Hello, and welcome to the next step in my post-military globe-trotting. Many of you followed my first blog (tonyrides.com) as I traveled the United States on my Motorcycle, riding over 18,000 miles and reaching 49 states and three countries.

In this next installment, my friend Jerod and I will be going abroad for an open-ended jaunt. We will start in the Middle-East at the end of February and see where the roads and the winds take us.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Where Eagles Dare

So, I know many of you have seen some of our pictures on Facebook, and have probably read the last blog describing our big mountaineering trip.  You may be wondering how the first week went.

So far so good.  Right now we are actually in La Paz on our rest day in between the first two mountains and the last one.  Unfortunately our rest day fell on a Sunday making it slightly difficult to get much done, but we have still been able to do some laundry, sort out our gear, and have a few solid meals.

As a recap for last week, here is what happened......
On day one we were picked up in a 4x4 and loaded all of our gear on top.  We met our whole team, including our guides Eduardo and Pedro, our fellow "client", Cesar from Venezuela, and Proxi, our esteemed mountain cook.  The six of us were driven out into the Condoriri Real where we set up base camp.  And what a camp, complete with a cabin-sized cooking/dining tents and permanent outhouses.  The next morning we set out at 2AM for a summit attempt at Pequeno Alpamayo, at 17,618 feet (5,350m).  After an hour of hiking we finally reached the glacier and donned our helmets, crampons, and harnesses, and roped up. After about 3.5 hours on the glacier we reached a smaller summit just below Pequeno, but faced with a deep descent into the col and a steep ascent on the other side, and our general exhaustion we decided to claim this sub-summit at our first 5,000+ meter peak.

Fast forward a few days.  We have broken camp and driven around the mountain range and are now at base  camp for Huayna Potosi, (19,974 feet (6,088m)).  We spend a comfortable night in an alpine style lodge before heading up to high camp the next day.  Our gear is carried up by porters wearing assorted sandals, while we struggle up carrying our day packs; unbelievable.  We spend the afternoon getting info from descending climbers and getting our gear ready for a 3AM start.  It is necessary to start so early to ensure a summit and descent before the afternoon clouds roll in, and before the glacier gets to unstable as it warms throughout the day.  Well, at 2AM it sounded like the shelter was going to blow away, so we decided to wait a day and hoped for better conditions.  We spent a restless day napping, triple-checking our gear and swapping stories.  2AM the next day brought calm, yet freezing conditions and we kitted up for the climb.  How cold was it?  Cold enough for the sweat to freeze in my beard (pictures pending).  Luckily the high camp is only several meters from the glacier, allowing us to save energy by omitting a long walk on uneven terrain in heavy plastic boots.  For those who have never climbed a glacier above 17,000 feet, the best way I can describe it is having a 6-hour asthma attack.  Any movement beyond the smallest shuffle step is followed by an overwhelming lack of air and racing heart-beat.  Trudging along the glacier is barely tolerable, while big motions like leaping over a crevasse or climbing over a wall of ice leave you gasping for air.  Finally, after six long hours, we reached the summit and were rewarded some of the most amazing panoramic views imaginable.  However, with the mid-day clouds racing in, and the heating glacier, our time on the summit was limited to some photographs, some much-needed water, and a chocolate bar for a little energy boost to get us down the mountain.  The descent can be excruciating, with yours toes slamming the front of your boots with each step.  I don't think there is a boot available that overcomes this problem.  We alleviated this pain a little bit by sliding down several hundred meters on our butts, while our guide (asking us again how old we were) ran behind us with our safety tether, lest we get to close to a crevasse.

Anyway, aback at high camp there was no rest to be found, as we still had to get down to base camp and take the long drive back to La Paz for two nights and one day of rest.  Tomorrow we will be back on the road, heading to Mt. Illimani at 21,201 feet (6,438m).  We should spend the next 4 or 5 days there before putting all of this behind us and moving on with the trip.  So far it has been a great, though painful and difficult, experience, but despite ourselves, Jerod and I found ourselves researching future trips to Mt. Denali in Alaska.  What are we thinking?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Picking up the slack

We want a blog, we want a blog, we want a blog.......

OK, OK, OK......

For the 27 people who are "following" the blog, and the zero people that were interested enough in the last one to comment on it, here goes nothing.

Last you heard from us we were in Santiago, Chile.  From Santiago we headed North, needing to be in La Paz a week later.  Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we had to cut Valparaiso out of our itinerary.  Instead, we hopped a bus to San Pedro de Atacama in the North of Chile, very close to the Bolivian border.  Here we got our first taste of some good high altitude, going on a jeep tour of the deserts and salt flats, culminating at about 4,500 meters.  We really liked the town of San Pedro, but had to cut our visit short in order to get to La Paz.  So, two more bus rides, and we were in La Paz, after passing through Arica, Chile.  At the border, Jerod and I held up the entire bus, as we are of one of the few nationalities that require a visa for Bolivia.  $135 US and a half our later we were back on the bus and heading for La Paz.

