Day 5: After consulting with the family we decided to take a break and spend the day acclimatizing. We were supposed to go for a porteo, transportation of some material to the last refuge, Tejos, but our Russian friend, Johnny, kindly took it in his tuned 4×4. So we just climbed for some hours, along our Argentinean friends heading for Tejos.
The landscape once again is amazing. Andes all over. We came back and met a group of 3 Chileans. Manuel, Luis and Patricio. I did not know at that moment that we will became best friends and how close our destinies will blend together.
The rest of the day was spent socializing, with me and Alexandra practicing our Spanish we were so proud about. At one moment a couple of French climbers showed up. Remy and Christelle have just climbed Aconcagua and trying to take advantage of the acquired acclimatization had come to Ojos for a second ascent. Fantastic people.
I spent hours talking in Spanish to my friend Patricio. Conversations about materializations, good and positive thinking and expeditions. Dana kept calling me inside the tent but I just could not resist. I would pay the price later.
The wind was blowing hard. Remy started coughing and refused to stop any more. The Russians came back victorious and left. My Spanish was doing very good. My daughter and Remy not so well. Alexandra felt emptied out after the departure of a lot of friends. The place looked deserted we felt like left behind.
Day 6: The Atacama refuge is very small and was full so that we had to use the tent. For the next day we decided to go to the refuge Tejos 5800. In the morning the water was frozen like usually but we had some left in our tent. Also following advice taken from friends we took care to keep the batteries and the socks of our boots inside the bags. This way every went fine. But our friend Remy had to leave us too. Aparently he was hit by mountain sickness. Me too I was not in a good shape. After spending hours outside talking I had contracted a lung infection and I was feeling very confused and breathing with difficulty. So we packed up and set off. We knew that Tejos was to be empty because the Austrian group was due back that day and we left our tent there.
Tejos is a much larger refuge and can accommodate up to10 people, floors considered. For my great pleasure, our new friends, the Chileans decided to come along. Aparently they liked my Spanish. We made it to Tejos after hours of walking.
Once at the refuge we started a war counsel and my opinion prevailed. In fact I told them that I would rather set off by 6 am than 4 pm, doing the same as we did on Kilimanjaro and Pico de Orizaba. I would rather see where I go and take advantage of the sun and return later than set off in the cold and dark night. Also I told them about what I have read in the blog of some climber. I quote “Forget about your stupid climbing habits. Most of the expeditions do not make it to the top because of the cold. Set off at dawn and climb in daylight.”
We did it in Mexico and it worked out just fine.
We were sharing the refuge with a Chilean female guide and her American guide. The guy did not look very well. I had seen him a day before coming back from the acclimatization ascent and he was very much zombie like. I was surprised to see that his guide decided to take him up here, at almost 6000m when clearly he was not fit for doing it. But the lady guide was extremely arrogant and seemed set to show us all how much she knew about mountain climbing.
It was not my business but I have learned during so many expeditions to steer clear of the arrogant and unprepared. Most of the time we had to fight more with this kind of people than we did with the mountain. I just did not want to be forced in saving the American’s life out of pure humanity because of the lack of professionalism of a guide.
The night was tough on me. I was swimming in the middle of the so called apnea of the sleep. As soon as I was falling asleep I would run out of air and wake up gasping for it. My wife, Dana, was bouncing around me trying to ease my pain but to no avail. I had already swallowed horse rations of medication and antibyotics. Alexandra was praying in her corner. The odds of reaching the summit were going down the drain big time.
Day 7: 5 am. The alarm sets off. Everybody up and geting ready for the last assault. Dana was going nuts around me seeing that I really wanted to go. But I could see that I had good balance, no coughing and I could feel, deep down inside me that we could make it. So much effort, so much training, so much money spent and so many people expecting to see us achieving this goal, back in Romania. I had to give it a chance.
We got out in the dark. The landscape looked moonlike. I had the feeling of watching a movie that I was part of. The baby said: “Let’s go, Dad.” “Let’s go, baby.”
