Day 1 (February 3, 1987)
Even though this is the first day of my journal. this is actually the third day of our trip.
We arrived in Buenos Aries not too worse for wear. After a five hour wait and change of airports it is off on a 2 hour flight to Mendoza, which I might say looks like nothing from the air but is a lush green town (City ) that has lots of parks, restaurants and shopping of all kinds, it has got everything.
Laurie Skreslet and Glen Wells meet Ed Evans, Ron Diamond and myself at the Mendoza airport and transfer us to our hotel (the Nutibara) where we unpack and repack our belongings. We then head off for dinner which was good. (Argentine beef). We didn’t eat till after nine as that is the custom here. There restaurants don’t actually open till after nine and most people don’t go out till ten. We walk around all the downtown cafes etc till about 11:30 pm and then its back to the hotel and crash.
We all get up early and have a breakfast of toast and coffee at the hotel. Then it is off to the football stadium (soccer) to get our mountaineering permits. Beautiful stadium, I notice that it has a moat and that on the scoreboard there is a painting of the Falkland Islands. Permits go without a hitch. I have had to produce a letter from my doctor and an ECG of my heart rate. It is needed but no one bothers to actually look at it. The actual climbing permit is 75$ US.
After a lunch of sandwich con caso it is a 4-5 hour bus ride to Puenta del Inca. A sort of a ski resort with a nice lodge (next to an army base). But whose main feature is a natural bridge built of sulphur deposits. This has been modified by the Inca and the locales over the years. There are the ruins of a resort for taking the waters (hot springs) that was destroyed by an earthquake in the 50’s. We stay in the lodge for about 20$ per person in a room for five.
We get up and after breakfast and the post office (the ticket master at the train station behind the lodge) we help the Mule provider weight the bags (30 kilos each, 2 bags per mule). We start off on our journey. We walk from the lodge so it is a longer trek than if you get ride to the park entrance. We stop after about 2 hours and have lunch at what looks to be an army target practice area. We then continue on and after crossing two streams we are at out first camp, Confluencia. It takes a little time setting up the tents as they are different to what I am used to. Dinner of Magic Pantry (chicken something), not bad then off to sleep.
We all get up somewhat late and have a hurried breakfast as the mule drivers want to get moving. They are taking all the stuff they we don’t need for today to Base camp. We cross the river about ten minutes then we walk along fairly even terrain till we stop for lunch after about 3 hours. Then it is another 2 hours to the remains of the old base camp below the glacier. This structure was destroyed by an avalanche a few years back. Our gear is not here but at the higher new base camp (Plaza des Mules). As we climb up onto the glacier it begins to snow and the wind picks up. We endure a lightning storm and have to ditch anything metal and sit hunched over on any flat rock we can find. Ed is feeling the altitude and starts to feel cold and shakes. We all make sure he gets warm and head off on the last leg of the journey to Base Camp. We hastily set up camp in the snow storm and try and get warm. I awake in the night to someone screaming in a nearby tent. After a quick check it is not one of our group and it appears to someone else having a nightmare.
I get up early and the sky has cleared. I complete my inventory of food for the rest of the trip. (9 freeze dried dinners, 3 magic pantry boil in th bag meals, 18 cup of soups, nine granola bars, 9 chocolate bars, 7 pouches of gorp, 1 tin of tuna, 1 apple sauce, 5 pouches of tang, 10 oatmeal pouches and 20 tea bags). After washing up and preparing more water, Glen and I walk for about 1 and 1/2 hours up towards our next camp (Camp Canada). The weather starts to move in again and we head back to camp. I make some soup. I read some more of my Alister Mclean book till we all get out for some tent modifications. We re-adjust the tents and add all the vestibules which we had not done the day before due to the storm. Then it was dinner and as much sleep as I can get with the gale force wind that strive to blow us out of camp. You can hear each gust coming like a locomotive till they hit the tent will full force.
