Atacama 2006

Page Type
Trip Report
Copiapó/Norte Chico / Región III/(Chi.)/Catamarca/(Arg.), Argentina/Chile, South America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jan 18, 2006
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Atacama 2006
Created On: Mar 3, 2006
Last Edited On: Mar 4, 2006

Climb of Cerro Tres Cruces Sur

After I had visited the area around the Laguna Verde twice then, I had now realised the dream I had had already since years: to climb the highest mountains around Ojos del Salado: Cerro El Muerto, Cerro de Incahuasi, Cerro Tres Cruces Central and finally Cerro Tres Cruces Sur. It was the eighth 6000m summit I reached within two and half weeks.

18.01.06 Cerro Tres Cruces Sur

It was exactly 5 o'clock, the bell rattled. First I ignored it. However, I was aware of that I was not allowed to doze today so long. But a quarter of an hour would have to be still possible.

I looked on the thermometer and trusted my eyes not: 14 degrees below zero directly beside the sleeping bag. Smallest ice crystals dropped back to my face. The breath froze within seconds. The headlamp spread a singular glint at the inner-tent. Innumerable ice crystals had formed and reflected the cold light of the light emitting diodes - electric bulbs are already out for a long time.

The tea from the thermal can was only lukewarm - and that, although I had rolled the can the whole night in the sleeping bag with me. So I had to entrench deeply into the sleeping bag in order to warm me up, the tea thereby no large assistance had been.
The only water, which now remained to me, was 1.5 litres in a thermal-bottle. Approx. 3 litres in a can, which had stood beside the sleeping bag at the edge of the inner-tent, were frozen to a firm lump. No drop water gave the container.
It lasted long, until I could have breakfast. The gas in the nearly full cartouche seemed to be frozen and the stove ran only on low flame. I crept deeply into the sleeping bag and warmed my ice-cold fingers up. It lasted infinitely long time until the water was finally warm.

Then I peeled off slowly from the warm down, put on the thick Fleece clothes and went about half eight outside. I could recognize the Brazilians on the ridge, which extends from the base of Cerro Tres Cruces Central to the south to the neighbouring summit of Cerro Tres Cruces Sur. The sun had already risen above there. I hurried, in order to enjoy also the benefit of the warming sunbeams.

The Brazilians had selected the variant, which I had recommended to them yesterday for the ascent. I took naturally the same route and followed them. First the ridge up (S27 05.005 W68 47.357) and that to the south to the dark rocks (S27 05.200 W68 47.272, 6.020m). I had caught up my 3 friends here after one hour. We continued together, up through the black rocks up to the position S27 05.282 W68 47.236 (6.058m). We left the ridge and moved somewhat to the right into the valley up to the lower edge of the oblong snowfield (S27 05.408 W68 47.229, 6.131m).

Even if the sun had been come up here already for some time, it became only slowly warmer. Therefore the firn was frozen still hard, there also the morning sun nothing had changed. We tried it first without crampons. When it became steeper, we recognized fast that it was nevertheless too dangerous without crampons on the hard frozen snow. With the crampons it went substantially better, and also faster - at least I won fast height.
I got on also in the more steeply becoming area still outstanding and enjoyed it to ascend without slipping, how it was the case in the scree of most mountains so far. The steeper part of the snowfield seemed to cause appreciably problems for the Brazilians against it, why they changed over to my opinion to the more uncomfortable scree - I couldn’t understand it.
At the end of the ice field (S27 05.618 W68 47.156, 6.300 m) I put me down and waited for my companions.
I was too impatient and continued the ascent, before Markus and Co. had reached my position. The path was steeply, only scree and sand. I left the crampons on, since only few meters up the next snowfield was (S27 05.670 W68 47.130, 6.345m). In the steep scree area the crampons worked as ideal ascent assistance.

Less steeply and finally becoming flatter and flatter I ascended up to a height of 6,385 meters over hard frozen firn. Now alternating over some rocks and snowfields in western direction. At the last snowfield (S27 05,709 W68 47,092, 6,441 m) I waited again for Marcos and the others. It was already 20 minutes past eleven, I was slightly concerned because of the advanced time. I could simply also have continued, regardless of my companions. But that is not my kind.

