Location: Chilean Andes
Date: February 2010
Duration: 23 days
A selection of photos from a 23 day mountaineering trip to a remote part of the Chilean Andes. I climbed with my great friend Steven and we were in the mountains for 19 out of the 23 days and summited 2 out of the 5 peaks we attempted.
Hopefully the images below will give a flavour of this stunning part of the world and the (mis)adventures we enjoyed along the way (20 photos total):
1. Base camp Our home from home for most of the first week, under the peak of Cerro Morado. Altitude approximately 3,200m, hot during the day but rather cold at night as soon as the sun dipped behind the mountains.
2. Glacier edge Just beyond our base camp was this amazing brown lake that Cerro Morado’s icefall emptied into. Every so often a piece would break off and disturb the muddy water. The nose of the glacier was about 2 -3 stories high.
3. Cerro Morado, 4490m One of the small flower beds that grew around base camp, looking up at the summit of Morado. This peak was our main objective in the first week.
4. Climbing up the glacier of Morado Sometimes a massive help, sometimes a massive hindrance, the condition of the penitenties (the prominent spikes of ice in the foreground) soon determined our progress over the glaciers. If they were small then we could trample them over and found them quite useful on the steep ascents. If they were large and solid ice then our speed was reduced to a tortuous scramble over/between them, regularly falling over.
5. Abseiling into the bergschrund Higher up on Morado, we found our way blocked by the bergschrund (basically a giant crevasse at the base of the summit cone of snow/ice). We had to traverse to the far end of the bergschrund, abseil into it and then climb out the far side onto steep, loose rocks. We then made progress up the rocks before rejoining the snow/ice fields higher up.
6. Dinner time in base camp We never did reach the summit of Morado – we were moving too slowly and had started too late (stove failure meant an hour was lost in the morning and a meal missed). Back in base camp we were worn out and just wanted to rest and eat. (Steven on the left, me on the right).
7. Base camp at night A long exposure shot of our tent at base camp, about 11pm.
8. Taking a breather on the side of Loma Larga During the second week we moved up to an advanced base camp, high on the glacier of the Loma Larga valley. This photo was taken at about 5,100m on Loma Larga, 5404m high. I struggled with the altitude and stopped here. Steven carried on up the final ice slopes to reach the summit and sign the summit log. Steven noted that there has been fewer than one ascent a year on average in the past decade!
9. Penitenties on Loma Larga One of the many amazing penitentie fields on our descent of Loma Larga, early evening.
10. Advanced Base Camp Our advanced base camp, 4,200m, on the glacial morraines of Loma Larga. Water was collected from a nearby pool on the glacier – some mornings we had to chip away the ice to get to the water. Remarkably, on the day we left this camp to descend, the whole pool had drained away, presumably after some ice had shifted or melted, releasing the captive water.
We then had two days off in the valley before heading up into the high mountains once again, to attempt a 6,000m peak…
11. Climbing up the giant scree slope on the side of Marmolejo Our main objective for this trip was to climb Marmolejo which, at 6,108m, is the southern most 6,000m peak in the world. This scree slope, from 3,800m to 4,100m, was climbed when moving from Camp 1 to Camp 2.
12. Looking back at Loma Larga From 4,000m on the shoulder of Marmolejo, Steven takes a moment to savour the sweeping views back towards the mountains we were climbing on the previous week.
13. Sunset at Camp 2 Camp 2 was situated at 4,450m on Marmolejo in a magnificent position. We enjoyed almost uninterrupted views of the Chilean and Argentinean Andes as far as the horizon (the border between these two countries is very close at this point).
14. Steven catching up on his diary One of the few luxuries was a small diary and pen to record one’s thoughts over the course of the expedition. Often during times of despair, frustration, loneliness or tiredness, I would find solace in my diary, writing about present, reading about the past.
15. One of the vast penitentie fields Steven crossing one of the vast penitentie fields at about 5,000m on the side of Marmolejo – exhausting work, mentally as much as physically.
16. Wretched penitenties Steven proceeding through the extremely arduous penitentie fields, our energy diminishing with every step.
17. High camp Sunset at our high camp, Camp 3, at 5,150m. It was bitterly, bitterly cold when the sun set. There was no running water so we had to melt ice with the stove to replenish ourselves. During the night, a terrific wind blew up and hampered our summit efforts the following day. We reached 6,000m in gale force winds but were forced to turn around shy of the summit on account of the conditions. We were both freezing cold and worn down by the wind and altitude. Sadly we didn’t have time for a second attempt.
18. Sunset from high camp
19. Crossing the Rio Marmolejo The final challenge of the trip was to re-cross the swift and thigh deep Rio Marmolejo. After procrastinating for a while we just got on with it; it was hard work against the swift current but not impossible.
20. Sunset on Volcan San Jose The large (and still active) volcano peak of San Jose, 5856m, is next to Marmolejo. This is the view from the village in the valley floor at the end of our trip.