Despite the soon to be understood title of this trip report, I can assure you this is a trip report, the mountain? Cerro Vallecitos. Another dream of mine that became true some time ago. So, should I begin? Yep, right. Here we go. (As usual, some History before the actual climb report).
I use to have a hiking partner here at home. His name is EVC (that’s all I’m going to say about his name), very close friend, good learner to soon become a great photographer and insane hiker, of course, youth and low weight made him a way faster climber than I am. I was (at the time) 32 and he was 21. My body weight is always around 75 – 77 kg (170 pounds) and he is precisely 64 kg (140 pounds). That means just one thing: Stronger and faster.
Anyway, when I was planning the project work less live more, he was part of the plan since the beginning. I never lied to him, I never asked him about anything before. We were buddies since early 2009 when we meet for the first time hiking together in Itatiaia National Park and after that, we became great friends and hiked constantly together, at least twice every month. The thing is, I had a good job (the very same one I quit to do the project) and I use to make a good money, and he was (still is) a very simple guy, poor. For me that wasn’t an issue. No Sir! He was my friend and we use to hike all the time and I not even blinked one eye, I used to pay everything for him. I mean everything. Bus ticket, park fees, food for camping, once I even gave him my boot and got a new one for me (which wasn’t part of my plan for at least 3 or 4 months ahead, but I gave him the boots because his were damaged beyond repair). We did like 35 or 40 summits together for around 15 months hiking here in Brazil. So the plan to perform the big project came.
We were supposed to quit our jobs and with both paying for the expenses (most of it I was going to pay of course). But, fortunately, his boss let him go before he asks for it. Here in Brazil that’s good because he get paid way more money if the decision comes from the employer and not the employee. Great, that way he d have more money than we thought and he could help me a great deal on the expenses. I had a great relationship with my boss so he agreed to let me go and pay me all the money. Even better. Now we had money enough to climb on the andes for 6 to 8 months. Imagine that?
But, I had Lilianne, my dear beloved bride. I could not leave her for that long, so I said to her 100 days of climbing. It was hard, we cried a lot but I promised to try to get back as soon as I accomplished most of my MUST DO climbings. She said okay, sad day indeed. Everything was ready, agreed. So my former friend EVC got some bad news, some problem with his document which was wrong so he d have to make some changes and that would take more time. We had to go because time was going fast. So, after a new meeting about the expedition, we decided that I would pay for everything (since I had tons of money more) and when we got back, he d pay me just R$ 1.000,00 (about US 450.00 at the time). That was it. No matter how much I had on expenses, he d give just that amount of money after we return.
Starting the big adventureGreat, he stayed on Brazil to solve the document problem and I took off alone for the start. After 64 hours on a bus I got to Bariloche. Shitty city, too much touristic, annoying. Got myself another bus after spending just one night to Junin De Los Andes, were I climbed Lanin Volcano, the first summit of the project and the one that made folks here realize the project was serious, not a joke, and of course I had the first Andean summit shot wearing a tie. Anyway, I kept going on and eventually I got to Mendoza. By e-mail we set up our meeting at the hostel I was and he also faced around 70 hours on 2 buses to meet me down there 2 weeks after I left Brazil. When he got there we had a great deal of fun with the folks I already met at the hostel, there was a pool and we did funny jump photos, free to climb for 85 days more, in Mendoza having fun on a hostel just 85kms away from Cordon Del Plata. What more could we ask for?
So we started to getter gear and food for about 20 days inside Cordon Del Plata and only a couple days later we left Mendoza. The bus leaves I think three times a week in the morning and after lunch. As happy as any climber can be, we were insanely excited about it. So let’s enjoy a little bit before the cold and hunger? EVC had an idea, a good one, to spend a night camping on Lake Potrerillos just to enjoy the view and do some shots of surfers. I agreed very fast. We got off the bus at the village and set up camp just 50 feet away from the water of the artificial lake.
Great photography, a lot of talking, plans, routes, empanadas for dinner, sleep. Early morning we left to the city center (like 2 streets hehehe) looking for a transport for Vallecitos sky station, nothing. Got some intel from the police officer passing by and he said there was no bus that day to go up. F*** no! What could we do? Walk up. We started walking…We were at 1.100m high and the sky station at 3.000m high, the first camping spot, Las Veguitas, at 3.230m high. Woooohoooo here we go!
Ten minutes after we start walking the very same police man offered us a ride a couple miles up since he was going up anyway. “Sure” we said! The ride was great but it didn’t helped a lot. He left us at around 1.500m high at some desolate place in the middle of nowhere! Ahahahaha…
I forgot to say: Gear weight: Parofes: 35kg. EVC: 38kg.
