Expedition 2008 – Parinacota, Chile

November 2009 saw the BMRES embark on their 13th major expedition, with a group of 25 members, ranging from 26 to 72 years old, headed to Arica in Chile, South America. Arriving in Santiago, the team had an initial day to explore before a ‘4-stop’ flight to the far north of the slim continent: Arica.

Located by the ocean (great seafood!), Arica was a stunning location for the baseline experiments that were to take place. Among the studies taking place were blood draws to study free radical and plasma protein production under hypoxia, an interest in blood flow in the gut at altitude, dynamic cerebral changes in blood flow in the brain, the effect of sildenafil on pulmonary hypertension, urine studies, and pulmonary artery pressure changes under hypoxia. Most of these experiments had already taken place during an acute exposure to hypoxia in a normobaric hypoxic chamber in Glamorgan, Wales, courtesy of Professor Damian Bailey, and the aim of the trip to Chile was study the same parameters following a chronic exposure to hypoxia to elucidate whether similar mechanisms were occurring.

5 days in Arica saw the team then drive eastwards, up and across to the plateau, to the small town of Putre, located at 3500m, where 2 days of acclimatization followed. The team then headed onwards and upwards to Parinacota, where the first views were mind-blowing across the plateau. Based at 4392m is the very tiny village of Parinacota, with one small school (never saw anything happening in there!), some tourist stands selling the usual hats and gloves, and a wee tea stand selling fantastic tasting cocoa tea, which has been enhanced with some other herbs. We became good friends with the tea man, who seemed to speak a mix of so many languages, even the locals couldn’t understand him!

We were located in a much upgraded hostel, compared to several years ago when members visited, which was perfectly basic, and we were delighted to be served llama in every different form possible, 2 times a day by a fabulous chef. Experiments ensued intensely for the next 3 days, and members were again, mostly all subjects for other peoples studies. Spare time was spent exploring the local area.

Following the end of the experimental period, the group divided, with some heading down south to the Lake District for a week long hike across a mountain range, while others stayed to do some acclimatization climbs in preparation for the beast: Parinacota (6443m?).

Following a stunning climb on Guani Guani and Tarapaca, the latter one of the most memorable, following a steady upwards ascent, to be rewarded with the finest views, and over an hour of sunbathing on the summit at nearly 6000m, with all members feeling good. Parinacota was slightly more challenging! One of the main issues was the large percentage of which was covered with penatentes, making upward progress slow and exhausting. Approximately 9 hours after leaving high camp, members reached the summit to again be rewarded with the warmth of the sun and stunning views across the plateau, to 2 of the previous mountains climbed.

A final night in Santiago saw the group indulging in fine meat and a few too many pisco sours. One of the best trips many have been on. Salud!

Report by Emily Kewly

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