Antisana 5,758 m (18,890 feet) by Andrew White
The road to the trailhead, which goes east out of Quito and through the town of Pintag, was a lot better than the roads on the previous two climbs. But, our friend Elloy and his van still could not get us all the way in. We did have a second vehicle (4x4 Landcruiser) to carry our gear and our leader in, however. So, on Tuesday (New Year's Day), we had a pleasant walk across the tundra to where the 4x4 decided to stop, about 1.5 miles/1500 ft. from our sought after campsite, ate lunch, and packed full gear the rest of the way. As this was all going on, I was trying to recover from a bad case of diarrhea from the night before. I had a bad night's rest, did not eat breakfast or lunch, and "bonked" (low glucose) upon reaching camp, after crawling my way up. The site (15,500 ft.), nestled in the rocks just below the glacier's base, had room for our five tents, and then some. The water in the nearby runoff stream was very silty. But, cleaner water could be found about ½ mile up at the edge of the glacier. The weather did not amount to more than drifting clouds and a warm occasional breeze. The mountain, and its summit became visible in the evening. I was very impressed, and somewhat nervous. The number and apparent size of crevasses on its west face was more than I had ever seen (ex. Compared to Mt Rainier's Emmons Glacier). But, I felt I could do it.
Our goal for this climb was to spend one full night sleeping at this altitude, take it easy and "wand" out the first half of the route on the next day, and climb the next evening, with an additional night and weather day if needed. On Wednesday, Craig, Steven, Al, and Wayne set out to do the wanding, while the rest of us went back to our stash of bottled water, back at the trailhead. I was definitely feeling better, and eating food again. Thanks, to Steven's Imodium®. Everyone was psyched for this climb. But, we could not help noticing the giant irregular "mushroom" cap at the summit, and wondered how we were going to get around and on top of it.
Then, at 1:00 AM, we set off for the glacier on the south side and started climbing. We still had good moonlight and were able to minimize our headlamp use. A good thingmine was starting to short out. The rope teams consisted of Craig, Wayne, Sherry, Al, and Steven on the lead. And, Jerry, I, Kim, and Greg following slowly behind. The 500 foot per hour pace was good and timely, and we were all feeling strong. A couple of German climbers, who came up and camped near us on Wednesday, tagged along and helped us look for the route on the upper half of the mountain. The crevasses were not as bad as I thought (appearing to be no more than 10 feet deep), and proved to be easy to step over. There was, however, a lot of low angle ice. Had to work on keeping all twenty crampon points down. My rope team (the "second" team) reached 18,000 ft. around 5:30 AM, when we finally caught up with the lead team.
Craig had his team taking a break, while he was investigating the big crevasse we all had come upon. And it was big, and long. We could see the overhang of the "mushroom" cap just beyond it. Craig decided to lead us around to the west, while the two Germans went around to the east. NO LUCK! We could not find a safe way around. The information we got from the local guides, about snow bridges, was not coming through. And, the morning chill began to set in. So, we turned around and went back to camp. We were all bummed. And, I was feeling really good at 18,000 ft. Back at camp, we all went back to bed.
Later, Craig (feeling really miffed) decided he needed to try it again and asked for any willing participants to go along. Sherry, Al, and Wayne were also feeling miffed and signed up. The rest of us decided to save our energies for Chimborazo and sleep in for a boring 12 hours, the following night. We kept in contact with them with our two-way radios.
Craig's new route would take the team up the north side this time, following the tracks left by a guided American group who had been there earlier. The rest of us packed up and headed back to the trailhead for one more "low camp" night on the tundra. On our way out, we finally got a call from Craig (~8:00 AM), and spotted his location. The team was at 18,200 ft., on a smaller "mushroom", just to the north side of the main "mushroom". And once again, he reached another dead end. This mountain was not going to be climbed. That night, their tired bodies stayed at the high camp. Back in Quito, we learned from some local climbing sources that apparently no one has been able to summit Antisana this year. And, the Germans? Their multiple attempts did not get them there either. Yeah, I guess! Who knows what happen to the other American group.
Copyright January 2002 by Andrew White.