Yesterday the Hungarian group went down, and the Spaniards went up, leaving just the Polish in my LANKO area of camp at Plaza de Mulas. In the middle of the night, as well as the storm, as well as the throbbing of my knee, the rest of the Polish team came down and made a lot of noise doing it. They took over the Hungarian bunks in the other hut after about 2 hours of talking with the Polish couple in my tent.
A groggy morning in the snow, with a painful knee, and I wasn't sure what to do. I cranked up the MSR XGK and made oatmeal and hot chocolate for breakfast, since I was off the LANKO leash so to speak. I walked out and cleared the Spanish camp area, which had the best windbreak. On the way, walking over the rocks I decided to test out my knee, and found the dozen or directions not to move it, and the weakest direction, which was down. Youch. So I might make it up if I were careful, but coming down would really suck. I tested in boots and running shoes, and apparently the torque of stepping down with the boot on my shin was doing something really bad to my knee.
I called Angie for advice, and she said she would support me if I bailed. I talked to Jacek, 53, of the Polish team (which was turned back by the trail police at 3 PM because there was no way they would safely make the summit). He talked about knee injuries, having had one not too long ago, and he recommended rest and care. Get off the mountain and come back stronger.
They then went down. It was late (around 11 AM) and I talked to Vanessa, who said I could go down and she'd send my bags down the next day. I quickly packed, making my backpack as light as possible, and managed to get out at 2 PM.
I had to really move to make it out on time. Fortunately, I didn't get lost on the way down, finding each fork quite easily and much more obviously than on the way up. I did a lot of thinking, and decided that the "high boot torque on the knee" might explain why over the years I got progressively softer ski boots and pretty much bailed on skiing altogether. Why I can run on snow descending, but have to hobble on rocks and gravel. Why I grew to prefer my Batura's for most everything I do in boots.
I managed to cross paths and overtake the Polish about a kilometer before I got to Confluencia, just before I had to go on the steepest part of the trail going down to the wire bridge. I ended up hopping down on one foot, and maybe even cried a bit.
I made it to Confluencia just at sunset, and of all the luck, ran into Osvaldo, who was looking for the Polish. I told him at their pace they were most likely an hour out, so he packed me up and took me down to the Hostel. Sure enough the Polish arrived about an hour later, and we ate at the same time, though not together.
Oddly, they lost all sense of being climbers the second they got down, and were drinking a lot and being rude and obnoxious (is this a Euro trait?) about getting a ride into Mendoza so they could find flights to Buenos Aires (which I soon discovered was quite a feat). They had dropped a bag on the mountain in the storm at around 16,000' and had to send a porter up to snag it and bring it down, but it didn't make the mule trip that day, so it would come down the next day with my bag.
I took a long shower, patched my blister (from my fast walk) with chapstick (works good) and hit the sack. My poor knee - my bed was upstairs so I had to hobble up and down, and even crawled a time or two. Thank goodness for pee bottles.