The highest I have climbed

Trip Start Sep 28, 2007
Trip End Jun 25, 2008

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Where I stayed
Residential Sorata

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, April 12, 2008

We ummed and ahhed over deciding which trek to do out of the Choro that heads down a still used Inca trail from a high pass in the royal mountain range to Coroico at the bottom of the most dangerous road in the world, or a hike from the pretty town of Sorata. In the end the lure of glaciers won out, and we decided to do the 3-day hike up to Laguna Glaciar nestled at 5,300 metres under the peaks of Ilampo (6,362 metres)and Ancohuma (6,427 metres) from Sorata.

The bus ride there was incredible, the road zipping along the altiplano in front of the Cordillera Real and then dropping over a pass into the lush steep valley that Sorata sits at the bottom of. I have never seen cultivated patches of land so far up steep slopes.

Arriving, Sorata seemed like a sweet little town (but with ridiculously expensive internet we later discovered). We stayed in a crazy old mansion called Residential Sorata, that had old-fashioned iron beds, high studs and was like a maze.

After checking in, we got ushered into the official trekking guide office and had the dilemma as to whether to get a guide or not.  We had heard that there were lots of tracks at the bottom and it would be hard to navigate yourself. Also, that there was a security issue of leaving stuff at the campsite by Laguna Challata, while heading up and back down from the glacier lake.

Unfortunately, we pretty much straight away took offense to the man talking to us, for no good reason probably, but disliking not being able to do things independently and wary of being ripped off.

 After finally coming around to, like it or not, we needed a guide, we asked if we could meet the guide first. 'It's me,' the man said. What can you say to that? 'No thanks, can we have someone else.' Of course not, so Lino became our guide. We think the guides line up and take turns to get clients.

We had never hired a guide before and couldn't get used to the idea that we had to provide food for him too. He said he could buy his own, or buy enough for three at a ridiculously high price, so we agreed to meet in the morning and we would buy food under Lino's direction.

After buying what seemed like a ridiculous amount of food for three days (which still cost about a third of what he had quoted to buy food for the three of us), we set off, picking up our mule, who was actually a fairly small white horse, who did not like the idea of carrying our packs up 1500 metres to the campsite beside Laguna Challata one bit.

On the way up I was transfixed by the cutest ginger pigs. Coarse hair glowing shades of auburn in the sunlight.

We laughed at the sheep with the raggedest coat but the skinniest legs, and where we stopped for lunch in green fields we saw three young people herding sheep, carrying transistor radios  and  kicking a soccer ball at the same time.

We also saw large hairy spiders and bright blue bugs in the grass.

I have to admit I wad glad for the mule. Even though we had spent two weeks at altitude it was still a tough climb up to the lake for day one.

The campsite was very pretty. The small lake Challata is sacred to the indigenous people and they sometimes perform healing rituals on its shores. Legend has it that anyone who breaks protocol and swims in it will die sometime afterward. Needless to say, we didn't take a dip.

As evening approached thick fog came in.  Having barely spoken to us all day, despite Mark's efforts, our guide then told us he was off home for the night, a 2.5 hour walk away. We think it was a change of plan, but couldn't quite understand why.  To bring someone to watch our stuff the next day, perhaps, and because his wife didn't know where he was. On one hand I was pleased we could spend the night by ourselves, but also I felt a bit miffed that he was deserting us, me not being sure of the security of the campsite.

I went to give the horse a carrot to thank him for carrying all our stuff up and he munched it up happily.

Morning dawned clear and frosty after a night of no incidents and we waited for Lino, taking photos of the mountain peaks reflected in the lake.

Then we were off, leaving our campsite to be watched by Lino's son (I think) and leaving the mule munching frosty grass, as the climb was too much for him, and we were returning to the  campsite anyway.

At times I thought the climb was going to be too much for me.  I started trying to trick oxygen in by panting before I had to. That seemed to help. but the climb--up, over and around  a low pass and then up several moraine ridges--seemed to be never ending.

As we got higher we were treated with views of Lake Titicaca and views back over the steep valleys down to Sorata.

As we got higher, the rocks got icy and in places there were the most amazing ice crystals that formed a snowflake pattern but when they splintered away, they reminded me of the inside of English breakfast crumpets.

Finally we passed over the last ridge and there was the stunning Laguna Glaciar, the mountains whipping in and out of cloud. The water was light grey and some of the mountains around it were reddy splintered rock, making for a pretty sight.

One of the things that is special about the lake is you regularly can see ducks, humming birds and seagulls up there, weird for a place so high and cold. But we didn't see anything, sadly.

We  ate lunch and rested at the lake for an hour or more, willing the sun to stop going behind the frenetically whirling clouds.

On the way back down the guide stopped to find us some borax deposits in rocks by pulverising them and looking for veins. A natural deep crevice in the rock had provided a great place to start mining and they used to mine copper, silver and tin in the area. Now only some mining continues there, and its hard work for little reward.

I admired the hairy flowers around, which looked  like they were dressed in cream-coloured fleece to protect them from the cold.

Arriving back, the lake was pretty with sun on it. Then, like clockwork it fogged in as it had the day before when the sun began to drop, but this night the guide stayed.

Next day dawned perfect again, this time with even better reflections.

Coming down we saw a seashell fossil at 4000m and lots of sheep being moved and lots of pigs,  many red haired , and a donkey carrying firewood. The locals we passed were really shy, not even looking at us .

Overall pleased to have done the trip and was happy to have a mule and guide, however uncommunicative he was.

We got a regular bus back to La Paz, and saw sheep tied onto the roof of a micro van normally where bags are put. Crazy Bolivia.
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