Guardián del Valle - Chapter One: Cerro El Plomo by Bike, the highest mountain in the valley of Santiago de Chile.
This project represents the union of a group of friends who, motivated by mountain biking and high mountains in all its expressions (summer and winter), decided on January 2017 to summit the Cerro El Plomo (17.795 ft), a mountain that has already been visited by many, including the Incas who worshiped it as a sacred mountain and in a self-provided expedition. The original name of the mountain is Apu Wamani, in Quechua, the Inca Language means Guardian of the Valley.
Like these tribes we felt that call to the unknown, wondering how it would be moving on our bikes at great heights, shortening distances, challenging the paths and improvising routes that we had not previously imagined. Loading our bicycles as an offering sounded like the ideal madness to join a group, with which for more than 3 months prepared this expedition, both logistically and physically, without being clear how our bodies would react once subjected, with the weight of our bicycles, to the rigour of the mountain.
We were willing to do everything and exhaust our available resources to achieve the summit. It was all or nothing, at least many felt that way.
After 5 hrs of pedalling and hike-a-bike, we arrived to have lunch at the Federation Camp (13.615 ft) where we set up our base camp. Thanks to Camilo and Cristóbal, who made their way on foot while maintaining a firm march during the day, they assured us a place with a view to the summit, easy access to water and receive the first light of day.
We had a long day of acclimatization, but it was important not to lose energy. It was when Thomas, Pato, and Santi went in search of more freeride in the area. While climbing rock walls, Pablo and James positioned themselves to get the best shot. The good thing is that they also traveled by bicycle, which made everything faster and more efficient.
We ate and went to the sleeping bags, at which time strong winds began that would not stop all night, the dome was almost flying away! Tents crushed our faces. In everyone's mind, there was the image of going up with the bikes facing this strong wind, which would clearly hamper the climb.
3:30 am: The alarm clock rings in the dome. The wind follows, Max looks at Thomas and says "we have a situation man” (referring to wind conditions), to which Santi stands up and begins to give orders to heat water, make breakfast and prepare our equipment. Game on boys!
We tuned our radios on channel 420 (crew lucky number) and set the time of departure at 4:20 am, sacred ritual that would impose our friend Camilo who began to lead the group followed by the 5 cyclists, and James, aka the goat, who loaded all the mountain equipment, his bike, and the cameras. Meanwhile, Pablo settled in a strategic filming spot, we started our march at night, very windy and about 23F degrees.
First stop: Refugio Agostini at 15.091 ft.
The refuge was full of mountaineers speculating what to do with the strong wind while the sun was still down. What we had discarded was that there was a storm coming, so the challenge was only to withstand the wind, isolate the thoughts, focus on the breathing and oxygenation of the body and find the group rhythm.
We advanced well to La Pirca (16.732 ft), but right on the edge when we were exposed to the biggest wind of the day our colleague Julio was left behind, a victim of altitude sickness (due to lack of acclimatization resulting from a 1-month injury before the ascent). He felt nauseous and the body very weak, where in those cases we all know that the choice was only one; Do NOT keep going up.
We managed to advance at a good pace as a group, some lowering it at times and others giving everything they had. But the important thing was that we held together, always forward, always up. The sunrise and the views that were given to us were a great help to keep contemplating and distracted enjoying this trip at 16.732 ft! Summits such as Tupungato (21.555 ft), Marmolejo (20.039 ft), San Jose (19.212 ft) and then the Aconcagua (22.841 ft) would be the main witnesses of what we were achieving.
At the Iver glacier (16.896 ft) we grouped for the last time to discuss the descent line, check how we went with the schedule of the day, check by radio how our friend Julio was going in his way down and then we got ready to walk on ice! We crossed at about 10am. We were getting closer and closer to the summit, concentrating at 100% recharging energy and continuing to push our bikes, still against the wind but with the target in place.
This moment we could define it as a moment of pure majesty, greater glory, pure happiness, and the best thing is that that moment extended to an epic descent from 17795 ft of altitude!
Hugs, joy and celebration at the summit to later put on the full face helmet, pads and be ready to do what would be one of the most incredible descents of our lives. An impressive freeride surrounded by ice and giant mountains, with very technical switchbacks.
On our way up we cross the Iver glacier, we saw a direct line near the summit of about 656 ft of length that was accessible to ride it down. So we charged on this mass of ice at more than 17.060 ft of altitude, with a really exposed gradient to riders right, so some big mountain skiing experience was needed to read the line. It was a really mind-blowing experience.
The Andinists who were on the way to the summit saw this and simply could not believe it. Crampons, ice axe, and even ropes sometimes are used for that crossing of the glacier and we did it on our bikes (for some of us maybe it`s safer haha).
After some very good descents of all styles, we finally arrived at the Refugio Agostini (15.091 ft) where we found Julio, already recovered, and the 5 of us followed the descent until camp Federation, our base camp (13.615 ft). We ate something, disarmed camp and went straight to Piuquenes Lagoon (11.663 ft) (2-3 hrs approx) where we established our second camp. But this does not end here.
Last Day: Sacred DH to Santiago
We took our bikes and a few meters away we had the Bike Park of La Parva to later connect with the mythical Parvazo and then finish in Corral Quemado (4.265 ft) almost Santiago, what a privilege! Once down, we looked back to where we dropped and everything we had gone down, on our bikes. A sense of gratification and pride, where everything we had thought and planned had come true.
How fortunate we are to have this great mountain range throughout our beautiful country that allows us adventures like this.
In short, with the descent, we completed more than 13.451ft. of slope in the purest freeride DH style we had ever done in our lives. Something that not in any part of the world can be achieved.
We are very satisfied, like our Inca ancestors, having managed to travel long distances, overcome various obstacles and above all have relied on nothing more than our instinct and conviction to descend on new routes to return safe and sound ot the valley from which we came.
• Patricio Goycoolea
• Thomas Samsing
• Santiago Pérez
• Max Vignau
• Julio Hochschild
• Inner Mountain Chile / www.innermountain.cl // @bigmountainbike @inner_mountain
• Cristóbal Bate
• Juan Martin Gerstle
• Camilo Bruna
• Pablo Azocar
• James Alfaro (this last titan came to the summit with his bike!