Whilst we are driving back to Mendoza with our friends after our Aconcagua adventure, I‘m going to relate the next part of our Rolling Mountains story.
After finishing the Vibram Hong Kong 100K we made the long journey by plane to Santiago, Chile, the beginning of the second continent: South America!
The same night we travelled to Mendoza by bus sleeping on sofa beds. We crossed the border with Argentina at Paso Libertadores. Julen stayed in Santiago de Chile whilst trying to fix his broken laptop screen and finish the first episode edition. The nightmare of every editor!
In Mendoza we met Alejandro who had been following the Rolling Mountains story. He welcomed us with his warm hospitality.
The trip had fatigued me and also I arrived with a strong pain in my rib area. The detail that I did not explain and missed out of my text about the Hong Hong 100K was that in the middle of the race I had fallen hard and this left me with sore ribs and some breathing difficulty.
When I arrived in Mendoza I felt down and I was worried because during the days of travelling the pain had increased. I was afraid that I would not be able to ascend the Aconcagua, nor train for the next race.
Over the next couple of days I mainly stayed in bed taking long restful sleeps. When I finally got up, Ana, Alejandro’s wife took me to the hospital where she works to do an x-ray of the affected area. They took several images and concluded that there was nothing broken. The news made me feel much more lively so I went back to the house and went to the gym to do a good workout, combining cardio and strength. Agostina assisted me to work on my strength and – she doesn’t know it yet, but – it made me feel like an athlete again. This gave me a real boost and I went back “home” in a happy mood, ready to go to the mountains! Meanwhile, Onna and Pere had gone to the centre of Mendoza a couple of times to get provisions and organize our stay in the mountains. Pere had already trained several times with Alejandro and Ana in the Mendoza area.
The following day we all rose early to go training. It was a great feeling to run and be with nature again!
On the same day (Saturday, January 25) we drove up with Alejandro and Ana to the Vallecitos ski resort (3000m). It was awesome to breathe the fresh , pure mountain air up there! I must explain that currently in Mendoza there was a heat wave and the change from 38C in Mendoza to 18C in Vallecitos was a total relief from both the stress of the city as well as the high temperatures. Along the way Ana surprised us with a box of handmade alfajores and we shared what was my first alfajor!
I will always remember the moment of arrival in Vallecitos. Onna got out of the car and immediately headed towards an uphill trail in search of a cow that was grazing higher up. She sang a self composed song in Dutch and moved with remarkable naturalness. Her cheerful mood was full of joy and energy. It was simply sensational. A moment of complete happiness! It gave me the feeling of being completely happy and more fortunate and prouder than ever!
We spent two nights at the Ski and Mountain refuge, a very lovely place with friendly and personal attention.
On Saturday evening Pere and I climbed together to Lomas Blancas (3654m) using our headlights , while Alejandro and Ana stayed with Onna. On Sunday all of us went up to the summit of San Bernardo. Onna was walking at times and other times she sat in her carrier on Pere’s back. Pere climbed with strong athletic steps. I really admire him for the natural drive within him. The San Bernardo is a very respectable mountain with a long stretch of gravel stones and big rocks at the final part. It was Ana and Onna’s first excursion above 4000m with the summit finally at 4156m !!
At the end of the weekend Alejandro and Ana went home. After spending another night in the mountain hut we went up with tent and luggage to the El Salto camp which is at a height of 4350m.
The first part went as expected and my back seemed to be alright with the load. We stopped to have a picnic and to let Onna climb on the big rocks for a while. Then, suddenly, shortly after continuing our journey, bad weather arrived and the climb turned into a real adventure!
Wind, hail, lightning and thunder !!
First we tried to continue, but we were very exposed and as soon as we spotted a place to shelter, we stopped and half pitched the tent, enough to stay dry and feel more protected. Onna and I looked for the lucky stone which her grandfather gave her before the journey and we took it in our hands …
A few hours later the storm had calmed down and we were able to continue on to El Salto.
The next day we trained separately. First Pere climbed to the summit of Vallecitos (5370) while Onna and I had breakfast and played. Then it was my turn. It was a very special summit having gone alone and for the incredible panoramic views! I could even see our next goal: the Aconcagua !!
The next day Julen returned from Mendoza after having finished the first episode of Rolling Mountains. He stayed with Onna while we left early to go training and maybe do another summit … The weather was not very good with grey skies and snow, but we felt well and after reaching the first pass at 5300m we decided to continue running towards Cerro Plata, the highest summit of the Cordón del Plata with its peak at an altitude of 5942m.
It was cold and we were wearing little clothes, so we needed to keep a fast pace in order to maintain our body temperatures. The last 300m of altitude made our legs feel as if they were floating, but we kept going and reached the summit in two hours and 40min. The prize was a piece of chocolate, which we could hardly manage to open with our ice cold hands.
Then, in 50min we ran back down to Julen and Onna at El Salto.
On the afternoon we descended to the mountain hut where we met up with Fer, Juli and their 5 year old daughter Francesca. They had specially driven up from the south of Argentina to spend time with us and help us with our goal of summiting the Aconcagua.
We had a good meal and spent the night in the refuge before going up to El Salto again. This time, Onna stayed with Juli and Fran at Veguitas (3300m), a flat green area with a good supply of water. It’s like an oasis in the desert.