We were progressing very slowly but as a team. 3 Chileans and 2 Romanians. I was grateful to my new friends for what they did for us. Instead of spending one extra day acclimatizing they had decided to join us in order to support our endeavor.
It was the hardest climb of my life. The slope is steep and the ash covers everything, eating half of every step. The effort is overwhelming. In addition to this my lung infection was not helping.I just could not breath.Keep going Dan. Just keep going.
Alex was doing well. The others too. I was not. At the end of 3 hours I felt I could not take it anymore. I was not going to die here, on this mountain, leaving my daughter unsupported to deal with the consequences. I turned around to Alexandra and told her “Baby, I do not think I can do it today. I am out.”
Alexandra just stared at me and all of a sudden stepped forth. The years of training, her experience in high mountains and mountaineering and her determination took hold of her. “Daddy, she said, please come along. I will not come back here. Do not leave me alone.”
And it worked. Her determination helped me find, hidden somewhere deep down inside me, the strength to carry on. And on, and on.
And on to the crater. Finally the crater. We all stopped for a break. The moods were up and raising. We all knew now that we can make it. The summit was there, at the reach of a hand. We all have forgotten that we still had to literally climb a portion of the trail in order to reach the summit.
But for the moment we were happy to just stay there and enjoy a meal. We also had another reason to be happy. We had met on our way up the lady guide with her harnessed American client retreating from the mountain. According to my expectactions, the client could just not take it and had passed out. The lack of brain and professionalism of his guide, Angela, took him nearly to his death. Fortunetlly for us she had some oxygen with her and he managed, half dead, to crawl down the mountain. Had he not been able to, we would have had to break our march and take him down to the refuge. And this would have been the end of our expedition on Ojos del Salado, Chile. But God was on our side. He is always on our side.
We left our backpack on the ridge of the crater and set off for the last part. A little bit to merrily.
At the end of 5 m I fell down, effectively cut off. I looked back at my companions. They were down too.
Lesson: When at 7000m high, please walk slowly and take very gently too.
We were very tired and the climb ahead of us did not look very appealing. A last effort.
Contrary to what I have read on the net about the matter, the climb is quite difficult and exposed. The wind blows hard and the boots for high altitude do not help much.
As I suggestion for our readers, please, be very carefull about words like easy, light, not technical and so on when you read blogs about mountains. A lot of people just want to show off.
Elbrus was my one and only mistake on this field. Easy, they said. Just a walk up, they said. Maybe that is the reason Elbrus has a rate of mortality as high as Everest. I was fuming on my way down from Elbrus and swearing to myself never to trust these braggers again.
But these will be another article. For the moment here we are. On the top of Ojos del Salado
On the top of the highest volcano of the world. Our number 6 from the Circuit of the 7 Volcanoes. Alexandra takes up the box inscriptioned Banco de Chile. I cry. Just a little. We made it. 70 m short of 7000 m high.
Alexandra and Dan Marcu from Romania, Patricio, Luis and Manuel from Chile.
Thank you God. And thank you all, our supporters and sponsors. Thank you Radu Almasan, Mihai Meu, Adrian Bucur and Cojorean family. Romanian community in Copiapo, Chile. For your support and consideration.
Thank you my country. And my city and county.
Alexandra Marcu, on top of Ojos del Salado. Together with her dad. Me. Another dream come true. Another materialization.
But it’s about time we set off. We started freezing up there. Climbing downhill is another story. First from the rocks and then on scree mixed with ash. A lethal mix.
Every 20 m we were down on our butts. Exhausted. But still merry. We decided to spend another night in the refuge and celebrate the victory. Or maybe better said, the permission the mountain gave us to reach his top.
Dana came out of the refuge to welcome us. Our dear mother and wife, that had bravely climbed up to 6000 m to support her daughter on her assault to Ojos. We got into the refuge and right away hit the beds. The whole gang was beaten up and out of the planet.