We pack up our first loads to carry up to Camp Canada, (high altitude parkas, crampons and fuel). This we do in about 4.5 hours. Then it is about 1 hour back down. This is tiring as we are carrying heavy packs for the first time and dropping our loads at 16,500 ft. Glen and Ed do not seem to be hitting it off so well in their tent, so Laurie changes tent groups. Glen is now with me and Ron is now with Ed. There was excellent sunset photography as the sky’s cleared somewhat. Dinner, then reading and more high winds.
We all break camp and begin our move up to Camp Canada. This is even more tiring than the previous day, Some of us our carrying too much gear up I suspect, myself included. The tents and stove weigh us down. 5 hours up which is long. We then have to set up tents in the high wind. Glen gathers up snow for melting and I make hot chocolate. we get a donation of ramon noodles, cheese and sausage from another Canadian group travelling with us (Robert Mitchel, Brendan Calder and Mike Markoff). This is much appreciated. So far we have encountered many people from around the world. Japanese, Germans, Chilean, US and Yugoslavia. The later who came down from the summit with bad frostbite. Lucky the American team is composed mostly of doctors to he we seen right away. He will loose some of his fingers. Earlier in the day we came across a Spaniard who was looking for his three friends (two other Spaniards and a Frenchman). He says they were doing the south face. but have not been seen since. We later hear that two americans also doing the same route are pretty sure they saw them caught in an avalanche. There are many stories and many rumers one doesn’t know what to believe...dinner then bed.
We all get up late and divide our gear for another load. This is a rest day though so all we really do is reinforce our tents and go for strolls. The tents had received quite a battering the night before. I walk up to Nido De condores (18,000 ft) and descend to camp. In the early evening gliders from Santiago (we think) hover around the summit and then sail back silently toward the coast. the wind is better this evening. We spend a lot of time boiling and preparing water for the next day. This is compounded by the fact that Ed and Ron are having trouble with their stove and we have to share. The stars at night are the most incredible I have ever witnessed.
We have our breakfast after Ron and Ed have finished theirs. Mostly hot chocolate. We pack up our loads and head off on our first carry to Berlin at 19,200 ft. It takes up 5 hours to get up to this high camp and only 50 minutes to descend back down to Camp canada. What a day!. I haven’t had any symptoms of altitude sickness as yet aside from the normal fatigue. I find the loads very tiring as do most of us. Only Laurie seem to move effortlessly with his pack. Ed is doing well also. We drop our loads which is mostly food and file for three days and descend. I get up at about 5 am and see those incredible stars once more.
Today we move up to camp 2 (Berlin). The load carrying ranks as the hardest work I have ever done. it takes up the same amount of time as the day before but it seems longer. We arrive and set up our tent with the help of Ron. Then we wait our turn with the stove. We help Ron with his tent as Ed seems always to be tired. Glen and I share a freeze dried dinner as our appetites have diminished somewhat. Then we boil water till 10 pm. it stays very bright at this altitude so it is hard to sleep. No headaches!! Well deserved sleep.
It takes about 2 hours to boil enough water for breakfast and fill our nalgene bottles. Glen volunteers to walk Robert down to basecamp as he is showing early signs of cerebral edema. He should be ok at basecamp. Robert is a mountain guide friend of Lauries so Laurie agrees to take over Robert’s two clients and try and complete the trip to the summit. Brendan also accompanies them back and forth. Ron, Laurie and I head up the route to Independcia to mark the trail and familerize ourselves with the route we hope to start tonight. We go to about 2,000 feet from the summit and then drop back down to camp, to drink fluids and read. (Christine by Steven King). Brendan and Glen return in the afternoon very tired. I eat like a pig and drink tonnes and then try to get some early sleep as we will be getting up early to try the summit.
