climb to the top of the hill next to Jesus, but I had only gone a short distance when a policeman called out to be and told me to come down.  We couldn’t really communicate but I gather there was something about loose rock (my spanish isn’t much improved).  Thankfully he was friendly when he pointed to the sign I had ignored next to the fence I had slipped under….

On the way home I saw this painted on the side of a house.  Good to know Anglo-Argentinian relations are doing well:

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12th September – summit push

We got up at 4:30 am on 12th September.  All of the water in our tent was totally frozen, even that we had tried to protect with covers and in flasks.  We spent an hour melting water and I managed to eat two cookies for breakfast before feeling too sick for more.  We departed at around 6am from 4900 metres, for the top at 6100 metres.

The ascent was torturous.  I didn’t feel good and by the time we had got to 5500 metres I was exhausted.  I was slowing down the higher we got, while Pedro was feeling much stronger than I was.  There were many false summits, and my spirits were falling as we kept turning corners and seeing the mountain towering above us once more.

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I told Pedro several times that I wasn’t sure I could keep going to the summit, but he was cheerful and encouraging and I kept going.  8 hours after we left, we made it to the top.  I was at the end of my strength, and with the wind the temperature was -40 degrees.  Our suncream was totally frozen solid, and at the top my lips were cracked and bleeding.

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It took me many hours to get down again, and the total journey was nearly 12 hours.  I got changed at the car and we bundled in and drove back down the valley.  It was late, so we drove to a local town and got a hotel.  I spent a lovely 30 minutes in the shower warming up again.

11th September – up to 5000 metres

We got up, packed up, and headed up the mountain in the car.  The road was actually terrifying in a different way.  It was just a dirt track on the side of a very steep mountain, which wound upwards to 4900 metres.

 

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When we got to the shipping containers containing a climate laboratory, we were shocked to find that although they had only been in place for less than a year, someone had set fire to them!  They were destroyed on the inside.  Apparently some people suspected they were being used by some prospective mining companies, and took matters into their own hands.

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So we had to put up our tent outside and shelter as best we could.

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We went to bed early.  I was still feeling rough, but it was minus ten degrees and we couldn’t stay there for long.  We decided to head for the summit the following morning.

10th September – feeling better

Well, as the day progressed I began to feel better.  I drank five litres of warm (boiled) water.  We had bought some food in FIambala and we cooked it traditional Argentinian barbecue style.  I went for some walks and scavenged all the wood I could find so we lit a fire.

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All of our clothes and equipment stinks of smoke now, but we were warm for a few hours.  I even managed to eat my steak.  It was a treat!

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P1020183   Mum, Dad  and James won’t be surprised to hear that I brought back a huge log on my shoulders which proceeded to burn for 6 hours.  We were toasty that night in our hut (with the mice).

During the day some tourists had passed us who were interested in the old mineworks.  We invited them in (all ten of them) and they warmed themselves up by our fire and chatted (to Pedro, in Spanish…)  Their guide told us about some shipping containers accessible by road at 5000 metres, from which we could attempt the summit.  We decided to drive up there the following day to investigate.  Our visitors were very lovely and wished us luck and warmth as they left.

 

9th September – to Famatina!

The forecast was bad though, and from our 4000m hut we couldn’t go any further as the San Francisco Pass was closed due to snow.  We were forced to turn round and head back down to Fiambala, a local town.

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We decided to go for a mountain to the south of Fiambala, called Famatina.  The weather looked more favourable there, and we could climb the more sheltered east face.  Access was via a mining track with potholes to rival those of Berkhamsted!

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Two hours later, we arrived at an abandoned mine encampment.  100 years earlier, they had mined gold in the mountains here.  We set up camp in an abandoned hut.

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We had a little reversing accident (first blood for Conway), which was happily fixed with some spare zip ties I was keeping to lock my duffle bags.

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Our tent was inside the hut.  That night I felt terrible, even though we were only 300 metres higher than the previous night.  Headache, vomiting, like death warmed up.  I spent the second half of the night in the car, sitting more upright helped my head.  On the plus side (although I didn’t see it at the time), I could see the stars, and the sunrise.

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8th September

We stopped at a random, remote, empty hotel and filled up our water bottles.  I met some more friends!

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We then went up to 4000 metres, again on the way to the San Francisco pass, and this time staying in a little hut.  When we got there it was filthy, with dead mice inside, but we cleaned it out and it was pretty comfy!

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P1190646   Nice, eh?