|Wishing you all well from the Andes!|
Trekking to Antisana:
One of the coolest things about expedition is that we left directly from Palugo, tromping right out of the back cow fields. Starting on small trails, which soon opened up to bigger rocky roads, we climbed up the whole way to the hidden villages that overlook Palugo, Pifo, and Quito. The first day we thankfully didn't have to carry our heavy packs, as we had to climb up 800 meters of elevation. Thomas met us in a small town on the side of a mountain, awaiting us with our backpacks and a delicious loaf of zucchini bread Lilah had made the day before. That night we made camp in a valley as the sun set around us, brightening up the rolling hills. It was one of the first of many beautiful moments of this final trek.
|We feel like we are in a different world up in the paramo|
The second trekking day was more difficult, maybe because of our fully loaded packs, but we also had to climb another 800m, the bulk of which happened during a traverse out of a steep valley that took us about two hours. We pushed ourselves up that ridge, taking breaks and helping the person behind us as we went. We had to laugh through the heavy breathing when halfway up the side three cowboys trotted past us with their dogs sprinting behind them, leading the way up the narrow path. We reached the ridgeline and decided that it was a good place to eat our bagels. It then immediately began to hail as we sat down for our scenic lunch! We quickly pulled out the tent flies, laughing as people disappeared under the green, waterproof material.
This group of thirteen comrades has a way of making hard situations turn into enjoyable ones. We saw this again when later that night, past dark, we were looking for water so that we could set up camp. It was cold and foggy, but it didn’t matter because everyone was working together, trying to help one another stay positive. When we finally set up camp, Davicho and Alessio went off in the fog in search of water, returning two hours later with full water bottles. They reached our campsite just as we were singing for dinner, jumping around in our exhaustion and yelling our song trying to stay warm.
|What a beautiful spot to set up our home for the night!|
The next morning was one of the most beautiful mornings we have had on semester thus far. The fog had risen, exposing the hidden landscape of the previous night. We were able to see three volcanic giants off in the distance: Cotopaxi, Antisana and Cayumbe. Each mountain, a snowy beast; rising from the rock. We spent the early hours until 8:00 AM sketching and drawing the horizon line and appreciating this immense beauty.
|Malena, Emma, and Olympia- enjoying a bit of rest time in the tent|
|Tanner enjoys the warmth of the sun on his face|
|Colton, Paul, and Christian- enjoying the paramo|
The next day was easier because we could see Antisana, our final destination off in the near distance. We arrived later that day to camp without any problem, walking along ridge lines to the Plaza da Armas. Seeing the rocky towers to our right and left, we quickly decided that we wanted to be the first Kroka group to summit this volcano.
|The scenery up here is incredible|
We camped in the saddle that night. At 4am that next morning we awoke to the dark world to conquer the sleeping mountain. The trek up was easy for everyone, only taking us about 30 minutes until we reached the rocky summit. We were all breathless as the sun rose, the light hitting our tired faces with an early morning glow, excitedly hugging each other and dancing around to stay warm. The day continued on with that genuine excitement - for it was the day of our arrival to our base camp at Antisana. We traveled to the base camp as a solo student group, the teachers popping up every once and a while behind us. Sometimes, we could see Davicho, Marcea, and Morgan diving behind bushes trying to hide, but Tanner could spot them every time! We were very grateful when we arrived to our base camp, and spent the afternoon bathing in ice-cold glacier water, washing our clothing, and resting in warm sleeping bags.
Our base camp was set at 4400m. To put that in perspective for all the New Englanders, that is about the summit of Mount Washington. We were all well adapted to this high level of altitude by now so we were feeling great the next morning when we went to meet the glacier for the first time. Davicho, Michael, and Thomas had us wake up before the sun in order to get the most time on the volcano. None of us had ever been exposed to this extent of mountaineering before, so we all started out at the same level. Imagine us! Falling when putting our crampons on for the first time and not knowing how to casually carry the huge ice axe over the icy terrain. On our walk to the glacier, we saw tiny dots on the high snowy peak: Palugo’s visiting Colorado Outward Bound group was summiting the mountain on that clear morning! This excited and scared us for the next few days. We stopped and had a glaciology class, Thomas proclaiming that he “hoped his PowerPoint was sufficient” as he pointed to the towering glacier behind him. During that day of glacier school we all hobbled around up steep walls of ice, learning how to climb with our ice axes safely. We all enjoyed drinking the ice cold glacier water as it melted down the side of the mountain, refreshing us from all of the day’s hard work. We walked back to base camp that afternoon, exhausted from simply walking. We went to bed early, excited for the even earlier morning the next day.
|Practicing ice climbing|
When we roped up, the sun was barely peaking over the horizon line. In groups of four, finally feeling like classier climbers, and also kind of like pet animals on leashes, we began to make our way. We got comfortable on the rope teams and did safety drills, which included Lilah and Colton jumping into crevasses, from which we promptly rescued them both. The most fun thing we did that day was something called self-arresting, the point of which is to stop yourself from falling down a steep slope. We trudged up our own steep slope of snow and slid down any way, face first, butt first, feet first. Thomas, Michael, and Morgan had a blast pushing people down, propelling us down the icy slopes with our ice axes in hand, ready to stop on a dime. The sun reflecting off the glacier had drained us by the afternoon, so we slugged back to base camp ready to prepare for our summit attempt the next night.
