I MADE IT!!!
Oh my goodness… I honestly can’t believe I did it!!!!!
After just a couple of hours sleep I heard my alarm go off whilst I was awake at 4 am…. excited about the opportunity to feel what it was like to experience myself in this challenge.
When my gentle tinkering alarm sound played… and in the month’s prior; I had absolutely no idea how difficult both physically and emotionally this experience was going to be for me!
The Teski hut at the base of Volcan Osorno was snug and homely. The wooden floorboards spoke as we walked gently with our hard soled walking and snow boots; in the dark, early morning.
Breakfast was a brief and necessary item with the main purpose to fuel our bodies for the physical challenge ahead. I had been fluid and carb loading for the 24 hours prior and was really hoping my preparation would have been enough for this personal and symbolic challenge for me.
I went outside and the long glowing streak of the Milky Way beamed a wide grinning smile… with shooting stars celebrating the new day. I said a prayer of gratitude and I realized the time had truly come for me to take it ‘one step at a time’ .. and witness myself in connection climbing the Osorno Volcano in Chile.
Yesterday was misty and cloudy and the previous four days horribly windy, with cold and wet conditions. Today I could feel inside was a day where the weather Gods were with us.
José Miguel, the owner and principal guide of Huella Andina Expeditions http://www.huellandina.com/en/ was my private guide for this journey. He was absolutely incredible. José was calm, competent, and he had a relationship with the mountain that was one not only of respect; but of fondness. “She is a beautiful mountain” José would say often in his soft Chilean Spanish accent.
For our expedition we had three guides and four participants. Franco and Falco the other two guides were also incredible and were calm, competent and supportive of each of us; and all guides were sensitive to each of our particular capabilities and needs.
“Vamoose” And we were off into the darkness with little flashes of our headlamps drawing random arcs across the rocky terrain.
José had warned us all “that the first hour will be tough. Really tough”. That was an understatement. I had NO idea!! After 20 minutes I was having this dialogue in my head about having to tell José that I couldn’t make it…. I was thinking about the title of my Blog post…. “Turned around before dawn.” What was I thinking when I thought I would climb a volcano???
The ground was soft and sandy and ashy underfoot… and it was really tough going. I was carrying a pack that was way too heavy for my liking; climbing gear and food and 3 litres of water (even though I was advised to only take one. I get thirsty! – and I needed to wee at the summit which was not so easy with all the gear I was wearing!!) The weight added up, and struggling up this steep path with it being soft underfoot was really tough.
I seemed to have so many ‘Julie’s in my head’ speaking to me. “You can do it” “Oh my goodness, you aren’t going to make this.” “What are all your blog readers going to say – everyone will have a laugh; not making it before sunrise. LOL” “What am I going to think of myself turning around before the day had become light.” “Will my preparation and training be enough?” “One step at a time.”
“One step at a time.” That was my mantra…
After about an hour, we arrived at a little hut where I was handed (after the other guides) a small blue round, warm cup with an unusual straw poking from it. I had a sip. I didn’t know what I was doing. What was I thinking when I signed up for this adventure??? I had thoughts that I was literally crazy!!! I didn’t know what I was doing climbing a volcano in the dark carrying a harness; crampons; helmet and an ice axe. I didn’t know what was in this drink that was being passed around and us all drinking from the same straw. At that point, I didn’t care. I leant over and playfully drank some more. Everyone laughed. It seemed like some sort of ‘mountain ritual’. To this day I don’t know what was in that hot concoction!! LOL
Our level of coldness in our bodies determined that it was now time to set off again. “Vamoose” for a second time.
Oh my goodness. The sky revealed Osorno. She was waking and welcoming us to enjoy the blue sky with her. There the summit was!! It was the first time I had seen where I was to ascend due to the cloudy weather for the previous week. She was beautiful! Osorno. Round and soft. And STEEP!
Oh my goodness. Doubts were running through my head but were blown away in the strong cold wind as I recommitted to myself through an incessant internal dialogue swaying between doubt and confidence and determination.
As the sun rose the shape of this exquisite volcano was painted on the sky to the west. The shadow of Osorno accompanied our journey toward the glacier which had just appeared as my confidence built. “I CAN do this.. one step at a time!” I placed my feet in rhythm where José had stepped.
It was time to get serious now. Crampons, harness and helmet. I felt quite excited but what a ‘newbie’. I had never walked very much on snow before let alone walked on snow and ice using crampons. I remember thinking this was kinda fun… but Bernard another participant informed me of the dangers of crampons and how they can slash leg open. He said that often in Europe one needs to go to ‘crampon school’ before one is let loose with a set on ice. Oh dear. I didn’t go to crampon school.. but that didn’t matter. José gave me a few tips on what to do if I fell… and off I went. I was good at this. “Yes… I Can do this!”
José gave some instructions and we were hooked together via a rope through a carabineer. I felt like I was like a donkey being led across the hard white glistening surface. I felt safe; which meant I could just be present and open to my thoughts and being present with what I was experiencing.
