Monday, 23 May 2011

San Pedro de Atacama and Mount Sairecabur - The Hardest Thing I Have Ever Done

We just arrived Santiago last night (21 May 2011).

 It's so nice to be able to unpack and hang your clothes up for a few days, instead of living straight from your backpack.  Cable TV, hot shower that doesn't turn cold suddenly or simply stop functioning. 

I miss city life...

It's also good to catch our breaths as we had gotten to a point of our travels where we were just too exhausted to do anything.  When we were in San Pedro, we didn't do the Moon Valley, didn't see the geysers or lakes because after 3 days on the Uyuni 4x4 Tour, we had seen enough valleys, rocks and geysers!!

Not only that, we were too tired to do the stargazing which looking back, I don't regret not doing it but it would have been nice if we did.  Neither did we sandboard because all our energy were sucked out of us after we did the Mount Sairecabur trek, which was our ultimate 6,000m altitude goal.

If you have been keeping up with my blog, back in Arequipa in Peru, we were going to do the 'easiest' 6,000m altitude trek but the tour company couldn't provide us with the right equipments - jackets, snow boots etc...

So when we were in La Paz, I thought of doing it but since we just had our stuff stolen, I was in no mood to do anything challenging.  Then, I thought a lot about it in when we were in the Amazon Jungle and in Sucre.  All the 'what if...' and I hated it.

I hate regrets.  I rarely ever regret.  The Arequipa incident wasn't our fault but part of me still felt that something was missing.  So when I was reading up on San Pedro and found out that we could do a trek to Mount Sairecabur, which some say is 6,045m, and some say 6,006m, we decided straight away to do it.

It was something we had to do.  No considerations involved, no questions asked. 

Well, to sum it up, we DID NOT get to 6,000m but still, it was the hardest physical thing I have ever done. 

It was harder than the second day of my first trek in Huaraz (Peru), harder than the 2,500 steps up to Machu Picchu at 4am, and harder than the half marathon (21km) I did two years ago.

The weather was wild and unpredictable.  One moment, it's nice and cool, next moment, the wild wind just about blew our heads off.  It was cold, but that was the least of our problems.  At such high altitude, every step took huge efforts.  You would be walking like an old man and would have nothing on your mind but to try and breathe!!!

To make matters worse, there were snow so deep that you would take one step, have to lift your leg from the ditch, balance yourself with another and do the whole thing again until you get to an area with less snow.  Add to that, we were at about 5,000m above sea level.

Then, there's the ice.  Anyone who has walked on ice knows exactly what I am talking about.  Again, add to that, we were at about 5,000m above sea level PLUS we were walking UPHILL!!!

Anyhow, so finally, we got to 5,700m where we could clearly see the top, from there, you would think 'oh no worries, no matter how hard, I can make it.'


The previous 4 and a half hour trek was a piece of cake compared to what was ahead of us.  It was strictly a 45° UPWARD...and we were not walking on ice or snow, we were CLIMBING on ALL FOURS (our hands, our legs) up a steep slope with unsteady rocks. It was like I was in a movie where every step I took, when I look down, I could see the rocks falling down the slope!!

It wasn't technical, no.  But if we fell, we would have terribly injured ourselves in the middle of nowhere.

Nevertheless, we continued our best to climb like our lives depended on it.  Then, one of the guys trekking with us got really sick from the altitude and started vomiting.  He got really dizzy and couldn't stand up at all. 

The rest of us were busy climbing upward and trying to breathe!  We didn't realize until our guide stopped us at 5,900m and that was when we were told that the peak we were staring at wasn't the top (6,000m) and that there was ANOTHER 2 hours to go after this initial peak, as we had to go down and then up again. 

I was like, what the fuck? We are at 5,900m and we have another TWO FUCKING HOURS???  Mind you, after trekking for 4 and a half hours at such extreme weather and condition, the sudden realization that you have another 2 hours to go was a big hit.  Especially when you thought you were about to cross the line!

But that wasn't why we didn't continue. Since we only had one guide, if we continued to go another 2 hours, we would have to descend a path different from the one we ascended from.  However, that sick guy COULD NOT even stand on his own, there was no way he could make it back to the van without us. 

In the end, we all had to leave, he had to be CARRIED by Rupert, our guide and a third guy because he could bearly walk. I think he was hospitalized after we parted.

So, we didn't get to the 6,000m we hoped we would but at the end of the day, we have tried our best and things happen.  It wasn't the sick guy's fault either.  It was just tough luck I guess.  But I don't regret it because I have already broken my own personal record.  I feel sorry for Rupert though but again, there was nothing we could do.

We tried our best and I have absolutely no regret now.  It was a day I would never forget because I have never put my life on something like that before.  It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and probably one of the stupidest things too because of my own stubborness.

Anyhow, that's why we weren't able to do anything else in San Pedro.  Stargazing and sandboarding were at the bottom of our list.  However, San Pedro was a nice little place to long as you don't try to kill yourself like we did.

Having said that, during our stay at San Pedro, we managed to go cyclying in the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world.  It was really fun as it was the first time Rupert and I went cycling together.  Also, it was a bit like in Salar de Uyuni in which it was really unworldly.  It was like we were cycling on MARS!!! You see no one, you hear nothing but just you and the crazy red rock or sand formation around somewhere Superman lives!

Nevertheless, I didn't think I would live the day to say this but traveling can be quite tiring.  So we look forward to taking things slowly in Santiago...just touristy stuff and probably wine tasting but nothing crazy.

Yet again, never let yourself regret about anything.  Sometimes, don't think.  JUST DO IT.