Getting high on Huayna Potosi
Well I am currently in La Paz, Bolivia. Getting to La Paz from Puno, Peru was fairly easy on a bus. I read that it involved taking a ferry ride across a narrow section of Lake Titicaca. I somehow imagined big ferries like in the Bay Area or Seattle but in hindsight that was pretty silly to think in South America. We got to the dock and everyone had to get off the bus. We crossed the strait in small boats. Our bus went across on this barge.
After seeing the name of the barge I was pretty happy to not be on the bus.
La Paz is a huge city surrounded by mountains. Lots of hustling and bustling in the city with crowds of people everywhere you go. Everynight on the street below my hostel and in the surrounding blocks a black market sets up. Interesting to see that you can buy DVDs of movies still showing in theaters in the US. Anyone want a $5.00 pair of brand new Nikes? You can buy just about anything if you wander around long enough.
I met up with a couple from my Salkantay trek in Peru, Rob & Naomi.
We wanted to do another adventure together so we checked into climbing one of the surrounding mountains, Huayna Potosi. Rob decided against climbing but Naomi and I were up for trying so a couple of days later off we went. Huayna Potosi is 6,088 meters high, 19,973 feet, far and away the highest thing that I have ever climbed. Our guide service Bolivian Mountains was highly recommended and in fact took the former president of Bolivia up this same peak. We loaded up with another climber, Charles who had signed up for the climb and off the three of us went. This is our vehicle loaded up with gear and Huayna Potosi in the background.
A little further down the road another view of the mountain, hope this isn´t a bad omen.
Set up our camp the first day, then hiked up to a glacier to practice walking on crampons and using ice axes with our guides, Jose & Freddie. The hike also helped us get aclimatised to the altitude. Here is our guide Jose going up an ice wall with his axes.
Here is me with my buddy Flat Stanley. In the background you can see a glacial lake.
The next morning we hiked further up the mountain to a refugio at 5,130m, adaptly named rock camp since it was on a huge pile of rocks.
Rested all afternoon. Ate dinner at 5:00pm and went to bed since we were getting up at 1:30am to start up the mountain. I should say that we tried to go to sleep. Our bedroom was the upper floor of the lodge. The entire floor was one big room covered wall-to-wall with pads. A six inch gap ran down the middle, in theory it was where you should walk but everyone piled up their gear in that space. The room filled up by 7:00pm with about 40 other climbers.
Naomi, Charles and I all laid shoulder to shoulder with everyone else. Not the greatests conditions for sleep. People getting up all night long, rustling around with their gear, coughing, snoring, etc. Between all the noise and altitude I didn´t manage any sleep.
1:30am finally came and it was like a cattle call. In a matter of minutes everyone was up putting on gear, swinging their packs around with ice axes and trying to eat breakfast. Crazy. Our guide Jose told us all to rest until the craziness subsided. We finally ate at 2:30am and put on all our gear. I wore five layers on my upper body, four pairs of pants, two sets of gloves and two hats. Up the mountain we went in our crampons all roped together. Luckily we were climbing the night after a full moon and it gave us tons of light. We climbed some of the sections in just the moonlight without having to use our headlamps. Very neat.
It was tough walking on crampons in the thin air. Usually we had to rest every ten steps or so. The lights of LaPaz far below were amazing in the night air. It looked so close it seemed you could just reach out and touch the city. The sunrise was spectacular. It turned the mountain into awesome shade of lavender, pink and orange. As the sun rose higher and higher we kept shedding layers of clothes. The higher we went the more I rested until I was resting every one or two steps near the top. Didn´t take many pictures since I was to concerned with breathing and trying to keep from stabbing myself or someone else with my crampons or ice axe. Here are some pictures from the top of the summit after resting a bit.
Me and Flat Stanley
Me and My guide Freddy
Freddy setting up the protection to keep me from sliding off the summit!
Naomi and Jose coming up the ridge
Random climbers following us up a ridgeline towards the summit
View west, Lake Titicaca on the horizon
View above the clouds from the summit
Made it back down safe and sound. Happy to have all my fingers and toes still attached. Seven hours climbing up, two hours coming down. The descent was much easier on the lungs. You could almost feel yourself getting stronger with each step going down. Journeyed back to LaPaz that night for a hot shower and solid nights sleep.
The following day said goodbye to Rob & Naomi as they were heading towards Argentina.
Next up for me....Salar de Uyuni
The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends --- Robert Earl Keen