MISSION, [mish-uh n]
1. countable noun
Any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed. Synonyms: assignment, job, labour, operation"
Nobody told me what I should be dooing. The "Missions", as I call them, are just my version of long and original bike rides. They often end at night, after sneaking into all the most unlikely places discovered on the way.
I always like to get off the beaten track, exploring each spot to find out what's behind each corner, mound or mountain. I like to ride differently in original places: That's]my motivation through my real passion for mountain biking.
When I'm not on my bike, I use to spend time in front of my computer. Not only to scroll... I'm looking for undiscovered spots and creative videos. I draw inspiration from the ski community and other outdoor sports but I'm really captivated by creative minds.
This season, I'm launching my own web series "MISSION". You can follow my adventures through different episodes: riding atypical spots all around the world, or mixing other outdoor sports. Remember when I was riding an MTB with a Paraglide? Maybe other ideas will emerge.
After a first episode on the highest sand dune in the world, we’re spicing things up today, getting even higher: 20 000ft (6100 meters) high. For this second Mission in Peru, we were intent on conquering the Chachani Volcano. The journey starts in the central area of the beautiful city of Arequipa, enhanced by the two massive volcanoes outlined in the background of the church. Lost in the middle of hundreds of tourists contemplating the most famous religious edifice of Peru, our minds already are set to the summit.
I dreamed for months to climb a summit higher than 6000 meters. Over a couple days, we attempt to do so with my filmmaker Pierre Henni and photographer/holidaymaker Julien Prenez. The same team was reunited from our first MISSION episode on the Cerro Blanco. Click here
to watch or rewatch.
But first, let’s talk about the acclimatization. Climbing such a summit requires getting used to the altitude. As we climb, the oxygen is getting more scarce than at sea level and our bodies need time to get used to this lack of oxygen, slowing down our entire system. After spending more than 10 days at about 3500 meters high and many round trip at a higher altitude, we were finally feeling ready; We were also making the most of the acclimatization time in Cusco to discover some of the amazing trails and landscapes the surroundings have to offer.
We’ve all had our shares of altitude sickness, but the excitement of the D-Day made us all ready! With the right weather conditions, the Chachani volcano is not the most difficult 6000 meters summit to climb. But we have to overcome the current weather and to unveil few details, there will be snow and cold wind for our expedition. A real mission, just the way we like it!
Our ascent is divided in two stages.
Stage one: we need to get to the base camp at 5200 meters to spend the night. Wanting to be as self-sufficient as possible, I’m brought a lot of stuff with me:
My bike: Intense Tracer = 14kg
Bivvy bag: Tent, Fluff, mattress, moncler, food, 3 litres of water, headlamp = 15kg
Bike bag: Mountaineering crampons, gaiters, additional gloves and jacket = 12kg
Worn clothes = 8kg
Myself = 75kg
Total = 124kg
The positive elevation is not too massive on this segment, so I knew I would need about two hours to climb it. I was trying to walk as slowly as possible, to control my pulse rate and to take my time crossing the huge rocks paths. You feel so small and insignificant amongst this landscape from another world. Some of these rocks can be up to 3m tall, results of century-long eruptions. Quite comforting to know the Chachani volcano has been asleep for decades while crossing all this!
For the anecdote, we felt an earthquake in Arequipa. A common thing for a Peruvian living all year long in the Andes cordillera, but really not the same feeling for a Frenchy. An episode which humbles us and reminds us of our insignificance.
We are quickly tired because of the altitude but we arrived at base camp, and it's a luxurious one. Flat surfaces for the tent, rock-built toilets and an amazing view (through a thick mist...).
It was 6pm, time to eat some rice before going to bed. We plan on waking up at midnight, whereas it’s usually my sleeping time. It will be a short night for sure. And the altitude does not help since none of us can really sleep...
With just a few hours rest, it was time for us to start our hard ascent. Lucky for us, the night was not too cold. Temperatures between 0 and -4°C, just enough to freeze my tent and my bike. Good thing I had brought some warm gear. Only my hands and feet are feeling numbed by this cold.
Without my bivouac bag, I feel lighter and in a better shape to start the day, keeping in mind how crucial it is to save my energy and walk slowly. A strange feeling, as if I was still sleeping in my tent.
Personally, I started to feel tired at around 5800 meters. It had been an hour since I put my stud shoes and roped up. I had to push my bike with on hand and keep the rope in the right direction with the other hand. Not an easy task.
It started to get really tricky to keep control on everything in this environement: control my breathing, keep walking, keep moving my hands and feet to fight the cold, and all these while feeling more and more tired because of the altitude!
I went through different stages of doubts and hope. Feeling that I wouldn’t be able to complete this mission, then feeling that I could, and that I couldn’t again... I felt clearly the effects of the altitude but I tried to stay motivated. It's not every day you have the opportunity to ride a summit like this. At 5800 meters, I talked to myself: "Stay focused Kilian, you have one more Eiffel Tower remaining to climb to join the summit. An Eiffel Tower, it's nothing, don't turn back yet, go on!"
I was also thinking about those amazing alpinists climbing at more than 8000 meters, in extreme conditions... It was a bit confused in my head but I saw the ridge and tried to catch the first lights of the sunrise. Except in case of failure, I knew we were going to make it. We were less than 30 minutes away from the summit.
And we did it! I wish I could tell you that it was amazing, as I dreamed it before. But it was really cold, around -15°C and I knew I had to focus on getting down the hill. I took a few minutes to change clothes, enjoy the top of the summit. The it was time to ride!
We didn't cheat, the summit was rideable from the very top at 6075m, in a hard packed and challenging snow.
To be honest, I was less lucid than at the sea level, but I was conscious. Without taking too many risks, I rode 95% of the Chachani between snow, ice, sand fields and huge rocks.
Further down, all the team is regaining strength thanks to the sun, helping us to do some nice shots with amazing scenery. Further up, our summit soon to be hidden by the clouds...
We’ve had a clear weather shot, we took it and that's a new mission accomplished. Climbing up and down a summit at more than 6000 meters (20000ft).Text : Kilian Bron / Video : Pierre Henni / Photos : Julien Prenez