Thursday, January 30, 2014

Heading Back Down: Sleeping Under the Stars at Approach Camp 1

I spoke to Randy a couple times and caught up on yesterday and today.  Yesterday, after the grueling summit the day before and sleeping up at 19,600, they packed up High Camp 3 and headed back down to Base Camp, Plaza Argentina (13,780 ft).  They all used porters to help cart their gear down, so their packs were not too heavy.  Despite his huge effort on Tuesday, Randy felt pretty good, better as they descended and he could breathe more easily.  He had packed up his satellite phone and sent it down with the porters, so I didn't hear from him until last night.  He called to say they were safely back at Base Camp, had enjoyed a pizza and beer party for a late lunch, and had just had some steak for dinner. His stomach was a little upset, but that's expected when you go from eating dried food to pizza and steak.  I bet it was worth it!  It was pretty chilly out and Randy was standing outside his tent freezing, so I just spoke to him for a few minutes so he could crawl in his tent, warm up, and get some rest.

This morning their old friends, the mules and the muleteers, showed up at Base Camp to take their big duffel bags back down the mountain.  Once they had breakfast and loaded up the mules, the team set off on a long 17 mile hike all the way down to Camp One, Pampa de Las Lenas (9678 ft).  Randy said it was about an 8 hour hike down.  The first two hours were "absolutely gorgeous"  -- he called it the best biking he's ever done.   The vistas were breathtaking, the sun was shining, and temps were about 55 with a very light breeze to keep them cool.   Randy wore a t-shirt all day and felt great.   Those first two hours were "spectacular".  The next two were more technical, still amazing weather and gorgeous views, but just took more concentration.  There were areas of pretty significant exposure so they all had to really focus.  At times the trail winds hundreds of feet above the valley, with steep inclines where falling would not be a good thing.  But they all made it through safely.  The final 4 hour descent to Approach Camp 1 Randy called a real "knee burner".  He doesn't love descending; it's tough on his knees.  But he had a great day and got through the long trek.   Part of the service the Argentinian muleteers offer is cooking up some hearty dinners on the way down.  Tonight they made a fire and grilled steak, chicken, onions and tomatoes.  Randy said the team had a great time sitting around eating cowboy style (aka with their hands), drinking box wine, and telling stories.  He really enjoys this team and I think they've all made some nice friendships as they've persevered through the tough weather conditions together.

Tonight was a beautifully clear night, and they were all sleeping out under the stars.  When I talked to him he was snuggled into his sleeping bag, looking up at Orion and the Southern Cross.  Not too shabby a way to spend his last night on the mountain!

Some pictures of the route down to Approach Camp 1:

Tomorrow they will get up at 5:30am, eat breakfast, pack up, and be walking by first light, around 6:30am.  They should be back by about 10:30am to the small ski town and Los Penitentes hotel, where they had originally slept the night before the start of their climb.  At that point, it will take the guides and muleteers about an hour and a half to unload the mules, sort out all the gear, and pack up the vans to head to Mendoza.  Randy and the other climbers may be able to take a shower in that little hotel while they wait for the vans to be packed up.  I'm sure that will feel great, but Randy said if they have to wait for Mendoza, what's another few hours when you haven't showered in over 2 weeks! Around noon, they will head back to Mendoza and by tomorrow evening Randy will be back in his hotel room.  He may even have Internet so will be able to log back into this blog and fill us in with his version of events.  Perhaps he might even correct a thing or two that I've reported since half the time we were talking the wind was screaming and we'd get cut off mid-sentence 4 or 5 times per conversation!  

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