Posted at 21:57:52, 18/10/2004
Sunday 17th October 2004, 2pm, High camp (5200m), Hyuana Potosi
Lorna was a bit ill again on Friday night/Saturday morning, so we just hung around Copacabana until the La Paz bus left at 1:30pm yesterday. The bus to La Paz was good fun, about 1 1/2 hours into the journey, everyone had to get off while the bus drove onto a rickety barge to cross Lake Titicaca. All of the passengers crammed into a little boat. Driving into La Paz you come through the scruffy, half-finished buildings of El Alto. Suddenly you come round a corner in the road and the main part of La Paz becomes visible, built in and up the sides of a huge canyon several hundred meters below.
We'd arranged to meet Lukas (who we did the Lares trek with) - he set off cycling to La Paz from Cusco a couple of weeks ago. We met him in his hostel (which was unfortunately full!) and he'd already arranged for us to be guided up Huayna Potosi (6088m), starting the next day!
So here I find myself, after only one night in La Paz, camped at the highest altitude I've ever been to, below a very big and snowy looking mountain! The 2 1/2 hour walk up to this point was steep and hard-work at this altitude. Tomorrow we have much further to go, at a higher and harder altitude, but fortunately with less stuff to carry!
On the way up to the camping spot we saw a very rare and unusual site - four huge condors circling the mountain less than 1/2 mile away. We watched in awe as one of the huge creatures flew directly over us.
Monday 18th October 2004, 3:45pm, Cactus Hostel, La Paz
Wow, what a long day! If my writing is even more confused than normal its because I got up at 1am and climbed a 6088m peak!
It was quite windy for most of Sunday night, and the tent was only held down by rocks, so the flapping meant that I didn't get much sleep. It was almost a relief when one of guides woke us up just after 1am, slightly later than planned due to the wind which had then died down. A good way to ensure you stay warm enough when camping at high altitudes with a knackered sleeping bag is to put 3 people into a 2-person tent (Lorna, Lukas and I)!
We walked the few hundred meters to the start of the snow. I didn't realise until we'd started moving that Lukas and I had been tied to one guide (Cecilio) and Lorna to the other (Hugh). Lorna had to go back for her sunglasses, so Lukas and I soon got quite a long way ahead. Walking in the snow at night is always a strange experience as most of the time all you see is the black of the night and the white circle from your head torch in front of you.
We reached the first technical part at about 4:30am - a short (about 30m) but steep icy wall. It was probably about Scottish II, exciting enough when moving together with only one ice axe each! In the distance, the lights of La Paz started to come into view and soon afterwards the sky started to brighten with the morning sun. The sight of the sun rising over the snowy peaks, which contrasted starkly with the brown and flat alti-plano, helped to inspire the snow-plodding, despite the considerable effort needed for every step at nearly 6000m!
The last section to the summit was 200m of 50 degree ice and snow. Even in Scotland I find climbing that sort of ground, although not technically difficult, very sore on the calf muscles. Doing the same at altitude was an absolute killer - by the end, Lukas and I were having to stop the guide every 5m so we could get our breath back! Fortunately the view from the summit, which dropped steeply on all sides, was worth the effort.
Getting down the top 200m took almostr as long as going up. The guide lowered me, Lukas down-climbed with a prussick loop on the rope and the guide soloed down to us. All the time, dehydration, a monster headache and a dodgy stomach were taking their toll!
At the top of the first hard bit we met Lorna and Hugh. She'd been going much slower than us, and the site of us nearly at the summit when she still had over an hour to go, I think finally discouraged her. Seeing how totally knackered Lukas and I were seemed to cheer her up and she probably hadn't recovered from the illness of a couple of days ago.
We all stumbled back to together to the high camp, lay around in the sunshine for a bit and walked out to the road - walking at a mere (!) 5000m felt easy! The journey back was delayed by protesters blocking the roads in La Paz (we saw no protesters, just traffic jams!). Until a few minutes ago I could hear the huge bangs and fireworks of the protesters at the other side of the city, but all seems quiet now.
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