Last night the wind died off and the morning dawned with clear skies and utter stillness, save the calls and whistles of the arrieros and the clomp of hooves as they herded mules into and out of camp. I would have thoroughly enjoyed just laying in my sleeping bag listening, however was too busy blowing thick yellow slimy crap out of my nose and nurturing a sore throat. And very soon thereafter, I was hit with a dire need to run quickly to the bathroom. These are all not good signs.
And so it was another breakfast where I choked down a few bites of food, drinking a liter of tea to begin my day of fluid intake (minimum 4 L per day at this altitude). And we headed off for an acclimatization hike to the Plaza Francia Mirador. As I followed Bernie and Fabio up the first incline, I had to acknowledge that I felt like shit. Am I even going to make it today? I gritted my teeth, blew my nose a few times, and trudged on. About 40 minutes into the hike, we made a brief stop to drink and remove a layer of clothing. The sun had now come out in full force and it was HOT. I took advantage of the stop to administer nasal spray and ibuprofen, and then we were off again. As the medicine began taking effect, I was able to better appreciate our surroundings. Part of the hike took us through a flatlands between the mountains that was very reminiscent of a moon landscape. Not that I’ve ever been on the moon; so maybe reminiscent of an image of a moon landscape. Chances are, you have a similar image, so this might mean something to you. It was a bit surreal, hiking along with odd boulders and stones scattered across the gravel and (sand? dirt? dust?) ground. We also spent 2/3 of the hike parallel to an enormous glacier, which at first was not even recognizable, so covered in rocks and dust it is. The further up we went, the more the underlying ice and the massive crevasses came into view. This Horcones inferior is called a “rock glacier” and is around 10 kilometers long.
As we came around a large outcropping, the south face of Aconcagua came into view, in all her splendor and power. At the mirador (viewpoint), we ducked behind a ridge to escape the wind that had shortly before started blowing, each chose a rock and settled down for lunch while gazing at this tremendous mountain. Bernie and I exchanged a bit of Aconcagua trivia (the South face was first successfully climbed in 1954, usually takes about 4 days, someone Bernie knows did it in 36 hours (but he is insane), another buddy needed 6 days and lost 5 toes and 4 finger halves in the process). We enjoyed lunch, my spirits raised significantly through the medicine and the view, and then we headed back down. As we walked, the wind increasingly gained force and captured my attention for a while. Sometimes the wind raced up the valley as if it had become trapped and was searching for an escape, then it would suddenly subside and next thing I knew, an even stronger wind came racing down the valley – as if the jet stream itself had run into Aconcagua’s peak, become confused and went tearing down the valley in anger at it’s disturbed course. I also now know that eyelashes have a much more critical purpose than looking pretty, as I held a steady squint in a effort to prevent the dust from getting into my eyes.
By the time we ended up back at camp, I was pleased with the days’ accomplishment, but feeling even worse than in the morning. I crawled into my blazing hot tent, peeled down to my underwear, popped 2 DayQuil and waited for the fever to subside. We had a 6:00pm doctor appointment, by which time my fever was down to just bordering on an acceptable temperature. All my altitude values were great (93% oxygen saturation, 100/60 blood pressure, 79 pulse; at altitude oxygen saturation goes down and the other two go up), so the doctor gave me antibiotics for what we agreed is a sinus infection, told me to drink a lot, rest a lot and he’ll see me at base camp. This is not how I planned this trip to go. But hey – at least my acclimatization seems to be on track.