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Tuesday, 26 February 2013

San Martin de Los Andes – Confluencia / Bariloche (93 / 150km)

The day starts with the 10k climb back up out of the valley and down into the next one (retracing the end of yesterday) which is all great fun before heading left onto the new path.
This also coincides with leaving the tarmac and the start of the 67km ride on the gravel track back to the main road. The good: for most of the next 40k or so the road follows lakes and rivers and is a beautiful track, flowing gently downhill. The bad: the track is very corrugated which means it is both painful (the body is constantly being jarred) and tiring as the bumps drain any speed that you manage to generate.
Then after about 40k, the road leaves the water behind and the valley broadens out with no sign of anything like a ground level exit.

Sure enough, the road soon starts to climb and quite a while later reaches the Cordoba Pass at about 1,350mts. It has been quite a climb given the heat, road surface and distance cycled so far but what traffic there is is all very encouraging with shouts, cheers and waves as I trundle on.

From the pass, I am hoping for another sight of a smooth, flowing paved road down to Confluencia. Unfortunately it is not to be as the surface gets even worse and the road twists and turns and is either steep up or down.

By this point both my back and breaks are on their last legs and creaking horribly – I wonder if either or both will give out before I finish today. There is not much to see after a while and it is just a schlep to bounce and bump along until I turn a corner and see a large river and tarmac road in the distance, Confluencia, where there is a shower, bed and meal waiting for me.

Marvellously, despite displaying an ‘abierto’ sign the hosteleria is locked and there is no one about. I am told at the service station opposite that they have seen the owner / manager that day but have no idea where she is and that she does not have a mobile phone so if she is not in the hostel it is not possible to contact her. The choice is therefore to wait and see if she turns up or start on the remaining 70k back to Bariloche and hope to make it before it gets too dark and cold – it is now about 18:00 and not wanting to be stuck outside at night I wearily remount and start back to Bariloche.

The road surface is good and generally downhill for the first 50k so I can make decent time for a bit. The last 20k is round the lake back to Bariloche and the wind picks up as the sun sets and I hit the confluence of evening traffic coming into town – marvellous again! I finally pull into the bike shop at 20:29 just one minute before it closes; cold, tired and weary to drop things off before I head off for a beer and bed. Not always the best at the time but pretty satisfying to look back upon.

Overall a cracking trip but you do need to be pretty fit to be in any shape to enjoy the scenery.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Villa la Angostura – San Martin de los Andes (106km)

This is the main day with route winding between a number of lakes with continual stunning views to either, if not both, sides - apologies, but I seem to be running out of different adjectives for how beautiful this region is and the number of amazing views there are.

Albeit cracked and in poor condition, the road starts out paved and I was lulling myself into a false sense of security that the warnings were rather exaggerated and the morning breeze provided a wonderful temperature for cycling.
However, after about 30k I hit the road works and then the stony track that twists its way over and through a number of steep mountains. I am pretty convinced that there is a lot more uphill than downhill today so it will be interesting to see what the way back is like – hopefully lots of downhill rather than me just being a bit weak.
For anyone planning this in future, and who is looking to do this ride in a more sensible fashion, I would recommend camping at Lake Falkner - a good distance between the towns and more established campsites than the rest of the route. It is also shortly after the tarmac starts again so at least you have got that out of the way!

A bit later, and after a reasonable climb to a pass, I entered an oddly round valley with steep mountains on all sides. I surveyed this with an impending sense of concern as I realised that there were no real exit points that looked as though they contained a road apart from the highest, furthest corner which had a large, road like scar running up to its top left. The road into San Martin is a famed 10k descent which would probably need a decent height to start at. Sure enough the road rose relentlessly up to that point, even throwing a good few false summits in for fun.
The final stretch lived up to its reputation with broad sweeping turns and a fast, but not too steep, descent into San Martin. The route is hugely popular with day trippers from the town and there seemed to be a whole host of us rushing back to get a dip in the lake before the sun dipped behind the surrounding mountains.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Siete Lagos

After some fun days in Bariloche I was ready for a bit of a challenge. One of the attractions in the area is the beautiful Siete Lagos (seven lakes) road from Bariloche (890m) up to San Martin de Los Andes (930m) via Villa la Angostura (850m) and there are numerous buses doing day trips up and back. It is about 400km in all but the roads are in very bad condition despite the continual governmental promises over the past 20 years to pave them. Talking to some of the bike shops in town it certainly seemed possible to bike the route but they were unsure about doing so without camping in between nights in the towns along the way. Obviously I knew better - and did not want to go to the hassle of taking a tent and sleeping bag along! A completely full and rather heavy backpack seemed a much better idea at the time…. Below is the photograph of the poster in the bike shop that I used as a map for my trip.


