Masters of the Dance

VIII. Days of Solitude

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23 January 3000m Map
Time to climb! At 8:30, I walked down the street to Bum Bum's office. My gear was laid out for me. They gave me a miserable backpack, but the rest was decent. When I finally had it all loaded up, oomph! This was the heaviest pack I've ever carried. Ugh, this is not going to be fun... When we were all ready, we went to the jeep outside to drive out to the park entrance. Once we were moving, I shouted (in English) to Giovanni, the guide, "So, what's the plan today?" I got a sinking feeling in my stomach when he turned to me with a blank stare and a "No hablo englais"... Oh no, I forgot to make sure the guide spoke English before I left. Damn, this is going to be interesting. Bum Bum screwed me there. A guide who doesn't speak English, and one other member who barely speaks English. I'm sure the conversation will just fly. Ah well.

Anyway, the jeep drove us out to the park entrance, we shouldered our packs, and off we went. It was a relentless uphill slog through muddy trails. In four hours, we climbed 1000m. Waterfalls, pristine lagoons, rivers, it was a beautiful climb. Guillarmo raced ahead, while Giovanni stayed with me. We only saw Guillarmo at rest points.

At 2:30, we reached our destination for the night. Our site was next to a nice large lagoon. Cormanent? I was completely exhausted from the heavy pack and the killer pace. Nepal was harder, but never killed me like this!

We set up the tent, fixed a lunch/supper of chicken and rice, and vegged all afternoon. Why the fast pace? Humph. A group of 4 others, all Venezuelan, camped next to us. I tried to join in as much as I could with my limited Spanish, but none of the others spoke much English, so needless to say, I spent a solitary evening.

It was a cramped night. There were 3 of us in the tent, sleeping shoulder to shoulder. I slept alright, despite the other 2 snoring all night.

24 January 3900m Map
I woke at the sunrise, but the others slept until later. We broke camp and hit the trail by 9:30. It was a tough uphill climb, many times literally climbing straight up. I gave up on trying to keep up with the others and instead made my own way. After all, we only had 4 hours hiking and we had all day, why rush? I rested by a waterfall, played my penny whistle, and really enjoyed the day. Alone, of course. Especially after yesterday, this was a good day.

Resting near Humboldt Base Camp :: Venezuela
Resting near Humboldt Base Camp
Suddenly, the valley opened out in front of me. The others were all sprawled out on a massive boulder, soaking in the sun. I looked past them, and a perfect blue lake filled the valley directly beneath me. Pico Humboldt shined high above, the sun blasting off of the ice and snow crowning it. Wow. I liked it! And best of all, I felt great. I was tired, but my legs finally felt back to full strength. Very good. Eventually, we all moved on. Up and over a rather steep shoulder, and down to the lake below. Here, we parted company with the others, bound for Humboldt, and made our own camp. It was scary. I had too much energy! As if I had saved some for one last effort, and it never came! Picture me literally racing over the valley, bounding over rocks and dodging bushes, my feet a blur of motion. I must have raced back and forth from the river a half dozen times. I even managed a *shiver* bath in the frigid river. Ouch that river was cold! But I felt so much better afterwards with clean hair, face, pits, etc.

Humboldt Base Camp :: Venezuela
Humboldt Base Camp
Pico Bolivar, Venezuela
Sitting now after supper (pasta), I'm watching the clouds fall into the valley. It is eerie to watch. I can see them build up in the next valley, climbing higher and higher, until they spill out over the top, joining more clouds flowing in from the other side. The magnificence of nature! There is no wind, no birds, the only sound is Guillarmo snoring in the tent. Hot sunshine pours down, draining my energy, and making me sleepy... The only problem with 4 hours of hiking... is 20 hours of rest...

25 January 4300m PB base camp Map
It was a long hard day today. We were packed and on the road by 9:00, climbing high up into the valley. My pack felt light for a change, but I could feel the altitude in my short breath as I trudged up the hill. Once over the hill, we encountered mud, mud, and water everywhere. The day was so misty, I couldn't see a thing anywhere. Up, up, up...

La Traverse - Climbing Pico Bolivar :: Pico Bolivar, Venezuela
La Traverse - Climbing Pico Bolivar
In the afternoon, we reached a laguna. As usual, it was beautiful, with ice and snow above feeding the eerie blue water. But we were in a box valley. Where to go? Giovanni pointed straight up.

At a landslide.

*gulp* Um... Up, slide, up, rumble, dodge the rock rolling down, up, slip. There was a great view from a ridge halfway up. Then more up, up, up. And mud. And rivers. It was a difficult climb.