Well we did not go to the summit... The weather was good the conditions were right...but.. at about 9:00 that evening before some disoriented Americans came down from there summit attempt calling out for each other, They were disorganized with their guide(s) separated from the clients. After they regroup from their epic one of them mentions that there are 5 Argentine Military lost around the summit descending from their summit bid. They joke that tomorrow we will probably come across 5 bodies then they head off to their tents. I personally find this hard to deal with. So after some discussion four of us Ron, Laurie, Glen and I agree to go up and try and find these 5 Argentine. I figure it is what we would want someone else to to do for us in the same situation if it was reversed life is more important than any summit. Another rational is if we were prepared to go for the summit in 4-5 hours from now why not go up and do this rescue now instead of waiting till it is too late. I was being very noble and naive at the same time. How can 4 of us bring down potentially 5 weakened climbers. We ask around camp but get no extra help. Ed wimps out can’t join us as he says he has taken a sleeping pill already.
The weather cooperates and we can dress fairly light and we move up quickly with the aid of our Petzel headlamps. The wind is still for some reason luckily and the moon helps guide us to Independicia. (22,000 ft.) there we find them all together on the ridge just above. Their Major has them all lined up and descending slowly, very slowly. One of them is ill. When we come upon them they are very relieved but this causes them to relax at the same time. This unfortunately has wrong the effect on one of the soldiers. He collapses and has to be revived. We fill them all with water and diamox as they have run out of liquid. Slowly we descend with the one weaker climber sandwiched between to stronger ones as the others now can move much better.
We enter Berlin and the weaker one collapses again. He is revived and throws up all the diamox and water he is given. The leader of this group a major, plan’s to put him in a tent and descend to lower altitude the next morning. Laurie finally with his limited spanish makes him understand that for this soldier there may not be another morning if he doesn’t descend further. The major now understands and agrees to get him lower. Ron, one of the soldiers, the major and I volunteer to do this. He is placed in a sleeping bag and with some climbing rope we rig a crude stretcher.
The others wish us luck and return to their tents. Slowly we descend but after about 400 feet we are all exhausted. It is only now that I realize that carrying a dead weight is more difficult than I had imagined. This is a real learning experience for me. I ask them to wait and slowly ascend to Berlin to get more help. The task of getting people back out of their sleeping bags is painful but Glen, Laurie and Brendan respond to this extra call. Ed is still too sleepy.
It takes all of us in turn two hours to descend to Nido des Condores to where the army has extra tents set up. Here the climber wakes up and regains his strength. I can still remember him snapping somewhat to attention by the commands of his officer and then crawling into his tent like a wounded animal. I feel sorry for him as it is not his fault he got sick. Then we all shake hands and the major gives Laurie a pendant from their corps or brigade that was to be placed on the summit as thanks for all the help we have given them. The we all ascend in the dark to our sleeping bags and collapse. I don’t remember being ever so tired as I was that night. Fluid fluid fluid sleep. We get word when we eventually returned to basecamp that all the military returned safely the next day at basecamp.
A rest day, we plan on the summit early next morning.
We get up at 2:00 am and silently get dressed drink and put on our crampons in what seems an ageless amount of time. We retrace our steps of the previous day and group up at Indepencia. After ascending the ridge above this refugo we cross the traverse to the base of the Canaleta. The good news is the there is little or no wind. In following years I will remember this as the wind is normally relentless on this traverse. It is kind to us this time. The bad news... there is little or now snow in the Canaleta. This means hours of slogging in the loose rocks and scree. we edge our way up wards everyone silent in their own struggle. I feel myself getting colder and colder. I want to put on another jacket but the struggle do do so seems to be insurmountable. I keep my eye on the ridge line above and the ray of sunshine streaming above it. If only I can get to the that sun. This becomes my focus. I finally reach it and am bathed in its warmth. This improves my spirits greatly. While I am at my limit I can move on the final 100 feet to the summit. Laurie makes it first and then Ed who cries out in joy, till the sight of a body lying right at the summit silences him. An Argentine guide had summated with his group earlier this week and have sent his group down saying he wanted to stay on top for 10 more minutes. His group not knowing any better allowed him to do this and when they realized later at camp he had not returned it was to late. He had fallen asleep and frozen to death. This was something we had been warned we would encounter but with the events of the last couple of days we had (or I had) forgotten. I can remember staring at his watch that was still working. Next to the summit was Ron, Brendan then Glen and I. Mike was still struggling slowly in the Canaleta. We spend 15 minutes at the top of the Western hemisphere. I feel a rush of elation and accomplishment I have never experienced before. It is a time and moment I will remember always.