During this further compulsory break I used the opportunity, to look somewhat around me. In front of me in southern direction an enormous heap of rubble lay, consisting of enormous boulders, all weighing tons.
Above of it the giant summit-calotte followed. Approximately at half height a belt of rocks, which made an insurmountable impression from here, surrounded the summit. The dark rocks were smooth-polished from the violent west hoists and without aids apparently not to overcome. But there had to be a passage, so much I knew. But where was it?
The only possibility, where I could imagine a coming through, was rather exactly in the centre of the rock face. Here the wall seemed to be interrupted. But what should I do, if thereby it did not concern the so-called gate? Since I assumed the alleged passage behind a part of the rocks, it was not observable from here. In order to attain certainty as fast as possible, I didn’t want to go up directly to the rock face, but evade somewhat to the right. So we should be earlier able, to see the gap in the rock. In the case that we were wrong we could make thoughts in time of an alternative. Thus we could have corrected in time the direction and would not have lost so much time.

The Brazilians came anytime. I left still something time to them to have a breather and explained to them, how I wanted to proceed further. Marcos consented without long speeches. He was my actual contact partner, because he spoke best English. With my few smattering of Spanish it was mostly too laborious and time-consuming to communicate with them. In addition the oxygen deficiency was not beneficial in this height for large mental efforts.

We deposited here our crampons and continued the ascent - it was already quarter to twelve. In front of us was an enormous labyrinth with rock towers, fissure systems and occasionally also smaller snowfields. The upward gradient was only small, but there was no reasonable way over the shaky rocks and ashlars, which blocked our way again and again and had to be by-passed. Thus we worked us laboriously through the maze and approached slowly but reliably the rock face (S27 05,746 W68 47,041, 6,471 m / S27 05,787 W68 46,974, 6,520 m). I had stowed the trekking-sticks away right after the break in the backpack. On the enormous, partly shaky rocks, which gave despite again their immense weight, the sticks were rather obstructive than useful. In addition one had to over-climb now and then some rocks weighing tons in more easily rock-climbing or to overcome fissure systems consisting of enormous ashlars and chunks of rocks.

Sometimes from it a genuinely ticklish situation occurred, if a chunk of rock, which made the impression to be stable, suddenly inclined under the feet unexpectedly aside.

Orientation is not so difficult however, since one has always the enormous structure of summit with the innumerable towers before oneself.

The more we approached the rock face, the clearer the passage was recognizable. It really concerned the gate, on which we headed for.
I was glad about it, because the search for an alternative inclusive detour would have cost valuable time.
Finally we had reached the base of the enormous summit-calotte (S27 05,830 W68 46,912, 6,568 m).
From here I could view into the passage of the rock face. The reason for it, why one could recognize it not already earlier was that it was covered by a somewhat preceding part of the rocks. Thus the gate was exactly behind it. On the right of it the rocks the rock face continued in same height. From a distance it then looks in such a way, as if it concerns a complete and not interrupted front without passage.

Again I was alone and had some minutes for my companions to wait. When they finally arrived, they seemed to be rather exhausted and needed a break. I pushed to depart, it was already 13:20 and the time became slowly scarce. Marcos meant, they would not accompany me; it is too late for them and they only would delay me. Thus I continued the ascent alone without further ado.
I climbed to the gate, in order to pass the barrier of this impenetrably wall of rocks (S27 05,831 W68 46,881, 6605 m). Over the last enormous chunks I ascended slowly. It became fast steeper and the rocks gave way to first smaller fragments, which changed then into smaller stones, until I had to torment through slippery scree and sand (S27 05,831 W68 46,881, 6,605 m). Then it became excitingly - and still more steeply - I stood exactly underneath the passage. With more easily rock-climbing I went now through the rock face (S27 05,822 W68 46,859, 6,620 m). Loose stones tumbled down into the depths. Fortunately I was alone and the Brazilians outside of the range not in danger.

The towers on the enormous structure of summit I had seen already from the summit of Cerro Tres Cruces Central. But what I got to see now was unbelievable. Enormous towers, conglomerates of bizarre rocks, closely on closely packed, nearly impenetrably. Somewhat frightening proceeded from them. On me these towers made the impression, as if concern it an army of a former armed force, which had been transformed all together from a Medusa to petrified colossuses. Spiteful they seemed to look down to me. Any time also me the view of the Medusa would meet and would make me to a fellow-sufferer.

What am I thinking about? Then I looked on the watch, damned, already so late. Disquietude arose, where was only the summit. The enormous colossuses pressed on my mood, stampeded me somewhat. I tried to sort all my thoughts and senses. Now it’s time to keep calm. I had been able to wait so long for the summit, but on the last meters the patience seemed to be ended.