Bariloche to Villa la Angostura (80km)
A rather chilly start cycling under heavy clouds and busy roads along the shore of the lake – but at least this provided some real atmosphere to the scenery.

The road then left the lake to cut inland slightly and head up a very long and gently rising valley – not only was there little to see but it also almost perfectly hit the cold, strong wind head on. Hard work and not made any easier by constantly being passed by the day trip busses hooting gleefully at me in my misery. Finally the valley ended and road started to wind through the mountains again affording me a view, sun and protection from the wind for lunch.

 More twists, turns, ups and downs followed before getting to Villa la Angostura at about 15:30. This is a very nicely presented tourist town or at least as far as the main street goes, things aren’t quite so well cared for even a block either side of it. I was pretty tired, hungry and hot and had promised myself some food and a cold drink - but of course all kitchens were closed for a siesta. Eventually found a Panini and then got some very good ice cream for the short journey to the hostel – not the easiest when wheeling a bike as well – but delicious and refreshing. I was looking forward to an early night but I had failed to plan for the others in the hostel – all Argentinians and so music, chatting and cooking started at about 11pm and went on until 2am!

Thursday, 21 February 2013


After Mendoza, I headed down to Bariloche which is the outdoors capital of Argentina, situated in the beautiful Lake District. Quite luckily I managed to get a room in one of the best hostels going. Suitably called the Penthouse, it has a stunning view out over the town and lake:

There I met the lovely Amanda:

and we spent the next few days enjoying what Bariloche has to offer. First off was obviously a night out in the local Irish bar which oddly was the least touristy bar in town and the place were all the Argentinians went to.

Argentinians don't go out until about 1am and then stay out until dawn. This obviously dented our attempts to be up and out early the next morning but we managed in the end to head off for the the Circuito Chico; a 30k bike ride through some stunning lakes stopping off for small walks and swims along the way.  



Very highly recommended but make sure you have plenty of time – we finished in about 7 hours as there is so much to see along the way.

Next we went for a bit of a hike. The most famous walk in the region is the Refugio Frey walk but I would highly recommend doing the Frey por el Filo trek instead. These both start from the Cerro Cathedral ski resort. The first is a return walk to the Refugio Frey – a mountain hut – but there has been quite a bit of damage to the trees along the way and much of the beauty has gone. The Frey por el Filo trek is long enough to give you a bit of a work out but short enough to comforatbly get done in a day – about 6 hours in all with a few stops included. It takes you up to the ridge above the ski area
and then an excellent, not too challenging scramble along the back of it

with superb views off to the side

from which you drop down to a small lake and then drop down again into the valley with the Refugio in it and from there back to the resort.

Final day was a frustrating one trying to find the 6 Nations on anywhere. Despite Argentina being a rugby country, they are keener on their siestas and none of the traditional bars seemed at all keen on opening up mid afternoon for us. We found it on ESPN but rugby is not the same without Eddie, Brian, Jonathan or any of the other usual suspects so we ended up watching it over the internet - or at least as much of the games as wasn't being skipped given the poor internet feed!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Day 16  -  Out of the mountains
Up early and off. Long hot walk back to road and arrived at 12:30 Then typical S Am delays and confusion as no transfer is ready to take us back to Mendoza. Then we are told that the storms we experienced have cased a series of landslides and that the roads are closed back to Mendoz - not the best news for Tim who has just spent rather a lot on changing his flight back home to tomorrow am!

