Happiness is a Warm Shower


I was mostly blah last night from the climb and the travel back, so didn't shower. We are back at Yanacocha Lodge today, so I knew that the showers were not hot, they were just slightly cooler than tepid. When I woke up at 6:15 to a teammate's accidental alarm, and, as I already had 9 hours of sleep, decided to embrace the cold shower.

Turns out, the tepid was "not enough hot water because everyone else was showering at the same time." The shower did start off cold, and I jumped in, but it warmed up as I cleaned up. Never quite sure if the water was becoming warmer, or I was becoming colder and the water warmer by comparison, I eventually put my head into the water to wash my hair and it was warm!

Mucho happiness!

One thing I don't understand at this lodge is how everyone is walking around in socked feet. These floors are COLD. I'm in my indoor shoes nearly all the time and my feet are still chilled.

Today we move to Tambopaxi Lodge, close to Cotopaxi.

A Successful Climb Doesn't Necessarily Need a Summit


Well, that was an adventure. I did not summit. None of the team summitted. I learned a lot, and have a new highest point for me: 5000m (16404').

That said, this climb was a complete mismanagement of intake resources, coupled with significant equipment issues. Which begs the question, "Can a climb be awesome and awful, wondrous and a wreck?" Yes? Good, because this one was.

I had packed my summit bag and written up my checklist last night, so that I should be good to go immediately at wake up. Didn't really work out that way. I went through my checklist as quickly as I could, but was still far behind everyone getting ready to go. I think maybe one person didn't have his crampons on by the time I arrived at the stones to put mine on.

We climbers had our guide assignments from last night. Since we weren't going to rope up until the glacier (two hours up), we were told to just head out when we were ready. I was close to the departure point, so ended up second in the climber conga line, right before Tr, whom I identified by his breathing.

Well, it has been a long time since I've been in crampons. I managed about 40m before I fell. Now, falling onto my knee after tripping over my crampon isn't that big of a deal, but doing it right in front of Tr, our strongest and most fit teammate, was a little awkward. So, I stood up, and told him I was going to move back in the line, and waited for others to pass. I ended up fourth from the back.

We climbed a while, with the group in front of me gaining distance. I had put on both my knee braces this morning, but had never put on the right knee brace before. Hello, second equipment mistake, the first being not having a backup battery or backup headlamp. I was using a borrowed light today, as my battery, fresh just before the trip and working at my gear check, wouldn't work yesterday.

The knee brace was really stiff. I was unable to lift my right leg more than about six inches without effort. With the extra weight of my rental boots, gaiters, and using crampons which force one to lift their foot higher than a normal walk, the knee brace effort became a lot, and I fell behind the team quickly.

Behind me was Manuel, the guide for our two strongest teammates. He quickly moved in front of me to show me where to step, as I had lost E's steps in front of me quickly.

Behind me was Maurice with D.

Manuel was very encouraging, eventually helping me move the brace down off my knee so that I could move more easily. He also asked if I wanted to rope up. Very much so, I wanted to rope up. We were 45 minutes into this hike and while my legs were tired from the new brace effort, and my lungs and heart felt nominally fine, I was dizzy. I didn't really want to tumble down the side of the glacier.

I was very glad we roped up. We had to scramble through some large rocks that I struggled with, and traverse over parts of the glacier nearing a 100% grade. I was not comfortable at all.

I was, however, mostly in the moment. My world had shrunk to a three meter radius of light, snow and rocks, the sight of Manuel in front of me, and the crunch of his boots and crampons on snow. I didn't struggle with the future, I didn't struggle with ruminations that have plagued me for months, I didn't struggle with the past. I had this moment, the snow, sounds, and guide around me, and the feel of my body.

Blurry night lights of Cayambe, Ecuador

I was not, however, moving very quickly.

About two and a half hours into the climb (though I kept trying to convince myself we had been moving for only an hour), Maurice caught up to us, sans D. D had dropped, so Maurice guided him back to the hut, and came back up to us. Manuel handed me off to Maurice, and off he went. Maurice and I continued.

