Day 10 – Plaza de Mulas to Plaza Canada (5050 m, Camp 1). The beginning of our summit push. We woke up to some low cloud coverage and a different feel in the air. The weather was a bit stormy, the wind was blowing and the snow was coming down. Unfortunately, one of our team members decided to end his journey here as a family member passed away and he felt the needed to return home. We packed up all our gear from the tents and started our way up the mountain.
Camp 1 was only 2.5 hours this time, as our acclimatization had shaved off half an hour from the previous trip. By the time we approached camp the tents were pitched and covered in snow. We quickly set up our sleeping arrangements and climbed inside. The guides served snacks, water, tea and dinner for us at our tent door so all we had to do was relax. The storm lasted a short while longer with more snow and wind and a few claps of lightning. Eventually the skies cleared and a calming soft blanket of snow covered the mountain side.
Day 11 – Plaza Canada to Nido de Condores (5560 m, Camp 2). Today we climbed higher once again. With full stomachs we moved up to the second camp with somewhat overcast skies. We made a decision to hire a porter for the two of us to lighten the load and save some energy for the summit day. As the porter would carry 20kgs, our packs were more than manageable as we pushed on. The higher we climbed the more layers we put on. The weather was not cold but also not that warm either. Once we arrived at camp 2, again we all settled into our tents and had dinner served to us. The guides had to make a water run to a near by lake which was a 40-minute round trip.
As the afternoon turned to evening, we noticed a continuing trend of an upset stomach sweeping through camp. One of our guides was not feeling all that well and chose to head back to base camp and arrange for another guide to take his place. We gathered together before nightfall to discuss the future days and as the weather was holding constant, we chose to take another rest day here at camp 2 with hopes that stomachs would settle. As evening approached we all found ourselves outside the tents gazing at the at the breathtaking sunsets of westerly mountain.
Day 12 – Rest day at Nido de Condores (5560 m, Camp 2). The morning sun peered through the clouds while we ate breakfast. By mid morning half of us decided to head out for a walk so we wandered down to the lake across camp to fill our main jugs. With nearly 30L of water between the crew we casually returned to the tents. Just after arriving the clouds rolled in and the snow started to blow. The guides asked us to go back to our tents and rest until the conditions improved. With the snow came more thunder and lightening and the safest place for us was in the tents. We played cards and relaxed while being served hot drinks and lunch to our doors.
As the storm blew on the weather gradually changed back for the better. Come mid afternoon we milled around the camp and socialized with the other team mates. As medication was drastically improving our stomachs we were able to gain some energy and rehydrate as much as possible. We then learned that a second guide and another climbing member were feeling unfit to continue and made the tough choice to head back to base camp. With a peaceful evening many chose to dine outside on whatever rock they could find to sit on. As the sun began to lower on another day in the mountains we were presented with another amazing sunset of astonishing colours. With the darkness came the cold so we promptly disappeared back into the comfort of our sleeping bags for hopefully a good nights sleep.
Day 13 – Nido de Condores to Colera (6000 m, Camp 3). This morning drew up some new problems. We were now down another guide as he was not feeling well as well as one member of our climbing team. Two others had a terrible night sleep dealing with headaches and other common high altitude issues. For the previous 12 days we had been climbing in parallel with a second Grajales crew that were having the same issues as us. It was at this point we chose to amalgamate the two teams as both sides had members return to camp. With our gear all packed up and tents collapsed we then moved to the highest camp of the trip. This trek was again, up, up, up. It took us about 3 hours in total with a rest break every 45 minutes. After we passed the abandoned Camp Berlin we were onto the final push with a fixed metal rope to help guide us the final rock and ice steps to camp. As we arrived at the same time as the porters it took a few minutes before we could claim our space and set out our sleeping situations. We tried to help with the camp duties but they had a system and could get everything sorted out efficiently, so we all just sat back and watched.
The weather was cold and a stiff breeze blew through camp. Everything is exhausting at this altitude so all of us disappeared into our tents as the guides presented us dinner and both cold and hot water. After a briefing about tomorrow’s plan, the eager and excited climbing crew settled in for the night around 9 pm and tried our best to sleep. As 6000m is higher than most places on earth the majority of people have a real tough time sleeping. Shannon fell asleep in what seemed like minutes, and I believe I tossed and turned until just before midnight. By now we were sleeping with nearly everything possible in our bags. The cold can end an expedition real quick so we had boot liners, gloves, cameras, batteries, water and everything else we didn’t want to freeze tucked away with us. Excitement and anticipation grew but was soon overtaken by fatigue.