Then we are told that in fact the driver has stopped in Upsallata for lunch -this news comes at about 3pm and whist there is releif we will get back to town tonight it is tinged with annoyance that we are having to hang round for the driver.
In the meantime we find that a superb BBQ has been prepared for us - as much beef, pork and sausage as we could possibly eat. This is followed by a few hours lazing in the sun / shade at Penitentes before the transfer finally arrives at about 5pm.
The transfer is, it turns out, full with another group out from Mendoza who, understandably and just as we did, had a good lunch on the way out.

Anyway, we head off and have great fun with the drivers choice of music; Greatest Hits of the 80s!The time flies as we reminisce about the era when you could hear the words and the music had a beat that you understood! We get back to Mendoza at about 21:30 and it is off for dinner and drinks to celebrate a successful and injury free expedition.

Finally got into transfer back to Mendoza at 6pm. Slightly rectified by superb BBQ prepared for us -

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Day 15  -  Descend to Pampa de Lenas

Another storm overnight, but mainly wind and little snow. The tents are now in a bad way and quite a few have holes and rips in the fly sheet as well as ground sheet.
Quick breakfast and then organize ourselves to leave Base Camp. After only taking small steps for the past week or so (due to steep or tricky ground, if not both, as well as heavy packs) it is a delight to be able to take large strides and we make good ground - there is also a surprising amount of oxygen at 4,000m!
The storms that we have suffered higher up seem to have brought the valley to life and there is green everywhere. In fact this turns out to be little more than a green mossy covering to the various thorn bushes - much to our amusement and Tim's discomfort when he tries to sit on one!
Rather than be boring and follow the main path we end up next to the river and have a great time scrambling and traversing various rocks as well as multiple river crossings to get down into the main valley.
This continues when we get to the main valley, carrying on down the side which the mules use - it looks a lot more fun and it is always more interesting to avoid retracing your steps on the return journey - but soon see the others on the other side of the valley. My journey is great fun; very flat and straight at first (so time saving) and then lots of traversing scree slopes (while being vigilant of the avalanche risk from above), bouldering, scrambling and little bits of climbing the rocks next to the river to make it down to camp just in time to see the sun descend behind the neighboring mountain.
It is a pretty solid 7 hour hike over tricky terrain and this is the most tired I have felt from exercise (rather than from a mixture of the cold and altitude)- glad we did not push on getting all the way to the road head today as the others don't arrive for another hour or so.

Food today:
Mixed breakfast of cheese, ham, cereal, melon. Pretty good spread again.
Packed lunch including ham, cheese and tuna sandwiches: one on white bread and one on brown. There is also a very acidic orange juice which leads to several sharp intakes of breath as it comes into contact with our burnt and chapped lips. Promptly followed by a second round as those laughing at the first lot split theirs.
Last camping dinner - pasta with tomato sauce. Not too bad once covered with cheese and a bit of lemon mayonnaise. Still, nice to think that this is last (until next time).

Monday, 11 February 2013

Day 14  -  Rest day at Base Camp

Pretty lazy day really. Bit of reorg of high altitude /technical gear, food, cooking equipment etc; more general chat about future trips and where this ranks among them; reading and a bit of a nap after lunch; and perhaps most importantly a shave. No shower facilities but back in Mendoza in two days - looking forward to being clean for the first time in over two weeks.

No washing may sound fun kids but believe me two weeks is far too long - especially when the chap in the tent next to you (and by that I mean only inches away) isn't washing either! It is bearable when you are aiming for the summit as you are in fact putting up with much worse, but after summiting the main thing that you are looking forward to is getting back to a town and sorting yourself out.

Food today:
Mixed breakfast of cheese, ham, cereal, melon. Pretty good spread again.
Roast chicken piece with a bit of salad.
Roast lamb chops with roasted vegetables - not bad with my final bottle of celebratory Malbec for the mountain

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Day 13  -  Back to base camp

Terrible last night with a heavy, windy storm from about 11pm onwards. Hard to sleep through the noise and very, very cold. Snow is everywhere so packing and setting off at anything likes reasonable hour is going to be tough - all the way back to base camp so quite a long way and therefore efficiency is going to be important...