At this point, I was dizzy. I was stumbling not a little bit, and I wasn't moving very quickly at all. I asked to stop frequently, though I tried to keep the stops to a minimum. We probably started stoping every 7-10 minutes, however long I took to walk 300 steps. I counted.

Night view of my guide Maurice in mountaineering gear, holding a walkie-talkie

Maurice said nice things as we climbed, encouraging me to keep going, but let him know if I reached my limit. This is all for me, however I am feeling. At one point, I asked how far we had climbed, maybe a quarter of the way. We scrambled over some rocks and made it to the glacier, and started going up.

After a short bit, I asked what our altitude was. 4890m. Okay, I said, I would like to go to 5000m then turn around. Maurice agreed with that, and up we went. Those last 110 meters were hard. I managed the first 40 or so without difficulty, as I tried to remember the easy way to convert meters to feet (meters * 3 + meters / 4 gets you REALLY close, but still off by a bit). After that, I started counting my steps, in groups of 10, then 100. I asked again how high we were, "It is just a number, we can turn around if you would like. 4980m." I can make it another 20m. At three hours of climbing, I stood at 5000m, the highest I've ever been by my own two feet.

Watch displaying elevation of 5000 meters

We celebrated and hugged! I was so happy in that moment.

However, the summit or highest point you reach is only half way through the journey, and I had to come down off the mountain, too.

At this point, I was miserable (happy, but miserable). I hadn't managed to drink much, and I hadn't had more than 4 bites of bread since we started. I was dizzy to the point of tipping over if I didn't pay attention to where I was standing. I was not, however, cold. I found that interesting, that I managed to dress for the climb appropriately. I run hot when climbing.

I was not in the best mind space when Maurice was checking in with the other guides, let them know we were turning around, but I knew I wanted a photo of the moment. So, I took this picture, which is, I have to say, one of the very worst pictures of me in existence. Certainly the worst I've willingly posted. And I am keeping it.

A testament to how out of it I was at that moment, I realized that the first picture might not be a good one, so I took a second picture of me at 5000m. I have the exact same expression.

The worst picture of me ever kept

We turned around to go back down, and all of my fatigue and hunger and dizziness came at me hard. I stumbled a lot. I asked to rest frequently. I sat in bad choice locations and would have slid down the glacier without Maurice there to catch me. We took two hours and 40 minutes to descend. My headlamp went out just as we were descending. Of course it did. Did I mention I was going first down the mountain, because we were roped? Yeah, we did it.

The down was hard. The darkness down the glacier and the mountain looked like giant bushes next to us as we descended. I didn't lose any equipment, but that was more luck than skill or awareness on my part.

At 5:40, we arrived back at the Hut. I dropped my bag off at the bunks, and walked back to the kitchen, as D. was asleep in one of the bunks. I had not peed once on the climb or descent. For someone who pees every 30-60 minutes normally, going six hours without peeing is noteworthy.

I felt terrible. Dizzy, headache starting, dehydrated, and, wait, what? Nauseous? No! Yep. As soon as I recognized the feeling, I ran (clomped) down the stairs to the toilets, and barely made the bowl. Up came the Clif Shot I had downed an hour ago, clearly without sufficient water. Up came some of dinner from last night. And up came nothing as I dry-heaved and considered that vomiting is another altitude sickness symptom.

Once done throwing up, I went back to the kitchen, and spent some time with Maurice, having tea, and checking in. He made sure I was okay, I was, before leaving. I would be unsurprised if he went back up the mountain again, but I don't know, because I crawled into bed and fell asleep.

I woke a couple hours later, hours before the rest of the team was expected to arrive, and considered what I had learned on this climb.

There are the obvious ones:

  • Having a morning checklist is still key for me.
  • I am slow in the morning and need at least 50% more time than everyone else to organize in the morning, even with the checklist.
  • If something seems wrong, it is. Stop, figure it out, and fix it.
  • The mountain is not the first time to wear your boots, or your gaiters over your boots, or a new knee brace, or any untested equipment (unless your job is testing new gear designs).
  • The turn around point is only half way.

