We have some regrets about not attempting to summit Volcán Cotopaxi in Ecuador, but at the time we were definitely not fit or acclimatized enough. After seeing the amazing photos taken by some friends, I suggested that we try and climb Huayna Potosi, a summit of 6088m near La Paz. Mark of course agreed right away, and ever since then I’ve been trying to back out. We often get into disagreements about my ability to do things. I think I can’t and he thinks I can.
Along the shores of Lake Titicaca we pulled over to chat to some cyclists. Tristan and Avalon are an awesome Canadian couple, who seemed ready for any adventure. They had canoed the entire Mississippi River, then sailed across the Caribbean before cycling from Colombia to Bolivia. Before long, they were also up for attempting the climb.
After a lot of research into the different guiding companies, I bit the bullet and booked the tour (and purchased some travel insurance for mountaineering up to 7000m, which is not easy!). We really only like booking guided tours when we don’t have the experience or the gear to do it ourselves. Crossing snow covered glaciers and climbing ice walls, definitely fits this criteria.
Huayna Potosi in the background. Not feeling confident, I was totally out of breath after this little jog, post pee stop.
We booked the three day tour with Climbing South America. This gave us more time to acclimatize. It turns out we really needed it, as Mark got sick the night before we were scheduled to leave. This was after bragging to Avalon and Tristan that we haven’t been sick since Mexico. He was up most of the night with some serious tummy pains, and well, you can imagine the rest.
The extra day also meant we could practise the different skills that we would need with equipment we’ve never used before, such as crampons and ice axes.
Going up, no problemo. Coming down, eeeeek.
Marky reaching the top. Our guide Augustin, pretty much always laughing…..probably at us.
After our skills day we felt a bit more confident, but still nervous as hell. Staying at base camp that night, the setting sun illuminated Huayna Potosi and highlighted for us the mess we’d gotten ourselves into.
The next morning we hiked with all of our gear up to high camp. The local ladies put us to shame, hiking in their skirts and carrying everything in their mantas (blankets), slung across their backs. We spent the rest of the day just sitting around chatting and drinking tea, this is definitely the part of mountaineering I could get used to.
The butterflies in my stomach went into overdrive as the sun set. This meant bedtime, which was about 6pm, in preparation for the 12:30am wake up. Needless to say, no one slept much at all.
We hit the trail at about 1:30am, with our headlamps and a full moon to light the way. We spent hours just watching the rhythm of the feet in front of us, breathing hard, and in my case concentrating on not vomiting (I think the altitude medication helped). This is one tough climb. We had to jump crevasses, scramble up ice walls and walk along a narrow ridge. All the while I felt completely safe though, roped between Mark and our guide.
I definitely had initial doubts, but once we hit the trail, turning back didn’t seem to be an option. It was just one foot in front of the other, with the conditioning from our Huayhuash hike definitely kicking in.
The sunrise was magnificent, and definitely helped to lift our spirits and warm up our toes. It was also crazy to look out at the terrain we had just hiked over.
The only downside to this climb was the crowds. We were there in peak season and as this mountain is close to La Paz, it’s easily accessible to hoards of tourists. It is also marketed as one of the easiest plus 6000m climbs and suitable for beginners.
Waiting in line for the ridge.
All four of us made it to the peak, which was amazing. The view and the feeling of accomplishment were unreal. I was holding back tears when we got there. Mark on the other hand could not hold back the contents of his stomach, and had a celebratory spew right there on the summit.
The landscape was spectacular and the snow was blinding in the light of day, the heat of the sun quickly warming everything up. We had to start moving to get down off the mountain before it got too hot, and the snow became unstable. It was easy to see why most mountaineering accidents happen on the way down, we were all absolutely exhausted.
We made it back to high camp safe and sound, nursing some serious headaches, and more than ready for a cup of tea and a bowl of hot soup. Afterwards, we somehow managed to hike back down across the loose rocks to base camp, where even more snacks and our ride back to La Paz were waiting for us.
I hated and loved this climb all at the same time, and with the altitude this was definitely one of the biggest physical challenges we’ve faced. This time I guess Mark was right … I can climb mountains.
Posted from La Paz, Bolivia