The Condoriri, The Andes

Trip Start Oct 17, 2012
Trip End Jun 17, 2012

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Flag of Bolivia  , La Paz Department,
Friday, March 15, 2013

So, try to be funny and informative......

Since my last email regarding what I am up to, things took a little turn for the worse before having one of the most awesome mountain experiences thus far. ( I love the word 'thus').

So as we were waiting for the final bus to cross into Chile for our tour of the salt flats, most of the group were asleep in the bus terminal waiting for dawn. 5 minutes before they woke the security video showed an ar*ehole stealing Nick's bag. Passport, a lot of cash, computer and his Adidas trainers all gone in a flash (not green flash). To be honest I couldn't care about any of it but the passport. The joys of being second I command meant I had to escort him all the way back to Lima to get an emergency passport. Not a biggie, well. It took us five days, involved 70 hours on buses, a lot of shitty movies in Spanish, worse food then aeroplane meals, oh and we missed the salt flats! Anyway, he wasn't a bad kid to be stuck with even though he was American. Also he was also taught two lessons that week - 1. don't ever lose you passport because it is a ball ache. 2. Don't try to match me drink for drink, you will suffer.....and he did!

Anyway we reached La Paz one day ahead of the others, more acclimatisation! Treated a ourselves to a nice meal and met the rest the next day.

Two days trek prep and we head off 4 hours north of La Paz to the Condoriri Range. The lowlands looked similar to the Lake District but on an epic scale. Starting at 4000m we walked to our first campsite at 4600m. The next day saw more of the same, but this time to get to our campsite we had to cross two passes each of 4800m. On a 7 hour day of trekking this was a test for quite a few. Lungs seemed to become small barrels hemmed in by brass bands simply not allowing the enough air which your body craved. The end of the day rewarded us with a 600ft scree slope which went all the way to the campsite, finally a chance for me to stretch my legs I plummeted down it like a man possessed, some would say too fast!! (Video to follow). We camped next to a lake shore with the view of the next days walk there in front of us. Up into the real mountains, out of the Lake District at last! Dawn saw snowy peaks reflected on the water, paling into insignificance the two hours sleep I had had for the past two nights! So now time for the real mountains.

Although we had been told this day would only be three hours with an optional hour and a half more, you must remember this is Bolivia! So it was actually a 9 hour epic! Traversing rock bands with sheer drops either side and fighting the thin air as we approached 5000m. I'll be honest I struggled at times, after lunch especially, whaffing down four chorizo and cheese wraps in eight minutes is not the best approach! Getting to the pass we had the 'choice' of summiting, Pete and I decided we wouldn't give them the choice and all fifteen of s set of without rucksacks up toward the snowfield leading to the peak. The exhilaration of stepping through eighteen inch snow, with people losing legs left right and centre seemed the catalyst for people to forget burning lungs and screaming legs and all of us reached to summit. No views to speak of but a sense of accomplishment and happiness leading to hugs and whoops for several minutes at the top. A very long walk down tested everyone but we all feel asleep with satisfaction and pride, who would we tell first......

Now at Base camp for the next three nights we had in our sights Pequeño Alpamayo, at 5370m and his sister peak, Tarija 5255m (17,241ft). A couple of hours glacier practice to get used to crampons and ice axes was an easy day for us in preparation for the summit bid on Thursday.

Alarms went off at 2.00am, breakfast at 2.30am and we departed almost on time at 3.00am. A hour walk to the glacier was a warm up and then the 'fun' began! Trudging slowly up the glacier, the crunch of the ice, loud in the semi darkness, hoping for an amazing sunrise over the ice. Instead we got a cloudy fog as visibility dropped to 30 metres, which way is up?......just keep questions.

Glacier, plateau, glacier, dig the crampon in, suck in as much air as you could, forget the leg burn. And so it continued. Until finally we were told we were getting this Bolivian time again? Doubts banished from the mind, keep going. At this point, bar two, slowly making their own limits below and an advance group marking our path we were all together, encouraging, battling and realising our potential.

Finally the first summit was in sight, an incredibly exposed narrow pass was all that stood in our way. Ridding the demons, we made it. Exhaustion, elation, bodies not sure weather to laugh or cry we all sat there with our own personal thoughts of relief, pain and pride.

The clouds cleared for a moment to show the summit of Pequeño Alpamayo, so near yet so far. A 50m rock step followed by a long ridge walk at times 70degrees steep. Could we make it? Three of us believed we could, I sure more could have. We had little time to spare so rucksacks back on and down we went to get the the ridge. Visibility still 20m or less we battled on one foot after the other. Roped together and to the mountain the serious undertaking was realised but negatives were quickly forgotten as the thin air reminded us to breath. Suddenly, we were there! The climax of seven hours, we had done it? Could we, couldn't we, suddenly no longer a question. The fact that there was no view made little difference to our sense of pride. We sat atop of the summit beaming with smiles, few words exchanged but knowing glances of satisfaction.

Then the down...a long way. Down the ridge and then up the rock step, the exhaustion was obvious the pace slow, but steady in our minds, the achievement fresh. We even had the good fortune of the clouds clearing to show us our accomplishment behind. It kept us going. The return down the glacier only punctuated by a bum slide of half a kilometre! 11 hours had passed by the time we returned to camp, a welcome hot soup and a hot toddy of rum! What a fuckin day!

A mountain experience I will never forget!
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