Hard rock mountain
Trip Start Sep 30, 2006
149Trip End Dec 24, 2008
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The group I was with turned out to be great fun, there was the instigator Rich from Colorado, a mountain climbing expert, he has summited all 54 peaks around Colorado! Martin from South Africa, hilarious bloke, who had never seen snow before, doing South America with no guide books, super adventurous. And our 2 Bolivian guides who had un-pronounceable names so we called them Amigo and Amigo.
On the first day we drove to a refuge away up in the mountains and got kitted up in our thermal gear. I had visited the markets the night before to purchase some woolly goodies and for $3 got the latest in Llama knitwear. Looking like Mr Staypuft I was wearing 5 pairs of socks and plastic ice boots with gators, two pairs of boxer shorts, three pairs of trousers, a synthetic sweat shirt, 2 t-shirts, a hoodie, a fleece and a waterproof jacket, three pairs of gloves, a scarf, 2 hats and a harness. Ice-pick in one hand and crampons in the other we walked for an hour over to the training glacier wall. I now know the difference between a good ice-axe and a bad one. A bit of knowledge that should come in handy when in Bristol next winter.
In the afternoon we spent the afternoon scrambling up ice-walls. It is seriously hard work if you don't know what you are doing. Each ice wall felt like a 3 minute kick boxing round with kicking your feet into the ice and throwing your ice axe into the wall. The ice-walls got technically more difficult as the afternoon progressed, and we ended up trying to climb over an overhang wall or a negative wall, about 60cm jutting out with loose ice and snow that fell in your face when you dug your axe in. By the time it was dark I had just enough strength to light a fire in the lodge and collapse.
The plan was: day 1 ice climbing at the refuge. Day 2 trek up to the base camp at lunchtime. Day 3 get up at 11pm (of day 2) and start walking at midnight aiming to reach the summit by 6am for sunrise on monday morning and head back to the refuge for 9am. So while all of you back in england are getting up on monday morning, brushing your teeth etc, I hopefully will be straddling the narrow 30cm ice ridge that is the peak of Huanya Potosi.
The morning of day 2 brought heavy sow fall, everything was covered in about 10-15cm of snow. We ate breakfast at 8 and were ready by 9, fully packed with everything for the second Refugio when our guide arrived and told us were not leaving till 11:30 now. So we sat back down and ate lunch early at 11. It was a tough climb up to the second lodge with heavy packs but we made it in only 2 hours which impressed our guides as the norm is 3 hours. Looked like the benefit of running 4 half marathons, 3 boxing day fun runs and 2 10kīs back home had finally paid off.
The guides handed out packed lunches of bananas, fruit, crackers and yogurt and we set about demolishing our second lunch of the day inside the second refuge which I dubbed the phone box due to its similar size. Around 3 in the afternoon the guides rattled up some pasta. This would be my 5th pasta meal in 3 days. Even the Italians donīt eat that much. And at 4 we sat down for our dinner because come 5pm it was going to be lights out and bedtime in preparation for the nighttime assent. Rather than carry water up the mountain, the guides just scoop loads of snow into a pot and boil it. I was reflecting on this while taking a piss in the snow, debating the prosīand conīs to myself (Einstein drank his own, so did Marilyn Monroe (drink hers, not Einsteins), it might even be good for sore throats) when I noticed a rat with huge ears. It was half rat, half micky mouse. Then I noticed another, and as my eyes got accustomed I started to spot lots more. Their big ears really were a giveaway. One of those useless bits of information that Iīd picked up from watching far too many nature programs on tv was that rats canīt control their bladder and leave a steady trail of piss as they walk along......in the snow in this case. Suddenly I wasnīt feeling quite so thirsty, even if my throat was a little sore.
The real fun started when the others finally realised they needed to get some sleep. It was like a rugby match. Try fitting 5 people into a telephone box and asking them to sleep. When one person moved, everybody had to move. So I just lay there listening to the noises, which were many and methane-rich. There was also plenty of condensation ready to drip onto your face, just in case you fell asleep or anything.
11pm arrived and I was wide awake and raring to go. Our guide, Amigo, a monster of a man who looked like he could carry all 3 of us up the mountain on his back if he had to was ready and grinning away. We set off at a nice easy pace, that is watch the next 100 year old man walking down the street to get an idea of our pace, one step, breath in, breath out, next step, breath in.... and it seemed that in no time at all weīd reached 5500m. It was going to be about 6 hours to the top with a 30 second break every hour.
We were now near 5700m and I was really starting to enjoy the walk. We were crunching along in the snow under a night sky bursting with stars. There was no moon light so it was only one small LED headlight showing me the next three steps. I figured this was more a blessing as I couldn`t see the huge monster of a peak we still had to climb. Everything was silent. A couple of thousand feet below us there were the street lights of La Paz.
At 5900m we stopped for a final rest of 30 seconds before the legendary finish known as the wall. The last 200m of the mountain are definitely the hardest bit. Itīs angled at a near vertical 70 degree glacier wall, the fresh snow from last night was frozen into a crust but underneath it was full of loose powder snow. Our guide went first and shot up at a mammoth pace, because we were all roped in I quickly followed next. There were quite a few mini-avalanches up this section, but we pushed on kicking our toes into the ice and pushing up as your calf muscles burned in agony. None of us wanted to lose face and ask for a break and so we climbed the 200m in one very long 35 minute painstaking crawl. The feeling I got when I reached the top (I was first, Wo!) is like youīve just scored the FA cup final winning goal in injury time and the commentator calls out your winning roll-over lottery numbers at the same moment.
At the top the feeling in my right hand was on the other side of the scale, in the pain of climbing my glove had frozen solid and I had lost all feeling in the tips of my fingers. Very weird sensation it felt like they had just fallen off. Guessing this is the first stage of hypothermia I quickly dropped my fingers into the warmest placed known to man. So we sat on top of the 30cm wide peak hugging each other, trying to take pictures, and me with one hand down my trousers. I'm Hilary went through this. As the sun rose and the sky turned red we could see the 200m wall we had climbed and the 900m vertical wall the other side. Now I understood why our guides had been a little reluctant to let us stand.
This trip has now comfortably moved into second place in my all time favourite things since going travelling. (Number 1 is still sailing, drinking, laughing, eating, playing, snorkling and realxing for a month in paradise in the Caribbean). The next time I'm on a domestic flight admiring the view as the pilot says that the plane is cruising at 10,000 ft, I will always know that I climbed twice that height! Well almost.
Cooper out of the Montanya