The Head of the Condor

July 4, 2007
Day 644
Condoriri Climb Day 2

Picture of me.

Me at the summit.

My alarm rang way too early at midnight tonight. I dragged myself out of bed after only sleeping a few hours and made myself a couple cups of coffee. I wasn't too hungry, but I managed to force down some stale bread for my "breakfast." Teo and I got all of our gear coordinated and ready to go. Nobody else at base camp was crazy enough to be awake at that hour, and as it turned out, we wouldn't see any other people until we were back at camp.

We started walking at 1:00. The trail leading to the mountain was an easy, gentle climb for the first hour, but then we came to the steep part leading up to the glacier. It was a mixture of largish boulders, smaller rocks, and especially a lot of sand-like pebbles. Every time we'd take a step up, we'd slide back down half a step. It was a very frustrating experience that used up a lot of my energy, and we'd only just begun our ascent.

As soon as we hit the snow line, we hopped off the sand and put on our crampons. Walking on the snow was much easier, and soon we had reached the icy glacier. It was at this point that the path got much steeper and the wind became a problem. Being out in the open, the wind was whipping fiercely through my body, but my fingers took the hardest hit. Suddenly I wished I had not trusted the tour agency and spent only $2 on my gloves. The agency had lent me some gloves to use, but when I tried them on this morning, I realized that not only could I not fit my fingers into either of them, but they were both for my right hand, so I didn't take them along. My fingers may have been numb, but at least my toes were cozy warm, owing to the fact that I had smartly worn three pairs of socks for the climb.

The path wrapped all the way around the mountain, and our only obstacles for awhile were a few small crevasses which which were easy to step over. The mountain started to protect us from the wind, and I eventually regained the feeling in my fingers. I was worn out and desperately in need of some sleep, and I actually managed to snooze for a few minutes during one of our breaks.

The last 300 horizontal meters (and probably 150 vertical ones) were tough. The path was only about a foot wide, with steep drop-offs of 500 or more feet on either side. It was not a great place for those afraid of heights. As safety became an issue at this point, Teo and I were no longer able to climb together. Instead, I would anchor myself with my ice ax and wait for Teo to walk sixty meters (the length of our rope) and set up an anchor on his end. Then I would begin the slow balance beam act of walking toward him, at which point the tedious process would begin again. If I happened to fall at the beginning of my walk, I would "only" fall sixty meters down the hill and probably bash into the many rocks that were jutting out of the side, but I tried not to think about that.

Fatigue wasn't an issue anymore because we were moving so slowly, and after an hour of careful concentration, we made it to the 5648-meter summit at 6:25 AM, with sunrise just around the corner. The view was incredible once again, as I could clearly see all of the other mountains and our base campe in the distance. We were on the summit for about twenty minutes when the sun finally made an appearance, but by then I was getting too cold to enjoy it anymore. Teo didn't think we'd make the summit until 8:00 when it would be much warmer. I cursed myself for walking so fast.

Once I had had enough, we began the slow process of descending to the bottom. We were able to walk simultaneously (although very slowly and carefully) to a point where Teo had hammered a snow picket into the mountain on the way up. Teo set up a belay for me using the picket, and I walked down first, once again being very careful not to step too far to either side of the narrow track. Not falling was especially difficult because my stance while walking couldn't be too wide or too narrow. If you are walking with crampons and they touch each other even just a little bit, chances are they'll get locked together and you'll fall. After another tedious hour, we finally had gotten past the narrow ledge and down the steep, icy glacier that was treacherous because of the loose rocks hanging out on either side.

Walking down the rest of the glacier was relatively easy. There were no cliffs to fall off of, and the path was flat enough that I could walk down facing forward. Fatigue started setting in by the time we got back to the rocks, however.

I didn't have much control when we took our crampons off and started sliding down the sandy rock face. I suppose that part normally would have been fun, but I was too exhausted to enjoy it. My knees started buckling every time I would start to slide again, and I had to focus most of my concentration on not tearing a ligament.

I was relieved when we finally made past the sandy part and onto the nice, solid path. Base camp, and more specifically, my cozy tent appeared to be right in front of me, but my mind was playing tricks on me. I struggled the rest of the way down the zig-zagging path, and could think of nothing but the precious sleep I was about to get. It took about half an hour to get back to base camp, but if felt more like six.

Back at base camp, I drank a bunch of water to rehydrate myself, laid out all of my drenched clothing to dry in the now warm sun, and collapsed in my tent. Despite not being quite as high as Huyana Potosi, the Cabeza del Condor was much more difficult for me, and I was completely drained in the end. I spent most of the day sleeping, but during the few times that I was awake, I learned that Pedro was feeling much better and would come with us tomorrow. Oh yeah, I remembered that I still had another summit attempt the next day. Luckily, I had recuperated most of my energy and felt good again by dark.

The photo album for this entry is here.

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