For the second of my two treks in Arequipa, I was rested, healthy and ready to go. And this time I got to sleep in until about 6 or 7. The other 3 guys in the group were from Italy, all traveling together. One of them was already sick, so including the guide, I figured the number of people that were going to climb the mountain had shrunk from 5 to 4.
Where we were headed:
We drove a few hours up to the point where we got left off. It was about an hour hike from there to the base camp. During this hike, another of the Italians got sick. The Italians were droppin like flies. I was glad to have gotten my sickness over with during the Colca Canyon hike; I had a feeling that was a walk in the park compared to what I was about to do.
View from base camp. Lookin stormy:
Just after we got our tents set up at base camp, a nasty storm moved in. We ate dinner, which I enjoyed equally for its warmth and its sustenance. The snow and wind didn't stop all night. It was one of my coldest nights on record. Pretty miserable really.
Ramen Noodles have never been so wonderful:
We woke up at around 2 am to start hiking up. It was still frigid, and I was glad to start moving around to warm myself up. You guessed it: the last of the Italians bailed. I don't even think this one was sick. I think he was just cold. And maybe scared. Either way, it would be just me and the guide making the trek.
The snow let up as we began, which was nice. The wind did not let up. After about an hour, we came to a fairly steep part of the mountain that we had to go prettymuch straight across. We weren't climbing vertically at all, but the snow was frozen prettymuch solid. The guide had to chisel out each step we took with his ice pick, which resulted in a horizontal rain shower of sharp ice shards in my face, because i was down wind from him.
Other than the ice shower, the main problem with this situation was the fact that we were moving really slowly. This meant my extremities were in constant danger of freezing. I had to ceaselessly clench and unclench my fists. If I forgot to do this even for a minute my hands would start to freeze. Every once in a while I'd realize a finger or two were numb and I'd have to move them back to feeling.
I brought gloves from home, but for some reason decided to use the tour agencies gloves, so I deserved the pain. The agency also gave me crampons. They were too small for my feet. The guide tied them on with strings that looked like they came off of a pair of roller skates from the 70's. They fell of minutes after he put them on. Luckily my ice pick was legit. Around this same time, my water bottles froze, so instead of quenching my thirst, they served to add a rock-hard, ice-cold weight to my gear. It took at least an hour to make it across this part of the mountain. The sun began to rise just as we did.
Good morning Arequipa:
After this, we arrived at Fatima, the longest and steepest part of the climb. Fatima is a son of a cunt. I don't know how many hours it took to climb, but I know it sucked. The air was thinning.
Light at dawn and moon over Fatima:
As we got to the top of Fatima we stopped and the guide broke down the situation to me. We were running a bit behind schedule due to the weather. We had about three and a half hours until our ride was scheduled to leave base camp for Arequipa. It was another hour to the summit. It normally takes 4 hours to climb down, but he thought we could make it in two and a half. I knew I wouldn't be able to make it down in time, but I really wanted to make that mountain my bitch, so I decided to push forward and deal with the consequences of missing our ride home if and when they came. So we kept going toward the summit.
The home stretch:
The last hour was long and slow, but I was pumped to reach the top, so it was actually fun. Finally I made it, after about 7 hours total. 6075 meters high, cold, sore, breathing hard at a standstill, snot frozen solid to my face.
A view of El Misti from above:
The wind was twice as bad on the summit, so we didn't stay for long. The guide started sprinting down the mountain as soon as we left. My legs were like jelly and I had a lot of trouble keeping up. It took us about 4 or 5 hours to get down. Luckily the driver and the Italians waited for us.