Friday, May 8, 2015

Back to civilization, safe and sound

This is part 27 of a 31-part posting of my journal entries and photos from one of the greatest experiences of my life so far--a month-long mountain climbing trip to the Atacama Desert area of northern Chile and Argentina, which included summiting three 6000 meter peaks (~20,000 feet).  To view all the entries in this series, check the posts labeled South America.

Beautiful morning at Aguas Calientes

Day 27 – Sunday 31 January 2010

I had an amazingly comfortable night or sleep. I slept well most of the night. It never got below about 40 degrees all night and felt like spring and sounded like it, with birds singing and the babble of the stream. When awake I had been thinking about the hard decision about whether to go on an extension trip to Aconcagua with John, Barry and Thom. We got up at 7:10 and had breakfast, during which I asked John to give me the itinerary for that trip. I had also talked about it with him along the trek yesterday, and then to Thom about it also. After breakfast we had plenty of time to pack up and tear down camp.

The mules arrived around 9AM, even before we had finished packing. They sent a couple of mules on up the stream to near its source where the three Argentineans had made camp last night after the sick one was brought down on a mule. We headed out about 9:30 expecting to arrive at the vehicle pick-up point at the end of the canyon above Cazadero Grande by the appointed time of 2PM.

After a hard march through some wide open spaces, and past the mule men's permanent summer camp,

with some big examples of these tight growing ground-hugging shrubs,

the first two of us did arrive there on time, but lagging further behind, I slowed down because the mules had not yet passed us and there were no vehicles at the pick-up point yet.

The vehicle arrived 8 minutes late but we still had to wait around for more than an hour for the mules. The drivers had brought a cooler with a 2 liter bottle of Quilmes beer and a bottle of orange soda--that was an enjoyable little respite after a couple weeks in the wilderness.

Finally we had the two trucks loaded. The support guys wanted to wait until the three Argentinians had arrived safely—they were going to camp there tonight. We saw them arrive, then were on the road at 3:20 for the two hour drive to Fiambala. We got there in the heat of the afternoon and unloaded the trucks and got to our rooms with three and a half hours to clean up, etc., before meeting for supper at the same (one and only) nice restaurant in the town—the Pizza Roma.

The clerk had roomed everybody together as before, though John had planned to continue our rotation. So instead of being paired with Thom, I roomed with John Starbuck again. John had opted to stay at Aguas Calientes for a week while we were all higher up, so he had unique stories to tell and was interested to hear about our experiences. While John took first turn at showering I got out the scale and weighed myself--down 12 or 13 pounds from when I left home! I also photographed my weather beaten face:

After we both took showers and shaved, then ate some of the snacks we had with us from today’s trek, I downloaded all my photos to the laptop and showed him some. Then at 6:45 I started catching up on my electronic journal, skipping past everything on my notepad and just catching up with today’s entry first. Then at 7:05 I started transcribing the two weeks of hand written entries. I got through a number of days’ worth of entries before 8:30 when it was time to meet and go over to the Roma Pizza restaurant for a nice outdoors dinner in the warm evening breezes.

We all ordered gigantic meals--steaks with lots of chips (French fries) or a whole large pizza with full dinner salad on the side. I got a whole anchovy pizza with a full dinner salad. The pizza was great, with loads of cheese, and I happily scarfed down every bit of it. After a nice dinner and conversation, the others went to another shop somewhere for coffee and I returned to my room, arriving at 10:40. Though I was tired, I did a little more journal work, then went to bed at 11:10PM.

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