NOVEMBER 2018: Llullaillaco volcano: Ascending to the highest Inca sanctuary in the world by bike. (6.740 mts // 22,112 ft).
After several months of organizing one of the most extraordinary expeditions that we have had within the production of the Bigmountainbike audiovisual saga “Guardian del valle”, on November 9 , 2018 we had everything ready to set off for what would be one of the hardest ascents that has been done by bike in this project, the ascent to the second highest active volcano on the planet and the highest Inca sanctuary in the world; the great and unknown Llullaillaco Volcano, 6,740 meters above sea level (masl) / 22,112 ft.
This time we were a group of 8 persons in the team. A big group for a big feat! This group was made up of 4 cameramen and 4 athletes on bike. We have been almost two years with this great project of climbing high mountains by bike and we were looking for a way to cross borders (We are from Chile literally from the end of the world), that is why I got in touch with the German rider Gerhard Czerner, whom I saw for the first time in a Redbull video when he went to climb Mt Kilimanjaro by bike (highest mountain in Africa) with the great bikers Danny Mcaskill. He, without thinking twice, accepted my invitation together with his friend and great Swiss photographer Martin Bissig, one of the most renowned photographers in the European bicycle exploration scene. In addition to the two of them, on this occasion I also invited Nico Prudencio, a great national rider, to experience from the inside what high mountain biking is and push his abilities to the limit. My faithful partner of these adventures was also present; Federico Scheuch. And 3 more cameramen: Benjamín Camus, Nico Gantz and Sebastián Prieto, the three of them are machines in the cameras and very strong physically and mentally speaking. Since not every cameraman is capable of enduring a 14-day expedition in the high mountains and also reaching a summit of 6,740 meters (22,112 ft) with his cameras and all the equipment that this implies!.
1 month before leaving Santiago we begin an acclimatization process, which is key to being able to achieve with success these high peaks. During this acclimatization phase, we went twice to Cerro Pintor (4,200 masl), once for the day and the other to sleep. We also went to the Federation Camp, a camp that is used as Base Camp for those who want to climb Cerro El Plomo, a 5,420 meters peak. In addition, when Gerhard and Martin arrived from Germany (who came with a great acclimatization disadvantage since the mountains there are not very high) we went to Cerro Falsa Parva (3,850 meters above sea level) to see how they were doing at altitude and thus be able to gain confidence before going out to Llullaillaco Volcano.FRIDAY NOV 9:
With all the logistics ready and somewhat acclimatized, we loaded our truck with everything we needed (food, water, bikes, personal equipment, etc.) and headed for "Bahía Inglesa", our first stop on this expedition that would last 14 days. Upon arrival at Bahía Inglesa we were received by our friend and local guide Pablo Cartes who took us to enjoy some amazing freeride on the coast of this desert area of the north of Chile. A privilege! But the next day, very early in the morning, we were leaving for "San Pedro de Atacama", a place that would be our home for the next 4 days.
We were beginning to feel welcomed by the magic of the altiplano and the motivation was at its peak! The next day, we went to "Salar de Tara", a wonderful place located in the middle of the altiplano at 4,250 meters above sea level near the border with Bolivia. Where we spent the whole day taking wonderful shots of pure high altitude freeride. Another great privilege!! After a long day of pedaling in the heights, we return to the Explora Hotel where we rest and enjoy its comfortable facilities and first class food. A well deserved rest.
The next day in the morning we went to "Catarpe", a place near San Pedro that is a paradise for freeride. Sand hills with multiple lines welcomed us to this place, we were fascinated! After a whole morning of first class filming and riding, we went to the Hotel to prepare all the necessary equipment to go to sleep at the Puritama Hot Springs, another incredible place located at 3,500 meters above sea level. We needed to sleep above 3,500 meters of altitude for an acclimatization issue and what better way to do it than in some natural hot springs in the middle of the desert. This trip never stopped surprising us, Chile is really unique.
