It was by a complete accident that I learned about the existence of this magnificent peak - I found myself on its base, in 4300 meters, visiting one of the largest of the saline altiplano lakes, Laguna Brava. Lacking an appropriate map, we just looked around and thought "these are sure some nice, but probably rather low hills" - because the mild volcanic relief of the area shows only very little hints about it being one of the highest mountain ranges on planet. Only at home, we compared our photos with slanted views on Google Earth and realized that one of the "hills" we were looking at was actually over 6700 meters high!
Once planted in my mind, the thought could not be unthought - if the rumors about the easy access are true, this is surely a must-see place as I am both afraid to climb and attracted to mountains at the same time. The overall profile of the mountain is very mild and there are no rock walls or glaciers (even at that height, due to extreme dryness of the area), but some people mention a "summit pyramid" - while some don't.
Well, let's see. Tomorrow morning, I am getting on a plane with my wife, in Atlanta we meet a friend who lives in Belgium, in Mendoza we meet another one that has been in Argentina already for three weeks and from Saturday, we have 24 days of car rental reserved, a lot of time to acclimatize to the altitude and to make some summit attempts.
Never before have we prepared for a trip so thoroughly. After I discovered the peak last November, the thought of going there was always at the back of my mind.
- in March we have spent two weeks on Svalbard - while the solar eclipse was the main target, the experience with enduring -20 Celsius over extended time outdoors was invaluable for the actual conditions on the peak will be similar to that and allowed us to test and adjust a lot of equipment
- after getting back from Peru in October, we run a circle of doctors to make sure our troubles experienced there are not threatening, received some emergency medicine to take with us and my wife has spent a lot of time at the dentist making sure her teeth are not going to stop her halfway up
- in November, I happened to be in Buenos Aires, so I went to a geographic institute and bought a lot of maps
- besides paper maps, my phone is stocked with digital topographic maps and waypoints
- most of the December I spent trying to arrange some transport to the basecamp, until we went back to just renting a car, because 4x4 services with drivers are unbelievably expensive in Argentina
- today I finally manage to get hold of a satellite messenger device, making sure we can get help should we need it, anywhere
- and our friend has been in Argentina for three weeks already (for work) and he bought a lot of propane gas in Mendoza in anticipation of our arrival, he has also accrued a lot of medications for the case of any emergency
Could you even imagine that with such preparation, something goes wrong?
Well, I surely do!