What could we do? Walk up! Walking up…After a couple hours we reached 1.900m high, still very far away from the sky station. We decided to stop at one turn and wait for some car to pass and ask for a ride. Several cars passed but people never stopped. Walk again…
We were really tired. Rain came and made things even worse. We found cover in just one little house on the road by the parking spot. Wait for it passes. Half an hour later walking again. At some point, I don’t know how long after we start to walk, we reached a little farm with a little “bar”. Nice cold can of coke (of course, I was paying). The nice lady said she knew a guy that could drive us up there for little money. Great! She called him and after like 15 minutes he arrived. Funny guy, well educated, famous Argentinean writer! Crazy roads ah?! Anyway, we meet a funny guy just before he got there, a dude from Uruguay, by the way he looked, he was starving for sure. Walking like a beggar, dirty, skinny, eating a tomato like a dog. Funny talk, not a climber, he just wanted to spend one night inside Cordon Del Plata. Of course he had no money at all. So I offered to pay for his ride too and he accepted. So all of us got on the old 4x4 and the writer drove us up to the sky station at 3000m. Finally!
I can’t remember the time. But all we did was to get some rest, around 15 minutes, register ourselves with the guard and start to hike up to Las Veguitas campsite. It was hard since the trail was more steep and we were walking like animals the whole morning and part of the afternoon too. After like one hour or so we reached the camp. I couldn’t believe, so much trouble for just one day and we finally did it. Las Veguitas campsite, 3.230m high. I was happy and ready to set up my tent and get some rest.
Just before the sun set the two tents were ready, dinner inside my belly and I was walking around to talk to people, I love to know people from different countries so there I was…Talked to a French guy, Damien, and after a while he shared with us his plan to hike next morning Adolfo Calle Peak and Stepanek Peak in a row. Great, same as we planned. So we agreed to head out together the three of us.
Well, Damien was there for some days, around five, so he was acclimatized already. EVC is a strong never gets tired gazelle and me? Well, fat on my 30s and slow. Of course they’re always like 40 or 50 feet ahead of me, the whole time. Even so, we did it. It was great, fun, lots of pictures. Both summits of Adolfo Calle and on the way back we summited Stepanek as well. Great fun. On the way back we got separated since Damien went to try a different way down from Stepanek. Later when he got back to camp he told us it was crazy, he almost got himself killed because of that decision, but fortunately nothing happened.
Just before sleep I got a fever. What was that? Altitude sickness? A cold? Who knows…New deal for next morning. Go higher: Franke Peak. Okay I said, I’m ready. Sleep, next morning we woke up and I felt like shit. Too much cold for me (I was still on fever I guess) and my legs hurt big time. So they left without me. I spend the whole day alone there since 95% of the people left to hike something. The weather wasn’t good so I was a little worried about them, too much wind, too cloudy…
I think they were the last party to come back that day. They left around 4am and got back around 17pm, really late. They said to me that at some point above 4600m the wind was so strong they had to grab on the rocks so they didn’t fly away! Crazy.
Anyway, next morning Damien left the mountains, happy with Franke Peak (4820m, 13m higher than Mont Blanc he said), he gave up to climb some more. Me and EVC headed to Piedras Grandes campsite, a couple kms up the trail at the altitude of 3.550m. I was tired beyond normal for me, something wasn’t right. When we got there it was cold, around 0°C. Some wind, not much. Tent up, dinner, sleep. Next morning would be the worst part, infernillo.
The distance between Piedras Grande campsite and El Salto de Agua campsite is a little bit bigger, and the altitude gain is around 750m. The problem is the ground. The last km is just a scree, lose of course. Two steps ahead, one behind. Awful terrain to walk. That was hard, really, really hard. After around 3 nights of food the gear weight went down just a little bit so I had almost 33kg of gear on my backpacks and EVC still had around 37kg. Even so, he was way way faster and stronger.
The last part, infernillo, that really is hell for a climber with such weight on the back. I almost fell a couple times, when I got up there I was so tired, so tired, I couldn’t even talk right hehehe. But I got there! Almost one hour after him! Anyway, I started sneezing and coffing too much, I was spitting some green stuff not really pleasant for the eyes. I knew what that mean. I had a cold of course. I couldn’t walk like 10 meters without get tired. Probably altitude sickness. So I was too tired who cares? Tent up, dinner, talk to some Argentinean fellows by our tent.
