Peak of destruction

When the 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck Feb. 28 off the coast of Chile, Ashland couple Doug Hoxmeier and Christy Sinclair were close enough to get shaken up themselves while on a trek in the Andes Mountains.

The two had come down from a mountain hike in Argentina just across the border from Chile the day before the quake. They were in bed in a hostel set in a steep canyon in Aconcague Provincial Park when the first quake hit at 3:34 a.m. local time.

"The bed was just rocking and we heard boulders crashing down," Hoxmeier said. "It was not someplace you want to be during an earthquake."

In the morning the pair came out of the hostel into an altered landscape. The steep valley was filled with dust and fallen boulders and rockslides were evident in the area.

Hoxmeier and Sinclair, who have lived in Ashland since 1973, left for Chile on Feb. 21 to trek up Mount Aconcague, which at 22,841 feet is the highest peak in the Americas. Aconcague is about 50 miles north east of Chile's Capital Santiago, which is about 100 miles northeast of the epicenter of the quake.

Hoxmeier in recent years has become increasingly interested in mountain climbing and has topped many local peaks, including Mount Shasta and Mount McLoughlin. Sinclair also enjoys a good hike, though she's not as excited about the rugged, steep mountain type.

While they were far from the urban destruction in the more populated areas of Chile, Hoxmeier and Sinclair saw evacuated, damaged buildings all around and a military presence on roads, cities and airports that made them very aware that they were far from home and on their own in a disaster area.

"It's very weird being in a city with no lights," Sinclair said. "But people were keeping calm."

It might have been worse for the two if they had not come down from the mountain early and had been there when the quake hit. Hoxmeier had hoped to climb the mountain and had been pushing forward, but at the same time he had a growing concern.

"I had a premonition that something was going to happen," he said.

His worries were heightened when he witnessed an avalanche on the mountain, followed later by helicopters taking other altitude-sickened hikers off the mountain in an unrelated incident. He decided to follow his gut and the two climbed down.

"I think we were lucky to get off when we did," Sinclair said.

After the quake, their plans changed quickly. Some areas they were going to visit were off limits and dangerous, so they diverted to the city of Viña del Mar. The city was almost a ghost town, and the couple counted at least 30 evacuated buildings. While there, the couple met a local woman named Victoria whose home had been damaged by the quake. Hoxmeier and Sinclair helped the woman clean her place, set up furniture and get her somewhat back on her feet. But they're aware it was a drop in the bucket when set against the larger disaster.

"We were not heroes," Hoxmeir said.

They also got a glimpse of what becomes important when a country's infrastructure is compromised while they were visiting a local store.

"Water and toilet paper," Hoxmeir said. "That's what everyone was buying."

Though they were far from home, the two turned out better prepared than many locals because they were already packed for camping and trekking and were essentially self-sufficient.

"When we got down and there was no electricity and no water, we were actually kind of OK," Sinclair said. "We had brought our own food, too,"

They immediately tried to return home by plane, but the airports were packed with incoming military and aid flights.

"Everybody was scrambling to get out and the airport was shut down so we couldn't fly out," Sinclair said.

They waited several days, experiencing many aftershocks, and then finally flew out on March 10.

Hoxmeier's next adventure will be closer to home. He plans to climb South Sister near Bend this summer. It's only 10,358 feet and chances of earthquakes are slim.

Myles Murphy is an editor and reporter with the Daily Tidings. Reach him at

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