And the not so obvious ones:

  • I cry at altitude, seemingly for no reason
  • Not all successful climbs include a summit
  • Dizziness is my altitude sickness indicator. I can manage some dizziness, but not at 45° descents in crampons at night with a wind and no headlamp
  • Do not sit down to move over rocks when on a glacier, you will start sliding down the mountain
  • I can go 5½ hours without music, audiobooks, or someone talking with me
  • Darkness on a glacier can look like bushes out the sides of one's eyes
  • I really handle liquid food better than solid food at altitude

After a few hours during which I slept and processed the climb, the rest of the expedition returned. None of the team summitted today. Their comments seemed similar to my thoughts:

"That was the hardest thing I've ever done" From the youngest, most in shape on of us.

"That was the hardest mountain I've ever been on." From the search and rescue leader.

"That was a lot." From one of the work buddies.

All told I had a good time, and was delighted by the experience. Two more mountains to go on this trip!

Cayambe Hut Notes


We all went to bed around 20:00 tonight, to "rest" before starting the summit attempt at midnight.

We had arrived at the Cayambe Hut hike about 15:15, hiked up (still took me 22 minutes, though it felt like 10), and all piled into the bunks. The toilets are on the bottom floor, one set of bunks is on the middle floor, with a second set of bunks on the upper floor. Nominally, where we slept wouldn't matter, as we would be "asleep" for only three hours. Still, I requested the closest bunk to the toilets. The irony of this request was that I slept for the three hours, and Ts was up to use the toilets 3-4 times during the night, much to the heckling of his coworkers.

Juliana woke us at 23:02, with some grumbling from Tr about Ts' night movements, "No one was going to sleep anyway."

I suspect I was the only person who both fell asleep and had a REM cycle.

View towards Quito from Cayambe Hut

Daily Photo

79 O2 and 75 HR


One of the things we do before going up the mountain is check oxygen saturation and heart rate. We have a baseline down here at Yanacocha Lodge.

Mine are 79 O2 saturation and 75 HR. My O2 varied from 78 to 83 while I was sitting down.

I thought I was doing better. I was expecting higher O2, tbh. One of the climbers is at 93 O2. Just wow!

I feel fine. No headache. No dizziness (well, not until until AFTER I had the O2 value, and then I'm like, "Oh, are all these typos when writing because of LOW OXYGEN?"). My HR is about 10 higher than normal, but also to be expected at altitude.

Juliana, our lead guide, says she wants to know our O2 trends. If I feel fine at 79-80 -ish, and it stays that way, I'm okay to keep going. If it starts to trend lower, I suspect I'll be pulled. Still, 79 - 83 is right on the edge of okay.

We are 7 climbers and have 4 guides, so there are enough to take climbers down the mountain. We expect to go 2-2-2-1 clients per guide, but can go up to 3 to a guide if needed. No one wants the 3 climbers per guide on this trip, though.

All of this is data! Zero disappointment or nerves, really.

The drive up to Cayambe Hut, the first time


I really need to learn more about geology, especially of the areas I'm visiting. The ground and mountains and soil around here is amazing. I just don't know enough to be incredibly impressed, as it is, I am only incredibly amazed and enjoying the views.

Today's plan was "travel by four-wheel drive up to the Cayambe Hut. From here we hike for an hour up to the glacier for a climbing skills review and to acclimatize. That evening we return to the Yanacocha Lodge for dinner." Best laid plans, first contact, blah blah blah, you know how this story goes.

The roadwork around here is "very old." Which is to say, many of the roads around here are small to medium sized rocks from the surrounding area, all laid into a road. The sheer amount of human effort to build these roads is mind boggling. I mean, we can say the numbers, but to fully understand the people, hours, and effort, nah, most people don't comprehend these numbers. We don't understand scale very well for the most part.

So, the roads are cobbled rock roads, but not all of the roads are actually cobbled, though. Many are dirt, some hard packed, some, uh, not so hard packed. We had rains the last couple days, so we are unsure what to expect, but are told, "We may need to push the trucks."

We start off around 8:50, and thirty minutes in, I need to pee. This, my friends, is a recurring theme. It was this way in Peru, it was this way in England, it was this way on Antarctica, it is this way in Ecuador. I need to pee all the time. Not because I'm nervous or because I have a small bladder. I need to pee because I'm worried about not having a place to pee. Vicious cycle, that.

