Ojos del Salado Trip Report (#5904)
- Signed By: Bryan Flake
- Date submitted: December 06, 2001
This was a tremendous climb for me. Base camp at Atacama Refugio (16,800) was a tough place for my climbing companions with my brother, Layne Flake and my nephew, Lincoln Flake both getting altitude sickness and having to retreat to lower elevations. I took off for the higher camp, Tejos Refugio, with my guide, Pancho, on Sunday November 25th. We started out at about 3:30 AM Monday the 26th in a very cold wind and trudged through the darkness and the rough trail until we got going up the face of the mountain. After 2 hours, my guide began to feel quite sick as well as very cold. He lay down on the side of the mountain and said, "Yo soy infermo!", I am sick. We talked and he wanted to go down. I asked if he could get back down ok and he assured me he could so I said, "Adios, Pancho, I am going up." He seemed releived to be free to descend and I proceeded up alone.
There was no one else on the entire mountain, a highly skilled and experienced Chillean team having summited two days earlier and cleared out. No one was coming up after us either but I felt I had invested too much to give up my dream after only two hours of summit day climbing. I really did not think I had a shot at getting to the summit alone but I committed to keep climbing upward until at least noon and then evaluate my situation.
The climbing was quite straight forward but the elevation and oxygen depravation were incredibly taxing. I had a strong, cold wind all day long but my clothing proved to be very effective and I never had a significant problem with the cold. I got to the glacier and put on my crampons and proceeded up and across. I was moving at a snails pace but I never allowed myself very long breaks. I dropped my crampons in the rocks on the other side and continued up the trail, now in the bright but cold sunlight.
Before long I was at the crater rim. I was really amazed that I had reached that point and in such good time. I thought that would be as far as I would go but after a bit of rest and some water, I got to looking at the trail around the crater and up through the rocks. I really wanted to see the fixed ropes that went up to the summit. My brother and I had heard so much about this part of the climb and we really feared it greatly. I wanted to get a picture of the ropes at least. I knew that this is where the danger level was high and it was not very smart to be up there all alone. I had invested two years of research, preparation, training, finances and more and I did not want to quite so near the summit.
I just kept moving one step at a time and before I knew it, I was at the fixed ropes and I began pulling myself up one boulder at a time. The lack of oxygen was so significant that I would get the feeling of fainting and see the darkness starting into my filed of vision as I exerted myself in climbing over those huge boulders going up the ridge to the summit. I fought the light headedness off and stayed upright until the ropes ended and then scrambled up the last few feet to the summit. What a feeling and what a view! It was absolutely incredible and awe inspiring. I was so pleased to have reached the summit after all that effort. It took me just 8 hours from Tejos to get there. I really thought I was crawling along and I am sure I was but the fact that I never sat down or took any long breaks paid off.
I found the can with the summit log book and wrote my entry. As I finished a wave of sickness hit me and I turned and threw up. This alarmed me because even though I had felt pretty neasouas all day long, I had told myself I would turn back if I ever threw up. I have had serious altitude sickness before and I knew that once you start throwing up, you don't improve and you get weaker in a hurry. This sickness coming right at the summit was a sign to me that I better not stay too long but get moving back down.
I took a few pictures of the great views and tried a couple of myself at arms length and then headed down. It was bittersweet to be at the summit but not have anyone to celebrate the accomplishment with. I like reaching a goal and having a companion to congratulate and give a hug. The climb down was long and hard. I could not find my crampons at the glacier. I must have taken a slightly different path down and there were nowhere to be found. I cursed myself for not marking them more clearly. I climbed up a bit and did not see them so I climbed down along the rocks a long ways and did not see them. Finally I crossed the glacier without them. Very foolish and scary.
Once on the other side I could see my original tracks and knew that it would lead me to the crampons but should I risk that crossing and use all that energy again to retreive a stupid pair of $80 crampons? Yes, I am a tightwad so I crossed over and up again without crampons, found them and made my fourth crossing safely. This little miscalculation cost me a good hour and 15 minutes.
The rest of the descent was a painful, slow march and the bright orange roof of Tejos Refugio never seemed to get any closer. When I finally arrived at the refugio, I had been climbing hard for 12 straight hours. I rested some and then packed up all my sleeping gear and other stuff in my big pack and struggled to get it on my back and headed out for the final 2000 feet of descent and miles of trail to Atacama refugio. I made good time and really hoped to get to the truck in time to get off the mountain that very night. I arrived at Atacama at 5:30 PM, 14 hours after my day started.
Pancho was very glad to see me alive and he had the truck packed and we were soon off down that horrible rough road toward Laguna Verdi.
It was a truly wonderful trip. I am so grateful to have made the summit and descended safely. I know the Lord was there with me on the climb and assisted me all the way. I have never been so totally trashed in my life. I felt like every mile of my training and every stair I had climbed in preparation for this climb was absolutely essential for my ultimate success. I used up all I had on the climb and that is just what I wanted.
This was much tougher than Kilimanjaro had been in 1999 at 19,341 or Orizaba in 2000 at 18,700. 22,615 is as high as I believe I will ever climb. At age 45, I am going to be content to climb some of those beautiful peaks in my home state of Montana with my sons. Even at 12,800 feet, the highest peak in Montana will have thick, rich air at the top!
I would love to share my experience with anyone who has interest or questions. I have contact information and opinions if you need such in the future.
I can be contacted at BryanKFlake@Juno.com or at Flake@asimimt.com Phone 406 494-0078 or 406 496-9838.
Ojos del Salado is a great mountain and has to be the best climb in the world outside the Himallayas. Chile is a beautiful country with great people and sights. You really need to see them even if you don't do something crazy like climb a mountain!