Hi, all - The last several days have been a bit of a whirlwind. We had some great weather when we needed it, and a few snowy, windy days that gave us an excuse for a rest day - actually of the 15 days that we were on the mountain, we only had 2 rest days that I can remember (I´ll have to double-check that, later). The 2nd rest day was sort of pre-determined for us: I was just asking over from "my" tent to "Arron and Wim´s" tent (for most the trip, I stayed in Aaron´s 2 person tent, and Wim and Aaron stayed in my 3 person tent) whether they wanted to "rest or carry", today. They told me to go to their tent so that we could discuss. Just when I got into the tent, we heard someone outside. I looked out, and saw a guy sort of collapsed (on his knees) outside our tent. I quickly re-put my boots back on, and ran over to him. He couldn´t feel his fingers, anymore, and wanted a drink of water. I ran back to my tent, got a bottle of water, which I then had to "serve" to him, since he couldn´t use his hands. I then ran back to the tent, got out my high altitude mitts and we took off his wet mittens and put mine on him. Wim suggested that he go into the tent. We got him into Wim and Aaron´s, and then Wim and I got the stoves going to get more water (we spent hours each day melting snow, turning it into water, boiling water for our breakfasts and dinner). We fed him breakfast (I happened to have an extra, as I hadn´t finished the previous night´s dinner, so ate that for my breakfast). Aaron sat there talking to our guest all morning long. By mid-day, he was feeling fine, having recovered feeling in his fingers and toes, and took off. For us, the day was pretty shot, so we declared it a rest day. The unfortunate thing for us, though, is that we were really getting antsie - Aaron was even thinking that if we had to have another rest day, he´d rather go down than try to go up. However, we´d already done a carry to Berlin - our highest expected camp, so we had stuff up there that we didn´t want to leave.
The following day, we moved to Berlin. We asked all the guides that we came into contact with what they´d heard about the weather. We were hearing that the following day was supposed to be good weather, with diminishing weather the following days. This was great for us, as the following day was our summit day.
Summit day: we had some hiccups - Wim completely overdressed and had to change - I needed to change out my pants, but couldn´t do it where Wim made his clothes change as it was too steep and in the middle of the trail. So, we wasted a lot of time at the beginning of the summit bid. Aaron mentioned something about the timing - until then, we´d not established a turnaround time, and I´d just assumed that we´d get there whenever we got there. Aaron and Wim pointed out that every afternoon bad weather came in, and I mean EVERY Day, so they wanted to be coming down before then. I got slower and slower as we got higher and higher. We had about 1000 meters/3280ft to get to the top. Wim had been having a lot of issues with the altitude the previous days, and was assuming that he´d have them on summit day. I told them to go on past me. After they continued up, I continued for a while, but had to keep stopping. I couldn´t seem to find ANY pace that I could sustain for more than about 10 paces. I remembered my friend, Monty, telling me that he would step once, and then take 3 breaths, and then take another step. I tried that, but couldn´t even maintain that. I assumed that I would just go as far as I could, and meet Aaron and Wim while they were coming down, and who knows, get there, myself (as I had always assumed that I would), but at some point, all I wanted to do was sleep (we´d gotten up at 2 am that day). I looked for a rock to lie on, and tried to take a snooze. I knew that I would regret not going up any further, but I just couldn´t get any motivation from anywhere inside myself to keep going up (and where else would the motivition come from?). I saw that there were people who were moving extremely slowing that at least kept trying to go up, and I wanted to be one of those people, but, again, couldn´t muster the motivation to move myself. I asked many of the people who were descending whether they summited (in Spanish and English), and they hadn´t because of a variety of reasons.
