Okay we slept in, don’t tell our father’s that we wasted a day relaxing. Up by 9 and somehow dragged together our camp into our packs by 11, and on the homeward journey.
Both of us had slept quite soundly, only one or so pee bottle breaks. By 2 in the morning the wind had started up stronger pounding the side of our tent. The cold front had arrived. Our eyes opened, poking out from our fully zipped thermal sleeping bags and pleading for a few more hours to rest. Finally Laura had built up the courage to throw on her woollies and head for our snow drift of a watering hole. I begrudgingly sat up and prepared the stove for the ice cubes to come. Granola bars once again, we had said goodbye to the oatmeal some time ago without a backward stare of remorse.
Others sturred outside, but just as slowly as us. Headaches remained, gripping the back of my head, seemingly around my spine, but these were fading, Laura I believed was putting up a braver face, and that such headaches were gripping her stronger.
We struggled with the tent in the wind, believing a peg had been left behind from my own tent I was distracted and turned to find Laura in full wrestling mode with our tent that just wanted to close less and less (it was growing with the red dust of Aconcagua I believe – another week and our 3 person would have grown to an even 4). At this point we watched as some Eastern European climbers headed down the other route to Plaza de Mulas, over an edge with a chain guard. Seconds later there screams and fleet feet brought them right back to us. They were fine, but the wind would be a challenge at points today.
Our own return followed the less conventional same route as our ascent. Almost all head down from Colera Camp to Plaza de Mulas and the Horcones River valley. This is a two day run down a gravel slope. Our route, while familiar would take an extra day and remain scenic and slower. Even if we could physically run, the terrain did not offer such an opportunity.
We were tired, alright close to exhaustion already. We waved goodbye to our summit camp at 11 and followed the route of two days previously slowly down toward Guanacos. It is surprising how so little appeared the same, different direction I guess. Slightly different muscle usage. We passed a few groups all heading up to stash gear or camp out for a summit attempt on the 11th or 12th, when the next weather wind opened.
A bit buffeted by the wind we arrived at Guanacos at 13:00, and rested briefly while gathering the few items we had left behind as being unnecessary. They seemed to “fit” in Laura’s pack perfectly and so she championed the cause and piled it all on. It was here that we first met up with the large guided group we had entered the park with, and well wishes and awe with our summit were shared. We offered them some fuel we were glad to part with, and then met up with the 3 Amigos (American boys) in the midst of setting up their camp. They were still keen and had set a summit window for the same as others, with their return flights on the 15th, this would be a bit tight. Some more goodbyes and well wishes with plans to meet in Mendoza, we headed on for Camp 1, a shorter hike, however some steep ice fields between.
These ice snow fields were a struggle heading down, and with our tired state I found Laura and I drifting apart at times each trying to find the shortest way. We arrived at Camp 1 around 1500, and once again afforded ourselves only a brief break to gather a heavier sack (garbage bag wrapped items) of items deemed even earlier on to be less important, and have a bit of burnt water.
Once again a steep ice field (the last of our journey), soft rock talus slope and the Penitentes remained in our way. Once through these with Plaza Argentina basecamp clearly in view the pack started to lighten slightly and Laura’s grin returned with a few high fives at milestone points. We crashed back into our old digs at 1900, oh how a rock pile can look so familiar and comforting. Another long day of walking. We consulted with Bruno (camp organizer) about mules, dropped off our poop collection and hit up the local establishment for a beer and hamburgers. A plastic bottle of foamy delight, a very nice looking hamburger with ketchup and Hellman’s mayo out here in the middle of nowhere. We fell asleep once again almost immediately in the tent with another hard day down and one more to come. Things were now definitely looking up, warmer weather and thick oxygen awaited our next few days.