After a very nice night of relaxation and production in the Puritama Hot Springs, we left for what would be our first acclimatization ascent on this expedition; The Cerro "Jurinquinca" of 4,940 meters above sea level located in the high plateau of the Atacama desert. Here we take a walk without our bikes and then we go down. Without much hurry and with plenty of time on this day, we took our trucks and headed back to the Hotel. We only had 1 day left in San Pedro magic town, so we took advantage of the afternoon to go for a walk around this beautiful town in the Atacama desert, learn a little more about its culture and record as much as possible the magic of this place.
Back at the hotel we began to prepare everything for the great odyssey that was upon us. The next day, first thing in the morning, we left for the Llullaillaco Base Camp; The “Zorritas” refuge at 4,200 meters above sea level. More than 7 hours by car on very little traveled roads in the middle of the desert and with very little information, they were ahead of us. The desire and anxiety were getting bigger. WEDNESDAY NOV 14:
It was already Wednesday and we had to leave! How quickly time passes.
We had everything ready (250 liters of water, tents, personal and group equipment, food, stoves, extra gasoline cans, etc.) to leave and stay 10 days at the middle of the desert. Now we had to do everything flawlessly and follow the little information we had about the route to the base camp of the unknown Llullaillaco Volcano to the letter. GPS in hand and off we go to navigation. The Llullaillaco Volcano is at the east of Antofagasta town and therefore south of San Pedro de Atacama. To go from San Pedro to Llullaillaco there is very little information on the route to follow, so you have to be very attentive to the GPS and to the previously studied indications so as not to get lost, since getting lost there can mean hours going around, which can lead to run out of oil, even if you have reserves.
Luckily for us and as a result of the detailed study we made of the route, after 7 hours and having crossed the desert in all its splendor, we managed to reach the base camp of the Llullaillaco Volcano. Not was easy!. To give you an idea, the directions to get there are something like: Km 234.5 turn right heading south (in the middle of the desert where you have sand roads where there are thousands to choose from so you can't go wrong), then at the post number 307 of the old power line that goes from north to south, turn left, after 100 meters there will be a big rock, there turn right and so on until suddenly you enter a wonderful creek full of “grasses” (endemic flora from there) in the middle of the desert, where the “Zorritas” refuge is located, a refuge that belongs to "Conaf" (National forestal corporation. Since the Llullaillaco Volcano is located in a National Park (P.N Llullaillaco, one of the most unknown national parks in Chile) As expected, there was absolutely no one within miles of where we were. It was us, the huge desert and this big sacred mountain of the Incas.
Already installed in the Base camp we begin with the logistics of ascent to the mountain. Stuff porting days were ahead of us. Now we didn't stop until we reached the summit. From the luxury and comfort of the Hotel Explora, to the suffering and cold of the high mountains. Such is life, perfectly balanced. THURSDAY NOV 15:
Thursday morning we began to prepare everything to go to sleep at what would be our camp 1 at 4,700 meters. In this place we set up the camp and started the first portage of equipment up to 5,300 meters. In this portage we leave at 5,300 mts everything that is summit attack equipment; tents, helmets, bike tools, crampons, food, etc. and we also take advantage of acclimatizing. After a long but beautiful day we went down to sleep in Camp 1 at 4,700 mts. Where we prepare everything for the next day to carry our bikes and the rest of equipment to the high camp at 5,600 mts. This was just beginning. FRIDAY NOV 16:
This day we got up very early in the morning and started carrying the bikes to the high camp. The idea was to leave our bikes as high as possible this day. Leaving Camp 1 at 4,700 masl, after a couple of hours we arrived at what was our first equipment depot at 5,300 mts. Here we rested a bit, hydrated and took the equipment that we had left there to continue to the high camp located at 5,600 mts. At this point we leave tents, helmets, bike tools, crampons, food, etc. and continue just with our bikes as high as possible, reaching 5,750 m.a.s.l. We left our bikes there and began the descent to camp 1. After a good couple of hours we arrived at camp 1, disarmed the camp and left for the base camp "Refugio Zorritas" located at 4,200 m. The next day we had a day off. The only rest day throughout the ascent itinerary, key to do the summit with success. SATURDAY NOV 17:
Already installed again in Base camp "Refugio Zorritas", after having made the hard task of carrying the equipment and bikes at 5,700 m.a.s.l, we took this day to rest, hydrate and prepare ourselves mentally for what was to come in the following days. However, our German friend Gerhard Czerner did not feel fully acclimatized and that day he preferred to go up, along with Martin Bissig, to sleep at 5,300 mts. So that day, he and Martin left for the Volcano and were going to join us on Sunday when we are going up to the high camp.
