Saturday January 9th 2016
On one of my last weekends living in Chile, I made a trip into the mountains, with the aim of climbing La Leonera, just under 5000m tall. After El Pintor, this was the next of the training runs before an attempt on El Plomo. 8 of us made this trip, driving up the road to Farellones that I'd cycled up a few days earlier, and heading on further up to La Parva. For El Pintor we'd driven up to the top cable car station. The cars were not running so the road up was open. This time the cars were running and a locked gate forced us to pay the money for the ride up to the highest point of the ski resorts. From there, we started our hike, over a ridge and up towards Cerro La Parva.
We'd planned to hike across the plateau to an area called Cancha de Carreras. But when we reached a small hut at the base of Cerro La Parva, I was feeling the altitude. We were at just under 4,000m, having started the day at 500m in Santiago, and though I'd done the climb to El Pintor without any problems, this time I felt extremely tired and could hardly keep my eyes open. I didn't fancy climbing another 200m and risking worse problems so I said to the group that I wanted to camp here.
We set up our tents, and I slept for a little while. I felt better by the evening, so just before sunset, we climbed La Parva, just a 15 minute climb from our campsite and 4,050m tall.
Sunday January 10th 2016
The next day we got up before dawn, in savage cold, and set out for La Leonera. I felt better than yesterday but still not really 100 percent. We passed El Pintor, and crossed the Cancha de Carreras, where a few other tents were dotted across the plateau. And then on the other side of that, the ascent towards La Leonera began. It was a beautiful day and the views of the cordillera were pretty epic. There was a lot less snow at our altitude than there had been a few weeks ago.
At about 4300m, I found myself feeling not great again. I was annoyed to be suffering with the altitude when I'd had no similar problems on previous trips. I paused for a long rest, and then decided to head back down to the camp, with another of our group who was also suffering in the thin air.
We headed back to camp, with a quick detour to return to the summit of El Pintor. A few hours later, three of the group returned, having made it to the top, and a couple of hours later still, the other three, also successful but with one of the group suffering badly with the altitude. We descended as quickly as we could. Our plan had been to get the cable car back down to where we'd parked our cars, but we were too late, and the cable car had stopped running.
It was an hour or so's walk to get to the bottom of the hill. But with the altitude problems afflicting some of us, and night falling, the healthiest members of the group heroically hurried down the hill to get the cars, then drove back up to the top cable car station to collect the rest of us. Then we drove back down to the bottom over the incredibly rough tracks, having a hard time finding our way and eventually, as it turned out, driving directly down the ski slopes to the bottom.