The text below is from a dairy my very funny non climbing buddy was keeping on a 3 month trip we took through Central and South America in 1999.
Note: Fart is a cool guy named Art we had met on a flight from Panama City to Quito that climbed with us.
THE APPROACH: November 9th
We thought we had told our cab driver to take us up to ‘The Virgin,’ a monument that rests, supposedly, as far up the mountain as a car can travel. But, our driver stopped well short of that target, and we were told we had to walk the rest of the way up. It took us over 2 hours to reach The Virgin. Once we got there, we realized that we’d been screwed. A vehicle could have easily made the journey. But, oh well!
Oops! I almost forgot to tell you about the bulls! On the way to The Virgin, our dirt road trail passed through a bunch of fields and cow pastures. Or were they? I didn’t see any cows! Just about 100 bulls. Half way to The Virgin, we saw a herd of bulls crossing the road ahead of us. We hesitated for a moment, then continued toward them. When we got to the ‘bull crossing,’ we were greeted by a large, black bull. He appeared to be the lookout for the rest of his buddies while they grazed. This bull was acting really weird! His whole body was shaking and drool was dripping from his mouth and nostrils. J and I stopped in our tracks! We must have been 15 or 20 feet from it. I yelled, "Go Away! Boo! Get Out of Here! Quack! Bust! Nak Nak!" But the bull stood its ground, still shaking. It tried to adjust its foothold on the ground, tripped, and fell on its ass. What the hell had this thing been smokin’? It regained its stance, lowered its head, and aimed its horns at us. "Oh, shit!" J said. J unclipped his backpack. "Good idea," I said, and did the same. If this big boy decided to charge, I wasn’t going to stand much chance with my heavy pack on. We backed up a few feet. I grabbed my water bottle and raised it in throwing form. Water bottle!?! What the hell would that do to a bull? I figured if I used my Ice Axe on this animal, it would surely get pissed and gore me with its horns!
Fart had been a ways behind us when this happened, and was just catching up. He looked at us like we were idiots and continued toward the bull. I felt much more confidant, now that our big friend was backing us. He approached the bull and yelled at it. The bull stared back. He waved his big arms above his head and kept yelling. The bull stared back. He yelled even louder and walked to within 10 feet of the bull. The bull lowered its head and pawed the ground. Now, you don’t have to be a complete idiot to know what a bull is planning on doing after it paws the ground. Fart unclipped his backpack and joined his two scared friends. The standoff lasted a few more minutes. We just stood there waiting for the bull to leave. The bull just stood there trying to figure out which one of us would be in the hospital with a colostomy bag first. On our left, the road was bordered by a 6 foot dirt hill that led to the pasture the bulls first migrated from. J headed up the dirt wall, followed quickly by Fart and myself. The bull took 2 steps forward and stood more confidently, the shaking stopped.
As we made our way over the pasture, Fart reminded us to always keep facing the bull and walk backwards. I could see about 8 more bulls approaching from the herd to back their buddy up. Shit! This was getting scary! We finally made our way over the pasture far enough from the bulls to shift into second gear. We all busted into a quick trot. After a minute, we were out of sight from the bulls and found our trail again.
At The Virgin, we stopped for a break and took some pictures. We still had quite a ways to go. This is where we were supposed to start our trek, if our driver wouldn’t have been such a fuckhead.
We followed the path for hours. My energy was waning. At 14,400 feet we stopped to celebrate! This was the same height as the summit of Rainier, and a personal altitude record for me. We had caught up to Gaylen at this point, who had been way ahead of us for the entire trek. Fart had fallen behind long ago and was out of sight. Shortly after this break, we ascended into the clouds. Visibility was at about 50 feet!
At 15,000 feet, we could make out a figure ahead. Was it another climber? No, something bigger! A large, black boulder? No, bigger! Oh, shit! It was another bull. What the hell was a bull doing at an altitude higher than Rainier? The bull strode off to our right and disappeared into the clouds. Boy, there’s nothing like the thought of being gored by a bull a day’s travel from a hospital, and a 3rd World hospital at that!
I began to feel light headed! Usually, I try my hardest to achieve this feeling with tequila. But, now, the feeling was unwelcome. The altitude (i.e. lack of Oxygen) was really affecting me. Night was beginning to fall and I began to wonder if we were going to make it to the base camp. My foot speed had dwindled to a step for every breath I took. We were all moving incredibly slow. To add to our distress, the ground was very soft and my footing slipped backwards every second or third step I took. Wow, this was hard!
Just before nightfall, we made it to the camp. By this time, my head was in the clouds! I was really feeling the effects of the altitude. I felt loopy. Out in front of the camp were four other climbers. I made my way to them, took off my backpack, pulled down my shorts and underwear, and proceeded to moon them. I don’t know why! I just felt like doing it. J tried to cover for me by telling them the altitude had taken its toll on my brain.
