Basically we made a boo boo. We wanted to tackle the - quote - easiest 6000m mountain in the world - unquote - a beginners mountain whereby no experience or training was necessary. Unfortunately we required at least six days of acclimatisation at La Paz level (3500m) and had been to the Amazon (200m) for three days previously. Therefore you will notice that we made a few stops in Bolivia - Potosi and Sucre - before backtracking to La Paz once more to give this big bugger a shot. Day One
After paying the paltry sum of 1000 Bs (100 English pounds, ridiculously cheap) we jumped into a taxi at 9:30am with an Aussie girl called Lee (sp?) and bombed off to the Wayna Potosi Tour Agency (very original name)
. At the agency we were fitted with all the equipment we would apparantly need for the mountain - I say apparantly because I had never before seen crampons, a rappel harness or an ice axe. We slipped on the sort-of-ski-boots, a jacket, waterproof trousers, harness, gaiters and gloves. I also borrowed a very fetching teletubby hat thing. We then jumped into the company minibus for two hours, giving grand views of La Paz city itself and the imposing snowy peak of Wayna Potosi. Reaching the base of the mountain (4700m) we unpacked our new gear into a cool refugio/ski lodge place next to a strange lake with odd milky water, apparantly caused by pollution. Our group consisted of myself and Sim, an english couple called Matt and Pumi (Sri Lankan), Daniel the dutchman and Lee the aussie. As usual the guides - Felix, Macario, Rocky - were all a bunch of jokers. After a hearty carb-loaded luncheon we set off to the bottom of the glacier to do some practice on the ice.
A relatively easy hour`s walk later, a huge glacier presented itself and we kitted up at its base - jacket, trousers and attached the crampons to the boots - and had a very first steps on the icy entrance carpet of Wayna Potosi. With ice axe in hand we scaled up and down a small ice wall, getting used to the feeling of crisp ice underfoot. Smashing the ice axe into the wall before kicking the huge spikey crampons in and pushing your body up was hard work but really great fun. Climbing the wall we found ourselves on top of the huge glacier snaking its way up the mountainside
. We then practiced walking up and down the steep undulations of ice, digging in with our feet and using the axe as a sort of walking stick. Then we practiced falling. Pretending to slide down a cravasse we slipped down the icy slope a few metres before taking a huge swing with the axe and saving ourselves from oblivion. We all hoped we wouldn`t need to utilise this new skill. Finally before heading back to the refugio we had a go at a much larger ice wall, maybe 20m or so, with two ice axes and a rappel rope. Twas again muchos fun and we all made it back to the refugio thinking `how hard could it be?`. Another carb-tastic dinner was had and we hit the sack at around 8pm to rest up for the next day. Day Two
Up at around 8am so that we would be tired and get a few hours of sleep that night. Today we were to hike up from the base camp (4700m) to the summit camp (5300m) and we would be setting off at 1am the next morning. The hike to the camp took about three hours and afforded spectacular views of Wayna Potosi, which became more and more imposing, and the valley beneath. It was made tougher by the fact we had to carry all our gear on our backs. The summit camp was more of a corregated iron shack insulated with polystyrene and linoleum flooring, although it was actually quite cosy
. Two rows of wooden slats were to be where we would try and get some sleep. After another carby meal we snuggled into our sleeping bags at the ludicrous hour of 6pm to get some sleep and be ready and willing to rise at midnight. Unfortunately, sleeping at 5300m for the uninitiated (i.e. not Bolivian) is virtually impossible, there just isn`t enough oxygen!! All of us, except the guides, just led there awake frustrated that we couldn`t sleep and gradually filled with anticipation about the task to come. I think I got about half an hour in the end, Sim didn`t sleep at all. Day Three
Up at 12am/pm, we kitted up slowly, trying to remember how all the stuff went on. I felt pretty sick from the altitude and didn`t eat anything for breakfast and put my things on very very slowly. Out in the cold air, we put our crampons on by the edge of the glacier and the fresh air made me feel a little better. Myself and sim were tied to each other and to our guide, a slightly crazy fella named Macario. We apparantly were to be the `fast` group. With nothing but our head torches and the eerie glow of the moonlight bouncing off the snow we began our ascent to the top. Passing other groups on the way we kept quite a good pace up, the outline of huge snowcapped peaks almost visible in the darkness, the huge drops luckily not so visible