At one point, there was no way across. I saw the others with mud up to their knees and splashed around their waists. Yuck. I made it across with only a wet foot, but still muddy. Then up, and down, and up. There were many false peaks, and I was dying from the altitude. The others blazed ahead. In the morning, Giovanni said it should be 4 hours. After that time had passed, I asked him cirque aqui? No. Guillarmo told me it would be 1.5 hours more. No! This absolutely defeated me. Only to find after 45 minutes of hell, we reached the base camp. Guillarmo's idea of a joke.

I couldn't see a thing in the mist, but was damn glad to be here. A Swiss couple hiked in from the other side, just as we walked in. They couldn't find the mountain they had planned to climb. No, I'm serious, they didn't just miss the trail. They just couldn't see the mountain they wanted to climb in the clouds. *chuckle*

I was too tired to do anything but sit, I was so wiped out. But it was only 2:00. We still had a long afternoon ahead of us. Tuna and potatoes for supper, then I dozed for hours, rising to see the setting sun light the finally clear cliffs and peaks surrounding us. Very nice. I wrote this, then spent more time staring into space and thinking of Amy back in San Francisco. Tomorrow should be fun. No packs!

26 January Merida 1600m Map
Pico Bolivar, Venezuela
Pico Bolivar, Venezuela
Summit time! We started climbing around 8:30. I just brought my daypack. It wasn't as cold as I feared. 2 fleeces, 2 pair of gloves, and my thin trousers were more than enough. 15 minutes later, we were high up on the mountain, and I was down to one fleece and no gloves. I needed to feel with my hands! Loose, crumbling, decaying rock, all ready to let loose. At one point, my foot let loose a small avalanche, with some very large rocks aimed directly at Guillarmo's head. He managed to dodge, but it was a scare nonetheless. Very steep scree. I felt tired, but OK.

Almost to the top!  - Climbing Pico Bolivar :: Pico Bolivar, Venezuela
Almost to the top!
Climbing Pico Bolivar
Then it got fun. The mountain went straight up. We put our harnesses and helmets on. Giovanni scrambled up the rocks like a monkey, and down came the ropes. The first climb wasn't too bad, but with the crumbling rock (I'm used to limestone), I had some trouble and took longer than I should have. Guillarmo came straight up without hesitation. Then, another hard scramble up. And again, ropes. The other two scoffed at me needing them, but if I fell, it was straight down without a hope. It was my first chimney climb, besides. Hands carefully feeling out for a grasp that didn't pull away from the side of the mountain, feet tentatively testing the firmness of a bump. I did fall at one point, and even with the ropes, it was a scare. At the top, I pulled myself over the lip, and lay gasping for air a bit.

View from the top :: Pico Bolivar, Venezuela
View from the top
Pico Bolivar, Venezuela
Almost there. Giovanni started leaving stuff behind. First, the ropes. Here at the top, the rock was covered by a thin sheen of ice wherever the sun didn't touch. It gave me a good scare as my feet kept slipping off of apparently secure steps. Of course, the next step was to edge around the top of the mountain. When will I ever learn not to look down when I'm thousands of meters up, shuffling around a narrow ledge, bent backward with my hands the only thing keeping me from falling into the abyss as my feet slip beneath me? In the distance, Pico Espejo, the non-functioning top station of the teleferico could be seen. Thousands of meters down, Redundo station was visible. There was ice and snow around me, but luckily not with me.

Summit of Pico Bolivar, 5007m :: Venezuela
Summit of Pico Bolivar, 5007m
Once around this fright, we had a brief scramble over icy rocks and there was Bolivar's bust gleaming in the sun. Pico Humboldt glistened in the sun. Clouds blew past, but a dark blue sky arched overhead. We took our slippery perches and took photos, enjoying the great view and warm sun. It was the longest I ever stayed at the top, but this was a comfortable one.

Then, down we went. This is the hard part for me. Going up, you can always see your next hand or foot hold. Going down... Again, the other two (experienced) scoff at my needing ropes, but for my beginner skills, it was no simple climb. But I made it with no incident and the others came down. More scrambling, more slipping, and back to the first climb. This time, it was a fun, fast rappel down. Gloves on, I practically dove down the cliff. At one point literally. :-) I caught my heel in a crack just as I let loose a few metres of rope. I was left hanging head first over the ledge. *shiver* I sprained my ankle slightly, but it didn't stop me from streaking down the remaining cliff. Fun! It took Giovanni a long time to get down this section (bringing down the ropes), but he told Guillarmo and I to go ahead.

