Lightning Rod

Argentina, 2011, Sarah and I embarked on an adventure that would teach us the wrath of mother nature and the importance of preparedness.   Sergio and his son were our guides up the four hour trek to the top of Cerro Uritorco (part of Sierras Chicas mountain range in Argentina).  Just as a cliff note, it is part of their policy at this mountain that if there is any rain or threat of rain, the mountain is closed down and no one is permitted to go up.  Nevertheless, it was a gorgeous morning, the sun was blooming and we were mentally prepared for a long day of hiking.  As we approached the midway point of the mountain, Sergio pointed out a part of the cliffside that usually is a mini waterfall, but unfortunately was bone dry.  Three hours into it and many empty water bottles later, we made our final ascent to the top of Cerro Uritorco.  

At the top of the mountain, the view of the surrounding land was magnificent.  We had a clear shot of Capilla Del Monte and the rest of Punilla Valley, which rest upon the Sierras Chicas.  Pictures were taken, snacks were had and we were able to finally catch our breath.  

All was at ease, until we noticed a storm cloud encroaching.  This was no ordinary cloud; it was enormous and created a black band separating half of the sky.  Then all at once, buckets of rain fell down and bodies scattered for shelter. Unfortunately for everyone at the top, there was nowhere to hide.  Our crew quickly scanned the land for some kind of cover, but it was to no avail.  Oddly enough, stray dogs were hiding between our legs trying to escape the rain for a spell.  My sweatshirt that once kept me warm from the wind at the top of the mountain, created a sopping sponge and immediately turned my body to ice.  We looked at each other with grave faces and knew we had to descend.  

We weren't the only ones with this idea; tons of people were migrating down the mountain, forming a line and making it incredibly difficult to march down.  The path at our feet was swallowed by a stream, each step was like balancing on a tight rope, one false move and we would be in a foot of water and sliding down the path.  As I looked back, I saw Sarah shivering cold, teeth shattering, and her face full of tears.  

On top of the difficult descent, lightning was striking all around us, which left us vulnerable to becoming the next lightning rod.  We had to stay strong and keep focused on our two hour hike to the midway shelter.  When we finally arrived, it was by far the most terrified group of people I've ever seen.  Women in scantily clad clothes looked like they might shatter at a moments whim; children were being wrapped in emergency space blankets to keep warm.  

An announcement was made to the group in Spanish; Sarah and I looked at each other bewildered.  Sergio translated that we now had to cross two streams that were being fed by immense waterfalls.  It needed to be done slowly and cautiously to ensure no one got swept up in the wake.  Those in charge shouted for women and children to go first. 

Everyone began forming a line,  which led to the river/stream we had to cross.  When we were near, we could see they had a giant rope between the river, which rescue workers used to help people cross.  The rescuers were even tossing the dogs across the river to secure their safety.  The water was freezing cold, up to our chest, but we made it safely across both bodies of water.  

We only had 2 more hours of walking downhill until we were at the foot of this beast.  Of couse, as we were at the last leg of the descent, the sun came back out and more people were beginning their hike up the mountain.  

When we were safely down, we were able to relax and remove our wet clothing.  I poured out the water from my backpack to find our passports completely drenched and Sarah's camera water damaged beyond repair.   

I wrote the song Lightning Rod  to capture this story and always remember the power of Pacha Mama.  There are a few surviving photos from this trek, which hardly do those storm clouds justice.