News from Chile

Unexpectedly we are in a hotel, a refuge beside the road. The snow drove us to luxury in a simple hacienda instead of camping down the road. We were up at 5:30 am to scale Lascar (5545 metres)-a volcano that no one knows what its name means. A steady uphill gait for hours topped us out above Lascar’s sulfur spewing crater. As usual when I started out, I struggled to find pace and wondered what the heck I was doing in Chile climbing the side of some volcano but then I found a rhythm and felt like I could climb for hours.

The wind vacillated between brisk and non-existent alternating my temperature between just right and baking. We took only short breaks because of the cold temperatures. Each person found a pace that worked. A short celebration was had, summit photos captured, and a run down the scree and ash covered slopes brought us to 4800 metres where the four-wheel drive trucks were parked. Damien and Xavier had coaxed them as high as they could to save us some climbing.

The previous afternoon we’d watched in amazement as the two guides stuffed the two truck beds to over full with payloads rising far above the double cabs. We’d spent the previous four days traveling with a bus that easily ate our gear but now every change of campsite would require teamwork and advanced rope skills. We’d woken beside the Tatio Geysers-the highest in the world. Columns of steam rose from the fumaroles of heated water. Some actually threw water metres into the air while most offered towering clouds originating at ground level. We were there at sunrise to see the moment of greatest contrast of air and water temperature.

A three-day 56-kilometre walk and 1.5-hour drive landed us beside the geysers. We hiked for three days along various rivers and canyons camping in rural villages along the way. It was hard to keep my mind in the present as visions of Arizona’s Grand Canyon and Utah’s San Rafeal swell. The desert heat, cooled by the riparian river causeway through which we traveled, teleported me to many past adventures. The thirty-five degree heat drove us to seek shade whenever we could but the second day none was to be found as we hiked up to 3800 metres in the heat of the day. As each day passed, some in the group celebrated new elevation records and all consumed the beauty of our surroundings.

This sector of Chile is decorated in shades of brown, beige, red, and sage. Actually as we drive over days, I discover that this is the palette of Northern Chile. Vast stretches of mineral laden and sand covered mountains mark our passage south. Images of the Middle East and Southwest United States are evoked with each heat-seared moment of travel. After nearly a week “up high”, we head for the Pacific Coast and drink in the thick air of sea level. After a lot of hard physical work that it is…

They say an accident is a series of seemingly unrelated events. I sit typing in the front passenger seat of our four-wheel drive Nissan. We’re heading east away from the sea and I have a heating pack on my back. Why? Because we missed our camping beach on the first try, drove 25 extra minutes to Taltal-thought better of camping so close to town so backtracked. Found one option that was garbage covered and realized it made sense to traverse back 20 kilometers from where we had just come. The group was weary after a long day in the car and I think the guides felt pressure to find camp soon as the day was growing long.

We arrived at the designated beach and drove close to the water. Unfortunately, the trucks bogged down in deep soft sand and the promised asado (barbeque) watching the sunset is preempted by lots of digging, jacking, and rock hauling. Three hours later, with much teamwork in the bank, numerous sand escape techniques perfected, and true hunger developed, and the sunset long past, we gather round the fire to consume way too much meat. An ill-fated twist while placing rocks between the rocks has left me in pain and hoping I can heal my lower back spasm quick enough to climb in a few days.

I have back meds on board, a heating pad on my back and I’m stretching often. I’m hopeful that it will ease through the day. By driving long yesterday, we gained a day on our itinerary to allow us one more acclimatization climb of another volcano before Ojos. We are heading for a salt lake at 3800 metres today and then will spend two days at Laguna Verde at 4600 metres before the final week climbing Ojos.

Thanks for all of your good thoughts and wishes. The trip is full of surprises and memory links to past adventures. I often reflect on my most recent past adventure on the next one so some of my mental travel relates to Everest and my time there. Seeds of future exploration both internal and external are taking root in the fertile soil of my soul. It’s so good to be removed from familiar routines to allow clarity to descend one kilometre at a time.

Thanks for coming along,

TA

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