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Bolivia School with Mountain Madness

Bolivia School dates for 2015 and a blog from this past season

Bolivia School dates set for 2015. Here’s a blog from last sum­mer by Sebas­t­ian. Start plan­ning now!

This year I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to guide two dif­fer­ent trips in Bolivia.

The first one start­ed at the end of July with two clients: Collin and Adam, two begin­ner climbers from Louisiana. They were here to join me on our Bolivia Moun­taineer­ing School! After a few days of acclima­ti­za­tion around Lake Tit­i­ca­ca we did some glaciar train­ing in the Con­dodiri area. On our third night we left camp by 3am and climbed Tar­i­ja (5250 meters ‑17,290 feet). It took us a while but it’s best to keep accli­ma­tiz­ing and prac­tic­ing those new skills. 

Ascend­ing Huay­na Poto­si. Sebas­t­ian Car­ras­co photo

After a rest day in La Paz we went to Zon­go pass (4800 meters ‑15,744 feet) to spend one night there before we climbed to high camp from where we would attempt the sum­mit of Huyana Potosi.

This year we used a new hut, a bit high­er than usu­al (5270 meters ‑17,285 feet), a bit trick­i­er to get there but a much bet­ter hut, less peo­ple and more com­fort­able. We start­ed to climb just after 2am. There were a lot of peo­ple climb­ing that night, and a lot passed us, how­ev­er, after a few hours a lot of groups turned around. We keept a slow but steady pace and by 9am we reached the sum­mit of Huyana Poto­si (6088 meters ‑19,973 feet). We were prob­a­bly the last ones but we made it!

Sum­mit of Huay­na Poto­si. Sebas­t­ian Car­ras­co photo

For our third and last climb we had anoth­er climber join our group, John C. This was his third time com­ing to Bolivia! He is super moti­vat­ed to climb and meet new peo­ple, and this time he came back just to try Illimani.

The dri­ve to Illi­mani is an adven­ture! From La Paz, we drove south­west and, even though Illi­mani looks so close to the city, the dri­ve takes about 3hrs. We trav­eled through steep canyons and wind­ing roads until we reached the com­mu­ni­ty of Pinaya. From here we hiked for a cou­ple of hours up to base camp (4600 meters ‑15,091 feet). When we got base camp there was a thick fog cov­er­ing the mountain.

The next morn­ing when we got up the moun­tain was still under the clouds. Hop­ing that the weath­er would improve, we start­ed to hike up to high camp (5500 meters ‑18,044 feet). Get­ting to high camp is almost as dif­fi­cult as reach­ing the sum­mit. After 5 hours, we all made it and, sur­pris­ing, we where the only ones at The Con­dor Nest’s.

The rough day get­ting to high camp left just Adam and myself for the sum­mit attempt. The weath­er had improved a bit and at least the fog was gone. There was not much wind and we were so lucky to be accom­pa­nied by a super­moon”. This is when a full moon is its clos­est to Earth. This year we had 5 and the last one hap­pened to be while we climbed Illi­mani. I didn’t know this until we got back to La Paz, so I was won­der­ing why the moon looked so big and red!

The sky was clear for most of the climb, but unfor­tu­nate­ly just when we reached the sum­mit at 8:30, the fog rolled in. It was so hard to see that Adam didn’t believe me that we had reached the top; I had to show him the altime­ter! And off course, as soon as we start­ed to descend it got clear.

The last Bolivia trip I guid­ed this year was with only one client, Rob R. from Wash­ing­ton DC. Rob want­ed to climb a bit more tech­ni­cal routes. After accli­ma­tiz­ing for a few days around Con­doriri area Rob was ready for some climb­ing. Our first objec­tive was Pequeño Alpa­mayo (5379 meters — 17,647 feet); a short but clas­sic climb from the Roy­al Range. The night before our attempt, it snowed around 10cm/​4inwhich meant extra work for us. For Pequeño we first had to climb Tar­i­ja and then go down 100 meters — 328 feet. Once we got to the begin­ning of the ridge that goes all the way to the sum­mit, the snow was bet­ter and the expo­sure gave us a dif­fer­ent feel­ing. We where very lucky to be the only ones on such a beau­ti­ful and usu­al­ly busy mountain.

Our next climb was Con­doriri or also known as La Cabeza del Con­dor, the Condor’s Head. This toothed peak has two oth­er moun­tains on each side which makes it look like its wings.

Sebas­t­ian Car­ras­co photo

We attempt­ed this climb from the same base camp as Pequeño. Just get­ting to the glac­i­er is the first dif­fi­cult sec­tion of this climb. A steep gul­ly with loose scree is not the best way to warm up for the real climb; it took us over 3 hours! Once we reached the glac­i­er, the snow accu­mu­la­tion was about knee deep in some sections.

La Cabeza de Con­dor is well known because of its mag­nif­i­cent sum­mit ridge; its expo­sure of thou­sands of feet on either side can be quite shock­ing. The safest way to climb this is to walk togeth­er with a few coils in your hand, so if one per­son falls the oth­er one has to jump to the oth­er side! It took us 8.5 hours to get to the sum­mit. Luck­i­ly for us, the snow on the ridge was very good, even on the descent.

Sebas­t­ian Car­ras­co photo

Our last goal was to climb the French Route on Huyana Poto­si, a beau­ti­ful 300 meter — 1,000 foot snow ramp with a 60 degree angle. I was wor­ried that con­di­tions were not going to be the best because of the recent new snow that we got in the last week. Before our sum­mit push, a col­league and I went to check on the con­di­tions and, just as I sus­pect­ed, as soon as we left the track from the Nor­mal Route, I sank up to my waist. For sure, the snow was going to be very deep all the way to the base of the ramp and climb­ing up in those con­di­tions was not safe, so we decid­ed to climb the Nor­mal Route.

How­ev­er, what a reward­ing and beau­ti­ful sum­mit day we had. For me, this was the first time I had ever seen the sun rise from the sum­mit of Huay­na! Con­grat­u­la­tions to Rob, John, Collin and Adam, and thank you every­one for a great sum­mer of climbing! 

~ MM Guide Sebas­t­ian Carrasco

Sebas­t­ian Car­ras­co photo