January 25, 2007 - A Long Trip Back to Mendoza
This is a Leila Silveira reporting from Mendoza. As we mentioned in our last dispatch the entire team returned from high camp after experiencing extremely high winds. Juancho and Oswaldo witnessed a climber from another team insisting to attempt the summit even though the wind was extreme and after climbing for a few moments was flown off 10 meters. That was enough for the entire team to turn around.
I was quite surprised when our 3 Bolivian guides told me that they had never in their life experienced this kind of wind. Not even in the Sajama, where BAI has a program, which is known for high winds, is not even similar to what they saw up there.
The team turned back to Plaza de Mulas where it was discussed whether another summit attempt should happen. After checking a lot the weather forecasts for the next few days it was decided to return to Mendoza, it didn’t look like the weather was going to improve and actually it was suppose to get worse.
Yesterday I saw for the first time a helicopter evacuation at camp 2, Nido de Condor. I am sure it has happened before but in my 5 years on Aconcagua that was the first time I actually saw it. Aconcagua has an amazing team of park rangers who in general manage to rescue climbers quite fast. They even have a ranger's hut at camp 2 where they can help climbers efficiently. The fact that they have decided to send a helicopter up high shows what we have been experiencing out here.
We finally all hiked out to the trailhead, at Horcones, where we had a very long day. Martin and Klaus who walk the fastest on our team, succeeded in doing another real fast hike out in 5.5 hours. They did experience an epic situation. There is a river crossing that requires hiking off the main trail for 3kms. After crossing the bridge they decided instead to keep on going further down and not hike back up hill to rejoin the main trail. They finally realized that staying on the trail would haven been better. Finally they met us at the trailhead where they sure had lots of stories. That river crossing is always interesting. Dafna hiking out with other members also ventured on the river.
We were all back together at Horcones where our car was waiting for us with cokes, beers and watermelons . Martin and Klaus who arrived very early had to wait for a few hours until the last members arrived.
We then went to our favorite restaurant in Uzpallata where we had a great dinner. Everyone had been dreaming about this meal for quite a while and it was worth every minute of it. Great barbecue, lots of it. From lemon chicken to ribs, we had it all. Nobody seems to remember anymore that we hadn’t showered for a week. A quick visit to the washroom was enough for us to remove some of the deep dirt and dust on our body.
I did notice over dinner that our driver was getting concerned of how late we were. Soon after I learned why. Due to the bad weather and heavy rain a great mudslide blocked the road to Mendoza exactly during the time that we were having dinner. The road was blocked. Optimistic as I am, I told him that we still wanted to try to go through. Uzpallata is not exactly a big town and it was not even worth trying to find a hotel. The police were trying really hard to convince everyone to turn around and we saw some amazing u-turns on some 8 wheelers.
Our decision was to wait. The police kept on telling us to turn around and at certain moment our driver actually did. Then I talked further with the police and explained that I had nowhere to take our team and our shower and hotel were waiting for us in Mendoza. We could always set up our tents on the road….it would for sure be one of the flatter spots this team has slept on during the trip. It wasn’t really necessary; the van was comfortable enough for everyone to sleep a bit during the whole ordeal.
After having hiked out, some of us for 8 hours, my suggestion to go for a walk and see what was going on wasn’t exactly well received. Opus did try but the police blocked him from going any further after 2 miles. We knew the slide was after a tunnel and quite far ahead.
Finally the bulldozer arrived around midnight, we had been sitting there for 3 hours waiting for any kind of action and any sign of improvement or attempt to do something. After an extra hour, one lane was finally cleared and they allowed us to pass. We got back to Mendoza at 2am and all I could say was thanks that we had such a great dinner before getting stuck. I couldn’t imagined everyone stuck in the car, hungry after a long day and still eating snacks from the mountain.
We arrived really tired in Mendoza and definitely appreciated a good night sleep on a real bed and a real long shower.
Today is a rest day for everyone. We had our guides over and had a great farewell lunch. The 3 of them are off to Bolivia tonight after a great trip.
Tonight the entire team is having dinner together in my favorite Mendoza restaurant. We will send you some updates tomorrow before the whole team leaves to their home country. After an entire month together, it will be hard not to see them every day. We do become a big family.