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Trip Start Sep 2005
Trip End Sep 2006

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, October 22, 2005

Feeling a little worse for wear I headed off on my 3 day climb of Huanya Potosi. Maybe it was the spiked drinks from the night before. Victems often claim that Rawhypnol cuts the arse off you. But IŽd paid my money so I was going to give the climb my best shot.

The group I was with were great. One French girl (with good english), one english guy, and Dave the Kiwi guy I'd met on the bus from Uyuni. We got on really well and the crack was good. Dave was a bit like Boycy from Only fools and Horses. Very dry. Very droll. And very funny.

We drove to a refuge away up in the mountains and got kitted up in our Andean Explorer gear. Overalls, ice-picks, and crampons. I now know the difference between a good ice-axe and a bad one. A bit of knowledge thatŽs should come in handy when in Belfast this winter, by the sounds of it.

In the afternoon we climbed up to a glacier and spend the afternoon scrambling up ice-walls. It is seriously hard work if you dont know what you are doing. Each ice wall felt like a 3 minute boxing round to me. But like I say, IŽd been out the night before and wasnŽt feeling the George Best (can you still say that?). The ice-walls got technically more difficult as the afternoon progressed, and we ended up climbing over a wall about 15m curling back on itself with loose snow that fell in your face when you dug your axe in. By the time it was dark I had all the strength of a new born kitten.

The plan was: day 1 ice climbing at the refuge. Day 2 trek up to the base camp at lunchtime. Day 3 get up at 11pm (of day 2) and start walking as soon as your gear is ready. Reach the summit by 7/8am and head back to the refuge for 2/3 pm

I got to bed early and woke up at midnight with my stomach feeling, and sounding like an air-mattress. I could barely touch my knees without burping or farting. This was definitely going to be inconvenient for some of the more technical climbing, but you have a full-body jump suit so nobody would notice. I then brought up everything IŽd eaten the previous 24 hours. Not wanting to be outdone, my arse got a touch of the runs measuring 8 on the rectum scale. I reasoned that this would probably give me a fair handicap, and would enable the others to keep up with me. Still if Sir Edmund Hillary were in my shoes what would he do? If he had a year off, and time was no issue, heŽd probably sit it out for a day till his insides started behaving themselves again. So I left the other 3 to it and pottered about the empty refuge, trying to work up the appetite for a banana and a cream cracker. Needless to say it was the first time during my travels that I didnŽt have my medical bag of goodies.

The others arrived back from their climb. Laura got back first and said she had to give up 200m from the summit. She said it was the hardest thing sheŽd ever done and gave up after she fainted four times in a row. SheŽd grabbed an hours kip in the basecamp on the way down and seemed to have recovered a little. She said that the 2 boys had made, but only just.

The boys got back an hour later and looked like they were going to fall over. It was without doubt the hardest and most stupid thing theyŽd ever done. Never would they try to climb above 6000m again! Dave said that when he got to the top he just collapsed and cried uncontrollably for 10 minutes solid. Part joy, part pain, part relief. Boy was I glad I hadnŽt tried it. These were fit people, who had done a lot of hiking. TheyŽd all climbed at least 5500m previously.

A new group of 12 people had arrived so I decided to do it with them the next day.

The new group was now down to 10. Two of the guys had been blowing chunks all night. Apparently they were by far and away the fittest guys in the group. AinŽt that always the way, I thought. IŽd gotten my appetite back at this stage and was starting to feel really good, the way you do once you start recovering from a flu. After hearing the horror stories form the others IŽd started taking a different tack on the whole escapade. I hadnŽt come all this way just to kill myself. Tomorrow would be my birthday and I wanted to enjoy it. So I was just going to walk till I was knackered and soak up the whole experience.