|Practicing self arrests on the glacier|
|It is exhausting and fun, learning how to climb on the glacier|
|Olympia- looking strong out on the glacier!|
|Paul, looking like a pro!|
|Lilah- showing her skills on Antisana!|
|Up high on Antisana- what a crew!|
We awoke at 10:00 PM, it was Friday night and this was the latest we had been up in months (or maybe the earliest we had woken up?). People thought about home, and how parents would be eating thanksgiving leftovers and getting ready for bed just about now, yet we were here just getting ready to start our “day”. There was no moon out and a light mist was coming down, forming a thin layer of cloud. We gathered our gear that we had prepared earlier that day, crampons…check, harness…check, gaiters…check, helmet…check, headlamp…check, gloves…check, and extra layers…double-check. Off we went trying to follow the faintly worn path as best we could to the glacier. We finally arrived to the ice line and roped up to our teams: Emma, Rosy, and Morgan; Paul, Colton, and Thomas; Alessio, Malena, and Jovani; Aidan, Christian, and Jonathan; Tashi, Tanner, and Davicho; and Olympia, Lilah, and Michael. Each person had 8 meters in front and in back of them; we walked in silence of the night as 17 headlamps bobbing up and down at a tractor’s pace, almost vertical in the blackness. Hair and snot immediately froze, a constant cold wind blowing through our bones, but still we pushed on. For hours we climbed, with few breaks.
Around hour seven, the sun began to rise and the white world began to show itself here and there, but for the most part we stayed in the fog. We continued up, walking over huge snow bridges, using our ice axes to pull us up the near vertical walls. We reached a huge snow wall probably towering at least 90 feet straight up as it was getting later in the morning, Thomas’, Davicho's and Michael’s groups climbed this wall for some scouting, towing their groups behind them. In the whiteout we weren't able to see the summit and sadly the groups had to come back down to the plateau. We realized later that we were only about 200 meters from the summit, but we didn't have time to climb up without risking poor snow conditions on the way down. We all stood on the big plateau right below the summit, the only colors amidst the whiteout. Suddenly the fog cleared, the sun came out, and we were able to see above the clouds for miles, the top of Cotopaxi puffing away in the distant horizon. We all felt at peace in that moment; we were at our own summit, all together as one team.
We descended quickly, because it is not safe to be that high on the glacier in the late morning. We made it up and down Antisana in 12 hours. Back at basecamp everyone fell asleep in the warm sun for hours, exhausted from the physical and mental barriers that we had all pushed through.
|Fancy foot work around and over the crevasses!|
|This landscape keeps us in a state of amazement and wonder|
With little time to recover, we set off again, this time without our teachers whom had split us into two groups: Aidan, Rosy, Emma, Paul, Christan and Colton in one group, and Lilah, Olympia, Tashi, Malena, Tanner, Alessio and Jonathan in the other. Our goal was to follow our path on the map through the paramo and meet at a predetermined location at the base of Cotopaxi.
“Our group was Emma, Rosy, Colton, Paul, Christan and Aidan. We were really excited to be on our own, especially because we had the group navigator, Emma. There were many high moments throughout our three days. This included having strangers stop their cars to take pictures with us in the down-pouring hail while we were walking. We used our learned skills to find water and set up camp high in the mountains. One night we set up camp at 2pm because we were so exhausted, and with no adults around we bumped up our bedtime to 6pm! The terrain was beautiful, with rolling mountains and swampy valleys. Our group had a great time finding our way and bribing locals with chocolate to direct us in the right way. Overall it was a great conclusion to our expedition, and we were so relieved when we saw the rainbow over our final destination.”- Rosy and Emma
“After reviewing logistics with Davicho, our group of Alessio, Tashi, Lilah, Jonathan, Olympia, Tanner and Malena all headed out on our solo. We had many fun and challenging experiences. The first day we saw a bush get fried by lightning while we were safe, hiding under a barn. Our last day was epic: we got totally turned around in the morning fog and arrived safely at our pick-up at 10:10 PM (originally 2:00 PM) after walking a whopping 14 hours, which were filled with laughs and tears and strengthening moments. Overall, we wouldn't trade anything that had happened during our solo because it made us all stronger as people.”- Lila
We saw the headlamps of group 2 in the distance and we ran towards each other screaming and hugging so glad to see each other safe. Everyone slept fast on the bus ride back to Palugo, where Marcea greeted us with warm soup and bread. We were so content and tired. This expedition taught us all so much about ourselves and each other that we will always cherish.
|We have become such a close family over these four months!|
We have less than two weeks left here at Palugo. Each day is packed with activities, from rock climbing with Davicho to finishing the bodega floor. We are busy from morning to night, each day. It is such a bittersweet time now, just appreciating what we all have learned and what we will continue to learn.
Note!!! We all just received a tidal wave of letters from home, some even from the days when we had just left New Hampshire! We are all so happy to have heard from all of you and please know we are thinking of you all, even if you don't receive a letter immediately back from us!
We return to Kroka basecamp in one short week! We look forward to seeing you all at graduation on December 17th at The Orchard School in Alstead NH. Graduation begins at 11:30 AM.