After settling at the camp, J and I took off back down the mountain in the darkness to find our friend, Fart. I was really worried he wasn’t going to make it. We yelled and yelled, but heard nothing. It took a little while, but Fart finally caught up to us and we all made it to camp. Fart, huffing and puffing, whipped out a cigarette and lit it up. This guy’s crazy.
At the base camp, the other climbers were amazed at our story of the bulls. "You’re supposed to take a taxi past that part," they said. "Don’t you know, that’s where they raise bulls for the Bullfights!"
Norte November 10th
Nov. 10th –
Early today we started out for Illiniza Norte. It took hours to ascend. I was really scared on this climb. The first few hundred feet were incredibly tough. The ground was so soft that every step we took slid us back almost to where the step began. It was like climbing a mountain of fresh topsoil. My boots were filled with dirt. It took us over an hour to reach solid rock.
Climbing onto the solid rock, my fear level rose a bit. Almost every piece of the mountain I used to anchor myself shook loose. We were climbing a steep rock formation that was heavily cracked and unsturdy. I grabbed hold of protruding rocks to help myself ascend up the wall, and many of them shook loose from the mountain in my grasp. If I fell, I would start an avalanche of stone! Over the next two hours, we carefully made our way to within 150 feet of the summit, and then lost the trail! The trail just vanished! All that was in front of us was a stone wall that looked like it couldn’t be climbed to the summit. Jason and Gaylen took off their backpacks and began to ascend the wall. "No fucking way!" I told them. This was too much for me! I took off my backpack and told them I was not going to chance fate to summit this bitch. If there was one thing my mother made me promise before I left for this trip, it was that if things got too dangerous I would simply not proceed. The altitude had given me the worst headache I could remember ever having. I was tired, completely worn out. Call me a pussy, call me a little bitch. I don’t care. I secured a good foothold and rested on my side as J and Gaylen made their way to the summit. Fart had decided to avoid the danger and stay with me. I mean, I have exactly zero experience with wall climbing. Imagine a 150 foot ascention up a cold, verticle stone wall. Now, imagine this wall begins at 16,000 feet! Sorry danger fans, it was a no-go for me.
When Jason yelled down to me from the summit asking for a picture, I woke up. Oh, shit! I had fallen asleep! The number one No-No of mountain climbing! I snapped a summit shot, and we all made our way down the mountain to base camp. My headache was pounding. I had a headache THIS BIG, and it was screaming for Excedrin! Oh, what a feeling! I hadn’t made it to the top, but I did make it to 16,550 feet. Not too bad for my second mountain!
Nov. 12th –
Soooooo tired! We’re at the Hotel Quackbust, or whatever it’s called, in the thriving metropolis of Machachi (yes, just like Joaney and Chachi). We are staying here because this city lies between the Illiniza Mountains and Cotapaxi, our next goal. This is the city where most of the country’s bottled water comes from. I’ll tell you why we don’t buy any of their brands now. Because this city looks like a festering pile of poodle shit. And it smells even worse!
Last night, I was sitting in the hut talking to Jason while I was using Fart’s water-filter to pump melted snow into our water bottles. The water-filter device looked like a little hand-held Swedish Penis Enlarger Pump. I had it sideways, between my knees, using my legs to pump. I felt like Suzanne Sommers. ‘Thank you Thighmaster!’ The water hose dislodged itself from the device and shot icy-cold water all over my lap. I shouted, "Damnit man, I just got Stone-Cold-Busted!" J had just taken a swig of water and busted out laughing. He sprayed my entire face like a ‘70’s porn star. "Damnit, you asshole! Now I’m Stone-Cold-Steve-Austin-Busted!" I was so cold, all covered in melted snow, my whole body was shivering!
Early this morning, 4:40am to be exact, we started out for the summit of Illiniza Sur. It was cold and dark. I didn’t get much sleep last night. Not because of my nagging headache. Not because of my extreme exhaustion. No, it was because I had to sleep right next to Fart. Some other climbers came into the hut yesterday, and I had to switch bunks. Jason and Gaylen secured their place on their favorite sleeping spots and I was left with only one option, the bunk attached to Fart’s bunk. Now, I’ve heard some flatulence in my day, but this guy takes the cake (or should I say, cuts the cake). Not 10 minutes would go by without the sweet sound of, yet another, explosion from Fart’s sphincter. This guy really packed some power! The only time I’ve ever heard a fart reach higher decibels was when I was witness to, what I like to call, "Mom’s Thanksgiving Fart ’98."
Unlike Norte, Sur is almost completely snow covered. Our dirt trail turned to snow after about half an hour. Illiniza Sur is known to be Ecuador’s most technically difficult climb. Nowhere, during our ascension of this mountain, did we find a safe place to rest. We always had to be conscious of rock and ice fall. The breaks we took were short lived. I was afraid to even take the time to snap a picture, as snowballs and bowling ball-sized stones would whip past us every few minutes.
