Wile E. Coyote

February 25, 2018

Sunday 11th February.

The night was still and mild – tested at 0300 when I stepped outside for a pee stop. It is always a remarkable thing in the mountains to realise the light, which is quite bright and sufficient to illuminate the inside of your tent, is cast by stars. Mountains in my experience are always light if the sky is clear. So you find yourself in a half asleep stupor supposed to be minding one thing while you end up gazing at the heavens and being mesmerised by the lights and the occasional meteorite. Take care that you don’t lose your balance!

We were up at 0700. The sun was clearly up but in this valley the shade will not lift completely until about 1000. Our site caught the first edge of sun at about 0900, just as we walked out. But as we started moving about and getting ready for the day (latrine visits, hot drinks and so on) there was Wily, sitting off from the kitchen, looking about and no doubt waiting for scraps. That explains the unusual scat we saw yesterday when we spotted the Chinchilloms. There will of course be a local name for the coyote but I have yet to determine it. (Turns out it is the Culpeo, or Andean Fox).

Today is an acclimatisation day in which the objective is to get ourselves up to 4200m from our current 3300. The course takes us along the edge of a glacier and we find ourselves on extensive and high moraine the fills the valley and makes determining the exact start of the glacier proper a little problematic. We start in shadow which makes the exercise a little cool to start with but we warm up quickly enough – just in time for the wind to spring up and keep things really chilled. We learn that the calm as the sun rises in the morning is no portent for the rest of the day and the one constant here is the wind which can not only chill but cut to the bone.

It’s not long before we leave the scant vegetation behind though the variety of rock type and colour is enough to keep us engaged. So to speak since the route is a constant ‘up’ and we plod along behind Eduardo concentrating on our breathing and putting one foot in front of the other. The scale of the climb was completely lost on me until the return trip when the drop in front of proved a complete surprise.

To add a little variety to the day we encountered numerous ultra marathon runners coming down the track past us. We had spotted a few running into camp before we lit out this morning, but there are more coming down than went up so there must have been a contingent camped up here last night. They will be part of the Ultra which was being organised out of the hotel at Los Penitentes when we stopped there overnight. They redefine crazy for me.

The wind was cold and strong by the time we stopped for lunch, which was taken in a crater like depression to help us stay out of the breeze. If we had not done so by now we pulled on our Goretex and shivered as we ate, despite the sun beating down on us. But the view of the south face of Aconcagua lay before us, tall and majestic and dramatically laced with seracs. It was worth the effort and the cold to see it up close like this – though infact we were still a couple of kilometres away from its base. We are glad to be up there, although I feeling a touch of nausea and have a mild headache, both of which I can attribute to altitude. It came on quickly so at least the was not taken off the pleasure of the walk.

We pass through a remarkable section of track where large boulders lie scattered across a flat mud and gravel flat, having been flung down from 1000m or so above us. The rocks leave deep scars where they have bounced before skidding to a rest. These rocks can be as big as a sedan, and one or two as large as a house. The rocks are a constant distraction whatever the size, since the variety is remarkable. Agate of sorts. Selenium laced stone. I suspect selenium in places. Sedimentary muds that the ice, and perhaps a drop from high above have shattered. All colours. Red. Orange. White. Quartz in there in places, and what looked like ironstone.

We stopped in that crater for about an hour, hunched out of the wind. We then turn and head hack. As mentioned, I am surprised by the drop – the climb up did not seem to sigh. We take that as a good indication of our levels of fitness. We are back in camp at 1545, though the path is marked by multiple pitstops. I’ve drunk about three litres and the kidneys are working overtime, forcing me to stop every twenty minutes or so for relief. We have been advised to not use Diamox given the extremely dry atmosphere, since Diamox is a diuretic and we would need to be taking on another two litres to compensate for the drug. We are starting to see the wisdom of that advice.

A government doctor wants to see us at 6pm and we all line up for a medical check which is quite impressive in itself. The oxygen saturation is 93% today though the blood pressure is up at 140/90. The lungs check out – no rattles which can be an early warning of pulmonary oedema. The doctor is okay with my nausea and headache given my fluid intake and clear me for the next stage of the climb. Kavitha gets the nod as well. The government here takes extraordinary steps to be preventative on the matter of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). The Tanzanian government could take a leaf from their book.

Dinner is wolfed down and I am the sleeping bag by 2049, finishing this entry. I’ll be off to the bathroom in a few hours I’m sure (tin outhouse). Kavitha is getting some tape from Jorge to sort out her OR overpants which, despite the much vaunted brand, have split a seam. Oh, and as I’ve noted, Wily E Coyote turn out to be Mr Fox. Jorge, a farmer from Patagonia is quizzed on these things at dinner time and straightens out our understanding of what we are seeing around us.

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