Climbing in crampons – day 4 and my birthday
Well it’s 3.30am in the morning and it is cold and dark. I am in my sleeping bag pretty much dressed to go. I had the sense to keep my outer layer of clothing between my liner and sleeping bag so they weren’t too cold. I was surprised the water in my platypus wasn’t frozen..it is minus 8C! I quickly pull on my walking trousers and fleecy. So far that’s 3 layers on my bottom half (thermals, leggings and walking trousers) and 4 on my top half (thermal top, merino wool top, Lt wt fleecy top, regular fleecy). That feels just about right for my body just now. I have a thin pair of gloves to wear beneath my heavier gloves. My weakness is my feet. My Scarpa boots are quite narrow so I find I can only wear one pair of socks..I can’t feel my feet!! I keep wiggling them. Contacts in, grab a hot chocolate and a slice of eggy bread to go and off we go all piled into our jeep. There are 6 of us. Ronaldo is driving in the pitch back and no clearly defined road. It all looks so flat. Eloy seems to roughly know where he is going but in the dark it is very difficult. As we drive along Eloy is looking for 2 piles of stones showing where to turn left!! We eventually find them but he is unsure if this is the right place. We drive on a little further but he decides it is and we turn back taking this turn off...about 20 minutes later we reach snow. We all get out to examine where we are..not the right place..back in and back to the 2 piles of stones...Carry on until we find more. 10 minutes later we find them and turn left here. Eventually we come to the base of Mt Mismi and pile out. It is now 6.15am. We had hoped to be climbing by 5am. Oh well. We pull on extra layers as it is really cold. I did take off my puffy jerkin but kept on my waterproof heavy jacket and had 2 snoods on -one round my neck and one covering my ears. I also pull on my waterproof trousers. We each take our crampons for a little later. Where we started is very rocky so we need to clamber over these huge boulders first. This takes us about 20 minutes. It is more difficult with walking poles but we must have 2 walking poles for the next section. Soon we are over the rocks and onto snow. Later in the year the snow will be much further up. At the moment we need to walk for 40 mins in it before Eloy tells us to put on our crampons. He obviously has to show us how to fit them. Francois and Rob have theirs on and off while I wait for instruction on how to put them on. Eloy is helping Carol and Paul next. By the time I have mine on the rest are already quite far on, especially Francois and Rob. Francois has climbed Mismi twice before. He is really on this trip for the kayaking. Anyway off I set at my pace which is a little slower than the rest. I began to realise my crampons didn’t fit right- they were too big and my feet were slipping out the side. I called on Eloy and he checked with Carol too but her’s were fine. He had to change his crampons with mine as his were much more adjustable. While adjusting my last crampon, Carol and Paul walked on. Once set I didn’t wait as my pace was obviously slower than Eloy’s. As I reached the steep gradient of Mismi I did catch up on Paul and Carol but I badly needed water and something to eat – sugar!! My hose for my platypus was frozen so I had to open up my platypus and drank out of the body of it. I also had some of my snacks to give me a little sugar...never has half a Twix tasted sooo good!! Off I set but by this time Carol and Paul, and now Eloy, were well in front. To try and catch up instead of traversing as they were, I climbed straight up. I seemed to be able to cope with it for a time. It was very steep though– about a 70 degree gradient. I had found my natural pace for this altitude (now about 5200m) which was slow but consistent (I didn’t need to stop much), but about half way up my calves started screaming “STOP”. The pain in them was tremendous so periodically I knelt forward and wiggled my toes to take the pressure off them and ease them. They did feel they were stretched to the maximum!! This technique worked for a time. The other problem I had was the rest of the team were now out of sight and I couldn’t see where they were or which path they had taken. As I walked up I kept expecting to see the crampon tracks from them. I called out as I was getting a little scared and I was tired...no reply. The only way was up. I noticed the track I was taking was also taking me up the steepest slope so I traversed across a little until I eventually found crampon tracks. I then started following these, only to a certain extent, using shorter turns to speed my ascent. My platypus hose had now defrosted since I moved it onto the sunny side, so at least I could drink some water without stopping. I didn’t dare take my backpack off as the slope was so steep. I just kept climbing up, slowly and steadily!! Eventually I could hear the rest and discovered them to my right. Where they were required ropes so they suggested I go straight up and would get the views there. They were just starting to get ready to come down. Carol was first. She had been running on adrenaline and just wanted down now!! Francois and Eloy waited on me as I reached the top and sat down....I was exhausted and very close to tears...but at least I had made it. I managed to turn round and plant my crampons in the snow but there was no way I was moving!! I was encouraged to take my time and rest. I ate the second half of my Twix...yum, yum... and took in the views...really spectacular!! Right beside me was a huge incline that would have required ice axes...believe me just looking at it scared the begeezers out of me!! Photos taken and feeling better I warned Eloy not to leave me and to help me back down. Francois set off and the instruction I got from Eloy was to have faith in the crampons and walk straight down!!! Are you sure??? Yep (or “Si”) was the reply. Lean back, plant your poles well back and plant your crampons flat into the snow, don’t roll your feet as you would normally walk...OK said I and did as I was told. The snow was very good and it worked beautifully with a little tweaking of my style to get it right; so straight down I went for most of the way anyway until my knees needed a rest so we traversed the last little bit. This did mean I caught up with the rest quicker. All in all we did this stretch up and down in 3 hours...quicker than Eloy expected.....What I didn’t learn until later was that while at the top Paul kept asking Eloy to go and see if I was OK but because of where they were he said he had to look after them. He also said I wouldn’t be there for 2 hours and did they want to wait that long...that I wouldn’t make it. Carol’s reply was “You don’t know Heather!!” If I had known that earlier I was have clobbered him..well when I was somewhere safe!!
