Big mountain bike: Two Chileans summit Tupungato

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By Caterinna Giovannini
 
On April 7, Patricio Goycoolea and Diego Marín reached the summit of the Tupungato volcano, the highest peak in the Santiago Metropolitan region. And they did it with a bike. An unprecedented feat, which entailed more than one attempt and a major logistical challenge.
 
The second time was the charm for these cyclists who in January made a first attempt to reach this summit of 6,565 meters above sea level, the highest south of Aconcagua in Argentina, for their video series Guardian del Valle. "Over the past several years I have dedicated myself to making the ‘big mountain bike’ concept grow," says Patricio Goycoolea, founder of the video project that in May 2017 premiered its first chapter on YouTube.
 
Chile and Argentina have an ideal geography for the practice of big mountain biking. This concept, created in Chile by Goycoolea, combines mountaineering with downhill mountain biking, taking a bike up high mountains, often going to summits well more than 4,000 meters high, and then making the descent by bike for most of the route down.
 
 
Photo: Sebastián Prieto DonosoPhoto: Sebastián Prieto Donoso
 
 
Raising the bar
The difference between that first experience for their video series, which featured a mountain bike descent down Cerro el Plomo, and this one, the fifth chapter in the series, is the level of difficulty. El Plomo has a trail that allows pedaling from the summit to the base. Tupungato, on the other hand, is more difficult to access and has places where biking is not possible. "This has been the most difficult mountain of all the projects we have done," says Goycoolea.

"This has been the most difficult mountain of all the projects we have done" 

 
Just to get to base camp, before starting the ascent, it is necessary to walk 7 to 8 hours a day for 3 days. Add to that the altitude. The cyclists had to face extreme weather conditions, with winds of 40 km per hour and a wind chill that reached minus 30 degrees Celsius.
 
Falling short of the summt
For two months, since their first attempt in January, Marín (26) and Goycoolea (34) could not get the summit of this volcano out of their heads. The first time they attempted it, they did it accompanied by 7 people, the Guardián del Valle recording group, plus three Italian athletes, but "they were not used to the heights we have here," they explain.
 
Despite the month dedicated to preparing and acclimatizing for the trip, one of their participants knew that he would not make it, he did not have the physical conditions to make such a trip. He was considered among those who might not make it to the end, but, little by little they began to lose people others on the team too. By the seventh day, of the nine people on the expedition, only four were left, three on bicycles and one person walking as support.
 
When the depleted group reached 6,200 meters, one of the Italian athletes began to suffer from a panic attack and altitude sickness. "His mind was elsewhere," said Goycoolea. Someone had to sacrifice himself and accompany him on the descent, which meant giving up on reaching the summit and abandoning all that had been achieved during that week of effort.
 
 
Photo: Sebastián Prieto DonosoPhoto: Sebastián Prieto Donoso
 
 
Photo: Sebastián Prieto DonosoPhoto: Sebastián Prieto Donoso
 
 
This was the first time that Marín accompanied Goycoolea in one of these video projects. The athlete, who since 2019 has been pursuing big mountain bike trips, including several bike ascents of Cerro el Plomo under his belt, was more than physically prepared for the expedition. "Patricio and I were on our way up when Andreas called us on the radio," says Marín. He was telling them that he heard voices, that he was scared and needed help. "Carrying a bicycle is two or three times more difficult than walking," he explains.
 
Marín decided not to go to the summit, and instead help Andreas. "He couldn't go down alone. I had to put crampons on him and help him with his bike on the icy parts.”
 
Goycoolea kept walking, however, but he says it was no longer the same. After he reached about 6350 meters above sea level, just he felt that he should not go further. "The mountain spoke to me, although it sounds cliché, and told me: This is not the moment to climb. I turned around and went down."

"The mountain spoke to me, although it sounds cliché, and told me: This is not the moment to climb. I turned around and went down"

 
Second attempt
In January, they did practically the entire route, each with their own bike. That time, in addition to the Italians, they were accompanied by a large video production team. Since then, they kept their eyes open for another opportunity. "The day that we didn't make the summit, Pato looked at me and said, Diego, we have to go back, and I tell him, not now because we are tired. Let's give ourselves some time," Marín recalls.
 
This time it would be a different expedition. Besides, no one dared to join them except for Pedro Anguita, who helped them with the tent and food.
 
  
Patricio Goycoolea and Diego Marín at the summit of Tupungato.Patricio Goycoolea and Diego Marín at the summit of Tupungato.
 
 
A bike on the summit
In April, with shorter days and lower temperatures, they undertook a new attempt to secure a major accomplishment for big mountain biking, getting a bike to the summit of Tupungato. "Patricio carried the two wheels strapped to the backpack and I carried the frame, handlebars and brakes," Marín explains.
 
They changed the logistics, confident that they had the right physical conditioning for the task at hand, they left at 7 a.m. instead of the early 2 a.m. start for the previous attempt. It took them four days to reach the summit and during the descent they took turns riding their bike. It didn't matter that they had to share, they were satisfied that they had achieved their goal.