Summiting Huayna Potosi, La Paz, Bolivia

24/02/2013 La Paz, Bolivia is an awesome city, I’ve said this many times. Anyway I hooked up with a bunch of dudes earlier in La Paz and we’d been through the rain forest and back to La Paz and then off to Isla del Sol having a blast.

IMG_1097_E La Paz, Bolivia –  All Class!

It was one of those drinking nights in La Paz, at the famous Wild Rover bar where, you celebrate that you’re still alive by drinking at altitude with the craziest backpackers you’ll ever meet. I was was talking to my Irish mate, Ronan (of course), who had survived the jungle with us and now we were drunkenly making a pact to climb Huayna Potosi. I was earlier tossing up on doing the climb, mainly because my mate Gav had done it earlier, and I didn’t want to be outclassed. I’m not the worlds biggest fan of climbing stuff. Anyway a drunkin’ pact with an Irish man is a iron clad agreement to do something… apparently… and after touring Isla del Sol we were back in La Paz preparing to make the climb. We’d shopped around and found the best outfit to climb with by comparing prices vs starting dates. Refugios Huayna potosí travel agency – we paid 1200Bs Yep – we were starting the climb on Sunday morning – very dangerous.

IMG_1707_E_S Pre climb training session at the Wild Rover!

After surviving a another night of high altitude alcohol poisoning we hiked up the breathless streets  (which only ever go uphill) of La Paz – 3600m – to the vendor of our tour, to meet the guide who turned out to be this guy:

IMG_1575_E the guide! not Mental.

So we jumped in their little car, with the diver and two guides sharing the front seats and us squeezed into the back – to pick up our well serviced and ultra modern hiking equipment.

IMG_1513_E First glimpse of Huayna Potosi

With all our kit we jumped in the car and headed out to the mountain.

IMG_1525_E Freezing cold in Low camp (4700m)

The first day involved a bit of training on the ice, turns out I’m pretty shit at getting my crampons to stick in the ice.. sweet

IMG_1522_ETraining on the ice.

The first night involves a freezing cold sleep at the comfortable low camp, at a comfortable 4700m. The next day we have a pretty easy morning, chilling and playing cards and eating. The food here was reasonably good – well, at least filling. After lunch we started the hike to high camp. Funny thing – at about half way there is a group of little old Bolivian ladies huddled in the freezing cold under a tarp. They ask for 10B/s (AU$1.20) to continue the climb. Why are they so far down the trail? How do they survive out there? Who knows, but I gave them some of my snacks and they still wanted 10Bs which I didn’t have. With the shitty thought that we couldn’t continue the climb and the clouds, rain and wind closing in, it was looking like we’d have to pull some further charm together, when our swiss friend arrives and lends us the cash. Thanks mate. (He was in our group but a lot older and slower than us so that took some time.) Leaving him and his guide behind we continue to run up the mountain.

IMG_1536_E At the start and Ronan looking good.

The hike up was pretty good, given the altitude and terrain, we manage to stay out of the snow and ice, until the very last part which is a sketchy dash through the snow – looking for islands of rocks. We reach high camp before dusk, admiring the sweet digs.

IMG_1539_E High camp – 5300m, pretty sweet

That evening we stay at high camp, eat some food and chill out. The departure is 2am, and you are supposed to get some sleep, but it is pretty hard to sleep at that altitude, so you basically rest until the departure. Surprisingly the high camp is warmer than the lower camp. The early departure is due to the ice being more stable before the sun rises, and in the afternoon it gets a bit dodgy. Good to know.

IMG_1543_E Looking good for a 2:42am departure.

We are styling crampons, harness and headlamps for this leg. So hiking on the snow in pitch blackness was exciting, and the first part was okay, just hard work. Every now and then you catch a glimpse of a hole in the snow and ice that you wouldn’t want to fall into.

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Taken in almost complete blackness

The hard part starts when you reach the point where there is a ice face that you have to climb with crampons and icepick. I am hanging from an ice face tied to the guide and my irish mate wondering what the hell I’m doing. After I reached the top, the guide gives me shit but oh well, I made it.

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We continue the hike for hours, and we pass another team, that didn’t make the summit. We take poll position on the mountain, which gets me thinking we are moving way to fast. Actually we were doing awesome, both of us surviving the effects of attitude which generally causes a lot of pain especially above 5000m.

We get to a point where the guide is telling us we should turn back as the snow is too deep, but we continue. Sometimes I put the ice pick into the ice and it goes all the way in to the handle, that sucks. We’re on the side of the ridge, and the falling snow builds up speed as it hurls down the mountain into a crevasse. I hope that isn’t going to be me. We arrive at a pretty steep section which is kinda scary – lots of snow and we are blazing the trail, the snow is fresh. This tricky part leads to the beginning of the ridge to the summit.

The ridge to the summit is a thin ridge that sometimes is no wider than your feet are long. Either side of the ridge is close to a sheer drop. Another 20 minutes or so in the ridge and we make the summit. Yes I was shitting myself, but I was happy that I crossed the thin section I was fearing all day.

First to summit!! And we were way to quick!

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yay summit!! 6:30am to early for sunrise.. doah.

We hang out at the summit for as long as we can, but it’s cold and exposed to the weather, so we start the decent at 7am, in blackness.  The sun rises as we are on the ridge, making the decent more shocking than the ascent.

We pass some other groups on the ridge, that sucks as you have to do this awkward pass without falling to your death.

Got some sweet pics on the way down though:

IMG_1574_E IMG_1577_E IMG_1590_E IMG_1592_E IMG_1595_E IMG_1604_E

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Oh yeah these guys didn’t make it, sucks for them, that’s the beginning of the ridge to the summit.

 

So the trickiest and scary parts I wasn’t in the mood for taking photos. Here are some photos from the web:

ridge-walk

 

Some dude on the ridge. The thinnest part is further down.

thumbs_13-gipfelkamm-huayna-potosi

 

The path to the summit.

Despite dicking around on the ice for an hour on the way down, we made it back to high camp for breakfast

IMG_1612_E9:18 – What’s for brekky?

 

Despite a reasonably gruelling morning we were in pretty good shape, so we ran down to low camp. I finished last. In fact I was rather pissed off when I was alone in the clouds and on the ice, wondering where the hell I was. Thanks guide.

Made it back to low camp by about 1pm. Not a bad run!

Map - Huayna Potosí

 

One Response to Summiting Huayna Potosi, La Paz, Bolivia

  1. Gavin October 6, 2013 at 3:36 am #

    Thats a great blog mate, I feel as though I am re-living it when I read that. I am glad I inspired you to tackle that mountain, its an epic way to spend a couple of days but I would never do it again. The altitude sickness was diabolical and I almost did not make it to summit. After collapsing several times and vomiting the very small amount of food I had in my stomach, my climbing buddy talked me into overcoming the seemingly impossible and I am now glad he did but it was hell.
    What a amazing achievement, shame we could not have done it together!!

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