Turned out my boots are full of snow so will have frozen feet for most of the am plus I can't find my liner gloves so will be packing with a variation of bare hands, slippery liner mitts and huge, undexterous outer mitts. Really not my best and it is my turn to require assistance and keep the others waiting - not very efficient and something to learn from for more demanding trips! Although everyone else struggles as well and a number of tents are damaged by a combination of the rocky ground and high winds.

We clear our previous camp sites as we descend. Somehow there are all sorts of extras on the way down - helpfully the last group had left a series of stashes for us but were not sure what they were - as such we could not take any less up but with us but had to bring all their unwanted items down, thanks!
I ended up with a pack of over 30kg for our five hour descent including a shopping basket of food as I had run out of places to strap the extra bags on.

But must take my hat off to Stu who was bringing down a pack of almost 40kg!

It turns out that our summit day was the end of the weather window (as we experienced with the storm earlier) with the next potential summit day on 14th. Some groups seem to be preparing to ride it out up high while others have come down the mountain in the hope of having an easier time until then. The poor weather seems to be following us down the mountain as the temperature has really dropped and it is now snowing - a far cry from the crippling sunshine of the earlier part of the trip.
This evening and tomorrow are well deserved recovery and organizing after two long days on the mountain and not much sleep.

Next, we head out to Mendoza over the next two days to enjoy the city (tipsy winery tours and paragliding seem popular and showers necessary) before going our separate ways at the end of the week.
Will probably also need to find a gym as the altitude has had the predicted and depressing impact of muscle loss, as the body burns muscle as well as the food consumed at altitude - I even, even more depressingly, seem to have gained some padding to combat the high altitude and cold!
Food today
Chicken and bacon pasta for breakfast. The meat freeze dried meals are nowhere near as food as the vegetation ones.
No lunch as we are descending at this point but there is a great spread awaiting us at base camp including spicy guacamole - just what burnt and cracked lips need but fresh vegetables as well as some fresh melon are just what the body wants.
Lasagne - mountain style: ie with all sorts of meat and veg in it. Very tasty after a week on mountain food.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Day 12 - First Summit Day.

Dear reader, do I leave you in suspense for a bit as to the success of this attempt? Well why not...
Morning was a bit of a shambles with the much feared 40 minute wait materialising in really rather cold conditions at 5 am - no names to be mentioned to preserve reputations!

From then on it was a cold trudge up steep hills but in beautiful surroundings once the sun came up.

Unfortunately we lost a further two of our party just above the Independencia Hut, leaving the crack team of me and the 54 year old taff, Mike, and the unknown quantity of Tim, barrister from London who is 3 months older than me! From the hut, Stu and I headed along the windy traverse although how any path which gains such altitude can be called a traverse is beyond me. This leads to the base of the Canaletta where we had a regroup and very happily saw Tim and Mike making great progress.

Reunited, we took out our ice axes and headed up the Canaletta to the summit - the Canaletta is a steep, long, rock strewn slope. Just what you need when you are fighting for breath at 6,800mts. But, hoping that I have kept your suspense this long, we did all make it to the summit just below 7,000 mtrs.
For a few moments I am the highest human in the world (the Himalayan season has not started yet)! We take a number of photos and enjoy the view as well as the sense of achievement of having made it here.

Key stats: 05:40 departure from Camp Cholera, 12:40 arrival at summit - the rest of the group arrived shortly after 13:00. Whilst it would certainly have been possible to have knocked a few hours off this by going at my own speed, the camaraderie of being there together has left a far more enduring memory.
I have pushed myself on many of the days as this has been a proving ground for the adventures ahead as well as a chance to learn from mistakes made.
Trek down to Camp Cholera was difficult in a different way as the sun remained very fierce. This is the aspect of the trip that I have coped with worst (although the amount and strength of the sun has been exceptional this trip) and I will have to pick some more efficient headgear for the future.
I have kept my appetite all trip, at times forcing myself to eat when not that hungry to maintain the calorie intake for the mountain. Now that we have summited the need is no longer there. Also don't feel great after the day in the sun so in my sleeping bag early and just having some soup. Hopefully we will be back in Mendoza in a couple of days and great steak and local red wine await.
Food today:
Freeze dried granola and red berries; tasty and packed full of calories for the day ahead.
A couple of chocolate bars.
Instant soup - quite tasty but we have still not been able to work out what this one is though - and asking seems like cheating.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Day 11  -  Up to Camp Cholera


This is final camp before summit attempt tomorrow. We have another very slow start from camp and the speed at which people move continues to polarize as the altitude has more of an impact so we are likely to split into two groups tomorrow. Weather varies from being burnt by the sun, including its reflection off the snow and ice, to snow being driven horizontally by freezing winds.
The trek up to the camp at about 5,985 is pretty steep and it is now taking a long time to cover small distances.

