|Gone Walkabout||Journeys around the world by Sean Connolly|
Masters of the Dance
IV. Head in the Clouds[ Back to Chapter 3 | Table of Contents | On to Chapter 5 ]
We went to meet the other two people I was going to be climbing with, Bill (Yank) and Christoff (French) and Gabriel, our guide. From there, we took off for the mountain itself. It was overcast, so we couldn't see a thing, and I was cursing the weather. (I've almost never seen a successful sunrise from the top of any mountain I've climbed.) Once we got there, the scary part began. They were going to drive us in a 4x4 jeep as far up the mountain as they could go. That meant going up these crazy roads, with large washed out sections. We were up on two wheels maybe half the time. Yikes! I left fingerprints in the dashboard when we finally had to disembark. *shiver*
Then, we started walking. Iliniza Norte is 5116m high, and we started at about 3800m. The first day was mainly an uphill slog. And I mean slog. Two steps, stop, catch your breath, and continue. I had the lightest backpack of any of them, but I still had trouble. Then, the weather took a further turn for the worse. Rain, then sleet, then snow! I was drenched to the bone, and so was my pack, as I forget to get a raincover. The other three were the same. By the time we got to the hut, we were all quite miserable and exhausted from the relentless uphill trudge. We couldn't see a thing because of the fog, the clouds, and the wind-whipped snow.
The lodge was absolutely primitive. No running water, an outhouse out back without even a door to close, and only a hole in the floor. No heat in the lodge. I had some severe misgivings, as I was wearing everything I had, and I was still rather freezing. Um. :-/ They fixed us a great supper, but due to the altitude, none of us had much of an appetite. With a quick review of what would happen the next day, we all turned in around 6:30. I slept maybe five hours, but spent the rest of the time listening to others going outside to be sick due to altitude sickness.
The stars! No electricity for miles around, just a perfectly crystal clear sky just full of stars. Shooting stars lit up the heavens with their dying light. The milky way a streak across the sky. Iliniza Norte a dark mass against the sky, Iliniza Sur a whiter mass on the other side.
At about 4:30, we left the hut. Step, step, breath. Step, breath. *gasp!* The thin air rasped in our lungs. Fresh snow crunched underfoot. When we began our ascent, the night was pitch black, only the stars above and the torches in our hands revealing the steep slope we laboured up. On the opposite mountain, we could see dim lights slowly move, as a group of Quebecois made their attempt on the icy peak of Iliniza Sud.
Just as we reached the top of the ridge, the sky suddenly lit up a blinding blue, and a bright streak circled down from the heavens. An exploding satellite? A plane? A UFO? We never found out. I still wonder...
We were at the top! I pulled myself puffing hard up onto the summit and looked around. Incredible views! Iliniza Sud directly in front of us. Choramborazu on the other side, and all the other volcanoes clearly visible in the crisp morning air. Even as we sat there, clouds raced in to cover the view, but it was too late! I finally got my mountaintop sunrise!
We limped back to the lodge, absolutely filthy from head to toe, and so exhausted that we just slumped on the stools while Gabriel served us chicken soup and hot tea to recharge our systems.
The day wasn't over yet. We had to pack up our bags, and once more hit the trail. This was a completely different experience than the cold wet climb up. Again, the loose sand let us reach incredible speeds. We made it down from the peak of the mountain all the way to the bottom in maybe 1/3 the time it took us to make it up. Seeing the jeep at the bottom was a very welcome sight to these weary bones.
Once more, we had the crazy jeep ride out to the road, up on two wheels, my fingers leaving permanent dents in the dashboard, and Gabriel insanely laughing the entire way.
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