Worrying, and the roads are really bumpy. Like, if none of us have whiplash or sore necks at the end of this driving, I'll be amazed. I have to wonder if this isn't what riding a bucking bronco feels like.

Fortunately, I didn't have to wait too long. We hadn't driven very far before we were stopped behind trucks working on the road. A couple trucks were pickups, but a dirt mover was active a bit up the road. Our driver took the opportunity to chat with one of the workers. Thankfully, we have a couple climbers in our group fluent in Spanish, so when we are not with the guides, we still have translators. One of the road workers, said there are three areas churned up, muddy and unpassable. The drivers said, nope, we would make it.

We got stuck in the mud in the second churn.

We have four trucks going up: two covered pick ups and two SUVs. I was in the first truck going up. The road was dark mud with deep ruts. The ruts were so deep that the bottom of the trucks would be in the mud between the ruts.

So, we all exited the trucks, they backed up a bit, and the drivers went to work. They lowered the middle hump, and started breaking branches from the bushes on the side of the road to throw into the ruts for traction. We could wait in the trucks, or we could help.

We helped.

We broke off branches, carried them up to the ruts, handed them to the guides and drivers, and repeated until slowly one, then a second truck made the trip through the mud. We kept going, more branches, more traction.

We tore up a lot of branches for traction in the mud. I was so many levels of uncomfortable with this action. I understand the immediate need, but how long do these plants take to grow? Some of the pillow plants we were walking on take a century to grow, what about the bushes? Will they survive after we have taken their branches? Why do these need to die for us to make it up a muddy road?

Eventually all four trucks made it through the second mud patch.

The third mud patch might have been our match. The first truck made it through, but barely, and the second became stuck. There were no bushes on the sides of the road at this point, so we were at a loss. It started to rain. While I wanted to help, I didn't have rain gear, so went up to the first truck and sat in the truck while the other trucks were pushed / pulled / prodded through. Eventually the first truck pulled the second truck out of the mud, we loaded up into the two vehicles only, down from four, packing everyone and all the gear in, and were on our way.

At this point, it was 12:10. We were 2 hours past our expected arrival time. And this is how adventures go.. We have our plans, and Nature has hers. I talked with Juliana about it, trying in some small way to assuage her stress. These are the times that become stories.

Ten minutes later, we were stuck in a new mud patch. This one we just went around. I also realized that Ramiro was riding along in the back of the truck, and I was completely WTF, trying to figure out whose lap I could sit on so that he would have a seat belt.

As we were going up, the road went from cobble stones to hard pack dirt to mud to hard packed dirt to more dirt to stones to a creek down the middle of the road to just fucking rocks. We were 4x4ing up this mountain road. We were 4x4ing, complete with harmonic frequencies. I was in the front passenger seat, so I had a lovely view of what was coming up, and what was going on to the downward side of the road. In the Live Maim Die scenario, we had a 100% die off the right side of the road. My anxiety completely spiked, even as I tried to calm myself.

Back in February of 2018, Jonathan and I took a (very lovely) trip to Hawaii. We went to the Big Island, because I wanted to both show him Hawaii and show him the places Mom and I had visited when we were there. On that trip, Jonathan and I took a helicopter flight over the lava fields. The flight was amazing, the pilot willing to fly low for great views. On that flight, I heard a high pitch whine, and was wondering what part of the helicopter would make that particular sound. It took me a couple minutes to realize that the high pitch sound I was hearing was actually a scream, and that scream was coming from me.

I felt the same way on the way up on this drive. The realization that we are going to drive down this road, and back up tomorrow does not make me feel great.

Eventually we arrivred at the end of the road. Not at the hut, oh no, the end of the road. We all climbed out of the trucks and geared up for the hike to the hut. I moved as fast as I could and was still behind everyone. I am unsure what I'm doing wrong that I am consistently the slowest in gearing up. This was my first time wearing my rented boots, which was a mistake, I realize. I tied them tight. They are still loose.

I was the last one to the hut, arriving around 13:20. Quelle surprise on being last.