As an expedition leader, I would not have let that happen if Gerhard had no experience, but, on the contrary, Gerhard is a man with a lot of experience and knowledge in what refers to high mountains, so after having talked for a long time, he together Martin took one of the trucks and went into the mountain.
We, the Bigmountainbike crew, stayed all day relaxed and taking advantage of resting, eating and hydrating as much as we could to rest our bodies as much as possible since we knew that the next day was one of the toughest ascents of our lives.
Now to sleep that tomorrow we will not stop. SUNDAY NOV 18:
After having left everything ready the day before, we took the trucks and went to Camp 1 of the Volcano, place where we left the trucks, and we began to walk, lightly, to the high camp at 5,600 mts. In between we ran into Gerhard and Martin who had climbed the previous day to sleep at 5,300 m.a.s.l. And that's when Gerhard decides not to go up anymore, since he had had a very bad night, vomiting and not being able to sleep at all, so he just got until there and decided to go down to base camp. However, Martin felt fine and continued with us to the high camp, which we arrived at around 5 in the afternoon. We ate something, hydrated well and went to sleep, since at 11 at night we had to wake up for the big final hit to the summit.
Without sleeping much (some did not sleep at all) at 11 the alarm sounds. The sacrifice and suffering begins, but also the desire and motivation to climb this great "Apu" (Sacred mountain in Inca language) of the desert by bike!. MONDAY NOV 19, SUMMIT DAY:
12 at night, an hour ago the alarm sounded, very cold and concentration. We set out for the summit. More than 1,100 meters of unevenness over 6,000 meters of altitude awaited us. Silence and very cold, nothing more. After 45 minutes we arrived at the place where we had left the bikes, the hard part begins. Nico Gantz, photographer and mountaineer was ahead of the group, trying to avoid more than 1,000 meters of glacier full of penitentes almost impossible to pass by bike, he guided us on the right track. -25 C degrees marks the gps. We were already close to 6,100 mts and it was just 3 am, we still had more than 4 hours left before the sun would rise. The cold and the mind begin to play tricks on you, but the motivation is stronger. We had to put on the crampons, we had to cross the giant snowfield, 2 or 3 hours walking on the cold, hard ice, slowly, very slowly, with the bike on our shoulders, but we made progress, slowly, but we progress. Around 6 AM we had already crossed the snowfield and it was the coldest hour of the night, the dawn. We were going from the threshold of cold to pain, the cold was maximum. But when the sunlight began to come out, the incredible landscapes that surrounded us also began to be seen, there was something good, the view was priceless, the great shadow of Llullaillaco was seen from miles away like a perfect triangle, but it was still doing a lot cold so we had to keep going, if we stayed still for more than 10 minutes, we froze, so we had to keep going up or down but we had to keep going! Already around 8 AM and at about 6,350 m.a.s.l we finally saw that the sunlight was going to reach us, so we stopped and warmed up with that light that one is so grateful for in those moments, that vital light of pure life, the light of the Sun. We were there for 30 minutes, thanking this light that warmed our frozen feets and bodies and with that, we became motivated again. It was already around 9 AM and we were approximately 5 hours from the summit. The “deadline” was at 2:00 p.m., so we were doing well.
