Monday, 27 August 2012
Day 7 – Tarapaca by Aisling O’Brien
With the sounding of Cath’s robot alarm @ 4:20am, also known as stupid o’clock our day adventure to Tarapaca (5800m) began. A quick shower and dressing we were ready to board our 3 minibuses in the pitch dark @ 5am. While my hour long journey was filled with sleepy silence, one of the other buses was filled with shenanigans of forgotten boots and an experience to remember with a fire extinguisher and an expedition member’s close call to breaking the window behind him at the site of smoke in the bus. We were deposited @ 4700m and began to add as many layers as possible to stave off the biting -15C temperate; this included the addition of gaiters aided by 4 people and an ice axe. The aim for the day was acclimatising as much as possible and practising ice axe and crampon skills. Once everyone was ready we set off up the shale and scree slope. Many expedition members resembled sure-footed mountain goats and made easy work of the slope and gain in altitude while others took a slow and steady pace up the mountain. A few hundred meters up the scree slope, we divided into smaller groups; some heading to the summit, others 5000m+ and others to practice snow skills at a slightly lower altitude. With the groups divided, everyone carried on at their own pace and soon the summit crew were lost from view. The 5000m+ group followed suite and disappeared from view soon too. The slow and steady group, to which I belonged, plodded away up the scree slope. After several hours uphill walk, we made the group decision to turn around and descend as members were beginning to feel rough! Descending the shale and scree slope was much easier and much more enjoyable than going up it! What took us several hours uphill took us minutes to descend. At the base of the mountain where we made our base camp, we practised our snow skills, although some with O2 sats of 63% decided to sit that one out and relax instead. Although basking in the sun was fun, myself, Rhodri & John K went in search of mobile coverage to organise the earlier return of minibuses. We managed to flag down a passing police car and with wild gesturing and my poorly broken Spanish we managed to get our message across and they would make the call when they got coverage. Much to our relief the bus arrived about an hour later, just in time to collect the slow and steady group and the 5000m+ group (who had grown closer through a certain shared experience). A small group of 5 decided they hadn’t had enough walking / exercise for the day and walked home. The summit team made a valiant attempt but turned back just short of 5400m due to increasing AMS and knee high penitents. Once all returned to our hotel base, we rested for the afternoon, then descended upon the little restaurant with the open fire for our final 3 course meal. After we had all had our fill of fried fish (mine still had it’s eyes) we, with heavy hearts & many hearts said goodbye to two Swansea medics and wished them well on their homeward bound journey. After our goodbyes, we headed to bed for a well deserved sleep!