So, I know many of you have seen some of our pictures on Facebook, and have probably read the last blog describing our big mountaineering trip. You may be wondering how the first week went.
So far so good. Right now we are actually in La Paz on our rest day in between the first two mountains and the last one. Unfortunately our rest day fell on a Sunday making it slightly difficult to get much done, but we have still been able to do some laundry, sort out our gear, and have a few solid meals.
As a recap for last week, here is what happened......
On day one we were picked up in a 4x4 and loaded all of our gear on top. We met our whole team, including our guides Eduardo and Pedro, our fellow "client", Cesar from Venezuela, and Proxi, our esteemed mountain cook. The six of us were driven out into the Condoriri Real where we set up base camp. And what a camp, complete with a cabin-sized cooking/dining tents and permanent outhouses. The next morning we set out at 2AM for a summit attempt at Pequeno Alpamayo, at 17,618 feet (5,350m). After an hour of hiking we finally reached the glacier and donned our helmets, crampons, and harnesses, and roped up. After about 3.5 hours on the glacier we reached a smaller summit just below Pequeno, but faced with a deep descent into the col and a steep ascent on the other side, and our general exhaustion we decided to claim this sub-summit at our first 5,000+ meter peak.
Fast forward a few days. We have broken camp and driven around the mountain range and are now at base camp for Huayna Potosi, (19,974 feet (6,088m)). We spend a comfortable night in an alpine style lodge before heading up to high camp the next day. Our gear is carried up by porters wearing assorted sandals, while we struggle up carrying our day packs; unbelievable. We spend the afternoon getting info from descending climbers and getting our gear ready for a 3AM start. It is necessary to start so early to ensure a summit and descent before the afternoon clouds roll in, and before the glacier gets to unstable as it warms throughout the day. Well, at 2AM it sounded like the shelter was going to blow away, so we decided to wait a day and hoped for better conditions. We spent a restless day napping, triple-checking our gear and swapping stories. 2AM the next day brought calm, yet freezing conditions and we kitted up for the climb. How cold was it? Cold enough for the sweat to freeze in my beard (pictures pending). Luckily the high camp is only several meters from the glacier, allowing us to save energy by omitting a long walk on uneven terrain in heavy plastic boots. For those who have never climbed a glacier above 17,000 feet, the best way I can describe it is having a 6-hour asthma attack. Any movement beyond the smallest shuffle step is followed by an overwhelming lack of air and racing heart-beat. Trudging along the glacier is barely tolerable, while big motions like leaping over a crevasse or climbing over a wall of ice leave you gasping for air. Finally, after six long hours, we reached the summit and were rewarded some of the most amazing panoramic views imaginable. However, with the mid-day clouds racing in, and the heating glacier, our time on the summit was limited to some photographs, some much-needed water, and a chocolate bar for a little energy boost to get us down the mountain. The descent can be excruciating, with yours toes slamming the front of your boots with each step. I don't think there is a boot available that overcomes this problem. We alleviated this pain a little bit by sliding down several hundred meters on our butts, while our guide (asking us again how old we were) ran behind us with our safety tether, lest we get to close to a crevasse.
Anyway, aback at high camp there was no rest to be found, as we still had to get down to base camp and take the long drive back to La Paz for two nights and one day of rest. Tomorrow we will be back on the road, heading to Mt. Illimani at 21,201 feet (6,438m). We should spend the next 4 or 5 days there before putting all of this behind us and moving on with the trip. So far it has been a great, though painful and difficult, experience, but despite ourselves, Jerod and I found ourselves researching future trips to Mt. Denali in Alaska. What are we thinking?