Michelle and Charlie's Around the World Trip 2004-2005 travel blog

The team in the lower camp-refugio.

ice climbing practice

Michelle on the ice.

Michelle is practicing

The high camp

sleeping in high camp

crampons on!

The summit pitch

This is not a stand up summit.....

going up in the dark we saw none of the wild land...

distant view of the mountain



On a whim we decided to climb a 20,000 foot mountain. Ok, it's not quite 20,000 feet, but at 19,974 feet (6088 meters) I think we can round up a little. We went into a tour agency in La Paz to ask about tours to another, smaller mountain and were convinced by another customer to go for Huayna Potosi. So a couple of days later we got fitted with our attractive outfits of snow pants, jackets, hard boots, crampons and ice axes (my pants and jacket were of course a few sizes too big so I looked like I had been given hand me downs to grow into) we set out for the mountain with 3 other guys in our group -- two Americans and an English guy. The first day was fun - it was just a lesson on using the crampons and ice axes to climb walls of ice of various steepness. We climbed a very steep wall and rapelled down which was fun. Little did we know we would actual have to use these skills since the lesson was actually an optional part of the tour. The first night we stayed in the ¨refugio¨, which actually was a nice lodge type building at around 4700 meters. As I said, we didn't really research this trip and soon found out we were lucky to go with the agency we did. We met some other climbers who were told they would be in a refugio, which turned out to be a kitchen the size of our dining room table. We asked what the name of their agency was. When they replied ¨Rainforest Tours¨, we had a good laugh. I guess it's better to go with the experts (our agency was called Huayna Potosi). Nice people though, so we felt bad and we said if it was up to us they were free to stay in our lodge. The two Americans with us were quite the characters. One was 20 years old, travelling alone, which is very unusual in our experience to let alone meet Americans, let alone a young one travelling solo. The other one was a prototypical southern Californian with the manner of speech and attitude you might expect, man...At 24 he bought a tiny sailboat (26 feet), learned how to sail and then sailed alone down through central america and ending up in Ecuador. He had some funny stories, including his landing in Ecuador. He had originally planned to go across the Pacific to Australia, but when he figured out it was the wrong season he made his way to Ecuador. He landed in the only city in the country that is predominantly black. He spent a week there thinking, woh, dude, I thought South Americans were kinda brown, but I guess I was wrong...The English guy was fun too, but not as crazy as the two kids. He had also quit a good job to travel around the world.

The first day of the climb didn't start well. When we woke up it was raining/snowing and the guide was discouraging us from going up to the first camp. His alternative idea was instead of doing it in two days we should just wait until 10 pm and do the whole 8 - 10 hour climb and 4000 feet at one go. Luckily the weather cleared up a little and in light drizzle we went up to the second camp at about 5200 meters. We made it there in the late afternoon and then were supposed to sleep until midnight and then get up for the summit attempt. The second camp was a round, metal shelter, just big enough for all of us to sleep foot to head across the floor. At least we didn't have to worry about getting cold. In reality, none of us was actually able to sleep under those conditions, except for our 3 guides who from the sounds of it had no problems. At midnight we got up and had a small breakfast and headed out. Some of our group felt pretty sick from the altitude and looked pretty grim. Charlie and I were feeling ok, although tired. So in the dark we made it across a boulder field and then put our crampons on when we got to the ice and snow a few minutes later. The two of us were roped to one guide and the others to the other guides. We made our way slowly up the snow and ice for about two hours until we hit the first wall where we had to use our newly acquired ice axe skills on 60 feet of almost vertical ice. A few more hours of slow slogging where we crossed some crevasses, although it was dark so we couldn't really appreciate how deep they were (until coming back down). As it was getting close to sunrise we figured we were almost to the top and if we could hold on for a little longer we would be at the top. A few minutes later we were greeted with 600 feet of about 60 degree wall of ice and snow. Well, they say it's 60 degrees but it looked pretty vertical to me. Without much time to think we started up the wall. The guide said it would take about an hour. It seemed like an eternity, just moving up inch by inch digging in the toes of our crampons with every step and hammering in the ice axe labouriously. If you slipped it would be about 2000 feet before you stopped. Honestly I wasn't thinking about that. I was thinking about just getting it over with. After about an hour of climbing we made it on the top - it was a very narrow, pointy cornice without even any room to stand up. There wasn't even a flag or sign on top. But we were still happy to be there and our guide was nice enough to take a picture of us which was good because we didn't have the energy to do it ourselves. On the way up I was wondering how we were going to get down. That question was answered when the guide hooked us up to a rope and an ice screw (just what it sounds like) and we rapelled down which was not as fun as it looks - it was actually kind of painful and the rope was not nearly long enough to go all the way to the bottom so every few minutes when we were at the end of the rope the guide would yell down "Seguro!" which meant we were supposed to dig out holes for our feet and slam the ice axe in as hard as possible and kind of hug it as he undid the rope and made his way down to us to start the process over again. I think we did that about 5 times. After that the way down was pretty with ice caves with huge icicles and the crevasses that we had (luckily) not been able to see in the dark. Still, it was exhausting and when it got warmer the crampons would fill up with snow on every step, turning them into 6 inch snow platform shoes. Not very good traction. The only way to combat it was to bang on them vigourously every 2 seconds with the ice axe, which only added to the annoyance, especially when I missed and banged my shin instead. But finally after a brief stop at the high camp and then a couple of hours more down through the boulder fields we made it back to the refugio. It was tiring but we were glad we had done it.

Entry Rating:     Why ratings?
Please Rate:  
Thank you for voting!
Share |