This is now the highest I have been passing Kili at 5,895 shortly before the very steep slope into camp.
Yet again we have another stunning campsite above the clouds.

Very strangely is that even when there is complete cloud cover and you can't tell where the sun is, it is still very bright and dark sunglasses need to be worn.
Pm is one of recovering preparation for tomorrow, sheltering from the sun and getting prepared for the 5am start tomorrow.
Main task is to get water ready for drinking and eating today as well as drinking on the summit day tomorrow. Aim is to time your venture out of the tent to collect snow in the brief (ie less than a minute) sunny periods before the strong and rather chilly wind returns. Unfortunately it takes rather a long time to melt the snow so rising at 03:30 rather than 4 am is being mooted in order to have a proper breakfast before we head off.
Food today:
Scrambled eggs, bacon and mushrooms (fd). Not sure they really survive the process.
A couple of chocolate bars on late arrival at camp.
Sweet and sour pork with noodles (fd). Pretty good - the Asian flavors seem to work well. Custard with Apple.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Day 10  -  Rest day at Camp 3

Up early and the whole camp site has been covered in snow from an overnight storm, but it is a clear morning with a great view.

Other groups doing a small carry to Camp Cholera. Interesting to note the differences between the very laissez faire British style and the treat you as a kid and do and control most things for you US style - especially as I will have at least 2 US trips this year. Not sure how well I will take to that style (those who know me well must have a very rye smile now)...
Am was sitting around chatting and listening to music before the weather started to build just before lunch:

 Snow started to fall at about half one so back into tents then. We all emerge in the pm for a bit - slight improvement in the weather and we are all getting tired of spending so much time in the tents.
Forecast is similar for next few days- clear sunny am with winds and snow starting in the pm. But the weather in general has been pretty good for the past few days and I just hope that we don't come to look back at these rest days as having pushed us past the weather window - conditions can change very fast in the mountains.
The group is a two speed group so just hope that we can organize a two speed summit attempt to be up there in the much better morning conditions rather than letting them go by as we move slowly up the mountain and take the lottery of the afternoon weather. Had reserved reactions when raising this so far - will see what a more direct approach results in tomorrow.
Confusion over the changed schedule (or a risky approach given a desire to have had lighter loads on the carry days) means that one person has not brought up enough food from camp 1 for the summit (he is given some food by one of the others) and others only enough for if we successfully summit at our first attempt - a little risky but hopefully ok.

Food today:
All day breakfast (fd) not bad but did not seem able to rehydrate all the bits.
Nuts, salami, cereal and chocolate bars.
Lamb stew with pearl barley (fd) - again not able to rehydrate all of it even trying longer than the recommended time. Next will try more water and even longer.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Day 9  -  Move to camp 3

Most importantly, there was no flood in front of our tent this morning following the successful channeling yesterday. The group continued relaxed approach to getting up and off in the morning (lets hope that this is from choice rather than an inability to get organised quicker and that this does not become a problem later in the trip when we need to move quiker!) so I headed off with Mike (my tent-mate) to get some good tent sites at Camp 3.
The other groups had all left whilst we were waiting so we needed to move quickly (at least that was my expressed reason, I wanted to continue pushing it just as much) and headed off at quite a pace. I did make sure that we kept close to each other on the journey and Mike (depsite being 54 and Welsh was able to keep a pretty decent pace up). We passed the other groups on the way and got to camp just before weather turned bad.