Pico Bolivar, Venezuela
Pico Bolivar
And the race was on! Slipping in a perpetual landslide, we raced the big rocks down the mountain, barely turning away from small cliffs in time. Dust rose up around our ears, and scree buried our feet. I like this part. But luckily Giovanni showed up, as I was following the trail marks, which bypassed our camp. I followed his lead, quickly crossed over to the small lake above our camp, scooped up some water for my parched body, and limped into camp.

It was only 12:00. But I was tired. My head was aching, my knees were aching, my stomach was queasy, I was ready for a rest. But Guillarmo managed to talk me into climbing up to Pico Espejo for the night, only two hours away. Eh, why not? I don't want to spend another night in this desolate, cloudy, windy location. Not to mention the entire afternoon as well.

I took an hour nap in the tent, then the race was on again. My legs felt strong, and I literally chased the others up the slope out of camp. My pack was light without all the supplies. A light rain was coming down, and the clouds obscured everything.

Then, we reached a ridge. On the far side of a rather steep valley, I could see a cross. That's where we were going. Um, can we just fly straight over? Sigh. OK. Down, down, down. Then, ulp, that? It was a straight up chimney climb again. With backpack. Can you handle it? Uh, yeah, I think so... Hand grabs, knee inches up, boot lodges in a crack, body moves upward slowly. At the top, my verdict to Giovanni: "No es facile, pero no es problema!"

Pico Espejo, defunct top of the Teleferico :: Venezuela
Pico Espejo, defunct top of the Teleferico
And we strolled into a disaster zone. No wonder this station doesn't work. There were cables lying everywhere, cracked concrete, bent bars, broken glass. There was a christening of some sort only nine days ago by the mayor or somebody (according to a plaque there), but no sign it'll work anytime soon. We tried to get the workers to let us ride down with them, but they were greedy and asked far too much.

So, after a rest, we proceeded. Into one of my private versions of hell. Maybe 10 minutes into the steep descent, my aching knees proceeded beyond that. My bum left knee was on fire. My damaged right knee was in agony. And the trail was a very steep scramble over and down rocks, just what my knees didn't want. I fell far behind the others, losing them in the very thick mist that surrounded us, leaving me scrambling over still tougher drops. When I finally spotted them in the mist (Giovanni whistled at me), they took off immediately before I limped close enough to tell them what was wrong. It was a good hour before they finally deigned to notice my agonized limping, just as my left knee gave out on a particularly long drop, and dumped me knee first into some very sharp scree, puncturing my already damaged knee and driving long slivers of stone into my leg. Dolar? (Pain?) Giovanni asked me finally. Well, just a little... Yes, dammit, dolar! You idiot! OK, poco poco, he muttered, turning away as the blood started seeping down my leg. And immediately, he took off yet again. I muttered, fuck off, under my breath and limped slowly after.

Eventually, the trail dumped us on a version of a road, obviously for mules. This was almost worse for me, but at least it was a promising sign. Finally, we reached Loma Redonda, just as the rains reached torrential levels. This was it, I couldn't go further. 7 hours of heavy walking were enough for this battered body. It was Tuesday, though, and the teleferico didn't run on Tuesday. So again, Giovanni went to talk with the workers. This time, we got a fair price, so we dropped our bags, collapsed in the chairs, and drooled over the snack bar. Which, of course, was closed on Tuesday. Then proceeded to wait in the brutal, damp, cloudy chill for an hour until the workers were done for the day.

Then, all of us loaded up onto the car, and with a lurch, it pulled away. Somehow, I lack confidence in something that only minutes earlier had sparks flying from the top... But in a closed area for the first time, 4 days without a bath became apparent, as the (equally smelly) workers quickly opened the windows. Then, we had a fast descent (sometimes almost freefall) down to Merida, changing cars at the station.

We got into Merida around 7:30, where Tom at Bum Bum greeted us with a cold cervaza. How was it? Umph. I let him know my displeasure at sending a non-English speaking guide, but didn't have the energy for more of a fuss. I wanted a hot shower! Back to Posada las Heroinas, back to the same room. That hot shower felt so good! After I had thoroughly scoured my body and put on some clean clothes, I went out to La Mamma for some great pasta. At a table! With a chair! Very good. I then proceeded to sleep two hours all night for some reason in a less-than-comfortable bed...

Email me at nomad3 @ GoneWalkabout.com

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