A mountain and a lack of sleep

Trip Start Jul 12, 2006
Trip End Aug 23, 2006

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, August 14, 2006

I´m writing again from La Paz, where I´ll be for another 4 hours. I have a bus at 7pm for Uyuni, where from what I hear, there is not much. But it is the launching point for tours of Salar de Uyuni, a giant salt plain which is all that remains of a prehistoric salt lake. Everyone I´ve talked to down here has said that it´s one of the best places they´ve visited. I´m hoping I will say the same after I´m done, while I´m scrambling across southern/central Bolivia to get to Santa Cruz for my flight home in 9 days.

I need to add a note to my previous entry (it´s probably not significant to anyone but me and Eric Adamson): my hostel is located on a street where EVERY shop is a barber shop. I´m not sure how the market supports this (there are at least 12 on the block). This also means that business is usually slow, so every time I walked to my hostel I would get calls of ¨Pase, pase¨ (¨Come in, come in¨). Apparently they thought my beard (which was puffing by then) didn´t look good. I finally caved in on Friday night and let a barber trim my beard. I don´t get told to come in as much anymore.

Anyhow, I spend Saturday and Sunday climbing Huayna Potosí, a 6088-meter mountain just outside of La Paz. I booked the climb with an agency that told me that doing the climb in two days is normal, as opposed to the three day option, where you spend a day getting acclimatized and practicing with your ice axe and crampons on a glacier. When I got to the base camp I discovered that I was the only person there doing the two-day option, which I also discovered meant no practicing with ice axes and crampons. I´d have to list myself as ´novice´ (¨Zero, nothing, whatever the system is.¨) when it comes to using things such as these. But no matter, I learned as I went and I think I used them correctly (there are only so many things you can do with an ice axe, especially when you´re climbing a mountain).

We got to the base camp (4750m I think) where I had lunch and repacked my backpack with climbing gear (snow pants, snow jacket, big mittens, crampons, etc.). I then hiked from base camp to the refuge (5200m), where I met up with the group I´d be climbing with. They had spent the previous day practicing on the glacier and the previous night sleeping at base camp. We hung out for a little bit and ate again before going to bed around 6:30pm. From then until 12:30am I spent my time in my sleeping bag trying to sleep, but to no avail. I occupied the time by clearing my throat whenever someone started snoring (there were two snorers), covering my face with my sleeping bag to protect myself from the dripping ceiling, monitoring my acclimatization status, and gasping for breath every 15 seconds or so when for some reason I would forget to breath. I think it was the altitude.

We woke up at 12:30am and left around 2. Our group of 5 had three guides, and I was paired with a German named Matheus. Our guide´s name was Felix. We climbed for about 4.5 hours and summited just before the sun broke the horizon. The climb wasn´t very difficult except for the last 200m, which was something like a 60-degree slope of ice with a little snow and required use of the ice axe. I feel comfortable saying that it was one of the hardest physical activities I´ve undertaken, but at no point did I feel that my body could not continue. I also feel that it would have been much easier had I chosen the three-day option, but being on the crunched schedule that I am, it was worth it.

After climbing back down and riding in a jeep back to La Paz, I was ready for some sleep (I had been awake for around 30 hours). But then I remembered that there was a soccer game between The Strongest and Bolívar. Not only are they two of Bolivia´s best teams, they are both based in La Paz. So I showered and caught a bus to the stadium. The game was exciting and mostly well-played (a little sloppy), and the fans from both sides were great. Despite my nearly falling asleep a few times, I enjoyed the game.

I finally got some sleep (about 12 hours) last night, and I bought the bus ticket for Uyuni this morning. Anyway, that´s about it for now. I´m off to get ready for the bus and get some food.
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