19.05.2008 - 21.05.2008
Having been in La Paz surrounded by high mountains for a few days, I couldn´t resist the urge to sign up for a climb when I noticed one a trip advertised for the next day. So after a quick afternoon of organizing everything I met the guides and another member of the group early on Monday morning.
After sorting out all the equipment it was a bit of a drive out of the city to base camp at about 4700m. Having only ever climbed to about this height before, it was a bit daunting to think that this was going to be the low point of the climb and that the top of Huayana Potosi is 6088m high. At base camp I met 3 people from NZ that we were going to be climbing with. They had been climbing and trekking at high altitude for the last 8 days. Where as I had recently arrived in La Paz from spending a few weeks at sea level. After hearing some of their tales of altitude sickness from the previous week I was seriously doubting that I would be able to get anywhere near the summit.
In the afternoon we set off a little way up the mountain to the foot of the glacier for a bit of practise using ice axes and crampons and a bit of ice climbing. I had never climbed ice as steep or hard as this before, and with the added difficulty of altitude it was really hard work but also really good fun trying.
After an early night we set off the next morning to climb to high base camp, a hut at about 5150m. This was quite a straightforward walk and only took a few hours so we were there by lunch time. We spent a nice afternoon relaxing in the sun looking at the route to the top. After a bit of a siesta late in the evening, it was time to get up again at midnight to start climbing at 1am. When we got up we were pleased to find the weather hadn´t changed, it was a clear night, with a full moon and just a little breeze, perfect for conditions for climbing. It was so light with the moon reflecting off the snow, we only needed torches for the final part of the climb that was in the shade. The majority of the climb was actually relatively easy with the only difficulties being the cold and the altitude. Despite wearing 3 pairs of trousers, 6 jumpers 7 jackets, 2 pairs of gloves, a hat, a balaclava and a hood, I was still cold even when we were walking. No idea what temperature it actually was, but it was cold to say the least. The higher we went the more I expected to start feeling ill, but luckily other than being a bit more out of breath than normal, I didn´t suffer any of the expected headaches or vomiting. While climbing we had great views all around us, sometimes you could see back down to all the lights in La Paz, we could see across to other mountains and could see a lot of stars and the moon. After several hours walking we reached the foot of the most difficult part of the climb, the last 200m was to be the steepest. At this point it was still dark so after setting out on the climb I couldn´t see the bottom or the top and seemed to be stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere for ever. It felt like I was climbing and getting no where, just following the rope in front of me. Even when we stopped I couldn´t get my breath back as now we were so high up. But then all of a sudden I could see the top and it was only a couple of meters to go. We arrived at the top just in time to watch the sunrise over the mountains ahead of us. With this and views over Lake Titicaca behind us, the scene was unforgetable. Which is lucky because it was too cold for my camers to work so I have no photos. So you´ll just have to believe me that I did make it to the top.
The walk back down to high base camp was OK, except by then the sun had come out and it was really hot. Unfortunately everyones suntan cream was still frozen so to avoid getting too burnt I still had to wear a lot of clothes, so I now have blistered sunburnt lips from the balaclava.
After arriving at high basecamp we had breakfast again as it was still only about 8.30am. We had a bit of a rest before continuing down to our first camp site. We made it back into La Paz in time for a quick shower before watching the Champions League final and then a very early night.