Saturday, February 19, 2011

Licancabur Part 2

We woke up at 2:15am and tried to eat the driest cheese sandwich ever with little success.  By 3:30am, we were walking in a line in the dark practicing our breathing.  We've never concentrated so hard on our breathing and our foot placement.  There was absolutely no room to think about anything else.

After an hour, the guide checked on how we were doing and we felt pretty confident because so far it was fairly easy.  At sunrise, we took a break to admire the amazing views. It was also good to get some light as Mauricio could not find the "path".

The climb became harder and Renato soon decided to stop.  The 2nd guide went back down the mountain with him.

Mauricio and Penguino picked up the pace, but we continued slow and steady.

After 9 hours of climbing, we decided not to continue ascending. We had made it to 5800m and only had 100m to go, but we were exhausted and we still had to get back down the mountain. The last part was really snowy and knowing that the last person who died on the Licancabur slid on the snow was not reassuring.  Mauricio and Penguino were nowhere to be seen so we decided to sit and wait for them to return.

Then the real challenge began.  It soon became obvious that Mauricio wanted to get down the mountain as fast as he could regardless of everyone else's pace or well being.  Penguino was showing a wide collection of altitude sickness symptoms: he was terribly ill, could hardly walk straight and wanted to sleep (a bad idea at 5500m).  Thankfully, youth, fitness and sheer determination were on his side.  Mauricio took off so we did our best to encourage Penguino to keep going.

The decent was difficult.

We walked blindly through snow patches that sometimes were knee deep.  We also slid down sections of sand and small rocks.  Even with poles, we often found ourselves on our butts.  We had forced down some nuts and granola bars along the way, but we had not had lunch and our minds and bodies were shattered.

We found Mauricio waiting for us near the bottom of the mountain.  After a 5 minute rest, he was ready to go.  Somehow Penguino found the strength to keep up with Mauricio's pace.  We could not and soon found ourselves by ourselves again.  The van was parked behind a hill and we soon lost sight of them.

At 4:45pm, Yumi hit a wall.  After a good 2 minute cry, we continued making our way down a steep, rocky hill.  We finally reached the van just after 5pm, over 13 hours after we began hiking.

Thomas confronted Mauricio about leaving us and his reply was that it is an "adventure tour" and that his job was to "guide" us up the mountain.  We needed to make our own way down.  Yumi was too tired to complain so in protest she kept the roll of toilet paper that the 2nd guide had given her earlier.  We were going to get something out of this fiasco!

There are very few photos of the day because we were too tired to get out our cameras.  Thomas was too out of it to realise that he should have been wearing sunglasses so ended up burning his eyes and the skin around it.  Yumi had been blowing her nose the entire time so ended up removing the sunscreen from her nose and ended up burning it.

We are disappointed that we didn't summit, but looking back on it, it would not have been worth it because we may not have had enough energy to make it back to the van.

Not bad for our first real mountain climb.


  1. ! Ola !

    I would like to say you : CONGRULATIONS !!!
    Climbing moutain to reach 5800m without "guides" is a good performance !!

    Good rest for the following next days...

    And continue your blog, it is very good and beautiful :-)

    Gros bisous à vous 2 !!

    Cécé de Toulouse (con)

  2. Congrats guys! Your ascent reminds me when I climbed Mount Rainier back in 1993 (in a previous life...). Main difference, it wasn't that high compared to what you performed...I've only reached the summit at 4200, not 5800...but my guides were more reliable than yours... I still enjoy watching your photos. The outdoors in south america look great. What's next? Later.


  3. Holy Moses, Yumi, take care, that sounds a bit too adventurous for me. I am reading Dervla Murphy treking in the 1970's in the Himalyia, Baltistan (near the Swat valley) with her 6 year old daughter, so I am adding her descriptions of the efforts at high altitude, the terrain and the cold with your activities and such great photos, wonderful stuf, you will be so glad you kept this blog. All the very best Beryl