Just after Australia day my Canadian friend, Nick, and I had a chance to do something extraordinary. The weather looked as if it was clearing and we took a chance to climb Huayna Potosi. The mountain lies 2 hours drive outside La Paz. The climb starts at 4700 meters and the summit is at 6088 meters which is 19,974 ft. we travelled with a company from La Paz called Altitud 6000 because after doing a bit of shopping with different companies we were quite sure this guide knew his stuff.
We left on the friday the 28th to drive to the mountain, get acclimated and practice our ice climbing which would come in handy at 4 in the morning 2 days later. After or first day getting use to exerting ourselves at 17,000 feet of elevation we had a long night sleep. we woke up to only climb 2 hours up about 1,400 feet. we camped at 5,130 meters that night. Both Nick and Lisa, another girl with us, were showing signs of the altitude affecting them and I became worried about our summit attempt for the next morning.
Sunday, our third day on the mountain, we were 1 company of 5 attempting to summit. Our group left as 2 rope teams of 3 people at 2 in the morning after waking up at 12:30 am. I should mention that my Petzl Myo XP headlamp (quite expensive) had been shorting out because it has an external battery pack with a connection cord. I had asked my guide to ask around for another one but as its Bolivia I ended up fixing my headlamp with a bunch of duct tape, half my toothbrush, and ice which held the tape in place. We climbed slowly and my lamp was working fine till we were climbing an ice wall and my headlamp went out when a chuck of ice flung off the wall and hit it. Stuck on an ice wall, attached to 2 people ahead of me that are trying to walk up and pull me out of my foot holds and all I can see is pitch black. Needless to say I started yelling stop in spanish and english and they did eventually wait for me to do repairs to the headlamp mid wall.
After that the climb carried on well but the other rope team had a member that was having trouble breathing and would start to panic then loose all her breath and just break down. By 5800 meters all the other 4 groups had turned back due to either exhaustion or altitude sickness. Myself, Nick, and our rope guide Chacko were doing well and we took the lead in front of the other rope group to set the track for them, which can be a pain in new snow at any altitude. Our rope team eventually had to leave the other rope team of 3 if we were to have any chance to summit before the snow became too soft and dangerous in the sunlight. By 5900 meters the guide and I switched out leading because he was exhausted and the new snow goes quite high on a Bolivians body.
By 8:45 am we made it up to the last ridgeline at around 6032 meters with only a walk along the ridgeline to go. The 3 of us get up on the ridgeline and our guide had said several times that the snow might not be good, stable, or passable. As soon as Nick set foot on the top of the ridge a crack in the cornice appears and our guide orders us to slam our ice axes in handle first to make an anchor whilst Nick and I discuss jumping off opposite sides of the ridge if the cornice slides. We talk to our guide and he tells us the whole ridge will be as unsafe as this but asks us what we want to do. Only in Bolivia...
We turned back at 6032 meters a mere 56 meters from the summit but its was certainly the only safe choice.
The other rope team of 3 from our company was able to make it to just below out altitude an hour after us but no other group made it as high out of 22 people from all the companies.
Most important of all, we had fun! and the sunrise is something I will never forget.
After the climb nick and I headed back to La Paz to party a bit. I headed off on the 31st to Copacabana (lake titicaca) solo but met a nice Kiwi guy and Irish las on the bus and we stuck together on the boat, since their spanish was hopeless, and hiked across Isla Del Sol together. It was a fun time full of inappropriate jokes. We had one of the most splendid sunset dinners I have ever had after our 4 hour hike across the island.
The next morning we caught the boat back and they headed back to La Paz and I onto Cuzco Peru. There is a transportation strike going on and it made a rough border crossing but 12 hours later after 3 cabs 2 minibuses and 1 proper bus I arrived here in Cuzco.
Im heading out tomorrow for a possibly 10 day jungle hike, could be more, could be less, but how ever long it will be, it will be an adventure!