Huayna Potosí...6088m of Pain.

Trip Start Sep 15, 2008
Trip End Jan 01, 2009

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, November 19, 2008

After hearing about a 6000m peak just outside of La Paz a year ago I dreamed of the day I could test my will against that of this majestic mountain, Huyana Potosi.  Never did I imagine it would be so hard.

Huyana Potosi sits 6088m (19,974ft) above sea level, 26km north of La Paz, Bolivia.  It is one of the most famous Bolivian Peaks due to its beautiful snow capped peak.  It is also considered one of the easiest 6000m peaks to summit in relation to acclimatization, with La Paz so close at 3,300m above sea level. 

The excitement had been building for months.  Before this trip I donīt think I had ever been more than 3000m above sea level.  For reference Big White Ski Resort is 1750m above sea level.  The summit on the Coquihalla is 1240m.  The Mountain I was attempting to climb was more than 6km above sea level!

Day 1

I arrived at the tour office at 8:00am for equipment fitting and to meet the guides and other trekkers.  The trekking company included all snow gear necessary for the trip to the summit.  Boots, crampons, ice axe, pants, gloves, and harness.  13 other travelers joined me on the trek.  All in all there were 7 former Israeli Soldiers, 2 English Psychology graduates, 1 Swiss carpenter, and 3 Poles (yup, thatīs a Polish person).

After securing our gear to the top of the jeeps we were off to base camp, where we would spend the next 24 hours acclimatizing and practicing our ice climbing skills at 4700m. 

At the refuge it was so foggy that nothing could be seen: no snow, no ice, no mountain.  We put on our gear and walked 1 hour in the fog until we reached the base of the glacier.  Here we put on our ice gear and practiced going up down, left and right on the ice.   One of the Israelis climbed up about 30ft to get a picture, not knowing how to get down yet he simply slid on his butt into the group with his crampons straight up!   Moving around at this altitude, a mere 4800m was not easy and a sign of pain to come.

The rest of the night the group lounged around the lodge getting to know each other.  One of the Polish guys had the craziest  mullet ever.  Blonde hair all shaved except for a half moon at the back, pulled into a pony tail, and then split into 2 dreadlocks 12 inches long!  The Polish trekkers talked about life in the USSR and I learned a lot about army service in Israel.  One guy I got along with really well was a tank commander during Israel's war with Lebanon, at 23 he was using his $8,000 army bonus to travel before starting university.
Day 2
I woke up early to clear skies and an amazing view of the Mountain that I would summit in less than 24 hours - spectacular.  In the morning we double checked all of our gear and packed the bags we would carry to the second refuge.  After lunch we started our ascent with a hike over large glacial boulders for 4 hours from 4700m to 5300m.  With about 10kg on my back and air lacking sufficient oxygen this was a challenge on its own.  The refuge I stayed in (there were two) was small and basic.  It consisted of 8 sleeping mats for 11 people and one bedside table for making tea and serving food.  Here we found out the real plan for our summit.  We would have 5 hours of sleep (from 6pm to 11pm) before waking up to summit the mountain in the dark.  At night the ice is itīs coldest and therefore most secure for climbing.  After a light dinner we all tried desperately to get some sleep, most unsuccessful at this high altitude.

Day 3 (Summit Day)

Up at 11:30 and on the glacier by 12:00am - my body was not impressed.  No air, no sleep, no light, and it felt about -10C.  Luckily I was given my own guide for the climb, ensuring an opportunity for success.  Unfortunately, I was given my own guide for the climb, ensuring my willpower and fitness (or lack thereof) would be the only barrier between me and the peak.

Step - inhale - exhale - step.  This was the pace my body could accept without feeling dizzy or going into respiratory attack.  After 1 hour I had no idea why I was doing this.  At 2 hours I was ready to give up. At 3 hours I was mentally laying out my will.  At 4 hours I could see the peak and found some energy somewhere in my legs to continue.  This was by far the hardest thing I had ever done in my life, and I wasnīt even at the top yet!  

After 5 ― hours of continuous hiking, me and my guide, Arnesto, reached the summit.  The sun was rising and the view of the surrounding mountains was amazing.  After anchoring us both in to the peak, Arnesto had a little nap while I took in the view.  Climbing to the summit of Huyana Potosi was the most challenging physical activity of my life - with little energy spared I now had to climb back down...(groan).  Most climbers say that the most dangerous part of climbing a mountain is the descent and after turning my legs into jelly from the ascent, getting down was just pure punishment.  At one point I slipped over the edge of an ice ridge, to be saved by the rope connecting me with Arnesto.  The hike down also allowed me to see the many crevasses and ridges we had to jump or climb over during our ascent.  Unlike swimming with sharks you canīt see versus sharks you can see, jumping over a gap you donīt know is 100m down is much easier than jumping over a gap you know is 100m down...

Finally at 1pm we arrived back in the base camp at 4700m.  In 24 hours we climbed for almost 15 with little to no sleep and very little oxygen.  The experience developed a new found respect for serious mountaineers in my mind.  Some people climb peaks over 8000m with out oxygen, and here I climbed a mere 6088m.  I hope that whoever claims climbing Huyana Potosi as one of the easiest 6000m peak better well have reached the summit themselves.
Huyana Potosi summit 6088m above sea leve reached at 5:34am on November 18, 2008...and Never Again!
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arikandcharis on

So hard!
Thanks guys - the accomplishment feels good, but honestly it was ridicuously hard, I couldn´t believe how hard. Something like pulling an all nighter to do the Grouse Grind for 9 hours straight in the dark, freezing cold, with what feels like no oxygen in the air, and dangerous drops on every side...

Brian Killen on

Me and a few friends are taking break from school and looking to do this in January, do you remember or can you recommend any tour companies

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