A semi successful adventure of the 6th highest mountain in South America with a ski of the legendary south face but missing the summit because of stomach issues...
The mighty south face of Mercedario
Our driver Andres took us straight in to the wild with his 4x4 and after an hour or so we came to the local mining company’s check point where we had to register to enter in to the mountains. After the registration and a quick match of foosball (i won) against the local hero we kept on going for another 20 minutes to the military farm of Santa Anna. Here we had to check in again before starting our marathon walk towards the South Face.
If we had wanted to do the normal route on the other side of the mountain we would have been able to drive up to around 3600 meters and could have started the climb (walk) of the mountain straight ahead. But to get to the south side we had to walk around the mountain in a ragged valley starting on 2100 m and walking a distance close to a marathon with 30 kilos on our backs. It’s the hardest approach both me and Bjarne had done in our lifes.
I have always wanted to ski the south face since I heard of its existence a few years back. Its a 1800 m high white face on one of the highest mountains in south america located simply in the middle of no-where. It has no technical difficulty what so ever, but its steep enough to be fun, its white, huge and it would turn out to be a great ski.
After three days of walking through amazing landscapes we finally made it to the base camp located at 4350 m just under the face. Here we had a rest day before I set out on my mission the following night.
Bjarne followed me to cross the bergschrund just after two o’clock in the morning. There he left me to walk back to the tent to get another hour of sleep. Then he started his climb up a mountain on the other side of the valley to find a good spot for filming.
The face hadn’t looked to big from BC, but when getting on it I could really feel that its twice as big as any snow face in Chamonix and that the base of it is almost on the same height as Mt Blanc. I walked for hours, but when the sun rose at six I had only done half the face.
I could for sure feel the altitude, but what slowed me down most was my stomach that didn’t let me keep anything I tried to eat. It became a comical situation racing between spots that where good for taking shits. But thats life in the mountains, specially in places with germs more hard core than the european ones.
Higher up on the face i started to traverse under the big rock band at the top of the face. I did it to get a shortcut to the summit, but also be able to ski the face from the top in as good style as possible. But about half way through the traverse hell broke lose. As I should have understood the sun hit the rock band and started projecting down rocks. I would have turned around if it wasn’t for it being easy to see the rocks coming as long as I was moving. If I had stopped to put my skis on I would have been much more vulnerable. This is not saying I like the situation I was in, but sometimes it happens and then you just have to keep at it.
Further over it calmed down and I started looking for crevasses usable as safe toilets. I was laughing at my self crawling up the last hundred meters of the face. I had passed the objectively dangerous parts, but I was weaker than ever. Ten hours of climbing without being able to keep any food, gels or water at altitude had taken its toll on me. I had nothing left after throwing up and taking seven shits in total. When I came up on the plateau above the face on 6150 meters I lay down to take a rest and watched the icy dome I had in front of me. The skiing looked worse than ever up there and i counted that in my present state I wouldn’t make it up there just before dark.
I hate to give up, but this time it was the wisest thing to do. And besides, my intent and dream was to climb and ski the south face of Mercedario. I hadn’t asked for anything else. As a believer of intent and dreams and creating one’s own reality I just accepted my situation with a smile and decided to be happy for the huge ski I had under my feet.
The skiing was to be wonderful with really easy skiable chalky snow, but with a few wavy sections. I could ski it fairly fast on places and it’s always a wonderful feeling covering terrain on skis in a matter of minutes that took hours on the way up. It had been a really cold night, so the batteries in all my electrical equipment except my camera was dead. It was a pity as I would have loved to re-experience this ski from the Gopro’s point of view.
But it’s all there in the back of my mind when I look back at the experience. Further down there was an icy section with a tin layer of snow on it. I hadn’t been able to find a good way through it in the darkness on the way up so now I had to do it on-sight from the top. I had a few interesting moments, but in the end I made it through the whole thing without even thinking of using a rope (which i had left with Bjarne anyways) or down climbing.
The last few hundred meters after the ice served up wonderful corn skiing and allowed me to finally get back to GS mode to in a really tired state, with a smile on my lips, end another great ski day in the middle of no where.
The following day was an obligatory rest day before we put on our huge backpacks once again to go down all the way to, as it ended up, La Junta and the mining company’s check point. The military people chocked us with the worst welcoming we ever had in the wilderness and refused to help us call our transport. So we had to keep on walking for a few hours more till we finally came back to our friendly miners.
This time I lost the rematch in foosball, but I blame it on tiredness and dehydration. Anyways, we were really welcomed here and got food and water while waiting for our ride back to Barreal. In a spree of luck we managed to get back to Mendoza via San Juan in that very same day and we are now resting up for a few days before continuing our grand adventure.
The shithead tournament:
Don't forget to check Bjarne's video blog for loads of cool mountain movies at: endlessflow.posterous.com
Mercedario from the jeep
Me, Bjarne and his girlfriend Heather (Who joined us on this adventure to get acclimatized for Aconcagua.
Entering the cowboy landscape
Starting the huge walk
One of many river crossings
Bjarne taking a bath
The first view of the big mountains
Our first view of the south face
Me and the south face
More south face - I just can't get enough...
... in front of the face
The sun rise on the climbing day
Looking down, from probably another shitty place..
Looking down from the top of the face
And looking up at the icy summit
I love looking back at my tracks on a face like this
Endless rounds of card games
On the way out
Finally, close to the mining check point! The end of just another adventure...