Thursday, 9 April 2009

La Paz and Huayna Potosi Mountain 6088m

After the worst bus ride in the world....we surprisingly made it to La Paz alive. We were lucky enough to still be going in the same direction as Mike and Solly who we were on tour with (brit friends living in sydney). Solly has a Spanish background so it was a relief to have her through the nights travel. Arriving in La Paz as 6am, it is one of the most spectacular cities we have seen. The city is built 3660m and set in and around a valley. The population of 1.5 million is hard to believe when you look at the size of the valley but when you are amongst it, it is evident of its population.
Tish´s cold wasn´t getting any better from the salt tour and the pain at that altitude wasn´t pleasant so Solly and her went to the local doctors to see what was up. After 1 hour of Solly and the Bolivian doctor speaking in Spanish they came to the conclusion that is was an infection between the ear and throat and immediate antibiotics were in order. The medical system is comical in bolivia. The doctor will write the prescription but then it is up to you to get the drugs and needles from the local chemist and then go back to the doctors to have them give it to you. Tish experienced her first jab in the bum. Painful but laughter overcame her. 2 days of this and 30 hours of sleep cured her.

We checked out the local bar and restaurant scene over the next couple of days as La Paz isn´t a city that you need to visit certain things, the city in itself is great.
Having both read "Marching Powder" before travelling, we were keen to check out the local prison. The prison is known to have a better living standard to those on the outside with market stalls, restaurants and hairdressers inside the prison walls. Prisoners are required to purchase their own cells, so dependant on your wealth is dependant on your cell. Interesting link with more infor on La Paz prison
We were unfortunate not to have been able to visit the prison as only 2 weeks earlier the head of security and governer were sacked for illegal doings related to the prison so they were tightening all belts till the fuss blew over. Disappointing as it will no doubt be open again in the next months but it isn´t legal to visit the prison anyway.

Having met some inspiring Australians (Charlotte and Steve) travelling who had trekked/climbed a serious mountain and glacier in Bolivia called Huayni Potosi (6088m) we too decided to give it a crack. Probably not the best idea concidering we hadn´t been trekking in over a year and tish not being that well...anyway we scanned the streets for those who were providing this trek and found that Dr Hugo´s tour company was the best and most comforting that he was a doctor as well, Hugo was a world class climber of hundereds of climbs on Potosi so it was great to have his assessment and guidance. So after hours of questions and him signing Tishs health off, were were off.
It was a 2 hour drive out of La Paz which was tough in itself. It is a 3 day-2 night trip but only 2 days up and back. The afternoon of arrival we walked to a close glacier to practice the skills of Ice picking and climbing.....It was tough and this was supposed to be the easy part. Returning back to base camp we had an early night and good meal in preparation for the real climb tomorrow and the next thing we recall so well is the requirement to take on baord a huge amount of calories...the body without and strenuous exercise was working so much harder at altitude, so teh climb would be tough.
After lunch on day 2 we started our ascent to Huayni Refugio. Starting from 4700m and ending our first days trek at the bottom of the glacier at 5300m doesn´t sound far but it was about 4km and 4 & half hours of mostly 60 + degree climbing and no actual track to follow, just climbing/trekking loose rocks and in some spots basic climbing. We were already on the backfoot of this climb as we were not told to bring out hiking shoes as we knew we were given boots but these boots where Snow boots walking the first day in 3kg boots was more than we needed and wore us down from the outset. We made it to base camp which was a very basic tin shed is where we spent the second night at temps -12 due to lots of cloud cover, there was very little sleep had due to altitude (you had to sleep almost sitting up to allow more oxygen to enter the lungs) before the 1am final ascent to the top at 6088m.
In bed at 6pm, Tish woke up at 8pm with restricted breathing and had to sit upright till 1am after taking crushed asprin to help the breathing and swelling. We were lucky that 3 Alpine hikers from a mountaineering club shared the shed as non of the local guides had any signisficant medical experience or drugs. Tish was correctly advised to not make the last ascent to the summit. It was touch and go for everyone up until the last seconds as another of the team a girl from Canada suffered altitude sickness and also couldnt make it either. So after checking Tish had recovered to a good state it was left to Simon and a Portugese guy Luis to throw on the equipment and make the attempt. So some information on the equipment and layering technique is helpful and to the climber it is essential..thermal pants, two pairs of socks one synthetic and one llama wool (I wore 3 pairs for the summit attempt), then you have 2 tshirts, 2 thermal vests and a ski jacket with hood, a llama wool hat, llama wool gloves and some outer waterproof gloves a first pair of pants over the thermals then a second paid of waterprood pants and finally some sunglasses. In addition you carried an ice axe with a supporting rope and wore crampons on your 3kg boots to allow you to ice walk and climb as well as a climbing harness. A day pack was carried which held as many chocolate bars, snickers, gatorade, sugared water as possible...this was going to be tough! So starting at 1am in the dark I wasnt particularly in the mood for an exhausting experience especially after seeing Tish in a state for a few hours...but hey it was time to do one for the team! Our guide Felix was rock solid, about a 45 year old Bolivian with plenty of experience (Dr Hugo described that all his guides had world class experience so that helped). So starting out Felix set a solid pace early with me second and Luis the Portugese guy last, all three of you were tied together via a rope of about 2 metres in between that clipped into the caribeener on your harness. I found the best way to climb early was to focus only on one footstep (the one of the person in front of you) and nothing else. So after solid hour of walking the gradient got significantly one point we climbed using the ice axe up a 40 metre 45 degree slope to get to a ridge which we continued along for a another hour or by this point you were really starting to feel the pinch, chocalate bars were being consumed at a good rate and water consumed fastly..phew. Walking in the dark was didnt allow you to see in front of you or how far you had to go which in the end proved to be the thing that actually got us to the summit...if we saw what was ahead we would probably have turned back. The final attack on the summit was a gruelling 200 metre climb on hands and knees with ice axe at around 45 degrees...ouch. The final walk along the tiny ridge of the summit was tough after expending so much energy to get when we finally reached the summit just before sunrise it wasnt euphoric but more relief in the early minutes and the -15 degree temps were talking their toll...but after a while we appreciated the view of the top of the world! So after a quick photo or two we started the descent which was hard having to use different muscle groups. Thankfully we had made it the top first and many other teams were now starting to attempt heading to the top, on the way down we met many exhausted climbers trying to complete the final 200m some without success, we met 3 groups of one guide and one climber many of which had started as 5 person teams but depleted and turned back along the way, this gave us satisfaction...the climb down was equally hard but also started to show us what we had just climbed...the scenery was amazing - beautiful snow mountain landscapes and massive crevasses either side. We came to a point where we had to belay down the snow due to the sharp angle of descentwe apparently climbed this part earlier! so after an exhausting few hours we made it back to base camp....minus most of the chocolate bars and fluid supplies. The thing that made me laugh was that Felix only took on water and chocoalte when I offered it to him back would have quite happily continued without it...these guys had a distinct advantage of being born and bred in the mountains. The ice axe proved to be a saviour on the descent many times as you could use it as a third leg to stabilise the tired body. It was almost over, phew.

Tish's comment...seeing Simon in pieces from the glacier climb that morning woke me up to how tough it really was and certainly not a climb you attack when not at your peak health. He couldn´t say a word till we got back to La Paz and he slept for about 14 hours. I am keen to tackle another climb like that in the near future but be 100% happy with health and fitness. Congrats Si, I´m very proud!


  1. I walked into Ealing yesterday. That was pretty hard work too.

  2. yup its quite a way to gt up the hill to Mcdonalds!