Already exhausted, we reached the "Col" between the main summit and the south summit, we were at 6,500 m.a.s.l. We were missing "only" 240 meters of unevenness. But it was 240 meters of unevenness of pure giant rocks and an endless haul where you couldn't take more than 4 or 5 steps with the bike on your shoulder without having to stop to breathe. But that's when you get energy from you don't know where to keep going up. Until finally, after 3 hours from the Col, and carrying our bikes on our shoulders, we managed to reach the summit of the second highest active volcano on the planet and the highest Inca sanctuary in the world! Thus achieving, after 14 hours and a half, the ascent by bike to this great and powerful "Apu" in the north of our country. Now it was time to go down!!. THE DESCENT:
The descent in this type of mountains is almost pure survival. But the great Llullaillaco still had a lot to offer us. After 14 and a half hours of pilgrimage, the truth is that your body asks for rest and your mind is in “airplane mode”. So the descent in this Bigmountainbike discipline is quite a challenge. Being in a place as remote as the Llullaillaco Volcano you have to take the maximum possible precautions, especially on the descent.
As I was saying, once at the top of Llullaillaco we had to go down, we were exhausted, but there was still energy left for the descent. The previous days we were analyzing the descent route and we wanted to ride it yes or yes, we had seen a line of pure freeride that connected near 6,350 mts until the car! and in between we have to cross riding the glacier, we had to do it. It is with that in mind that we begin the descent from the summit. The first hour was pure suffering. Trying to ride and carrying the bike in hand until the Coll (6,500 m.a.s.l) since it was impossible to ride all on that section of the mountain. We came very tired but there was less and less to go. Also, as it is an audiovisual production, we had to be aligned with those who were recording, so we couldn't get too far away. It is so, that after approximately 3 hours, together with Nico Prudencio we managed to reach 6,350 mts, the upper part of the glacier crossing, where the good things began. The line.
Here we coordinated with our friend in charge of the drone, Nico Gantz, to guarantee an aerial shot of everything that was coming; more than 1,000 meters of unevenness of pure high altitude freeride. This is how we won one of the most epic high mountain freerides that has surely been achieved. Going down a giant glacier and then connecting with an endless sand descent that left us in just 30 minutes in the car, with a background landscape of the entire desert and more than 10 volcanoes that silently watched us. Truly a privilege. We had gone down in 30 minutes something that had taken us several hours to go up, we hugged and waited for the rest of the team, who 5 hours later arrived at the car. Some benefit has to bring so much suffering I say! Later, all of us in the car, at about 11:30 at night (we had been awake for more than 24 hours in total) we went down to the Base Camp where our friend Gerhard was, who had very kindly cooked us some delicious noodles.
Very happy to have completed our project of cycling up and down this great "Apu" of the Andes mountains, the next day we prepare everything to go back to the everyday world. We said goodbye and gave thanks to this beautiful place that welcomed us and saw us suffer on their land. So, 7 hours later we were already in Antofagasta enjoying the Pacific Ocean. In less than 24 hours we had been at 6,740 meters above sea level and at sea level, the great gifts that this beautiful and narrow country called Chile has to offer us.
After almost 4 year of this expedition, I can share this story in English. You can see the documentary on YouTube but is in Spanish. We are working on the English subtitles of this great documentary so that everyone can see it! For now, I'll just share this great photos of the expedition. The Llullaillaco Volcano and the INCAS.
We chose the Llullaillaco Volcano since it is the highest altitude Inca Sanctuary on the planet, where in 1999, 3 children (Llullaillaco mummies) were found on its summit, more than 500 years ago they were left there as a sacrifice to the gods in a ritual called "Capacocha". They came walking from Cusco (Peru) to die on these peaks. Why did you choose Llullaillaco? I invite you to read about the subject so that you can draw your own conclusions.
The "Guardian del Valle" project not only seeks to ascend and descend BIG mountains by bike, but also to make known to the world, and especially to Chileans, the places that we have in our country, to begin to generate awareness and in this way begin to respect and care for these sacred places that are in our precious Andes mountain range.
Text: Patricio Goycoolea M. Director of the project and Bigmountain rider. (@patogoycoolea)
Production and Expedition Logistics: Inner Mountain Chile (@inner_mountain) www.innermountain.cl Athletes:
Patricio Goycoolea M.
Federico Scheuch P.
Nicolas Prudencio F.
Benjamin Camus Z.
Nicolas Gantz L.
Sebastián Prieto D.Dron:
Nicolas Gantz L.Photos:
Sebastian Prieto D.