Anyway down safely, clambering over all the rocks again and a “little” tired, we went in search of the true source of the Amazon.
The first plaque – very colourful and pretty, we come to was put there by the Brazilians who thought they had found the true source...not quite as it turned out. They had missed it by about 100 meters. Following Eloy’s instruction we walked further round to find a brass plaque and a beautiful little inlet with very clear water flowing freely out and down the mountain. Little icicles were in the areas unheated by the sun. This place felt very special. We all did feel the need to drink some of this very special water and lift a little stone to commemorate our journey here. It was really beautiful as you can see from my photos on facebook. I think at this stage a bit of hysteria set in with some of the team, namely Carol and Paul, as the adrenaline rush wore off and they realised what they had just done...with lots of laughing and splashing of water. I needless to say was still a little quiet and fatigued watching them.
Eloy then beckoned us on further and we came to a beautiful little waterfall discovered by Lauren McIntyre as the true source. There is not much between the two places to be honest. Here there were many icicles and beautiful shapes so when I was persuaded to stick my head under, it was rather cold!! It was refreshing though.
After a time here we all headed back to the cars and found lunch being prepared. As the photographers were wandering around it was felt they could be some time so lunch would be best prepared here...boy, it was lovely...avocado, tuna, ham, cheese, tomato and bread. Yum,yum...after such an early start and only a little breakfast and snacks we were ready for it.
By 1pm we were packed and ready to leave on the next part of the adventure.. This part was to see if this road really was a proper road and that we didn;t have to double back on ourselves....On the map it looked as if we should be able to continue on...and a man on a bike had said “yes” just don’t turn left for the mine – turn right....How could we go wrong?????
Off we set with us leading and Rob following. To begin with it was all flat with no definition and no real road. I had asked Ronaldo how he had got on going back to base camp...he had got there eventually was his reply!! It was very pretty if a little barren and seeing vicunas (very rare and shy creatures) running across the plain in a small herd of about 9 was pretty special. As before, the road soon required 4 wheel-drive so it was slow going. We came to the first of our decisions. One road went straight on and one went up a slight incline disappearing shortly after that. We opted for straight on. Within another 15 mins another road disappeared to the right. This must be the road so down we went. It was very rough!! In a matter of 10-15 mins we came to a dead end...the road just ran out!! Rob came up behind us and asked about the direction and whether we were using GPS. The answer was no so he took the map and did GPS it. It was decided to go back to the last junction and go straight on this time. Again a rough road, fording small rivers and finding new paths as the road was too rough to continue. After about another 40 minutes the road ran out again!! This time the road ran out at a river with a quite a steep banking. However there was a main road above, so tantalisingly close!! There was a big discussion about whether we could ford the river but the decision was to turn back and head for the first junction – up the hill. We had obviously lost a lot of time doing all of this but spirits were still reasonably high especially when it really did look like the correct road once we reached it. Eloy was relatively quiet for most of the journey as he was unsure of the road. The reference to the man on the bike did keep coming up though! As we continued along this, now much better, road the general feeling was we were on the right track at last....yey! We soon came to a turn in the road that led to the mine and we turned right....the man on the bike had been right!! The road soon deteriorated into what we had become accustomed to – fording rivers, avoiding huge trenches of mud in the road by creating a new path and avoiding huge boulders. This was slow going as you really couldn’t rush it especially with heavily laden jeeps. When we reached a nice stretch of road where we could speed up a little, it was short-lived. The road also seemed to go on, and on, and on!! It was not all bad though as we saw lots of beautiful scenery, rock formations, vicunas, (small deer), viscatchas (like chinchillas) and herds and herds of alpacas, a few llamas and many different types of birds.....WONDERFUL As we slowly picked our way along this road Carol suddenly turned round and said, ”Is it your birthday today Heather?” I replied yes. She was so apologetic at forgetting and being a poor friend wishing me a happy birthday, as did the rest. She asked if I had forgotten. I said no... I had remembered at 3.30 that morning!
