Location: Cerro Plomo, Chile
Knowing that Sergio, our resident mountain guide, will be leaving Nido this year, a few friends from school enlisted his help in guiding them to an attempt at a summit of Cerro Plomo, the 18,000 foot peak that looms over Santiago. It was to be a full ‘expedition’ with mules and all, so he in turn enlisted me to help out since we’ve been up there several times together.
Loaded everyone up in Sergio’s Mahindra, ‘The Black Pearl’, and curved our way up to Valle Nevado. After registering ourselves with the Carabiñeros with our plans we drove up the barren ski pistes to Tres Puntas where we met our mulero and packed up our gear.
Pretty novel to hike with light packs instead of 100L packs stuffed to the gills. We made great time!
Made camp in Piedra Numerada. Such a beautiful night that we all decided to sleep out instead of putting up tents.
One of my favorite Jeffrey Focault songs, Double Tree, speaks of the ‘circus of the stars a blaze of white.’ We were right there. I fought to keep my eyelids open watching the swirl.
Up in the morning cold until the sun came over the horizon and immediately saw us stripping to short sleeves from down parkas. Packed up and moved up canyon.
At camp Federación we set up camp, still in shorts. Felt foolish tying the tent down with huge rocks on such a beautiful day. Experience, and a weather report, said that the weather would be taking a turn for the worse.
And it did! Those puffy clouds down south kept creeping up the canyon until they were on top of us.
The winds picked up an battered us all night. In the ‘morning’, 3:30am when we were planning to make our attack, we woke to our compadres, Brad and Ivan with a broken tent, and snow in our vestibule. We all piled into our tent to make breakfast and then took a run at the summit.
Climbed through the dark and savage cold with our dog friends. Where did they come from? I’m still surprised they didn’t freeze and die in front of us. In full mountain gear climbing hard I still felt my core temperature drop. 13,000 feet will do that to you.
Bone-chilling cold and wind and still no sun. Our party was growing slower and slower with the cold and altitude. We arrived at Refugio Agostini at almost 15,000 feet (4,531 meters), and piled into the wooden shelter just big enough for five dudes and two ridiculously cold dogs. We warmed our feet as best we could and some took hits off of an O2 tank for fun.
Once the sun rose over the canyon walls we assessed the weather. A small break in the clouds gave a great view of ugly, dense clouds heading our way. We decided to do one more push before turning around. The summit was all socked in still, so our bid was over.
But up we trudged to 16,000 feet, an arbitrary destination just to say that we were there. Sergio and I had already summited, so we didn’t mind in our abridged trip.
Spindrift whiteouts flowing down from the summit battered us and slowed progress. We eventually turned around after the 16,000 ft mark.
On the way back to camp we passed through a section of glacial penetentes, knife-like blades of ice jutting out of the oozing glacier. So we got to use our crampons and axes. All were happy!
Back at camp the weather closed in. We hurriedly made lunch and packed up camp and then ran back towards Valle with our tails between our legs as the storm shut the valley in.