Laurie is complaining of pounding headaches and wants to descend as soon as possible. We all return together to Guanacho ridge where we meet Mike continuing upwards. As it is 1:30 and at turnaround time Laurie breaks the word that he must descend and that for Mike the summit is not going to happen. While Mike finds this difficult to accept at first he finally agrees to descend with all of us together as a group. Three hours later we are all in Camp and brewing up hot liquids.
We break camp and collect our garbage for the decent. Ed is given the job of offering any extra food to other groups so that if they need it our loads will be lighter. He descends to the middle of Berlin and leaves a bag there for people to to go through. He does not wait for what is left over and returns to his tent. An American guide comes up and rightfully so chews us out for leaving garbage in the middle of camp. I feel this swell of anger inside me but bite my tongue. I an upset because this guide is chewing me out for something that Ed was responsible for. He didn’t do his job properly and as a result has made us all look bad. I am also mad because we as a group are really tired because of the summit but also because of the rescue the night before. The rescue where this guide did not help but stayed in his tent. It grated me to be lectured by someone who could do with a lecture himself. But I stand there silently and eat it because I am tired and what would be the point of explaining. When I get home to add insult to the whole thing. This group guided by the American writes an article about their climb in Readers Digest and goes into great detail on their climb and getting split up (an epic in itself). But make no mention of the events of the rescue that went on around them which they declined to take part in. And pretended didn't exist. But I am venting I guess.
We return to base camp and after meeting up with Robert and sorting our gear. Leave in twos to meet up at Confluencia. Ed has become unwelcome by some of the members of the group because it is found out that he hardly carried any of his share of the load. Rod it is found out has been silently shouldering all of the load of this tent group. The fact that he declined to take part in the rescue and how he had so much energy on summit day has not made the group very warm to him. Now on the walk out people start keep there distance not wanting to get into long conversations with him. I have had enough of him but could care less. I move at my own pace and keep up with Glen with Ed about 100 yards behind. The route is open and clear and we arrive in camp after about 4 hours. We could continue all the way out but we have agreed to meet up here so we wait. Ed arrive and goes berserk accusing us all of tying to kill him, He is clearly unbalanced. After we get him settled down he reluctantly agrees to get in the tent provided I sleep between Glen and him. I feel like a parent. It is all so bizarre. After 2 more hours I wonder where Laurie and Ron, Brendan, Robert and Mike are. I return on the trail and wait at a vantage point to see them moving along. But they are no where to be seen. I wait till dark and then return to camp to see that happily Ed is still alive and has not been murdered by Glen. Later I return by headlamp to look for signs of the rest of the group. I see a light in the distance and cross the river to walk to it. After about 1/2 hour I reach the light source and meet two French climbers also returning from Plaza des Mules. They have seen a party of climbers further back along th e trail but don’t know who they are. I return to camp and go to bed figuring they are all experienced and have tents and stove and the weather is ok so they should be too. I wonder what is going on. I sleep between Ed and Glen.
We all get up Ed packs his stuff and crosses the river and eats on the other side. The rest of the group slowly arrives. we find out that Ron has broken his toes and is walking out with his toes sticking out of the cut out end of a sneaker. These sneakers belong to Laurie who as opted for his Tevas as his mode of transportation. We walk out and hitch a ride to the lodge in about 4 hours.
We all get up eat and head back to civilization (Mendoza). An eat and eat and eat. And sleep.
Taken from my trip journal of February 1987
In 1991 Glen dies tragically in his stunt plane. A couple of years later Ed tragically end his own life.