At about 4.30pm we came across a man with his herd of alpacas and llamas and asked him if this was the right way and he said yes. He also said the last time a car that had been along this way was 4 days ago! A little further on Paul decided to drive and was keen to progress. The road was a little better so he increased his speed. The sun was quite low now, hitting the windscreen straight on...then bang..he hit a stone. Ronaldo suggesting stopping to see if the tyre was OK but no..it had quite a tear in it! Shit!!!
All stop... and the drivers from both vehicles checked the spare...as luck would have it, it was also flat! After trying to repair the main wheel with the kayak repair kit, it was decided to swap it for the spare and blow it up to see. It seemed to have a slow puncture and Rob’s driver had a pump that operated from the cigarette lighter. So this became the best option. Use this one and stop periodically to blow it up. Where we broke down was stunning I might add. Huge herds of alpacas in the distance, a beautiful lake and the sun setting. Quite idyllic if we weren’t so tired and still miles from anywhere!!
Back in the car we headed off again and believe it or not we discovered the road was blocked by nothing less than the farmer building a wall of stones across it!! Everyone out and moving the stones to let us through...a few metres on and another wall!! This went on for a total of 4 stops with one blockade being a type of gate. Obviously the locals don’t want this to be a main road!! Off again and about every 20 minutes stopping to blow up the tyre we progressed even more slowly. We were now driving through beautiful wetlands with flamingos and lots of different types of birds. Rob’s ideal spot and to be honest I could have happily spent time here if it wasn’t such a b***ch to get to from either direction we discovered. I initially had thought he would return from the other direction but the journey was far from over with the road deteriorating even further. This was made worse by the fact that it was now pitch black and difficult to find alternative paths through. Paul had given up driving and handed back to Ronaldo as he was so tired. To be fair Ronaldo was also tired but persevered..being that he was the driver. Eventually we could see lights in the distance and as we stopped to blow up the tyre again Rob and his team carefully passed us and continued gingerly on. He made it to the main road...yey!! We followed soon. It was still a dirt road but a heck of a lot better than we had been on and Paul knew it went to a small town called Kyoma. It was now 7pm and we had travelled 69km since 1pm!!
In Kyoma Paul decided we would try to get the tyre fixed, have something to eat then decide where we would sleep. We found a small garage that Eloy knew but it was closed so the tyres would need to wait until tomorrow. Ronaldo could get them fixed while we were on the water then come to meet us with Justo later. We weren’t going to see them until 4pm anyway. Paul found a little cafe that could give us soup and a saltado with a cup of tea. OK that would do. We sat down and Carol went to the toilet...advising if desperate it would do. Personally, I thought, I’d stick to outside. My little antibacterial hand gel came in very handy during this trip. Soup came and although the men asked that the women be served first, as you would expect in such a male dominant society, they ignored them and served the men first. I received my soup..chicken... very obviously as I had a chicken foot in the middle of my plate...claws and all!! I duly drank the liquid and left the foot!! The men, surprise, surprise had chicken meat!! Next course was lomo saltado (a traditional Peruvian meal of beef, rice and chips) which should be with a good cut of meat but was actually the poorest cut. Again I had a joint with a little meat clinging to it that wouldn’t come off. I ate most of the lukewarm chips and a little rice in the gravy. I didn’t have much of an appetite! While we were waiting on the meal Paul had investigated the hostel next door. They had 9 beds..there were 10 of us and 4 beds were in one room. The drivers would have to sleep in the cars to safeguard the equipment. I suggested could we not find somewhere to set up the tents as we were geared up for camping. Paul came up with a couple of ideas but the best was to go to the site we should have been going to with hot springs. It was only another 30 minutes away. This was where we parted company with Eloy. We headed off and soon found the site, found a dry area to set up camp and in no time were set. Justo, the soul, had hot water for me in a jiffy for my hot water bottle. We were still camping above 4000m so it was still reasonably cold. Carol and Paul decided to have a dip in the hot springs at 10pm but I just headed for bed. I would try it out in the morning. During the night (which turned out to be only 10.30pm Carol could tell me, there was an almighty roar as a bull and, I would suggest, a couple of cows made their way to the water behind us and realised there were a lot of obstructions! I actually expected to feel our tents being man-handled by them but luckily other than making a lot of noise they left us in peace.....at last sleep....mmm. I had also decided that I would nominate the next day as my birthday. .......next instalment on the Apurimac River to follow...until then mis amigos....Beunos noches.