Testing my limits
Trip Start Oct 28, 2005
31Trip End Jun 23, 2006
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After a few days hanging out in La Paz, i was writing in my journal as i often do, and i decided i wanteed to do more things that scare me. Ive done a few new things this trip...vipassana meditation, hanggliding, surfing, etc, but none of which really stretched me, so i was thinking about what i could to to put myself outside of my comfort zone (other than karaoke, which by the way is also on my ´things that scare me´list)...
As i sat pondering this (in the coolest restaurant ive ever been in - random antiquities covering every inch of the walls), in walked a guy from Holland who sat down and started talking to me about this climb he had just done...to the top of Huana Potosi, a nearby mountain that is 6,088 meters tall...thats just shy of 20,000 ft. After 20 min talking to him, i decided this was my next big challenge, so by 10am the next morning, i had booked to do the climb...just me and a guide.
One would think that I would learn to ask all the right questions before heading off on an adventure like this...but i just figured there are loads of agencies here offering this trek, so all would be similar to one another and i would be fine. To be honest what scared me the most about this was sleeping at altitude in the freesing cold. Mistake number 1 - i could have opted for a 3 day climb,using day 1 to acclimatise and practice ice climbing, but 2 nights in the cold wasnt at all appealing, so off i would go, at 8:00 the next morning on a 2 day summit...
By the time I arrived at the start of the trek, where my guide lived, i had already started to feel the effects of the altitude (at 4700 m, 15,420 ft) with a mild headache (added to the weak stomach id had since i arrived in La Paz)...at Freddy´s (my guide) house, we had a light bite to eat and organised all the gear that the agency sent. when i lifted my pack for the first time, I suddenly became aware of mistake number 2...i didnt think to ask for a porter. But, with determination and a smile I put on my pack, now about 25kgs, and headed off towards the high camp, a supposed 2 1/2 hr walk...the agency said day 1 was light to moderate walking.
I learned pretty quikly that the agency had probably never set foot outside the office in la paz, because this was not easy going. For the first time in my life I was walking in huge mountain climbing boots, with my heavy pack, over & up a steep very rocky path...i told my guide i wanted to go slowly, slowly...and thats what we did. Very slowly. By the time we reached the half way mark, i was wondering if I would even make it to the camp...we were at 5,000m (16,400 ft) and the air was getting pretty darn thin...my lungs aching, ventolin helping only marginally, legs burning. At this point i realised mistake number 3 - its not wise to climb a mountain after 7 months of cardiovascular inactivity. (this is where Freddy told me that most agencies include a porter for the 2 day trek...its an extra $10-$15, but this agency didnt even offer the option.) So while attempting to catch my breath, i was both angry & sad that i hadnt asked all the right questions. (I think from this I´ll learn)
Then, we were off again...this, Freddy said...was the technical part of the climb...and i looked up. straight up the rocky face that was ahead of us. Only 1 more hour he said...so with a deep breath, i donned my pack that by now i truly hated...and headed up...slowly. After just seconds, my mind and body decided to go in opposite directions. My mind saying, just to that next big rock, then rest...my body stopping literally every step...while climbing this section, i realised this was the hardest physical thing ive ever done in my life....and i wasnt even to the high camp yet. BUT...from high camp, id be climbing without my pack, so i was sure id make it...this was the hardest part...well, thats what i was telling myself.
Nearly 4 hours after we set off, i reached high camp at 5200m (17,000 ft). My head light from the thin air, my eyes struggling to focus, i needed a rest...so i flopped into the tent (that i couldnt even help freddy set up)...and made myself as comfortable as i could on the rocky ground, my matress a pretty crappy piece of light foam from the agency (it actually resembled more a sun screen for your car windshield than a matress)...but i was laying down, so therefore happy.
By 4pm it was time for dinner cause we´d need to get some sleep before attempting the summit at 1am. I sipped at my soup, unable to eat more than a few bites..and this is when i realised the altitude truly had beat me. By nightfall my head was absolutely pounding, and 11:30pm when it was time to make the call about whether to summit, I had to admit defeat and tell Freddy i wasnt going anywhere. The night was spent with broken bouts of sleep, and a continual headache that literally brought me to tears several times before dawn. I tried to follow Freddy´s advice to keep my head uncovered (but it was too cold!) and not to lay down, because that would make it worse (but all i wanted to do was sleep)...so every hour or so, Freddy would rub a vicks like ointment on my neck and head, to help relax the muscles and imrove the blood flow...i put the ointment on my lips & nose to help my breathing in the thin cold, night air....
When the sun finally came up, I was in a pretty sad state and asked Freddy to arrange a porter to help me carry my pack down...by this point i had let go of all pride and didnt want to add knee pain to my list of ailments. So after managing to drink some tea and eat an apple, it was time to head down...
Without a pack, it was quite an easy decent - still we stopped every 20 minutes or so for us all to catch our breath and enjoy some of the scenery that i hadnt even been able to take notice of the day before.
At the bottom, i felt the first pangs of hunger in 2 days, so i realised i must be feeling a bit better...then i was more than happy to sleep during the bumpy drive back to the city. While driving to la paz, out the car window there were incredible landscapes and bustling sunday streets, which any other day I would have loved to appreciate...but not today. I made it back to my hotel and fell into bed for a much needed sleep...and awoke very happy that this adventure was over.
For a while i was abusing myself that i didnt make it to the summit, or worse that i didnt try. I definitely learned another lesson in humility and that im not superwoman, even though I often try. But, I guess the good news is i did try to climb a very high mountain and somehow i dont think it will be the last time that i test my limits....but next time, I´ll hopefully have learned from some the mistakes i made this time.
Tomorrow its time for me to get out of the cold & altitude, so I´m headed down ¨the worlds most dangerous road¨ on a mountain bike...a 70km ride from 4800m in la Paz down to Coroico at 1600m...for some R&R in the subtropical lowlands...