Tuesday, 12 August 2014

La Paz, Bolivia: Part 2: Slaying the 6,088m Demon

The day after conquering Death Road I explored the city and struggled walking around in the altitude. After a day of being a tourist I met up with a few Aussies that I had shared hostels with in Cordoba and Mendoza for a few night drinks. We shared a few death road stories before it was time for me to head back to my hostel via another after running into a couple of Russian girls in the street.

On the way home I saw a guy take a bag from a homeless person and run off with it. For some stupid reason in my drunken state I though it was a good idea to chase after him. He even dropped the bag after he realised he was being chased but I still continued and caught him but I was completely out of breath given my state and the 4,000m altitude. He explained that he was very poor and I kind of felt sorry for him. Then the homeless guy caught up and they tried to fight each other. I separated them and gave them money to forget about it (about 3 bucks to the homeless guy and 1.50 to the other guy haha). But the other guy was being a wanker and kept saying stuff to the homeless guy so I was back in between them. Then suddenly about 10 police officers in military/riot gear crash tackled both of them. I explained what happened then walked home.

One of my South American bucket list items was to conquer a mountain above 6,000m in altitude. After advice from a friend and doing some googling I changed my plan from a peak in southern Peru to Huayna Potosi just outside La Paz. Huayna Potosi stands at 6,088m above sea level and can be done as a 2 or 3 day hike/climb. I was leaning towards 2 but a German girl (Bea) talked me into booking the 3 day with her. We were booked and fitted for gear ready to leave early the next day.

Not Huayna - Huayna Potosi is behind the snow covered peak behind the cloud.

We turned out to be a group of 6 (4 Germans, 1 Dutch and myself). I picked up a big bag of Coca leaves for less that a dollar. I new I would need them for the altitude. After a 2 hour minivan ride we at the low camp (4,700m). We had lunch and dumped our gear before a small hike for some Ice Climbing practice.

I made it
After ice climbing we went back to the low camp for dinner and sleep. I never slept too great, not sure if it was the temperature, the altitude or all of the coca teas that I had drunk.

That is the water supply! It flows most of the day.

The next day was an easy one. Just a 2 to 3 hour walk up to the high camp.I wasn't having any problems with the altitude yet.

It was a beautiful hike up along rocky paths up to high camp. The views were quite spectacular.

One of the guides having a rest.

Having a lie down along the way.

The high camp sitting at 5,130m was a new altitude record for me. We had lunch and were told to take it very easy and just chill. I walked around taking photos.

There were many more groups at the high camp. Maybe 30 people plus 1 guide for every 2 people. The plan was dinner and bed at 6pm to wake up at mid-night.

I struggled with sleep due to the temperature and how early it was. Midnight eventually came and I soon had a light meal and lots of coca tea... And probably made the dumb decision of taking 2 altitude sickness pills as a precautionary measure (at this stage I had no altitude sickness).

The guides were doing staggered starts based on how easily people made it up to the high camp. I was partnered with the Dutch guy, Kevin and we were the very last group to leave so we were unfortunately rated the fastest. We left at 2am, probably 1.5 hours after the first group. We all had headlamps but it was a clear night and the moon lit up the snow.

The hike involved Kevin and I being roped to our guide, Kevin in the middle and myself at the back. It was crampons (spikes) on our boots from the start. The beginning was easy but once I hit 5,500m I was done. I was struggling big time and less than half way to the summit.

I knew that I was not giving up. I was getting slower and slower. Eventually after every step I was stopping for 2 deep breaths. I was completely out of breath and not in a good way. Altitude sickness was hitting me hard.

The hike involved jumping/stepping over crevasses that I couldn't see the bottom of.

Sunset came before we reached the summit so we stopped to look for a bit.

I was too out of it to really think about the photos I was taking.

We were near the final section and most difficult. This required our ice axes due to the steepness and slipperiness. Smash the axe through the ice take 2 steps and repeat... It was actually fun. Although the summit felt like it would never come.

When I reached the summit completely exhausted and sick I was so relieved.

I made it!!!!
6,088m - On top of the world

All 6 of us and our guides made it up from our company. I think out of the 30 people only 2 groups didn't make it to the summit on this day.

The walk down was very slow for me and I was too exhausted to take photos of the amazing things that I could see.

We were finally back at the high camp. I felt so sick but after about 2 hours I was completely fine. After lunch we walked back down to low camp and when the next groups arrived in the minivans we jumped in and went back to La Paz. 2 of our guides stayed to take the next groups and one came back (2 days off). The guides climb the mountain 2 to 3 times a week.

This was the hardest thing that I have done in my life. It was physically and mentally draining, not very fun but worth it.

When I got back to the hostel I said if someone asks me to climb another mountain in the next couple of weeks I'm going to punch them in the face... Joking of course.

Next Stop... still La Paz!