Trip Report #2

I woke up to plastic, metal and wood shards all over base camp.

There had been some kind of wind phenomena in base camp, either a very localized twister of some kind or simply a very powerful gust that lasted long enough to cause some serious damage, either way the wind had culminated in a powerful enough something to destroy the Fernando Grajales camp, destroy multiple tents and lift someone into the air.

The F.G. camp consisted of five large tents with hollow steel support beams and thick plastic sheeting as the tent fabric, like a slightly smaller version of a temporary garage. In one of the tents was a kitchen complete with stove, oven and various cast iron cooking implements. In another were simply bags full of gear used by the various guiding companies that use Grajales as an outfitter for food, water and transport like I was. The remaining tents were mess tents with tables and plastic chairs. Almost all of this was gone in the morning. Sometime around midnight a guide for Alpine Ascents was in his tent “sleeping” (the wind was so loud I doubt anyone had a truly restful night in base camp) when the guy lines (tie downs for the tent) of his tent ripped out and his tent was lifted into the air, flipped over and dropped onto the ground…with him in it. Luckily, he came out with only a bruised head and shoulder and he worked his way over to the mess tent Alpine Ascents was renting from Grajales to try and get some sleep. According to him, just as he was dozing off the mess tent disappeared and he was lying on the wooden floorboards with nothing around him, tent, tables and chairs were gone.

The steel poles had bent and broken and some had been hurled through people’s tents, hitting another person on the head. The plastic chairs had disintegrated and shards of them littered camp along with pieces of wood and tent material. The toilets at base camp are large barrels dug into the ground with sheet metal outhouses sitting atop them. When the barrels are full the outhouse is moved and the barrel is helicopter out of camp, elaborate but a sound way of keeping base camp crap free. Sadly on much on much of the mountain a trip behind most large boulders will result in the discovery of someone who doesn’t respect nature, or other people enough to clean up their shit. These sheet metal outhouses don’t weigh very much and their roofs are simply about a meter square of sheet metal with rocks on top to keep them from flying away. A good idea in normal conditions but not so good when the wind is strong enough to do something that no one at Grajales had ever seen at Plaza Arengtina before. Luckily there aren’t that many outhouses so the flying square meters of sheet metal only results in one torn tent and no decapitations.

In the end, everyone was pretty relieved that no one was seriously injured. The potential for a true disaster was huge. The worst injured was the guide who felt able and ready to continue to climb. A few people higher on the mountain and some of those in base camp had their trips ended when their tents were annihilated by the wind and they were unable to afford new ones. Those tents at F.G. had been being used for at least ten years or so and they had never any problems with them before. It’s interesting to note that other companies didn’t seem to have the same problem but, as I wrote earlier, much of the damage to camp was localized and the broken and ripped climber tents were for the most part, from around where F.G. was set up.

Later on my way up to camp one, I ran into one of these unfortunates at base camp and invited him to join me for my ascent, but he had already acclimatized and would’ve had to have traveled at a pace that would have proven dangerous for me to attempt due to his travel arrangements.

I proceeded with my plan for the day that was to carry about half my load, mostly food and fuel and cold weather clothes, to camp one. I packed my bags and began the, for me 3 hour for some 4-5 hour and for the porters who live on the mountain 1.5 hour trip to camp one.

The trip proved more challenging then I had expected.

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