Bolivia climbing season ends with some great ascents!
Despite some unpleasant weather during our acclimatization at Lake Titikaka, the second Bolivia Mountaineering School group was very successful. Fortunately for us our weather luck changed once we got in to the Condoriri area; a stunning place with a couple of lakes and several peaks including Tarija and Pequeño Alpamayo, our firsts climbing objectives. After spending a couple of days on the Tarija glacier learning about glacier travel and different mountaineering topics (like cramponing, Ducky style), the group was ready to climb!
Mountaineering School — Photo by Ramiro Garrido
The next morning we settled on the civilized start time of 4am. We began our climb up Tarija‘s glacier with easy slopes between 15 to 20 degrees and max of 30 degrees on the last part before reaching the summit at 17,290ft. From here we had a unique view of Pequeño Alpamayo‘s exposed ridge with big drops on either side. After quickly assessing what lay ahead we started down a rock and scree slope for almost 300ft before we could start climbing the steep ridge of Pequeño, which sometimes can be a bit frustrating . However despite this challenge, everybody conquered their fear and fatigue and were able to reach the summit at 17,647ft!
Early morning ascent — Photo by Jeff Delrow
After a safe and uneventful descent and a relaxing afternoon in La Paz city, we drove up to Huayna Potosi‘s base camp at 15,744 where we spent one night before we moved up to the rock camp (a basic hut). Warning: if you are planning to climb Huayna Potosi make sure to ask for good instructions regarding using the toilet. Otherwise there is a significant chance of getting locked in the bathroom with a very unpleasant smell!
Early Morning Camp — Photo by Sebastian Carrasco
The next morning one team from our group began climbing at 2am, and the other team left one hour earlier to save some time during the climb. In the beginning, we had perfect conditions aside from some cold temperatures (8F) but that only lasted until the sun started rising with a beautiful and distinctive pink light. Once we reached the final summit ridge, with a significant exposure on one side (over 2,000ft drop on west side) we encountered a team of 3 coming down from the summit. At this point our very skilled guide Ramiro negotiated with them so that we could easily walk by on this very narrow path and we reached the summit of Huayna Potosi at 19,974ft without any problems. All 9 climbers plus 5 guides successfully summited! Again, after another uneventful descent we headed back to camp.
La Paz — Photo by Jeff Delrow
We spent the next day and a half resting and relaxing and preparing for our next adventure. We then drove for 3 hours through steep canyons before we arrived to Pinaya, a small community on the base of Illimani 21,158ft, our last climb. Unfortunately one member of the group had to stay in La Paz because of bad blisters on the toes and a banged toenail from the climb in Huyana Potosi. For our summit attempted of Illimani we first had to reach high camp also known as the Condor‘s Nest at 18,044ft. From base camp at 15,091ft this took us almost 6hrs where we found our tents ready for us set by the porters. What a welcome sight! We settled into camp and turned in early to try and get some sleep before the next day.
Illimani — Photo by Ramiro Garrido
The next morning we awoke at 2:00am. The weather was so nice that we had a quick breakfast outside of our tents. Shortly after, we geared up and began our final adventure. The climb up Illimani follows a big buttress that comes down from the south summit on the west face of Illimani. There is no doubt that Illimani is the hardest, highest and coldest of all the climbs in this trip. Unfortunately, around 5:00am, 4 climbers had to turn around due to various reasons, this happened around 19,680ft, but the rest of the group continued to the base of what is call the “Stairs to Heaven”, a steep snow and ice slope that seems to go on forever until it reaches the final summit ridge, from here it looks like the summit is just a few minutes away, but in actuality the ridge keeps going for a while until it becomes flat. As frustrating as a false summit can be, four climbers plus 3 guides continued on until we reached the summit. For the last and final time, we descended safely and uneventfully back to camp.
The next day we headed back to La Paz and had our last great dinner with the whole group. We shared some great stories and even made plans for next adventures! Congratulations everybody and I hope to see you back in the mountains!
~ MM Guide Sebastian Carrasco