Three Germans, Frank HĂźlsemann, Markus de Marees and Andre Hauschke were looking for a challenge to cycle beyond 6000 meters. They concluded that the volcanoes in northern Chile seem to be the best choice, said Frank to ExplorersWeb.
On the outskirts of the Atacama Desert, mountains with altitudes beyond 6000 meters are located like pearls on a string. Arranged among these is Ojos del Salado, the highest volcano on earth. Their challenge would be to cycle to beyond 6000m without carrying or pushing their bikes.
Frank sent a debrief of their expedition through to ExplorersWeb telling about their challenge against heat, sand and altitude. Altitude sickness eventually forced two cyclists down and only one made it to their target.
In the southern hemispheres autumn of 2010, March and April, the three men started cycling from sea level. However, said Frank, before we could go up the mountain, we had to acclimatize to the climate and altitude. After arriving in Northern Chile and during our first training sessions we were sweating under the burning desert sun.
The first week we stayed in the oasis San Pedro de Atacama. Short trips lead us into the ambient desert, and immediately we notice that cycling in the driest desert on earth is not like a walk in the park.
After several days in San Pedro de Atacama they moved to an altitude of 3500 meters. Their tent was pitched in a picturesque valley with warm water springs, Frank said. Our training course for the next days was the only single track in the surrounding area, which we cycled up and down every day. After a weeks stay they shifted their camp up to an altitude of 4300 meters on the slopes of the volcano, Sairecabur.
Bikes equipped for desert conditions
They carried on with daily training and equipment tests. Frank explained that their mountain bikes were specially equipped for the desert and mountains. Beside a stabile frame from Poison bikes, we had mounted a lowerable suspension fork from Magura, Schwalbe all terrain tires, and the internal gear hub Rohloff Speedhub 500/14.
The bikes were aligned to be as robust and free of maintenance as far as possible, perfectly suited for trips in cragged and sandy areas. Sand, salt and dust accumulated in our equipment day-by-day and during our meals the sand crunches between our teeth.
As the bikes worked smoothly every day, the camp life didnt. Being together by now for three weeks in the loneliness and altitude of the Atacama Desert we three cyclists quarreled over the simplest disagreements. At that time only our ambition to reach an altitude beyond 6000 meters on our mountain bikes kept us together.
Sand and storm
Heading towards Ojos del Salado the three cyclists were accompanied by a support team of three and two all terrain vehicles. With this support we were sure we would reach an altitude of 6000 meters within a few days.
However, the situation went different. Leaving the main road at an altitude of 4300 meters, the track uphill in the direction of the summit of the Ojos del Salado was more sandy than we expected; so much so that we had serious difficulties to cycle. Again and again we had to stop and look for an accessible route.
Despite our acclimatization that lasted for weeks, we were alarmed by feeling the air getting thinner and thinner with every difference in altitude. To make things worse, on the second day of our race to the summit, we had to stop due to a blizzard and left our mountain bikes at an altitude of 5731 meters.
The guys got back to the base camp and took a compulsory break. We were desperately in need of petrol for our cars and drinking water for us. Everything had to be retrieved from the town, Copiapo, 250 kilometers away. A whole day was lost to fetch the petrol and water; with perfect weather conditions in the meantime.
On March 31 they were ready to start again. An altitude of 5900 meters was reached quickly, but then we got stuck in the rocky and sandy terrain again. Furthermore, Markus and I got serious physical problems. The first signs of altitude sickness showed.
Markus left for the summit area in the afternoon accompanied by the support team, while Andre and I stayed at 5820 meters for the night and intended to reach the altitude of 6000 meters the next morning.
In the evening Franks physical condition got worse, so much so that he and AndrĂŠ descended by foot in the dark at temperatures below -10Â°C. The bikes were left at the 5965 meters where they turned around. After getting together with the support team in the morning Frank descended for safety reasons further down to sea level on the same day.
Andre Hauschke cycled 6000m
Meanwhile AndrĂŠ left the camp for a last attempt to reach 6000 meter. About 24 hours later the team got a call by satellite phone, Using every last ounce of energy AndrĂŠ had reached an altitude of 6085 meters cycling on his mountain bike, reported Frank.
We were all drained by the struggle of the past weeks, but after returning from Ojos del Salado we cheerfully celebrated together the successful end of our project ZERO to 6000 with a cool beer at the Pacific beach.
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