Allyson is a professional at an IT company called ITWeb, she has worked in events for twenty plus years, starting as a conference producer, marketing manager, head of marketing and managing director. She was born in the United Kingdom but spent the bulk of her forty-five years living in South Africa. She loves the outdoors especially the mountains and African Bushveld. She enjoys cycling, both road and mountain bike, and has competed in a number of endurance races like Sani2c and Berg and Bush, as well as sport climbing and mountaineering as well as reading and crime solving and sci-fi series. She lives in Johannesburg with her rescue puppy labby-cross Agel.
Heart palpitating, tears streaming down my face, immobile with panic and fear, boulders crumbling beneath my feet, my only hope a frayed rope and my unflappable climbing partner.
Twenty-five December 2010 I was on top of the world clinging to the summit ledge of a mountain peak in the Atacama Desert, the culmination of a twelve month journey that irrevocably changed my life.
Rewind to May 2009 newly divorced and looking for an experience that would shatter my world view. My personal trainer, noticing my lust for adventure and fearless outlook on life co-opted me into his big dream to summit the world’s highest active volcano, Ojos del Salado, in Chile, South America (6893m).
The now coined Andean Giant Expedition 2010, would have me cycling from sea level starting in Caldera, on the Pacific Coast, for five days, a total of 360km to an altitude of 4500m, and this was just the start. The bulk of the next ten days were spent in the Atacama Desert, acclimatising to at least 5800m in preparation for summit day.
The two of us were, unsupported the entire two weeks, meaning we were totally alone and fending for ourselves. We spent the first four nights camped on the side of the road in our two man tent surrounding by our meagre belongings. We slept with our gas bottles, batteries, toothpaste and water tucked strategically in our sleeping bags to prevent them from freezing overnight.
The remaining days were spent in similar circumstance except for the roof over our heads. Shacks made from ship containers with only enough room for two people to lie down or makeshift wooden structures on stilts where the wind howled through the cracks and the creaking structure was enough to make us happy to be back in our tent at high camp a few days later.
We had a pre-determined amount of food and water with no chance of replenishing either especially since there is no other source of water in the Atacama. We did all our own cooking on small, altitude friendly gas bottles and hobs. A change of clothes, if you consider a sock and panty change in fifteen days a change of clothes and washing or a real flushing toilet does exist.
We spent twelve months training our minds and bodies, preparing for this expedition and I learnt we are we are capable of so much more than we think.
Returning to life was incredibly hard. Yet my life is so much more colourful.
“As many great minds have said, sometimes the hardest part about travelling is coming home. We experience so many things, push ourselves outside of our usual comfort zones, and learn more about ourselves as individuals.”
And so I started planning my next ‘big’ adventure!