Wonderful bolivia! The people weren´t often very friendly, but the hiking, climbing and scenery were amazing. Bolivia is where Jenine and I got our first taste of the extreme challenge and rewarding experience of climbing/hiking high up into the mountains.
La Paz, Bolivia, the highest capital city in the world, is… how should I say it nicely…a dirty, chaotic, unfriendly place, but it is surrounded by some of the most magnificent mountains in the world. The closest mountain to the city, and the most popular mountain to summit is Huayna Potosi. It towers 6,088 meters or just about 20K feet, 100 meters shorter than the tallest peak in North America – Mount Denali. Unlike climbing Denali, which is very serious business and can take 3 weeks, anybody with $150 can sign up with one of the many tour operators and give Huayna Potosi a try.
This is not to say reaching the top of Huayna Potosi is anything close to easy. It was the hardest thing Jenine and I have ever done. But we will get to that.
First, we needed to warm up and get acclimated. We entered Bolivia right after seeing Machu Picchu, and our first stop was the lovely town of Lake Titicaca. This is also where we got to meet up with Richard and Ash (from the blog Desktoglory and the famous Instagram account of the same name). They are very similar minded people, and we were lucky to get to spend most of our time in Bolivia with them! The day after we got to Lake Titicaca, we explored Isla Del Sol together and then we decided that we should carvan together to our next destination, La Paz. This included taking the most sketchy ferry of the trip, not surprising since we are in Bolivia.
After the sketchy ferry we caravanned into our campsite (the wonderful Colibri Camping) on the outskirts of La Paz. This is when we met up again with Chris and Mallary (OurCoordinates). They were heading out on a three day hike at 6am the next morning with another new friend Eli, and asked if we all wanted to join them. Sure, sounds great! So we quickly packed our backpacks, and didn´t bring nearly enough weather protection for the rain that was coming to meet us 😉
The hike “El Choro” is a famous hike in Bolivia that starts up at 5K meters and descends through mountains, valleys, waterfalls and finally jungle. Truly stunning scenary. Upon registering at the trailhead, we learned we were the only people on the trail of this popular hike. Apparently, we were the only ones brave enough to do it during the rainy season. And boy did it rain. But it was incredible nonetheless and apart from losing my phone to water damage and melting my hiking shoes trying to dry them by the fire, all turned out well. Thanks Chris and Mallory for letting us come along, and we are so glad we got to continue traveling with you later in Bolivia!
After the 3 day hike, we headed back to La Paz to see what other fun thigns we could try. I had been emailing many different guides online in advance about climbing some of the mountains around La Paz, in particular Huayna Potosí. These were mostly Eurpean run operations and the price quotes I was recieving back were in the thousands of dollars to do any of the climbing trips. Bolivia is one of the cheaper countries in South America, so these quotes just struck me as ridiculous. Thankfully, we didn´t book anything in advance, and we found that La Paz is full of wonderful and very experienced local guides with excellent gear. Instead of paying $2K-$5k to climb with a European operator, we went with Alberth Bolivia Tours and paid $175 each for the 3 day trip up Huayna Potosí which included great gear and food.
Jenine was very nervous about this climb, but I and the guides encouraged her to do it. You stay two nights at two different refugios on the way to the top, and if you don´t feel like summiting, you can always stay back at the second refugio. This made Jenine feel a lot more comfortable. So, we paid for the tour and booked a date where the weather looked good. This is very important since many guides will take your money no matter if the weather is good or bad. On the first day, we drove to a refugio at the base of the mountain and got to spend the afternoon ice climbing on a glacier. It was so much fun and a great warm up.
Our guide was Eliseo and he was awesome. At night he taught us how to tie some of the climbing knots and Jenine was a much faster learner…
On day 2, we set out to hike up to the 2nd refugio. We were a little tired since a French guy decided to have a birthday party until after midnight the night before in our camp, but we pushed on and the views were stunning. After reaching the refugio, we would have to try to get to bed by 5pm as we were going to wake up at midnight to start the actual summit attempt at 1am. This would be so that we could summit during sunrise around 6am.
The ¨night¨before the climb, I could not sleep at all for the second night in the row. Before I knew it, is was 12am and lights were on and it was time to get our gear on. Jenine made the call that she was going to attempt the summit, and I was really proud of her. It is a BIG commitment, because if she turns around, then I also have to turn around since we will be tied together with the guide.
The first 3-4 hours were pretty OK. For some reason it does not get real cold until a few hours before sunrise or about 4am. And right at 4am is when things started to go downhill. Jenine and I were both drained from the altitude and freezing. I was determined to keep going, and Jenine, to her amazing credit, kept pushing on. At about 6:30am, we made it to the final stretch, a 100 meter vertical climb that takes about 45 minutes to the summit. At that point, Jenine could take a rest and the guide said he was just going to take me to the top. I was so proud Jenine made it that far: 6 thousand meters is no joke. Since we were leaving Jenine at the base, our guide made me rush to the top, and he almost killed me. As we were passing people on the way up, I just felt like death, I´m not sure how I was pushing on, but it was so worth it. We flew to the summit in 30 minutes, and Eliseo had to take my camera as I was too exhausted to even take a picture.
We only spent about 1 minute taking in the view from the top, as Eliseo wanted to rush down to meet back up with Jenine. Good thing we did, as when we got back, Jenine was freezing and altitude sick. We quickly started hustling back down the mountain back to the lodge. As we did so, we slowly regained some energy, but still felt wiped out.
After a quick decent, we were safely back at the lodge. Our guide gave us about 1 hour to recuperate and then we started back down to meet our transportation back to La Paz. We summited a 20K foot mountain, and we were back in La Paz before noon!
Jenine said never again to high altitude climbing/hiking, but I cannot wait to do it again. The same day we got back, our guide left to take another group up Illimani Mountain which stands at 6,400 meters. I told him I will be back again one day to attempt that with him!