Sunday, April 25, 2010

El Misti Redux

I'm jumping way ahead of myself and getting out of order with all the other posts I had intended, because this post is mainly photos and therefore easy to finish. This week was the second time I'd climbed El Misti, and although I found it easier than five years ago, it was enough of a struggle to make me doubt my chances at Ampato, let alone Aconcagua.

Misti has both easy and challenging aspects. On the one hand, the climb starts at 3,400 metres and ends at the summit at 5,825, so it's a pretty decent ascent, with two consecutive days of around 1,200 metres. On the other hand, the terrain is quite easy: a well-worn trail over loose earth and sand mixed with some narrow scrambles over rock, and (these days) no snow or ice to speak of. You don't have to reserve much energy for the descent -- most of the mountain is sand, so you can basically slide most of the way back down. We took 5 hrs 20 minutes to get to base camp, 4 hrs 10 to the summit, and just 2 hrs 20 to get all the way back down. It's also not very cold -- it would only have been -3 or -4 Celsius at the summit, and there was hardly a breeze during the whole climb.

On the first day, I carried approximately 14kg in my pack, maybe a little more at the very start. This is good practice, but I found it tougher than I would like. A partial excuse is that I had done a reasonably intense leg workout at the gym a couple of days previously, so was a bit stiff even at the start of the climb. More worrying was how challenging I found the stretch to the summit, where I was carrying little more than a spare jacket and pants, 1.5 litres of water, chocolate, snacks, and my camera.

Unlike last time, I never doubted I would make it to the summit, but above about 5,000 metres I was breathing increasingly heavily, and felt quite weak as we took a stroll from the summit down to the crater. It's a sobering thought that Misti's summit is at a similar altitude to the high camp on Ampato, and the equivalent of the base camp-summit stretch would have to be done fully laden, over more difficult terrain. Even the summit push on the higher peaks would require carrying more, with the need to take crampons, ice picks and so forth. So I will need to get considerably stronger and better acclimatised before attempting anything bigger.

Here are some of the shots I took, with captions below (you can click to enlarge):

View uphill towards the summit about an hour into the climb.

Base camp at 4,700 metres. On the mountain were me, Alejandro, a Belgian guy, and two French guys with another guide.

My climbing companion Jonas from Belgium reflects on the landscape near sunset.

The spectacular colours of the sunset are helped along by the dust and pollution trapped in an inversion layer over Arequipa.

Jonas silhouetted against the sunset: I think I could licence this shot for one of those light-evangelical Christian inspirational posters.

From near the summit, the volcano casts a conical shadow over the landscape at sunrise.

Looking westt from the summit over nevados Chachani (6,075 metres, in the foreground) and Coropuna (6,425 metres, in the distance).

The city of Arequipa laid out like a map, seen from the summit.

View north to the national reserve of Laguna Salinas y Aguada Blanca.

The French guys had to light up a cigarette to celebrate their arrival at the summit. I suggested a game of football. Note the predominance of the chullo.

A fourth chullo. Me at the summit with a view looking west

I should include one where I look a bit less grave. View of the cross at the summit of Misti, with the city of Arequipa in the background.

A view of Misti's crater with its smoking fumaroles. An expedition led by Johann Reinhard found four Incan-era mummies near here in 1999.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Interim Update

Contrary to appearances, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth, but have merely been very busy and have recently spent 10 days in non-blogworthy internet conditions. Tomorrow morning I'm taking the opportunity to start a climb of El Misti, an essential warm up to future expeditions.

I will be back Thursday afternoon and then there's a short window before the next set of important commitments start next week. There's actually a whole set of blog posts I have in mind for when I have time. Hopefully I'll get some of them written.