ECUADOR - Friday, November 21, 2008

In the morning, I had some clothes I rinsed out that didn't dry, so I packed them in a ziplock and put them in the tent bag.

Antisana is unusual because it's harder to get to than most other peaks in Ecuador (except for El Altar, which requires a three-day jungle trek). There is a private road that requires a permit from the landowner (though on the internet no one claims to have been refused a permit it is another layer of hassle). We had to pass through three checkpoints. Finally the road stopped being paved and turned straight to crap.

We got stuck in the mud several times (Javier driving the Toyota), requiring us to be towed out by Sebastion (in the Mitsubishi). Pepe climbed up on the roof and started yelling directions. He jumped off and on several times without us stopping, so he could run (run, fast, at 14,000' or more) ahead and look for a path.

We finally got to the end of the road, where another guide that Javier knows had a client in a huge center-pole type tent (the classic cook tent like on expeditions). We went a ways past and set up camp there. Sebastion offered that we could trade a training hike for setting up the tents, so we agreed and went to work.

When we were done it was nearly 2 PM so several of us wanted to get to sleep, but we had a snack and hit the trail to take our crampons and axes up to a cache at 15,500' (camp was at 14,900') to make the night a bit easier. So much for the swap ;)

When we got back we ate and watched Antisanna, finally peeking out of the clouds and looking so amazingly huge! We had a final pep talk, and went to our tents to pretend to sleep til 10 PM, when we would be roused out of our stupor and set up the trail at 11.

I put in my contacts early so I wouldn't have to do it at 10, which would take a bit longer than I would have, and tried sleeping. I think I did a little, since I was fairly rested at 10. I had cereal with yogurt again, and tried the Cliff Recovery Apple Cider ( a bit thick for me ). We headed up in a thick mist, and were amazed that Sebastion took us right to the cache. We grabbed our stuff and stuck it on our packs, then went the last few hundred feet to the foot of the glacier, where we put on our crampons, stashed our poles, and switched to axes.

We roped up, Daniel, Chuck and Javier on one. Pepe and Eric on another. Mike and Sebastion and I on the last. We began climbing up the not-too-steep foot of the glacier where it was very hard freeze-thaw consolidated rime. Huge crystals glowed in the ice. Cracks ran every which way, but they were only about 4" across and not a big deal.

As we climbed higher, the snow turned to hard-pack that we broke through constantly (worse for me as the heaviest climber in the whole group). Under the slab were large loose crystals of unconsolidated snow. My nightmares from the day before? Eric got spooked and Pepe stopped to dig a pit. Just then we began breaking through deep. Sebastion and I both broke through to our hips into crevasses, and Chuck went in up to his armpits and Javier did as well, though I didn't see how deeply. Daniel went into arrest, classic first response. Good training.

We all pulled ourselves out then went up to see the pit. Sebastion tapped the 4' square block of snow with a foot deep trench around it, and the whole slab slid down. Ouch. Eric said no way and he and Pepe boogied. I tried yelling "wait for me" but Sebastion said we would go up another few hundred feet and do another pit. Bob, the client from the other guide went past us and on up with his guide.

The next pit proved bad as well, so we all turned around. One thing between us and Bob was that as a group of eight we had a bigger impact on the snowpack, while if it was only two, the odds were slightly better.

We headed down and quickly entered a whiteout. We seemed to wander in the hills of the moraine, finally seeing a spotlight that Javier left on in the Toyota (good thinking). We got back to our tents at 3 AM and crashed. I pulled my contacts and slept til 7 nonstop. Great.