Monday, December 5, 2011

You Gotta Take Some, And Leave Some

We got to sit at the big kids' table
   Hey, everybody; Matt here.  It was good to hear from family and friends about your Thanksgiving festivities; you were all sorely missed.  We were fortunate enough to have Charlie's family invite us over for a Thanksgiving meal that Friday.  A true Thanksgiving on Thursday would have been impossible as people have to work here on that day (What an injustice!).
Happy 30th Birthday, Ina
Mashini, this guy is a lawyer
   The meal had all the important parts: turkey, potatoes, pies, wine, and beer.  I was relieved to discover that I could maintain the hallowed Thanksgiving tradition of immoderate consumption of food and drink in Chile.  We brought along some excellent dishes to share as well.  I brought an marinated olive mix (from NYTimes' Mark Bittman, very easy & quick).  Sara made a killer stuffing and stuffed red peppers.  We also volunteered ourselves in the kitchen as soon as we got there and my copper pennies in a pinch were a hit.
Looking up the Yerba Loca valley to La Paloma (glaciated peak)
   The next night was our friend, Ina's, birthday.  It was a great time and we got to hang out with a fun crowd.  Many of them were Will's friends that we haven't been able to see as much as we'd like. In fact, we had such a good time that we didn't find ourselves getting home until about 7am the next morning.  Needless to say that Sunday was completely shot.  However, I'm proud to say that we did manage to get ourselves out of the apartment in time for sunset (around 7pm) to straggle our way into cheap/quick food (mmm, freezer-aisle sushi & empanadas from the supermarket).
At my base camp.  La Paloma, Altar Falso, and Altar behind me.
   Last week I was able to get out of work on Thursday which allowed me to get back into the mountains.  The plan was to make for the summits of La Paloma (4900M) and Altar (5100M).  They are both located in Yerba Loca Nature Sanctuary, which is just outside Santiago on the Camino a Farellones (road to the ski resorts).  Public transportation and hitchhiking had me there in a few hours.
Los Sulfatos waterfall, stunning.
   The approach to these summits is fairly long, ascending the Yerba Loca valley for about 21km to the base of the La Paloma glacier.  In that time, you slowly and steadily gain elevation while getting cooked from the intense Chilean sun (it is seriously intense down here).  While exposed and grinding, the approach is pleasant and goes through several environmental zones.  It was interesting to see the composition of flora and fauna change so clearly as the elevation changed.  The physical geography of the land is also striking.  There are many waterfalls, plains, cliffs, boulders, and stratifications that are the result of glacial movements thousands of years old.
My route goes right up that glacial field in the center
   The approach was going well until I got towards my high camp (about 3800M) on day 2, where the route turned into very steep and loose rock.  In stiff-soled, heavy mountaineering boots this is not a very comfortable way to travel.  In another rather unfortunate development, I began to have quite a headache the night before my summit attempt.  This is one of the signs of altitude sickness, for which there is only one cure: descent.  Knowing this, I decided to try my own cure - time.  I figured that maybe I'd feel better in the morning and could continue on to the summit.
Big views from about 4500M.
I'll be quite sick in about 1/2 hour.
   The stars when I woke up at 4:15am were incredible; there was no moon and not a cloud in the sky.  I was pumped to get moving (it would also help with the cold).  After slamming down two granola bars and a piece of chocolate, I began the summit attempt.  I don't think anyone had gone my route (up the Rincon glacier) in quite some time; there were no boot prints anywhere.  This was understandable in retrospect as the ascent was a bastard.  The parts on the glacial moraine (base of the glacier) were more steep, loose rock.  The surface of the glacier was also extremely sun-cupped (referred to here as penitentes), which slowed my progress significantly.
Penitentes = major bastard for travel
   When I reached the top of the glacial valley (approx. 4500M), I was feeling mighty cooked: the altitude sickness (known here as La Puna) and exertion were catching up to me quickly.  About 1/2 hour later I was at the summit of Cerro Fortuna (a smaller summit en route to La Paloma, approx. 4600M) and felt a definite "reversal of fortuna" coming on.  At this point I was a little behind schedule, tired, cold, and certainly getting sick; but also only 300M from the summit.  I made the smart decision and began to descend; it sucked.
   However, as I knew would happen, I immediately began to feel better as I reached lower elevations.  The mountains aren't going anywhere, so no worries, just disappointment.  To punish myself/make my exit easier, I decided to descend the 17.5km from high camp to Villa Paulina (day-site in Yerba Loca).  By the time I reached Villa Paulina (approx. 1900M), I had been moving for about 12 hours and my feet had turned into ground meat.  After a quick dinner of instant mashed potatoes w/ a sausage, I died in my sleeping bag for the following 13 hours.
Sara making friends at Gourmet Mundo food expo
   After scoring a sweet hitchhike from the entrance to Yerba Loca (4km from Villa Paulina) all the way to the La Vega produce market (4 blocks from our apt.), it was great to see Sara.  She had bought a bunch of great food and cheap beer on which I proceeded to gorge.  Sara also knew about a great food expo happening about a mile into the park by our apt.  We went there and got to sample all sorts of Chilean foods, drinks, and condiments; it was a load of fun.  
   All in all, that's about it on my end.  I have interviews this week with a study-abroad program and a mountain-guiding service.  Hopefully one of those will hit (c'mon, mountain guide!) and I can stop tutoring English.  But you know, you gotta' take some, and leave some.
I just think this is neat.
   One more thing: it is very strange to see a Santa's Village set up in the Plaza de Armas which is sunny, hot, and full of palm trees.
   If you want to see more pictures from my trip to La Paloma, visit my adventure picture website:

1 comment:

  1. Outstanding pictures from Altar and the rest. Can't wait to wander around there with you! You were both missed on Thanksgiving as well, glad you found a shared meal with friends.