Seeking Passage through the Andes.

DAY 05

In our tent that night we agreed we could not gain altitude readily with the sleds as heavy as they were. Mentally we created a list of food, fuel and gear that could be left behind in a cache. The next morning after yet another wet night, we were glad to dress and offload food, fuel and all non essential items into dry bags that I then anchored to the ice and marked with the gps. The sleds felt lighter as we set off once again man powered, not wind powered, up the slope to the east of us. Choosing to break every 3 kilometres as the going was arduous, we chewed slowly through the mileage. By mid morning the wind picked up and soon we hooted and hollered as our kites danced and played in the air, hauling us and our sleds uphill, making easy mileage madly to the east. Visibility went from good to fair to abysmal during the afternoon, and soon we kited almost blind. I removed my goggles and stared into the white, intent on seeing any shape or form before a crevasse swallowed us up. For several hours we made good mileage and I felt I could see just enough to ensure we were safe. Then in zero visibility I turned to see Kit just 50 metres away in the gloom, I was just about to say it was unsafe to carry on when all our wind died and our kites fell to the ice. In a miracle that has saved me before, I Iooked forward just as our visibility cleared to show a huge folded ridge of broken and crevassed ice blocking our path. We both appreciated the miracle and slowly packed our kites as the sun broke through illuminating a magnificent bowl of mountains in a complete circle in front of us. The range and it’s crevassing was so complex that at first there seemed no apparent way for us to go forward free of crevassed ice.

We had lunch and studied maps, aerial images and topographic charts of the surrounding area, and in an hour had a rough plan that involved skirting the edge of the crevassed ridge, ascending a snow ramp, we hoped we could see the edge of to the east, then ascending to the highest point of the plateau with the mighty Andes on either side. With an acceptance that this could be the end of our attempt as the ice ahead looked simply impassable we roped up and pressed on. Marvelling at the grandeur of the mountains around us and the deep blues and dark holes in the ice to our right. We inched forward, probing and crossing snow bridges with caution. Slowly progressing to a point where we could see clearly a ramp rising to our right past the edge of the crevassed ridge. We felt a stirring of hope. Crevasses now boxed us in, to our right a serious complex gnarl of broken ice, house size blocks and crevasses, to our left small complexes looking once again like the gills of some odd polar shark. Kites packed away we hauled upwards on healthy ice, all the while marvelling that we yet made progress. Late in the day we made a false summit and with wind at our backs, and confidence in the ice under our feet we launched the kites once more. Whooping and hollering with excitement, we skated up the final ice slopes towards the top of the pass. Covering kilometres quickly for a change. As if sensing our joy, the clouds rolled in and shut visibility down to a point we both felt unsafe progressing despite the easy kilometres being gained. Dropping our kites, we once again spied a large open mouth adjacent to our position and felt glad we’d exercised caution. As we setup camp 5 both Kit and I noticed a welcome change, the ice was hard, held good snow pegs and it was perishingly cold which heralded a dry night ahead.