Altitude: 4,180 meters; 13,713 feet (Pintor)
4,047 meters, 13,227 feet (Parva)
Incline difference: somewhere around 1,480 meters, 4,855 feet
Beginning point: La Parva ski center
Well I hit my first 4000 meter mountain and it was as spectacular as it was exciting. Not having gotten out of Santiago in quite awhile, taking an overnighter below the mountains, next to the laguna, and under millions of stars was just what the doctor ordered.
I have the hopes to start doing bigger mountains in November, so the first step is heading into higher altitudes, seeing how your body reacts, and getting used to excercising up there. Cerro Pintor is a local favorite for acclimatizing because it isn’t overy difficult on physical terms and it is hands-down gorgeous.
Friday morning we made our way to Farellones and parked just past the La Parva ski resort, probably somewhere around 2700 meters of altitude. Before, I had always started much lower, from 500-1000meters, and then made my way up. Starting right off the bat at an elevated altitude was definitely different and I noted it right away in my heartbeat. The first 20 minutes are always my hardest, while my body gets into the flow of the climb, but this was more difficult to get used to. My heart started pounding almost immediately, although it was probably a combination of the steepness, heavy backpack, altitude, and the fact I didn’t exercise as much during the week as I should have hah.
Having only come to this area during the winter for ski season, it was so strange to see it under different conditions. There we were walking over dirt, some snow, and lots of mud when just a month and a half before it was all white, from a 360 perspective, and filled with snowboardes and skiiers zig-zagging down the slopes. Along the way, we met a handful of people en route to Cerro El Plomo, 5,424 meters (17,795 feet), and others who were doing acclimatizing and just spending the day in the altitude.
At a relaxed pace, it took about 2 1/2 hours to get to the laguna. Laguna Piuquenes sits at 3500 meters and is a beautiful little gathering place, it slows the heartbeat as you stand there to take in the sight. From here to Cerro Pintor it is 2-3 hours depending on your pace. We were spending the night, so, while we could have easily climbed up and back down, we decided to simply relax. This turned out to be a lovely decision. We walked around, down to and around the valley, sat next to tiny “river” formed from the melting snow, felt the sun on our faces, and chatted Then, we headed back to the tent and did the same next to the laguna. There were spurts of wind and then moments of complete stilness, during which the most magnificent reflection of the mountains above painted the glass-like laguna below.
The fantastic thing about being in nature is it truly forces you to unwind, feel, and focus. In the beginning sometimes it feels like, “it’s 1:30, what the hell am I gonna do till it gets dark and I go to bed?” And then, the time passes. And it feels so good. I haven’t relaxed like that, totally unplugged, totally unmoving and quiet, mind shut down, for a looooong time. Uuuuuf, I hadn’t even realized how much I needed it.
The little stream that was flowing a few hours before had now quieted down with the setting sun no longer rapidly melting the mountain snow. This meant that the sediments on the ground could settle and we could fill our water bottles. We were boiling noodles for dinner, to be mixed with a soup packet and a little water, for a ravioli with mushroom cream sauce dinner. Mmmmm, talk about mountain gourmet. Well, unfortunately, rocks aren’t perfectly sturdy (what, who knew?!) and, out of nowhere, our little burner with the pot of boiling water tipped over. About 2/3 of those raviolis were now wearing a creamy dirt sauce. Talk about delish. Thankfully some stayed in the pan and some others were salvageable. Those ones that weren’t completely submersed in dirt could be rationalized after a good rinse. We did what we could and ended up with a meal for 2. After dinner and tea, we relaxed a bit under the unimaginable quantity of stars lighting up the black sky. It’s funny because my eyes subcionciously always search for the big dipper. Then I need to remind myself that the southern hemisphere is reavealing to me a different part of the sky, haha. That constellation was my pride and joy, the only one I could ever really find on my own and make out without an exaggerated stretch of the imagination, mainly stemming from a desire to try and see what the other people were seeing.
Anyways, not too long after, I crawled into my brand new sleeping bag, excited to see if my expensive purchase would keep me snug. Well, as I kept zipping, the mummy bag eveloped me tighter and tighter… until my head was pressed into the hood and my toes were at a nice upward stretch. Yep, my bag was too short. Like, juuuust too short. I mean, I’m tall, but averagely tall. I hadn’t even thought about length when I bought it. I had just decided on the one I wanted and then, naturally, bought the women’s version, which has more room in the hip area and is a couple degrees warmer. Well, when I checked the tag the next morning, it explicitely stated it was for 5’6″… and I’m a bit over 5’7″ – note to self, tags exist for a reason. It’s good to read them, especially when you’re buying a $150 sleeping bag.
The next morning we woke up, made oatmeal with almonds and bananas for breakfast, and started to make our way up. Since we had all day, we decided to do 3 peaks – Falsa Parva, La Parva, and Pintor. At one point we got a magnificent view of Pintor with Cerro Leonera and Cerro El Plomo towering behind it. Cerro Pintor has its name (painter) because it’s face is many different colors, which are more vivid in the summer but still definitely recognizable now. We had lunch on top of Pintor, staring at Leonera and Plomo, and it was mind-boggling to think that in 2 weeks I’d be on top of 1 and in 3 weeks on top of the other. Incredibly exciting.
On the way down we took a detour and went up La Parva too. Although pretty much next to Pintor, it offered a view slightly different view, more focused on the valley. It was filled with streaks of white snow and tan, red, orange, and green mountain dirt. Simply lovely. I was glad to have taken the little extra time and get this perspective too.
We took a different route back to the camp site which was a nice idea because it provided a slightly differnet landscape. Heading down was a breeze and we just took a mini pit-stop at the tent to eat, break down, and soak our feet in the ice-cold mountain snow water laguna.
It was an awesome weekend and I am thrilled looking foward to the upcoming weeks filled with more of this air, more of these sights, more of these challenges, and more learning.
Sleeping bag update: They let me exchange my sleeping bag. The man’s version for the sleeping bag I had bought was less warm, so I had to buy the next level bag, which was unisex. It’s a bit heavier and now no longer a pretty blue that matches my pretty blue backpack, but at least I can stretch out :)