07 March 2011

Paso Los Libertadores (Las Caracoles)

I ascended slowly all day. I stopped in the little town of Rio Blanco and bought some bread and cheese, and then I rode higher. In the afternoon a wind blew down from the higher mountains and it made the ascending even more difficult.

I passed the small refugio along the stream that I had read about, run by Fernando who was described as a slightly crazy climber-philosopher. He was not in and the wooden house was locked. I stopped and finished my bread and cheese and rested near the stream, my head against a poplar.

Three slow kilometers later I was at the base of Las Caracoles ("the snails"), the famous 29 switchback turns that rose 7 kilometers up the side of a mountain. Camions came slowly down and there was the burnt smell from their brakes as they passed. It was a very steep grade to reach the first curve and midway up it I realized I did not have the legs. My hands were shaky. I felt a little sick. Maybe it was the altitude, or my lack of sleep, the headwind or my lack of fitness. In any case, I did not want to get caught up there on the switchbacks and need to camp where I could not pitch the tent. It was better to go back. I could go back to the stream and the refugio and camp there. It would be a fine place to camp. I turned the bike around and sped quickly down back to the refugio. It was the sensible thing to do. And I could camp there among the poplars along the stream.

I was low on water and took water from the stream. It was ice cold and must have recently melted from the glaciers higher in the mountains. I still had a tomato from the stand near Colina and after mixing it with two spice packets, let it cook with the heat of the boiling pasta water. With a cup of coffee it made for a fine meal and I was satisfied that I had camped here and not tried to go up the 29 switchbacks. That would be for tomorrow when I was stronger. 


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