Yesterday we began the day at Camp 4 (20,500 ft.). Hard to believe! I just said to Steve, "We were at Camp 4 yesterday, do you believe that?" We had a collective "Wow!"
It was pure misery getting camp broken down and packed up for the descent. Cold and windy and cold and again cold. With our heavy packs and nearly all the clothes that we were carrying being worn, we set out on our descent to Plaza de Mulas at about 11 AM. To give you an idea, I was wearing a thin thermal top, a heavy thermal top, a fleece jacket, a fleece-lined soft shell jacket, and a Gore-Tex hard shell jacket. While we were waiting to leave, as usual, I had my big puffy down parka on top of all of this. Garrett said, "Okay, take off your parkas, let's move." And I actually said, "Are you sure, shouldn't I leave on the down?" Did I mention it was cold?
The trip down Camp 4 was a quad and foot pounding descent of 6,170 ft. on loose rock scree the entire way. You kind of have to "ride" the scree down by plunging one heel down without locking the knee and going with the slide until it begins to stop and then hop onto the other heel and repeat. Kind of fun when you are not completely exhausted with 50 pounds on our back or if your feet don't slide out from underneath you and you land hard on your bum. Not so much otherwise.
Again, as was the style I seemed to have been adopting for this trip, I quickly started to fall behind the others (three out of five of which had recently summited the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere). My faithful guide, Kajsa, and I continued down at our more civilized pace (at least in my humble opinion). On one break, we had a wonderful exchange with two Argentine porters who spoke about as much English as we spoke Spanish. More importantly neither had participated in a Jelly Belly tasting party, of which Kajsa had a large bag. My favorite part was when Kajsa said "try the white ones, they taste like buttered popcorn." Of course they didn't understand and I said, "don't give them the popcorn ones, they are universally known to be the worst!" Two seconds later, one of the porters spit it out and said, "don't like the white ones." Once again proving my theory - popcorn flavored Jelly Bellies suck. Secretly, I think Kajsa might actually like them.
Hours later and perhaps still about 90 minutes or so to Plaza de Mulas, I was beginning to feel that I had a house on my back and our progress began to slow a bit more. A few folks passed us on their way down and one stopped and kind of sized up Kajsa, with the enormous Gypsy pack (i.e. stuff strapped on all over) and me with the house on my back. He was clearly a porter and wasn't carrying anything himself. He asked if I would like a porter to Plaza de Mulas. I quickly said, "No thanks, I got it" Followed by, "How much?" He kind of looked down the mountain and said "$100." I gave that some thought and my pride said once again, "No thanks, I got it." He said okay and was gone down the hill.
About 10 minutes later as Kajsa and I continued down, I started to wonder, "What was I thinking? That would have been the best hundred bucks I ever spent." But opportunity missed and we continued to endure the descent.
Plaza de Mulas grew slowly closer. I'm a heads down hiker and don't usually know I've reached the destination until I hit it. That's the way I like it - I also cover the minutes remaining on the treadmill display with a towel. But on this descent, the tents of Plaza de Mulas are in view for a looong way and it feels like it is taking a lifetime to get there.
Suddenly Mike appears on the trail sans pack and and says he's come back up to help me with my pack. Assuming, of course, that I'm okay with that and don't need to finish it out myself. I was handing my pack to Mike (26) faster than you can say one, two, three. One: it would have been kind of insulting not to have allowed him to carry it down since he climbed all the back up to where we were, don't cha think? Two: Kajsa was definite looking like she would like to get to Plaza de Mulas at a bit faster pace. Three: why didn't I spend that $100 when I had the chance?
Fifteen minutes later, just after 6 PM, we reached the plush comforts of the camp. Once again with dining tents, food on plates, etc., etc. But the best part? A big communal sleeping tent with five bunk beds with real mattress. Everyone agreed: it was perhaps, the best night of sleep of our lives.
I want to tell you all about today's eight hour, 18 mile march to civilization, but it's going to have to wait until tomorrow (which is actually today because it's now 1:40 AM local time). I think you can understand that I'm a bit beat.