Huayna Potosi

It took a while for me to work up the courage to actually sign up for this and while I was cursing at myself for doing it, while I was doing it. It is now one of the most amazing things I’ve done in Bolivia. What did I do? I signed myself up to climb a 6000m high mountain.
I had seen an ad for an independent mountain guide, German Fernández Leon, and once I saw his positive reviews on trip advisor, I decided to contact him. It turned out to be a great call. He was a quiet but thorough guide, had amazing equipment, nice cooking skills and made the overall trip quite enjoyable. As enjoyable as torturing yourself a mountain can be. If you are in need of a guide in La Paz, go to him.


The trek can be done in two or three days, but I would definitely recommend three if you’re a beginner. The first day is spent at ‘base camp’ acclimatizing and showing you the ropes with the gear and giving you a first taste of what ice climbing is like. As it turns out, I’m really not gifted in that aspect.. Out of three attempts to climb the wall, I lost foot and fell three times.. Luckily the guide caught me each time, so I live to tell about this great accomplishment.
After that first day, I was seriously scared and ready to abort. If I’m not able to climb up the ice-walls at 4700m, how will I ever cope at 6000m? If I’m out of breath now, how will it be like at the second camp? But if there’s one trait that runs in our family it is stubbornness and once I set out to do something, I do it or I die trying.. (at least that’s how it felt at times).


The next morning we packed up all the gear and food we’d need for the next two days and set off for the first real hiking part up to the second mountain hut. First a lovely little stone building came into view. Then the hut we were actually staying in appeared. It had slightly less charm.

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To my surprise we reached it just a couple hours later with a medium amount of swearing and sweat involved. The rest of the afternoon was left for ‘resting’, which I didn’t take too seriously until I figured out that the next day would start at 1am. The second day left me very confident.. I’d done the first section in just a bit over 2hours, I could still breath. I had this, it would be easy.


In the mountain hut I met a group from another agency also attempting the climb. We started exchanging stories and I realized that my guide had scheduled us to leave later than the rest. Even though I had the all the confidence in me and in him, this felt a bit too daring. Before I could worry too much about this, however, another issue arose: Clouds spilling in from everywhere and hiding the mountain top and the valleys from view. As it turned out (and as the guides had predicted), the clouds didn’t last long and we got a wonderful, almost cloud free sunset.

Since I didn’t want to leave after all the others, we got up at 12am and left at 1am, like everyone else.. The third day or rather night was simply amazing. If you can time it right, go during the full moon. We made almost no use of our lights and walked through the sparkling snow by moon light. Absolutely marvelous.. if it weren’t for the fact that I was constantly craving more air and not getting it. After setting off at a rather fast pace (for me.. the guide seemed rather unchallenged by the speed.. not to say bored ;)), we caught up to the first group of climbers. At this point, the guide realized that he’d been right and we should’ve left much later.

What followed was a very chill climb with lots of long breaks as not to arrive too long before the sunrise on top of the mountain. When I say very chill, I would still like to point out that I was constantly out of breath and my body was hating me and my decisions, but we did take nice, long breaks. After about 5-6h of climbing we reached “the final” part, the one difficult stretch in the entire climb. It couldn’t have been at the bottom when we were still fresh and motivated. No it had to be on the final 200m. Luckily it was still dark, so I couldn’t quite make out how far down it dropped on both  sides of the ridge or I probably wouldn’t have been all that willing to cross it in the first place.

This was the one place, where I was really thankful for being attached to the guide. We crossed the ridge quite quickly, so quickly in fact that I ended up being very out of breath and had to plead for a break. We stopped in a wind-shielded corner (the one were the people are standing in the picture on the left) and after I had recomposed myself, I asked how much further it was to the top. The answer? 5 meters. It was literally just above us.. We waited in the wind-shielded corner a little longer, until the sunrise announced itself and finally climbed to the top. The sunrise was amazing, the view that unfolded afterwards even better.

What took six hours to climb up, only took about two to go back down.. But I did try to make it interesting by face planting on flat, loose snow about three minutes from the mountain hut.. When I managed to get my face out of the snow, I could see that my guides reflexes had kicked in and he was securing me with the rope, making sure I wasn’t sliding anywhere. On the flat snow, however, it mostly looked very funny to me.

 

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