Pere and I were carrying food to be stored in the tent, but we couldn’t resist taking a side path up to Pico Franke (4816m) so we could add another peak to our experience of the area.
The following day, Julen and Fer climbed up 500m to help with their acclimatising process whilst Pere and I scrambled up to Lomas Amarillas (5101m). It was a very special peak as we had to scramble straight up on loose blocks of rocks without any trace of a path. For the first time in my life I really felt the importance of moving without making any noise and without moving any rock. Each rock seemed to have its place and I don’t want to think what might have happened if we had moved one or more out of their place…
From the pass to the top we passed a technical, lovely ridge and during the downhill we found a big wall of gravel to descend on. In twelve minutes we arrived back at La Huyada were Julen and Fer were waiting for us. Truly Spectacular!!
The next day we all got up early with the intention of ascending to the Cerro Plata again. This time we went walking to adapt to the altitude. The weather was mild and after 6 hours of climbing Pere and I reached the top, followed by Julen and Fer. It was another magnificent day!!
Sharing a summit with friends is a great feeling!!
We went back down and packed away the tents. Then we followed the valley back down to Las Veguitas where Juli, Fran and Onna were staying. They’d been amusing themselves playing freely in nature!!
We unpacked our tent again and spent the night together. Then it was time to conclude the acclimatisation stage and get back to Mendoza.
Ascension to Aconcagua.
The days prior to the expedition were tiring. We had to organise the park permits, replace any depleted necessities such as the expedition food and source part of the gear like the expedition boots. It was all slowgoing and it was still nearly 40 degrees in Mendoza, which made these tasks knackering.
On Tuesday 4th February we drove to Penitentes with Fer and Juli. The journey wasn’t too long but we left late and arrived at the apartment long after midnight. The next day was an easy day. We spent time together and Pere and I went stretching our legs to Puente de Inca.
Finally, the first day of the expedition had arrived! Juli, Fran and Onna came out to say goodbye to us. It was a difficult moment. It’s never easy to leave your child behind, even if it is only for three nights and you know she’ll be in the best hands.
Our plan was to reach the summit on the third day and get back on the fourth day. It was an ambitious plan, but this way we would be as little time away from Onna as possible.
The first day we covered the first 25km and 1600m. This separates the entrance from Plaza de Mulas. In this area one passes Playa Ancha, a large desert like stretch of around 8km. There are many small stones and very fine loose sand. The views of the mountains from here are incredible with different tones of red colour.
A final long and steep climb called Cuesta Brava leads you up to the base camp. Upon arrival the staff from the company Grajales received us with a good meal that gave us energy to go and explore the surroundings later on in the day.
That night I didn’t feel very well and when I got up I felt really unwell. I must have caught a virus as my stomach was completely upset and my body felt weak. I was shivering and I didn’t feel as though I had any strength in my legs at all. I had to fight with myself not to give in and admit that I didn’t feel capable of climbing up to Nido de Condores (5600m) which was our goal for the day. Before setting off we went for the medical check. I thought, if I am alright I will try my best to do the next stage.
Clinically, I appeared to be in the best shape of all of us, so soon afterwards we started our way up to Nido.
We went slowly but steadily and after the first 300m of climb my body seemed to adapt to the pace we were going at. Pere helped me by carrying my trekking backback several times. (He carried it on his chest!)
When we arrived I lay down in the tent Grajales had provided for us and I rested for the remainder of the day. I was hoping for a miraculous recovery for the next day. Pere and Julen went out to search for water.
We ate mashed potatoes with tuna and drank tang and/or tea.
The next morning, I really felt a lot better! We started our mission to the summit just as it was light enough to leave without wearing torches. I had rented expedition boots for this final part (the old fashioned rigid ones!!) which were very uncomfortable, but at least my feet were not cold.
Pere went up front and it felt great! By the time we had climbed up to 6200m we noted that Julen and Fer were suffering. Julen had very cold hands and Fer was feeling very sleepy. His mind was drifting away…
We stopped and Julen told us he wanted to go down and take Fer with him back to Nido. Julen gave Pere instructions on how to use his camera and we parted without their company.
I wasn’t sure if I could make it either but Julen’s words “you look good, Ragna. You can make it!” motivated me to keep going. I thought about Onna a lot and promised myself that if the altitude did affect me, I would go down immediately. However if I felt alright with it I would continue to make this dream come true!
Finally, we reached the top!! I felt super happy!!! It was such an emotional moment!!! And the sky was clear so we had the best of views too!!
When we descended I realised I had put all my effort into the climb and suddenly I had no strenght left to go down. Even walking was difficult and I kept falling down. Don’t ask me how, but eventually I managed to get back to Nido. Pere stayed with me all the time to make sure I was safe.
We took a rest at Nido and fueled up with mashed potatoes. Then we went back down to Plaza de Mulas where the Grajales’ staff prepared us a huge and very tasty feast. Even Pere couldn’t finish all of it…
On the fourth and final day of the expedition we hiked / ran back to Los Horcones, the park entrance. My guts were complaining constantly, but it didn’t bother me, I felt satisfied and I couldn’t wait to embrace Onna! Juli, Fran and Onna came to pick us up and finally I could take my precious little girl in my arms again!