Huayna Potosi, Bolivia
5th January, 2010
Guided by Jesus, I had a pretty fun, sudden start to mountaineering! Since entering Bolivia I had heard from various travellers about the amateur mountain ‘Huayna Potosi’, and was really excited to attempt it! At 6088m it isn't a technical mountain, but especially at this time of year in the rainy (snowy) bad weather season, the majority of tourists don’t summit. ‘Definitely the hardest thing I've ever done physically’ - fit looking English tourist.
So first day - got all the equipment sorted, and drove in an incredibly rickety old car to the mountain, 25 km north of La Paz. (As usual llamas everywhere!) Once there, we walked a couple of hours to do a crash course in alpinism - crampon walking techniques, climbing with ice axe, emergency fall, blah blah. Really cool to finally be doing this! That night we stayed at 4800m in a refuge, and took a very, very long time to get the fire going (lack of oxygen) to dry off the gear from the day. Next day - walked a mere 3 hours to the second shelter at 5300m (past a couple of shelters, one with an angry dog - why is he up there!?). Went to bed at 6pm with a 12am wake up to start the climb. Really good that I slept soundly the whole time - you adjust faster to the altitude. The hut was a singer in the wind, and thunder was sounding in the distance. Perfectly cosy in a sleeping bag!
At 1am we began the climb - Karim (another tourist), Jesus (guide) and I. The snow was hard at this time, easier for cramponing. And also, the night was beautifully attractive, a sky full of stars, the crisp snow sparkling in our head torches, the impressive white mountain looming above, and to top it off, in the distance the twinkling of the city of La Paz, wow! Wow!
Walking up with a constant plod, expanding the distance of the ropes between us to cross crevasses, some huge and magnificent! More climbing and walking, and we started getting rather high. Karim, who was in front of me and behind the guide, wasn't having the best time. He was having a lot of trouble breathing and was becoming exhausted, slowing a lot, and slumping to rest at every possibility. I was anxious that this would stop our summit attempt. Jesus stopped us a few times to talk about this (me translating, as Karim didn't speak Spanish). If you don't get enough oxygen, your lungs and brain can start to take in liquid, which is very dangerous, and Jesus could hear that Karim’s breathing wasn't so good. Karim was incredibly determined and keen to press on, pulling himself together to walk staunchly in tricky parts. The final walk to the summit was along a teeny tiny ridge with HUGE (1000m and 300m) sheer drops on each side, i.e. you had to take much care with steps. Wow! But all went well and we stood at 6088m, with a fantastically amazing feeling of the summit (in a cloud). On the way up I was lucky, I acclimatised very well and didn't fatigue at all - possibly helped because I knew Jesus wouldn't want to summit if I wasn't in a fit state, with Karim weak.
After, walked down with a tired skip in the step, fantastic day views on the way down - and slept VERY soundly in the car back to La Paz.
- Party members
- Arran Whiteford (scribe), Karim Elbarche, Jesus (mountain guide)