After some primitive communication (EVC doesn’t speak any Spanish or English, hell he almost can’t speak proper Portuguese ahahahah) he said to me: “We’re going up tomorrow with these guys to Plata summit! Okay?”
I got a little bit mad but I never said to him. All I said was “Dude, I’m not okay so I think I’ll get some rest here, take the day off tomorrow. So you go on, be careful with the fast altitude change, we JUST got here and you’re saying to me you’re going up tomorrow, I don’t think that’s a good idea, you’ll risk a cerebral edema, but that’s your call”. At 2am he left with them.
During next day all I did was some reading, whenever I tried to walk a little bit I got out of breath, too tired, just too tired, still spitting little green babies from inside me. Damn, I had to go down to get better. When they got back they were exhausted. Successful summit on Plata but EVC had a huge headache. Well I warned him. Why so much rush for a summit he already did the year before? Yeah he did Cerro Plata in 2009, in fact this one and San Bernardo Peak was his only altitude experience so far. Crazy bastard. I gave him fresh juice I made up and some painkillers for the headache. After that I shared my decision to get down.
Well now you guys will understand the title of the trip report: He called me crazy, said I was going down for no reason, called me lazy and more. I got so mad at him, so mad…But I left my tent with him, stove and gas, even some food and walked away. The descent for me was painful. I was pretty sick, no strength at all. It took me several hours to get down from 4300m to the ski station at 3000m, around 5 hours. Very sick I managed a transport that very same afternoon to the village and later a bus to Mendoza. Got back to the same hostel where I got a great hot shower, some medicine and a hot meal. Sleep.
Just one note: I never ask him to come down with me. He didn’t have to come down with me, I said he could keep up there and climb all the peaks we scheduled months before.
Getting better and another go
Well, after three days I was just like new. Good food, good talk, good rest. Ready for action. So I start to look for transport to Maipo volcano. Another great beautiful mountain I was dreaming about. When the sun left EVC got to the hostel. Like a ghost, I was avoiding to speak to him because I was still mad, really mad at him. After a while he was inside the dorm getting ready to sleep and eventually everyone left the room so only the two of us were there.
So he start talking on and on and I said how angry I was because he didn’t respect my decision and disrespected me in front of other climbers and shit. He could disagree with me for sure, no problem, but not disrespect me like he did. After a great deal of time arguing he apologized to me several times. Of course, he knew I was about to send him home because of his recklessness with me and himself, I said I didn’t want to be responsible for his demise since his mother knew I was paying for the whole expedition.
So we made up a “half-peace” and went together to San Carlos to try transport for Maipo volcano. No luck at all. We got back to Mendoza that same day and headed again to Cordon Del Plata. He said he wanted me to summit my biggest dream up there, Vallecitos peak. I said “okay, let’s go”.
This time I was okay, acclimatized and way better. We knew all the transport tips and it was easy to reach the sky station. From there to Las Veguitas we did in only 30 minutes, faster. We got so surprised I said “let’s go to Piedras Grandes”. But I forgot I wanted to hike San Bernardo before. One night of sleep there. San Bernardo summit next morning, very easy hike, very impressive view to lake Potrerillos and other peaks. Great weather…
After that he said to me he was going to keep all the way up to Mausy Peak. I said okay but I d come back down alone since I didn’t want to spoil my good health on the first mountains. He hardly agreed but kept his mouth shut. I went back to the camp alone and he went to Mausy. Several hours later, almost dark, he came back. Turns out he risked his life doing vertical rock climbing with no ropes, no helmet, no harness, no nothing. Worse, on lose rocks. Man he is crazy!!! But, I never said a word about it.
Next morning Piedras Grandes. Here we go. Easy hike this time. One night of sleep and next morning El Salto. One more night. Next morning we decided to make things more interesting, to sleep at the high campsite almost no one uses: La Hoyada campsite. The problem is the pressure changes a lot there. Sometimes you fell like sea level, sometimes you feel like at 6500m and get a serious never ending headache, the winds are way stronger. That’s why nobody sleeps there! Anyway, we went up. One night of sleep, next morning we went up to my dream, Vallecitos Peak! Finally, years thinking about it, wondering how the view would be…I was strong, he was still a little bit tired from the days before but even so we walked by the same step, same velocity. Both strong and with no stops because we were tired, but for photos.
When we got to portuzuelo I was moved already and crying, just the view of the final ridge to the summit was overwhelming for me. Inside my goggles tears frostbite on my cheeks because of the cold (around -7°C plus wind the chill was around -15°C). I couldn’t even speak. From that moment on the fight between us was on hold. More and more we approached the fair summit of the Peak. I say fair because in major cases in the andes, there are always false summits before the real one. In that case no! Vallecitos is a fair mountain because you can see the cross all the time and that only gives you more strength to keep going.