3 hours walk with our packs on got us to the base camp for 4pm, where the guides rattled up some pasta. This would be my 5th pasta meal in 3 days. Even the Italians donŽt eat that much. Rather than carry water up the mountain, the guides just scoop loads of snow into a pot and boil it. I was reflecting on this while taking a piss in the snow, debating the prosŽand conŽs to myself (einstein drank his own, so did marilyn monroe (drink hers, not einsteins), it might even be good for sore throats) when I noticed a rat with huge ears. It was half rat, half micky mouse. Then I noticed another, and as my eyes got accustomed I started to spot lots more. Their big ears really were a giveaway. One of those useless bits of information that IŽd picked up from watching far too many nature programs on tv was that rats canŽt control their bladder and leave a steady trail of piss as they walk the snow in this case. Suddenly I wasnŽt feeling quite so thirsty, even if my throat was a little sore.

The group was no down to 9, but we still couldnŽt figure out how 9 would fit into the tin hut that was our base camp. The guides assured us it would work and laid the 4 (single) mattresses across the floor, for the nine of us. As soon as the coast was clear I lay down smack in the middle and was fast asleep before the others even knew it was bedtime.

The real fun started when the others finally realised they needed to get tosome sleep. It was like a rugby match. Try fitting 9 people into a telphone box and asking them to sleep. When one person moved, everybody had to move. So I just lay there listening to the noises, which were many and methane-rich. There was also plenty of condensation ready to drip onto your face, just in case you fell asleep or anything.

Happy Birthday to me. I hadnŽt had a great nights sleep but I was still feeling really good, and by the time it came to 11pm I was wide awake and raring to go. IŽd been allocated a guide and group the previous day. Two Israelis fresh out of the army, Dor and Naama (his girlfriend). Our guide was Felix, a monster of a man who looked like he could carry all 3 of us up the mountian on his back if he had to. We set off at a nice easy pace and it seemed that in no time at all weŽd reached 5500m. After another hour of taking it handy we reached the dreaded ice-climb. According to the Kiwi guy, this was 10 times harder than anything weŽd practiced, and we were doing it in pitch black. It was tricky, but not THAT bad, and this gave me even more confidence. After all, the ice-climb was supposed to be the second hardest part of the climb.

We were no near 5700m and I was really starting to enjoy the walk. We were crunching along in the snow under a night sky bursting with stars. The half-moon was doing its best to illuminate the snowscape. Everything was silent. A couple of thousand feet below us there were lightning storms in the jungle, so every couple of minutes everything was lit up with brilliant flashes (from below). Sometimes if you looked down you could spot little chains of headlights slinking along slowly upwards. Eventually some of these other goups overtook us, many of which gave up shortly after.

At about 5800m the sun finally came up, casting a red glow over everything. It was beautiful. You felt like you were on top of the world watching it all. I got some great photographs of it.

The last 200m of the mountain are definitely the hardest bit. ItŽs angled at nearly 70 degrees and full of loose snow, and other climbers dislodging it all on top of you. There were quite a few mini-avalanches up this section, but we took it slow and made it up easily enough. The feeling you get when you reach the top is like youŽve just scored the winning goal in injury time and had your lottery numbers called out at the same moment. It was 8am and weŽd been climbing solid for 8 hours, but there was a little bit of oxygen in the air so nobody cared.

I guess the only downer on the whole occasion happened on the way back. Naama did her ankle in on the way down. We had to jump over a crevice in the ice. The legs were getting tired and we were wearing crampons, so it was always going to be risky. We had another 5 hours walking ahead and she was crying with pain. Blubbering, sniffling, strings of snot running down her nose. Yahweh bless her. Felix the guide was not impressed. But then again he was the sort of guy who if it were him, heŽd have chopped the leg off to speeden things up, and just hop down. It took ages for us to come down, and she had to jump over many more ice-crevices on a sprained ankle. Ouch. There were many more tears. We all had to shout at her to stop whinging. (only joking) I felt sorry for her, but she should never have been up the mountain in the first place. (only joking again).

All in all, it made my birthday a very memorable one. And 38th birthdays arenŽt generally that memorable. This one definitely was. The summit is 6088m, which is 19,974ft. The next time I'm on a domestic flight admiring the view as the pilot says that the plane is cruising at 10,000 ft, I will always know that I climbed twice that height! Well almost.
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