Page 14 - 2016 AMA Autumn
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                                 Army HQ on Ojos del Salado
   Army HQ deployed a 10-man expedition team to Chile – target: the summit of Ojos del Salado – for 3 weeks earlier this year. A typical expedition from Army HQ tends to be skiing or sailing but the intent here was to do something different, something very different: this is thought to be the first British Services expedition to set foot on the mountain. At 6893m Ojos del Salado is the highest active volcano in the world, highest mountain in Chile and the second highest outside Asia.
9 months before deploying, the initial calling notice attracted 25 potential mountaineers for 10 places on the expedition. Natural wastage and expression of commitment through organisational duties ensured a simple selection process.
The High Risk and Remote brief was all about mitigating the most likely risks; Acute Mountain Sickness and extreme weather – there was nothing we could do about the least likely risk of volcano activity! Accordingly, a Pre-Deployment Training package was assembled; using Standard Learning Credits we contracted a Plas-y-Brenin instructor to deliver a High Altitude First Aid course
in Andover and we convened a Winter Mountain Foundation course in The Cairngorms. These events brought the team together and enabled deployment without a doctor and into an environment where extreme weather might
require basic winter skills.
The expedition ran on rails until summit day. Three
days in the relative comfort of Portillo ski resort (2900m) proved to be a very worthwhile shake-out of equipment – no longer could we add to our gear, we had what we had. A domestic flight to Copiapo took us into the Atacama Desert – the driest place on earth – and into the ‘field’. Our contracted logistic providers – Chile Montana – met us with three 4x4 vehicles and all the equipment for a base camp, knowledge of the harsh environment and supplies for 14 days.
After a single night at Valle Cito we pressed on by 4x4 to Laguna Santa Rosa at 3800m. From here we could see 6000m peaks in the distance and flamingos and lamas in the foreground; the only wildlife bar eagles seen all expedition. This was also the base for our first acclimatisation trek; Siete Hermanos at 4890m. The climb was long and slow as we sucked in the altitude step-by- step, breath-by-breath; for many this was their first experience of adjusting the body to altitude. The complete team arrived at the summit in good order after the 1000m+ / 7-8 hour climb. A much quicker descent was rewarded with a bar-be-que meal and a welcome rest overnight.
Next stop Laguna Verde – base for 5 nights at 4600m – and the first sighting of Ojos on route. The Atacama Desert was just as baron as we had anticipated but with wind and dust beyond expectation. A daily pattern emerged where wind would pick up from early- afternoon into the evening and then lull through the early hours into the morning. It was a weird feeling to be higher than most

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