On top of the col above Camp 1

We got set up and put the stove on for hot drinks for the others when they arrived.
I had agreed a radio check-in with Stu (our UK guide) but a combination of the weather and the mountain being in the way mean that it was pretty challenging to commmunicate as I could hear little that wasactually being said. Still his tone seem fine and he appeared to be able to heat what I was saying so we settled down to wait for the others.

Unlike the previous loudless days of strong sunshine, further up the mountain we had a lot more cloud and snow. The sun was still very strong when it shone through though. That afternoon saw a very rapid lowering of temperatures and snow as the following sequence of pictures shows:

Evening sees the first visit to the freeze dried mountain food - very impressed indeed. Great to have some real vegetables!
Food today:
Big bowl of porridge
Peanuts, cereal bar and a chocolate bar.
Stir fried vegetables and noodles Kung po style and then apples and blackberries in custard. This is the first visit to the freeze dried mountain food - very impressed indeed. Great to have some real vegetables! In fact, there happened to be an extra one in the stores left by the last group and I wanted a sneak preview of the food for later on in the trip. 

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Day 8  -  Rest day at Camp 1

We woke to find that the stream had indeed followed us down the slope and hit our tent spot again as well as some of the others higher up - our defences had kept the water out of the tent though. This led to an enjoyable morning, reminiscent of childhood damming and channeling the rivulet through the rest of the camp out into empty space to ensure that no other poor campers get hit by this. There was brief discussion about whether I was in breach of the terms of the climbing permit by altering a watercoure in the national park -  and whether the Argentinian wording reflected the difference in English between altering and channeling the course of water...

There was not much to do and it was very hot so we mainly lay in tents, listened to music, chatted and read. I decided to have a shave - after all, being on the highest mountain outside the Himalaya is no excuse for slovenlyness - but it was a panifull affair given the state of my skin exposed to the sun, wind and altitude. Will have to reflect on my attitude to this conundrum given the new info I have.
In the evening, I was chatting to one of our neighbouring groups and met Mike Hamill who is a very experienced US mountain guide and author. We chatted about doing the 7 Summits and also discussed climbing books as I have a copy of his one and he is very keen on the rucsac reader series my aunt is involved with.
Food today:
Nothing really
Pasta in cheese sauce. With extra cheese, tuna and salami.
Tea, soup, piece of cake.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Day 7  -  Carry to Camp 3

The normal route on Aconcagua is Base Camp, Camp 1, Camp 2, Summit. However most groups are now doing Base Camp, Camp 1, Camp 3 (from another route), Camp Cholera, Summit. This latter route allows a bit longer for one to aclimatise and then a shorter summit day which is proving very popular. We are doing the latter route as well.
A stream has sprung up overnight which has flooded the area just in front of our tent. Oddly it seemed to do so just before it became very cold as all the water has in fact frozen so we are surrounded by ice. We have pitched our tent at the top of the group and so have been hit first.
We carry our tent some way down the little valley  to find a new spot - however as it is not clear what has caused this new stream it is not clear where it will head off to next - fingers crossed!
The morning is quite slow as we wait for it to warm up before heading off to Camp 3 up the steep col. This does give us a seperb view back down to Camp 1 and beyond.

Camp 3 is a lot higher colder and bleaker at 5,680m:

The going is noticeably tougher today as, despite the reasonable footing, the path is steep and the altitude is beginning to really effect people some people. When we get back, we have a long afternoon recovering and chatting at camp before having to head to the tents early in the evening as it gets very cold when the sun goes behind the mountain which is at about 7pm. We have had the first casualty of the trip as one of the group needs to head back to Base Camp having not been able to make much of the ascent to Camp 3.

Food today:
Remains of pasta from last night
Two melted and then resolidified chocolate bars
Poor relation of super noodles with some ham and cheese.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Day 6  -  Move to camp 1

Having stored much of our gear at Camp 1 yesterday and then returned to Base Camp to sleep (climb high sleep low), today we move up to Camp 1 and stay there. This is another day of trying to push it to really get prepared for the higher altitudes.

The team about to head off

Explaining to a rapt audience just how easy this climbing malarkey really is...