The last 800 feet were the steepest and most dangerous. The snow was hardened to an icy form. If any of us fell, there would be no way to stop. We would tumble down the mountain at an incredible speed and slide off the cliff below. I was scared shitless! It’s a good thing I took one earlier! Up ahead of me, Gaylen and Fart were stomping their crampons into the ice to secure better footholds. Small, jagged pieces of ice flew down the mountain into my face. I thought my forehead and cheeks were bleeding. Aside from the extreme cold and the pelting by sharp pieces of ice, I really had to take a leak! I was dyin’. I showed the mountain who’s boss when I whipped out my 2 ½ incher and made yellow snow.
The guide that we wanted to follow had left us behind long ago. Just as we were reaching this steep segment to the summit, we saw him and his client making their way down past us. Gaylen reached the summit first, followed by Fart, Myself, and then J. The summit was a peak of snow. There wasn’t a lot of room for walking around. It wasn’t like Rainier’s summit, where you could spend all day exploring the top. The opposite side from where we ascended was a cliff so steep I couldn’t see the bottom. It was scary standing on the top of the mountain. Still, I was so proud of my accomplishment, it was hard to focus my attention on the danger. I took out a Snicker’s Bar and sat down for a victory meal. I almost broke my teeth on the solid, icy candy bar. I tossed it off the cliff and broke out the video camera. From the summit, we could see an awesome spectacle. In the distance, Vulcan Tungurahua was erupting. We could see the volcano’s cone rising above the cloud level, spewing out ash. We could also see our next two objectives, Cotapaxi and Chimborazo. The view was amazing! A sea of moving clouds with huge mountains piercing through, like shark fins rising out of the ocean. It was then that I realized.…..
Coming down the mountain was truly an adventure. Fart wasn’t doing so hot. He never once stood up on the summit. He just crawled to the top and lay there, motionless, until we began our descent. I think he needed a cigarette. I, also, was too tired to move too quick. The sun was high in the sky and Jason feared that the snow and ice were getting dangerous. We had to descend the mountain fast, and watch out for falling shit! Towards the bottom, we had to cross a very dangerous section of the mountain where the most icefall occurs. We shifted into second gear and ran across the snow. I heard something, and turned to look behind myself. Within the distance between myself and Fart, (about 40 feet), two snow boulders rushed over our rope and down the mountain. "Oooh, shit! Let’s run!" We busted down the mountain and came to the bottom. I was absolutely exhausted! Fart fell to his hands and knees, rolled to his back, and barfed over the right side of his face. We waited there for quite a while before completing the trek to the base camp.
Coming down from the base camp, we had to formulate a plan for the ensuing confrontation with the bulls. After hours of decisive planning, we came up with the following; "If you see a bull, run your ass off!"
Just before we reached the bull fields, we ventured into a hazy mist of cloud. This was an eerie site, endless fields of grass hidden, in the distance, by thick fog. The scene reminded me of "American Werewolf in London," when the two hikers got attacked by the monster in the beginning of the movie, remember? Ya, scary shit! Walking through the cloud-covered field was intimidating. Our visibility was about 30 feet. At any second we could have walked right over a cliff or, even worse, stepped in a pile of bullshit, Mr. Han Man.
And then it happened! There they were! Pretty maids all in a row, about 50 horned bad boys, right in front of us! We were so incredibly fucked! I thought about writing a quick Will and Testament for my family. Then I remembered I didn’t have anything worth leaving to them, just a couple of farts and some toilet paper. All I could think of to do about the bulls was clap my hands and make some noise. It really was a sight to see all those bitch-ass bulls start runnin’ like scared little schoolgirls. I clapped my hands and watched all 50 bulls turn away and run like a Rap group at a Klan convention. What a feeling of redemption!
Coming down the mountain took all damn day! There were no taxis or buses once we got to level ground, so we had to walk it into town. Once on the outskirts of the shitty little town that rests below the mountains, who’s name I can’t remember, we saw a bus leaving for Machachi, which is the city that lays between the Illiniza mountains and Cotapaxi. We ran for the bus and stopped it. Jason climbed on top of the old piece-of-crap bus and I handed him my backpack and all the rest of our shit. On the roof of the bus, Jason stayed to situate our belongings while I found us a seat inside. Then, the bus took off. I felt comfortable, confident in the fact that I had just summitted the country’s most difficult mountain. I slouched and started to drift off, when all of the sudden I remembered, ‘Isn’t Jason still on the roof of the bus?’ I looked around for him, but saw only Gaylen and a bunch of short, dark skinned people. I estimated the bus must have been moving about 40 mph. Uh, oh! I unlatched the window and poked my head out of the bus to look for my friend. There, sitting Indian Style on the roof, was Jason with a big smile on his face, having a great time. Unfortunately for Jason, the power lines coming up weren’t quite high enough. J was yelling something down to me when he suddenly noticed his rapidly approaching decapitation. He hit the deck and avoided the beheading. Too bad for me! How cool would it have been to not only discover that your buddy is sitting on the roof of a rapidly moving bus, but also watch him lose his head to a power line?