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Tijs Michels


COUNTRY  The Netherlands
TOUR  Expedition Mount Plomo and Marmolejo
ITINERARY  Santiago Metropolitan Region, Maipo Valley, Chile-Argentina border
ASCENTS  Cerro del Plomo (5424m/17795ft), Volcán Marmolejo (6108m/20039ft)
In February and March of 2010, I climbed with Spondylus the easy Cerro del Plomo and the remote and cold Marmolejo.

For this private expedition, Spondylus had arranged an experienced guide: Manuel Bugueño. A good choice, as he proved to be not only a strong climber, but also, and perhaps just as importantly, an interesting person to talk to. He could tell lots of intriguing details about fossils, metamorphic rocks, sediments, Volcán San José, and so on. He also tought me how to say "I hate penitentes" in Spanish; very useful during the two kilometers on the Marmolejo glacier.

A prime example of Manuel's care for the client was the hot chocolate he prepared for me in the middle of a ridiculously cold night above 5000m. That really saved me that night.

Arguably the biggest advantage of a private expedition is the possibility to make on-the-spot changes to the plan. Manuel was both flexible and cooperative in this regard. In fact, we changed the entire plan before we even left Santiago, because I was very keen on taking the classic route through the imposing Estero Marmolejo valley. The original route, via San José, would no doubt have been rewarding as well. But camping beneath Loma Larga (the most beautiful mountain I have ever seen) and later on the ridge above the scenic Yeso valley, with the best view imaginable, was even better. The panorama from camp two on all the 6000ers between Cerro del Plomo and Piuquenes, was nothing less than breathtaking. Many thanks to Manuel for agreeing with me on this exciting itinerary. And now I also understand why Marmolejo is often called "muy muy lejos".

During our first night in Base Camp, at half past three, central Chile was hit by a major earthquake. I must praise Hans here, who organized a search party, and sent a reassuring email to my brother in the Netherlands when the search proved that Manuel and I had been able to continue our ascent as planned. Actually, for more than a week we had no idea that the earthquake was as devastating as it was, as we did not meet a single person in eight days. I must admit that for me, being in a safe spot in the middle of a fairly wide, moonlit valley, the earthquake and rock slides just added to the adventure. It was only later that I realized that we had admired the spectacle beneath a live volcano ...

Manuel's proposal to forget about the tent and just bivouac on the way down was inspired. I know that everybody says so, but it is true: the night sky over the Andes is incredible. We slept for two hours at the most that night. The rest of the time we marvelled at the stars and nebulae while Manuel explained about Orion, Alpha Centauri, Gamma Centauri, the Southern Cross, and so on. Fascinating!

All in all a very rewarding expedition in a stupendously beautiful corner of the Andes. The images of condors and hummingbirds, cacti and succulents, summits and glaciers, canyons and ridges, and alas also of penitentes and skeletons, the sounds of the thundering river deep down and the groaning glacier high up, the sensation of the cleanest air breathable and clearest skies imaginable, the joy of seeing the top of a penitente melt in sweet tea or hot chocolate, the river crossing with muleteer Aaron on the first day up and the icy mountain stream bath on the last day down, the solitude and the remoteness; all impressions that will stick with me for a long time to come. Many thanks to Hans and Manuel for making this possible.

Tijs Michels


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