So far it can’t be anymore, I tried to talk myself in order to calm me down. I thought of the picture, which I had seen from the summit of the Cerro Tres Cruces Central. It really cannot be so far anymore. In addition the weather was still excellent despite the advanced hour. Nearly no wind, no clouds, the temperature around 10 degrees - plus notabene, thus there was no reason to the concern!
I ascended slowly, set again and again a point with the GPS device - one never knows. Slowly I became one with the towers, the confidence rose.
It was pathless, but fortunately only moderately steep. Rocks and towers blocked the way; I had to by-pass, then again somewhat to descend. It was nerve killing. I did not know where the north or the south was, only the next higher colossus indicated me the direction. And again and again a still higher tower looked out between the in front of me towering giants.
I kept an eye out for an inconspicuous aluminium post on one of these rock monsters, thereof I had read. This bar should represent the summit cross. But anywhere I could not recognize a aluminium post, but only still higher rock became soldiers of the imaginary army.

I tried to hurry, the time pressed already. But the high speed had its price, I ran already long on reserve, should absolutely refuel, which I actually would have wanted to make on the summit.
Then I couldn’t go on anymore. Fast the backpack down, a few peanuts into the mouth. I did not bring it fast enough chewed; I was too hectic. Therefore I tried it with chocolate, still hard frozen from cold weather this morning. The mouth stuck, I rinsed everything with lukewarm camomile tea down - what a terrible combination.
I considered should I leave the backpack here or not. But in the tangle of rocks and towers I would probably spend more time with searches, than that it would save time to me.

Further, only further, but the height demanded immediately its tribute. The breath sped again, I had to stop, and it simply couldn’t be done. Breathe deeply; catch my wind - then I continued.

The GPS device showed already 6720m - the normal altimeter I didn’t pay attention not any longer for days - condemned, here somewhere had this silly post to be. And finally, there above, I didn’t believe it! A short stump looked between rocks out. Only few meters, through the rocks, a very short ridge up, then it was done!

The clock showed 14:34. I had given myself actually only time to 14:00. But now everything else was minor matter. I had achieved my goal.

It was simply gigantically here on top. The weather still showed up from the best side. It was relatively warmly, pleasantly warm, in addition nearly no wind. It was incredible.

Directly beside the alleged summit cross on the stones surely protected in an aluminium suitcase of the Banco de Chile the summit book lay. Before I attended to the book, I enjoyed the wonderful view, all the mountains of the Atacama, most meanwhile I had climbed - and now also still the Cerro Tres Cruces Sur, a wonderful feeling. In addition the eighth 6000m summit in series, and all solo. Okay, the last not so completely, but with the entire guidance-work only I was entrusted. As Marcos had so appropriate said there: he would have switched his autopilot on and have only followed.

Then I had a fast view in the summit book. Well, as much do not come up here. All run only to Ojos del Salado - I was all right with it, so the mountain is only for me alone.

In the new summit book only one entry of La Rama de Montanismo de Ingeneria de la Universidad de Chile from 13 October 2005 was.

Around 14:40 I descended again. I had fast crossed the labyrinth of the colossuses. For security I had crosschecked the entrance of the passage with the GPS device. On all fours I crawled through the rocks with all the loose stones, then over the shaky rocks to the place, where we had deposited our crampons (15:55). Only mine lay still there, the Brazilians had long descended.
Meanwhile clouds from the west had gathered and brought again and again snow showers. Now it was all the same to me, I had reached the summits at wonderful conditions, and so bad weather now could not approach at all, in order to spoil my mood.
When I descended the last snowfield, I could already see Marcos. Fast I had caught him and his friends up. We reached the tents together around 16:45.

Marcos said to me that they didn’t intend to climb Cerro Tres Cruces Sur. Nevertheless they wanted to remain today in the high camp and descend only tomorrow. I against it was not in the mood to spend a single night at icy temperatures. It had been my intention actually from the beginning to descend the same day - of course only, if it would become not too late. But wasn’t it already too late?

I risked it, fast I plugged first the sleeping bag into the compression bag, and then I rolled up the mattress and packed up the further articles of equipment. Everything in the backpack, the tent still outside fastened and after 45 minutes I was ready to set off.
I said good-bye to the Brazilians and descended. It went nevertheless faster than I had thought. After somewhat more than one hour (18:45) I reached the car at the Base Camp. Hey man, was I glad. Above at the high camp the clouds with snow showers raced, thereon I couldn’t be buggered.

I stowed everything in the car, then I looked for something edible and drove further down, where I had set up my tent somewhere.

© Uwe Kraus, 2006

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