Back from Cerro Plomo Expedition

I just got back late Monday night from Cerro Plomo.  Given the Ruta Patrimonial de Río Olivares park and roads closure and our original expedition team’s changing schedules for our “Plan A Expedition” to Nevado del Plomo (6,070 meters) in the neighboring valley, I had to choose another nearby glacier to study.  I started out solo on Sunday, February 24, for a two-day attempt at Cerro Plomo (5,430 meters).  On the approach to El Plomo, I met several climbers returning home, most only having ascended to Refugio Angostini at 4,600 meters due to dangerously high winds.  As they descended and I ascended, I kept thinking of the mountain forecast that predicted light winds on what would be my summit day with hopes that the forecast would hold fast.

cerro el plomo, mountain climbing, glacier, chile, andes mountainsOnce I got to base camp, I pitched my tent, took a long drink of glacier melt water, and collected my first glacier melt samples at 4,200 meters for researchers at the Byrd Polar Research Center.  I was pondering the following day’s solo summit bid, when two French climbers appeared over the scree hill that marks the western edge of base camp.  We ended up talking with the last of a group of Chilean climbers that were headed down.  It seems the Chilean couple were the only climbers to have gutted it out and boldly on through the wind to summit against odds that day.

The French climbers, one of whom was a new member of DAV, the Chilean mountaineering club, and I quickly decided to team up for a summit bid.  We ended up lucking out with perfect mountaineering weather, sun and light winds, all the way to the top!  Mountain Weather Forecast remained correct as Inti shined favorably on our day.

On our descent from the summit, I started collecting snow and water samples for glaciologists at Byrd Polar Research Center (starting at about 5,200 meters at the top of the Iver Glacier, a glacier that feeds into Santiago’s main water supply).  I also collected rock samples on a 1,000-meter elevation gradient for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation and Biosphere 2 (from the 5,400 meter summit down to 4,400 meters).  For each data point, I recorded a GPS coordinate and a few photos of each site to show geography and a close up of the sampling area.

This dataset will help describe how Iver Glacier has shaped the valley and how its resultant water flow changes as it travels from the glacier to the wetland, including interactions with other streams that feed into the main El Cepo stream.  Our water samples are safely in the fridge and rock samples above in the freezer.  I will ship water samples out to Byrd Polar Research Center for water isotope concentration, nutrient, and cation/anion analysis and rock samples to Biosphere 2 for analysis and inclusion in a developing global study on high montane microbes.

There are a few more data points that I will return to collect in the lower valley soon.  Until then, check out a more extensive explanation of the purpose of this glaciology research and alpine microbe research.  Update:  second phase of data collection complete.

Cerro Plomo Chile Andes mountaineering glacier geology climate change research climbing

Summit pic of our team with Robin and Leo before environmental sampling on the descent.  Photo courtesy of Robin Bergsma.

© Copyright 2013 Kurt J. Sanderson unless otherwise noted.