“She is alive” … José said softly as we walked across the hard ice stamping my feet heavily to ensure the spikes pierced the icy surface; with the creaking of the glacier moving underfoot. It was amazing!!! The mountain was speaking. It felt like she was truly alive… and there I was; traversing across the glacier; changing my walking pole from the outside arm to the mountain; with my ice axe which was always held in the hand on the inside of the mountain.
“Now we go the other way” José said gently each time we changed direction as we zig-zagged up the steep slope.
“Keep my foot flat” “Bang your feet in hard” “Keep your legs apart a bit walking” “Cross the outside foot over uphill a bit” “The outside part of your ankle should hurt a bit” .. all these instructions going through my mind.
I felt like I had really strained the outside of my left ankle on the slope..but now was not the time to even think about an injury. I told myself that pain would pass … I had nothing broken and I just kept going.
The whole time I just couldn’t believe I was actually doing this… linked by a rope through a carabineer; climbing a volcano!!!… and enjoying it so much. There was just something about being physically and emotionally challenged in an extreme environment that I knew would reveal something to me of myself and also something which is greater than myself. It did.
We had just completed the third section of our climb and we had the last tough bit to go. About this stage was the second place where people question whether they are actually capable of going any further… and why in the name of God were they doing this. It was precisely the time where I thought I didn’t have a hope of getting myself up this what seemed to be quite a vertical section of about 50mts.
José was calm and said I would be fine and that I have done really well and come this far. I could not go back now. The white curve above was calling me. She wanted me to celebrate the sky! I then made a commitment to myself that I would just do the best I could and put 100% effort into this last bit. José climbed up and put in some pins for safety should we fall..and off I went!
This is where I had to use my ice axe and smash it in really hard so that I could pull myself up on it whilst one of my feet searched for a foot-hold. I had to use the spikes at the front of my crampons to bang in and scrape away some ice so my foot could be stable on that little ledge whilst I re-established the ice pick in another position a little higher.
By this time my legs were starting to feel like jelly. My arms were fine but I was puffing at 2,600mts and it was physically tough for me. I had worked hard and no matter how determined I was to smash that ice axe in a long way, sometimes it slipped of the hard ice with only a few little pieces splintering off and hardly making a dint. Bernard was below me calling out “Bang it in hard … smash it in harder.. not like a girl.. like a man!!!” Oh my goodness… “Did I look that lame???” I thought.!!!!
I had been lifting weights at the gym. I HAD muscles. I was smashing it in as hard as I could !!!! LOL.. and sometimes it just tinkered and didn’t go in at all. Sometimes it went in a long way and it felt so fulfilling pulling myself up on a hold I had created for myself.
I kept looking for little ledges to place my feet… and I observed myself doing little gruntings… more noise than I think I should have been making and would have liked … you know those awkward moments when one lets out a grunting sound in the gym whilst lifting a heavy weight. I think I may have been doing that a bit .. LOL… I was trying so hard and I have to say that there were a couple of times José did hoist me up like a sack of fish over the edge of a boat….but I think I can say with a fair degree of confidence that I did pretty much all of the hard work on that last bit.
José smiled and unhooked my tether to him and he said …”Walk toward the sun”.. where the curve of the summit was at it’s peak.
I walked quietly alone across the glistening white.. with the gentle curve of Osorno embraced by the blue sky. I cried. It was a very emotional moment for me. I could not believe I did it.
I sat for a while and couldn’t believe how silent it was. I reflected on my journey and what I had heard from within during my trek.
The others joined in their own time and we each celebrated our achievement in our own way. It was a wonderful achievement for all of us… and even for the guides who have done this so often.. their respect and contentment at being in this wonderful space was a pleasure to be a part of.
It was time to go down and we rappelled; one a time. That was fun. Just walking backward down the steep incline gave me a different perspective of how steep the slope was… and it was starting to sink in that I had actually managed to walk up this slope that I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be able to do.
Walking down the snow which had become quite soft because of the warmth of the sun; was really fun. I got the hang of it quickly and José and I walked in a beautiful space together down the glacier. I still felt a bit like I was a donkey being led though.. LOL… and when we had to cross a crevasse he would go a little more quickly ahead and let out some more rope and stand on more stable ground so we both didn’t fall down the crack – like one sees in the movies!!
My legs felt fine walking down the mountain… my quads a little fatigued… but really ok. I just couldn’t believe we had walked up this sandy, ashy, slippery slope in the dark 8 hours prior.
So… It was amazing! I did it. I trained hard to give myself the best chance of achieving this personal goal. I learned so much about myself. I heard Osorno speak to me. She was soft and beautiful, yet strong; dynamic and unpredictable… like me at times.
I did not take many photographs because most of the time I was truly just present with myself and listening within. I do have a gallery here though so you can get an idea of my experience.