Finally by the end, just 60 or 70 feet away from the summit he said to me he was going to run to the summit and film me getting closer (and he did run! How can he do that!!!!!). He made the videos of me getting closer to the summit and after that we meet again up there. Another dream that became true. I was truly happy, amazed by the view. Aconcagua like a massive amount of rock and ice in far distance, Tupungato like an icy pyramid on the other side. We stayed up there for about 50 minutes before heading down. Loads of shots.
Back to the camp, we agreed to go for Plata next morning. After a night of no sleep at all (the noisy pig by me – third sleepless night) he woke up and geared up. I said I couldn’t go, I had several blisters on my feet (Vallecitos climb was the very first time I used my Boreal Super Latok boots), around ten. And well, three nights of no sleep at all, I was finished. But since my goal was never Plata I said “Don’t worry, I don’t give a rats ass about Plata, my dream became true yesterday. Go on”.
And he went up and summited Plata for the second time in less than a week. When he came back down lunch was ready and the backpacks almost ready to leave. So we started the long walk back to the ski station, from 4.760m high to 3.000m high, when we got there my knees hurt like hell and his too. So we decided to stay over Mausy Hut, eat a pizza and look at the photos. Of course, I was paying for everything. Next morning we left back to Mendoza.
Final wordsThe fight now was back on but in a “soft way”. I was still pissed off about the whole thing. Of course, he did apologized dozens of times to me. Hours without one word later, he stand by me at the hostel and makes THE QUESTION, the one he was afraid to ask, the only one that matters to him that moment: “Are you still going to pay for our climb on Aconcagua?”
My answer was straightforward: “Dude, I never wanted to climb Aconcagua, I said it to you hundreds of times. Everyone is blinded with this mountain and I never said I was. After all this I’m not gonna climb Aconcagua because I was only going to climb it as your friend, now I just don’t fell like anymore. I’ll keep my word with you, I’ll pay for your climb only”.
After that I gave him 300.00 us dollars (the permit by the time was low season – 128.00 us dollars, the rest was for transport, food and gear rental). He was happy again. I was still mad. A couple days later he was almost ready to leave the hostel and we got to talking again, then I said about my decision to send him home after Aconcagua. He had to help his mom back home, and because I didn’t trust him to take care of himself. He got really mad, called me names, said I wasn’t a friend. Anyway, again he literally stabbed me on the back if you know what I mean. And all that after two years paying for his bus tickets, park fees, this whole expedition and the gear he was taking with him to Aconcagua that very same afternoon!!!
How stupid am I???
He left. I left to try transport to Maipo again, nothing. For nine days I got fat and lazy in Mendoza while he was fulfilling his dream and he did it. At the 7th day he summited Aconcagua solo, without mules, porters, any help what so ever, and the weather was a mess. His summit shot is just clouds, the brand new cross (the old one went missing just a few weeks before that), him, and a tiny little piece of the south face. That’s it. The only one that day to summit Aconcagua, everyone else gave up because of the weather. He was lucky to get out alive and with only first degree frostbite on one finger, which got better just 3 days later. Btw, he was wearing new gloves I got him!!! Goose mitten gloves. It saved his fingers.
Anyway, he found me at the hostel with a funny look, happy with his summit. But I never changed my mind, at that very same night we went together to the bus station and I checked out some money from the ATM, gave him and got him tickets to get home. Next morning he left to Brazil and I left to San Pedro de Atacama for more climbing. After a month I got back home and we got to talk, he said he couldn’t pay me the money he promised because he had to pay something at home, but he had a new job already!!!
So I was entirely fuc*** now. My name went dirty. I couldn’t pay my credit card because of him and it took me 4 months to clear my name, after that he gave me the same R$ 1.000,00 despite the fact the R$ 1.000,00 of debts on his name on my credit card plus the bank interest became almost R$ 3.000,00. Later I got back from him the goose gloves and sold them to help me pay for my debt, unfortunately I got only R$ 200,00 for them. We never got to be friends again, I never hiked with him again, and I avoid to see him on the mountains or even to answer an e-mail.
I got my dream and he got his. End of Story. “What goes around comes around”. Now he still has that same job, I have a new job and I earn four times what he earns. Now even if he asks me for help on something, I won’t help him anymore. People have to learn to be responsible for your actions. I know, does he?
So I say: For some people friendship is not enough.