Some of you are probably in the dark as to why we were in a hurry to get to La Paz.  Well, we signed up for a two-week mountain climbing expedition and wanted to get to town early to start our acclimatization process, and to give us plenty of time to retrieve some climbing gear that we had sent to us from the States.  So, La Paz is the highest capitol city in the world at about 3,600 meters.  Luckily we were greeted with plenty of coca tea and coca leaves to chew on to combat altitude sickness.  Now the important part.  Never ship anything to South America....EVER.  What a nightmare.  After struggling all week with Bolivian customs, DHL, and a few other entities we finally received our equipment on Friday night around 8:00PM.  Talk about the 11th hour.  Saturday we had our gear check with our climbing guides, and today we did some walking and hiking around La Paz with the other member of our expedition and one of our guides, in order to further acclimate.

So what are we climbing?  We start of easy with Pequeno Alpamayo, coming in at a measly 17,618 feet.  Next, we move up to a slightly larger mountain, Huayna Potosi, weighing in at 19,974 feet, and entering the critical "high altitude mountaineering" realm as a 6,000+ meter peak.  After practicing and acclimatizing on those little mountains we will move on to the second highest mountain in Bolivia, Mt. Illimani, at a staggering 21,201 feet.  We are both a little nervous, but excited as hell also.  They are all pretty easy mountains from a technical standpoint, so the elevation is the biggest difficulty.

Also worth noting, I ate a giant serving of ultra spicy Chicken Vindaloo a few nights ago, earning me a free t-shirt.  I also bought a guitar and accessories.  Bolivia, apparently, is known for guitars, and they are dirt cheap.  For less than $90 I bought a guitar, a case, an electric tuner, extra strings, and picks.  It may not survive the trip home, but at least I can keep my callouses going from my few weeks of practice in Argentina, and worse case scenario I get to keep the tuner, case, etc....

In other news, our trip is getting scary close to the end.  After our trek we will only have about a month left before we plan on being back stateside.  Yikes!  Some potential highlights of the next few months include Macchu Picchu in Peru and Chichen Itza in Mexico, both considered to be among the seven wonders of the modern world.

Anyway, we leave tomorrow for our first two mountains.  We will be back in a week or so, for a few nights, and then back out in the field to finish off the big boy.  Until then......

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Land of Fire and Ice

Good morning all, and our apologies that we have not caught up on the blog in a while.  Tony and I have been on a rather tight schedule since leaving Buenos Aires for the Patagonia region of Argentina and are just now getting a chance for some catch up. 

Our time in Patagonia was an amazing experience-it's a region I have desired to visit for several years now, after reading an article in one of those outdoor magazines a while back.  Bus schedules are sporadic this time of year (we are in the dead of the Austral winter, and the low season for tourism), not too mention extremely lengthy, so we booked with a local tour company for regional flights out of Buenos Aires-about 8 days covering two or the more famous areas, Los Glaciares National Park and Tierra Del Fuego (Land of Fire, with the city of Ushuaia being popularly known as the "End of the Earth".  In Los Glaciares, we had a chance to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier, which unlike most of the world's glaciers is actually expanding, at a rate of about 2 meters a day.  This also means that in the late afternoon when the sun has been shining all day, there's a decent chance of seeing skyscraper sized chunks of ice "calve" off the glacier and crash into Lake Argentina.  We were fortunate enough to see this happen several times, and it was quite the sight...and sound-something vaguely like lightning as the ice breaks free and then thunder as it makes contact with the water.  The next day, we did a day hike in the Northern Section of the Park with great views of both Cerro Torre and Mt Fitzroy (Chalten)-very fortunate as the entire range is often obscured by clouds.  We'll follow up with some pictures, as these words can only do so much to justify the sights.  Quite the interesting wildlife as well, including guanacos, rheas, foxes, and the endangered Andean Condor.

After Los Glaciares we spent a couple days around the Ushuaia on the island of Tierra Del Fuego, truly the end of the line.  The next stop south is Antarctica.  The highlight of our time around Ushuaia was a day of downhill skiing at the island's main ski resort-conditions were a bit icy (not unlike Eastern US skiing) but a unique and enjoyable experience at the world's "southernmost ski resort" (we've had some laughs about every business in Ushuaia being the "southernmost Irish Pub" and "the end of the world bakery" etc etc etc).

We caught a flight back to Buenos Aires and have had a couple epic bus rides-an overnight ride to Mendoza, staying for a night in Argentina's wine country (of course a quick afternoon tasting was in order to sample the region's famous Malbec reds), followed by another bus through absolutely epic scenery in the Andes, crossing the border with Chile.  One quick note-Argentinian long distance buses may be the best in the world-with 1st class style seats that recline almost horizontally, full meals, and even bingo (in Spanish of course) with the prize being a bottle of wine.  Since our descent into Santiago, we've spent the last 24 hours or so taking it easy and catching our breath.  We plan to be northbound through Chile in the near future.