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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