Finally, someone coming down had summited, and to me, it just meant that Aaron and Wim would be down in a couple of hours, rather than that I should even try. It finally occurred to me to at least mark the spot that I´d gotten to, got out my GPS, and found out that I was at roughly 6593 meters (21,630ft) (the summit is at about 6960 meters/22840ft). To myself, I was thinking that that should have been motivation to at least go another 7 meters up to make it a nice 6600 meters, but, again, I just couldn´t find the motivation. I looked down and saw a rock near the path in the snow that I thought would make a good place to sleep and headed for that. I did spend a lot of time looking around at all of the peaks that used to tower above us when we were down below, and now were below me - the sight was just phenominal! Glacier clad mountains - just wonderful! Later, thinking about it, I think that lack of oxygen was definitely at the heart of my inability to move, think, and get motivated. Wim and Aaron showed up, fairly wiped out, themselves, having succeeded getting to the summit 10 minutes shy of the turnaround time. Clouds had indeed moved in, and they told me that visibility by the time that they´d summited was so poor that I don´t even think that they had a good southern view. I told them that that was ok, since I´d already seen the view! One of the summiters was so happy and proud of himself that when he stopped to chat with me on his way down, he showed me the pictures that he´d taken using his digital camera (does anyone have any other type of camera, these days?).
Anyway, re-united with Aaron and Wim, we made it back down to our Berlin camp. That night, when I would wake up for my hourly pee/drink, I noticed that I would sometimes have to make a choice: take a drink, or breathe. If I drank, I would then have to sort of gasp in order to get enough oxygen. If I didn´t drink, I knew that I would get a headache (if I didn´t already have it). This was definitely not a nice part of the whole high-altitude experience. The views, the mountain, itself, up high, were all fantastic, but the headaches, constantly having to drink, and consequently, having to pee, were just not very happy-making. I looked forward to being down and not having to drink/pee so regularly.
The following day, after the normal several hours of melting snow (and this time, having to boil all of it, as we´d just run out of the iodine tablets that we´d been using to purify all unboiled water as, although they´ve instituted a policy where all trash, and all solid human waste must be carried off of the mountain, there is still a ton of human excrement, everywhere), we packed up camp, and headed down. We´d "cached" food and clothing at each of the lower camps, and now had to pick them up on the way down. First, everything we had at Berlin, then the cache at Nido de Condores, and then the cache at Camp Canada. When we got to base camp at Plaza del Mulas, I had us weigh each of our loads, using the fish scale that Inka Expediciones uses for weighing the loads for putting on mules. It turned out that I was carrying about 68 to 72 pounds (about 31 to 33 kilograms), and Aaron and Wim were carrying well over 38 kilograms, each (over 84pounds!) (They had a hard time lifting the load with the fish scale in order to accurately weigh them!).
When we set up camp, again, for the night at Plaza del Mulas, we felt as though we´d already arrived in civilization: sit down toilets (never mind that they were boxes over a barrel), water out of a spigot (water captured on the nearby river and piped down to a holding tank, from whence a spigot allowed the water to flow), air that we could breathe (ok, so it was still very high altitude, but to us, who´d spent about the last week up higher, we weren´t having to make the choice between breathing and drinking). And our Inka Exdediciones hosts were gratious and welcomed us back with drinks (Tang) and some slices of bread, olives, and meat.
The following day, yesterday, we packed up most of our equipment and left over food for the mules to carry out, gave away our left over fuel and olive oil, and headed out for the 35 kilometer (22mile) hike out. Aaron and I both are suffering from blisters on the bottoms of our feet. We all have sunburns on our faces - Aaron and Wim from summit day, and me from the last day - we usually re-applied sunscreen at LEAST every 2 hours - the rays are fierce up high, but apparently we were either lax, or the rays even fiercer than we expected, or we didn´t apply the sunscreen very well . . .
After getting to the park entrance, we told the guy from Inka who picked us up that we were hoping to make the bus back to Mendoza *that* evening - and it was supposed to leave in only 20 minutes. The guy was wonderful, and radio´d the Inka person in Penitentes, told him that we wanted to make the bus, and by the time we got to Penitentes, all of our bags (that the mules had carried out) were waiting for us - they loaded them up in the pickup that we´d been picked up in, and our driver drove us to where the bus was supposed to pick us up. Unfortunately, the bus driver didn´t want to pull up to where we were waiting and mostly Wim and Aaron got all of the very heavy bags to the bus. But, we made the bus, and went back to our friendly little hotel at midnight, and fortunately, they had "our" rooms still available. . .
So, this was my first opportunity at an internet. It was very nice to sleep through the whole night and not have to pee. . .
We´ll see if we can change our flights. It´s unlikely, as so many segments are involved and we´re using frequent flier miles for many of the segments, but we´ll be trying, anyway.
Pictures will have to await our return. . .