On the top of the highest volcano of the world (I)

So, we are finally leaving for Chile: Ojos del Salado. The eyes of the Salted One. The Romanian expedition is composed by Alexandra, Dana and Dan Marcu. The Marcu family.

Setting off for the highest volcano of the world. Almost 7000 m. Great!!

Bucharest, Paris, Buenos Aires,Santiago de Chile

Prima zi 006

From Santiago we took a night bus for Copiapo. They have great buses and great highways so that we traveled very well and could also sleep during the night.

Prima zi 018

In Copiapo we were welcome by our friend, Radu Almasan, country fellow from Romania and also from our city, Deva. Radu contacted us by e-mail and kindly offered to support our team in our endeavor for Ojos. He was a great help and the man behind during our stay in the mountains, giving me the unusual feeling that somehow we were protected, regardless of what might hit us in the wilderness. Thank you for all, Radu!

Copiapo 248

Well, to start off my story I have to tell you that due to a very low budget we had to improvise a lot. But we are used and good at it. Usually, climbers willing to climb Ojos do it either by contracting a specialized agency either by renting a 4×4 truck for the ride in the desert. The mighty desert of Atacama.

Both ways, the party goes first to Laguna Verde where they set up camp and go for aclimatation trip on the surrounding volcanoes. Laguna is situated at 4200 m high in the desert.

You can find plenty of information here http://www.wikiexplora.com/index.php/Volc%C3%A1n_Ojos_del_Salado about how to get there and the way through the desert.

After acclimatizing for a while the party goes to the refuge Claudio Lucero 4500m in order to do the same thing and then off for the refuge Atacama 5300m.

One can get by car directly to refuge Atacama but the acclimatization process must be in place by this time.

Our approach was different. Our friend Radu could help us with transportation to Atacama refuge but could not stay with us for 10-15 days on the mountain or let us use the car for that period. So we decided to go directly to Atacama refuge and leave there food, water and gas for the rest of the ascent. Then we would go back 10 km and make another deposit and then another at Claudio Lucero. The distance between Claudio Lucero and Atacama refuge is about 20km.

We decided to start then our adventure from Laguna Verde going by foot to Claudio Lucero, acclimatizing there and then again on foot to Atacama while spending a night in the desert in the place we left our deposit.

This way we could save a lot of money and also gain altitude slowly while acclimatizing better in the same time. Starting the ascent from an altitude of 4200 was a little risky and we were concerned about Dana who does not have our experience on high mountains but we were going to take it slowly and had a lot of faith. Also, we were restricted by the time Radu could put in.

This was the plan.

Once in Copiapo we checked in the hotel and went to the store to buy supplies for the ascent.

Man, we were actually in Chile. Mind blowing. We met also another one of our protectors. Mister Mihai Lucian. Copiapo helds a big Romanian community of contractors. Mine engineers and geologists invited to work there for their know how and professionalism. Mihai had kindly offered us his apartment to stay in after our return from the mountain. We thank him too.

Copiapo 008

Next day we loaded the truck and set off for Ojos. We were living in a dream.

The crossing of the desert was very tricky and more than once we were about to get stuck but Radu’s experience on driving off-road saved us.

We made it to the refuge of Atacama with our heads spinning and moving in slow motion. The landscape is moonlike and mesmerazing. While we were unloading the supplies for the first deposit we realized that we lost a barrel of 20l of water. For a moment I saw only blackness in front of my eyes as I realized what this fact implied to us.

Clearly,20 l of water less meant one day less on the mountain. So we will have to cut off a day and start our ascent from Claudio Lucero at 4500m instead of Laguna Verde at 4200. The odds were not on our side. My concern for Dana skyrocketed. How will she deal with this altitude?

Was our expedition going to end before even beginning? All these question were spinning in my head as I was contemplating our broken barrel.

Then I calmed down. My angel was around and everything was OK. We will adapt and life goes on.

We stuck to the plan and made another deposit 10 km down the valley and then stopped at Claudio Lucero refuge. Laguna Verde was out of the plan.

We spent the next day walking around the refuge. Slowly. Very slowly. Dana had a bad night but thing were improving. We were constantly checking our blood, drinking a lot of water and trying to get adapted. The refuge was full and we met people the later will turn into friends.

Lucero 022

Joachim from Germany, Cristian the Chilean guide and the Argentinean group   from Mendoza became our friends. The atmosphere in the refuge was fantastic. People from all over the world socializing. In Spanish. We had learned to speak Spanish especially for this expedition and now our effort were paying off. The group from Argentina effectively adopted us and the help that we got from them was tremendous. Senior Ricardo Jurado, the Cordon Bleu, and Senior Oscar Daher, the mountain guide were all over us turning our adventure into a fun and pleasant trip. Gracias Senores.

Two days later we set off for the desert. 10 km in the desert. We took care to cover our faces as the wind was constantly blowing and throwing ash in our eyes. We were looking like a bunch of terrorists.

Tabara intermediara 042

We made it to the first deposit and set up camp. I walked a little bit far from the tent after feeding the family and I turned around to have a look at them. The view was fantastic. The desert, the Atacama desert all around us, guarded by the moonlike volcanoes, and my daughter and wife there, all wrapped up and moving slowly around the tent. I had a feeling of day dreaming. My family in the middly of nowhere, so far from our beloved Romania and the civilization, surrounde by the merciless  Atacama desert. I must be crazy.

We spent a bad night in the tent, listening to the wind blowing and to the breathing of my girls. I was extremely concerned about the mountain sickness. What if? First thing to do in this case would be to lose altitude but here we would have had to walk tens of km in order to do this.

Have faith. Or do not leave the house anymore.

Next morning we set off again. Walking in the desert was demanding. One has to walk on ash. Even on flat terrain the progress was slow and our muscles were screaming. Every 20minutes I would set my backpack down and turn back to help Dana with hers. We were a team. One for all and you know the rest.

Tabara intermediara 050

Hours went by. We kept on walking. Every now and then 4×4 trucks passed us on their way to Atacama refuge. We were crawling on. At one moment a bad feeling started to grow in me . It was about time we got to the refuge but this was nowhere in sight. And I did not know which way to go either as the tracks faded away. More and more often I was scrutinizing the orizont, trying to spot the refuge. Nothing.

And then all of a sudden I saw a silhouette advancing toward us. I can not describe the relief I felt. It was Ricardo, coming to help us. The refuge was just 15 minutes away. I hope one day I will be able to return the favor.

Soon we made it to the refuge and pegged the tent while the whole Argentinean group was helping us. We were kind of exhausted. It’s so good to have friends.

Atacama 003

This entry was posted in expeditions, Ojos del Salado, Seven Volcanoes. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On the top of the highest volcano of the world (I)

  1. Ioana Albu says:

    Amazing story. At first I thought Alexandra was writing but then towards the end I realized was Dan.
    I can’t wait for the next part of the adventure.

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