The water supply at the camp is a very small run off of melt water on the other side of the valley from the camping spot. It is not clear why, but the stream runs out pretty close to the bottom of the of ice. Even whilst we are filling up bottles the stream receedes further and we are forced to reposition the one metre length of pipe that is used to collect the water - just hope that this does not continue as having to melt ice for water at this altitude will be a real drain on our gas supplies.
During the day the camp is very hot and the sun very strong - clothes need to be used in a variety of protective ways up here:

But we do have a pretty good view from here:

The food at base camp has fit a certain formula. Breakfast is a mix of porridge, cereals, cheese, ham and bread. Lunch and dinner are soup, meat and veg and some form of pudding. This is pretty standard fare for a base or catered camp in the mountains although I have to say that this is towards the top of the that range.
I will write more about the food that we have brought and will prepare for ourselves on the mountain.
Tonight is our fist time to cook on the mountain and we are doind so at 5,000m!
We have pasta with cheese and broccoli, plus tuna and creamed corn- lots of garlic chilli sauce. Obviously we don't read the label properly and do two packs which apparently provides enough for 6 people. Despite a valiant carbo-loading effort we can't quite finish it but at least this provides leftovers for breakfast tomorrow.
Quality and quantity - not much more that you can ask for from a meal on the mountain!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Day 5  -  Carry to camp 1

Today is a toughish climb as we are now hitting altitude for the first time - up to Camp 1 at 5,000 mtrs - and doing a carry of most of the food and and gear that we will need for the ascent. The food is both freeze dried (rehydrate in the bag) for high up on the mountain when there is no water and melting snow uses precious gas so neither boiling or washing up are really an option and locally bought pasta and sauces for easy cooking and carbs lower down.

The camp is just over the light grey ridge that is on the mid-left side of the picture above. We are carrying full packs, I a bit over 20kg but I want to push it to see what sort of speeds I can do in comparison to the suggested speeds and also to accelerate my body's acclimatization. On the other hand we are making this attempt as a group so while I can push it for a bit we regroup every 60-90 mins or so, so there is no real chance to test myself against any of the times for the various stage walks. Having said that we are probably the fastest group on the mountain with many adopting the pace on summit day at these much lower altitudes. It will be interesting to see whether they are managing to save much more energy for then or this is in fact their pace at this altitude and they will really struggle higher up.

The final slope up to the camp is mainly scree and very steep - this is a real tester for legs, lungs and mind if you are pushng it! Bear in mind the below picture only shows the second half of that slope.

We spend a bit to time at the new camp to help aclimatise, have a spot of lunch and enjoy the view up to the next col.

The return to Base Camp is quick and fun - the long scree slope up becomes and very quick scree run down. The picture below shows the first half of the final slope together with what remains of the famous 'penitentes' at this stage of the season. Penitentes are wind eroded snow/ice towers formed from large snow fields.  

Then it is just a saunter along the various paths with an empty pack - the traditional cache and carry system. When we get back it is an easy afternoon lounging in the sun and chatting until supper.
We each brought a luxury item along to be brought out and shared with the others at an appropriate moment. I had brought a range of flavoured Korean chocolates and wanted to have these before our taste buds started to turn off as they do at altitude and so brought them out on this final night before we headed up the mountain. Generally ok, but there were a few left and so I took these through to the chefs having checked with the guide that they like spicy food - off the three left, one was a chili chocolate; nice at first but with a delayed and reasonably strong hit of the chilli. Unfortuately it turned out that the cooks in fact did bit like chilli and it was rather amusing to watch their increasingly fractic attempts to find water in a moutain cook tent where anything that is left freezes shortly after dark.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Day 4 -Rest day at Base Camp

Visit to camp doctor in the am for approval to proceed. Checking ox saturation level and blood pressure - mine is 95% and blood pressure is 120 / 80. Others generally ok but three needed to be retested after the carry tomorrow. Two for water on lungs and one for blood pressure.
Blood pressure seems to be the main concern with 160 being the limit. However, you appear to be allowed to keep going back until you pass and they will give you a pill to help lower your blood pressure - strangely this pill is only a short term measure and there is no requirement to carry on taking them higher up the mountain.
Anyway after a few visits, the whole group is cleared to proceed.The rest of day is sorting out food and kit to take up mountain.