. We stopped every thirty minutes for a drag on our gradually freezing camelbacks (TM) and a nibble on our rock-solid Snickers (TM). The ascent consisted of four parts. The first few hours we skirted along the side of the moutain, leaning on our ice axes to the left and holding onto the joining ropes in our right. Not that knakering, just maitaining a steady crunchy trudge. The second part was a huge snowy uphill climb - head down, breathing deeply and slowly - at about a 40 degree angle. Part three was the scariest. The terrain turned into a chopped up sea of hard snow, ice and crevasses. At one point we had to jump over a metre wide crevasse, which was probably about 30m deep. Bunching close together so the rope had lots of slack, we lept across one by one, hearts pounding. Using our axes to dig into the icy surface we clambered our way up the steep incline to the final part of the journey. This final part consisted of the peaked ridge about 2m wide, icy mountain one side, a massive 500m drop on the other, mainly made of rocks. Now, scrambling up rocks with crampons on is no easy feat and we had to stop every 10m to suck in some more non-existent oxygen. Looking down, La Paz was a huge glistening ball of lights stretching for miles into the distance, it looked incredible. We were the first group to reach the summit at about 5:30m, absolutely destroyed, and we sat at 6088m and watched the sun rise over Bolivia. It was a stunning sight (as the video shows) and completely worth the hard work of the last five and a half hours
. Our guide acted mental, jumped around and did some press-ups (he did do it every day). The sun slowly crept above the Andes in the east illuminating La Paz, the Cordeillera Real mountains and Lake Titicaca to the north - breathtaking. We were very smiley and had a celebratory chomp on some chocolate, by now totally frozen solid and tasting horrible. I took as many pictures as I could before my hand fell off from the cold and we agreed that we should head down as soon as possible - while the adrenaline was pumping, the sun wasn`t hot and melting the snow and so we didn`t meet other groups along the narrow ridge.
On the way down we met the others from our group making there way to the top. The aussie girl Lee didn`t look too good and had been suffering badly from the altitude but fair play she made it up in the end. It only took two hours to make it down the mountain along the same path. The mountain looked amazing in the daylight, huge snowing peaks, ice as clear as glass rising in caves and descending into deep crevasses. It was then that we saw how scary the way up would have been in the daylight!! We arrived back at 5300m camp and were told we had twenty minutes before we had to pack all our stuff up and walk back to base camp - awwwww mannnn, i`ve never felt so utterly wrecked, mentally and physically. After a cup of coca tea and a tiny lie down, we stumbled out of the shack and began the rocky descent to 4700m. My legs were aching madly, shaking and yet we had to negotiate down steep rocks with our heavy backpacks on
. It was hellish. When we finally made it back to the refugio we collapsed in heaps on the sofa`s, giving the people waiting to go that night a taste of what they were probably going to look like. A few fruit juices and bit of soup later we began to feel slighlty more human. It took another few hours before the others from the groups arrived back exhausted and in need of food and drink. 1pm and we jumped back in the bus back to La Paz, dozing off during the journey. Arriving back at Loki hostel at about 3pm we immediately went to bed, utterly mashed in the membrane.
That night, however, we did promise each other that we deserved a massive steak and a few beers - so that`s what we did. Arising slugglishly at 9pm we went to The Steakhouse and ate a fat chunk of cow and washed it down with some cold ones. A great end to a great day!!
I hope the photos do it all justice. I aint no photographer yo`!!!
Love and Peace XXX
For those of you who have heard about our mountainous exploits, here is the story. For those who haven`t heard of our moutainous exploits - we climbed a 6088m mountain called Wayna Potosi, 10km outside of La Paz, and this is the story.