Climbing to New Heights in Bolivia

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.

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Huayna Potosi in the center (19,974 ft/6,088m) we are about to embark on the hardest climb of our short mountaineering careers

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.

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Jenine checking out the view in Lake Titicaca

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Finally getting to spend some good times with Rich and Ash @desktoglory

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Are we in Greece or Bolivia?

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Those are some sketchy ferries - how they do it in Bolivia

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Rich and Ash, motoring across

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 😉

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The crew before the start of the El Choro hike - In about 3 hours we will all be soaked...

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Chris was carrying a refrigerator on his back

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Out of my way lamas!

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At about 5 thousand Meters - the highest point in our hiking careers so far

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!

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The advantages of hiking during the rainy season, we had the place to ourselves

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Welcome to night #1 camping...

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Fire time! Time to dry out

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Our hostess at camp. She provided us beer, tea and dry wood for our fire. Photo courtesy of Chris and Mallary from Ourcoordinates.blogspots.com

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Rich moving across the suspension bridges

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Night 2, we were getting dumped on. But we were so thankful to find this dry hut to camp in

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Drying out on the second night

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Start of day 3, posing with our hostess Francisca! She was so curious to see her photo on the little camera screen afterwards and had a good chuckle

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Post hike meal. Huge plates of fish and chips... We'd all feel pretty sick afterwards

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.

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Here we are, super happy, but before we climb Huayna Potosi, looming in the distance

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Start of the Huayna Potosi hike, our first refugio

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Jenine and I getting ready to get some experience climbing on ice at the glacier at the base of Huayna Potosi

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Climbing up the ice wall. At almost 5K Meters, this was actually pretty damn tiring

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Jenine descending the ice wall, after a great climb up

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Jenine celebrating a great climb

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…

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Our awesome guide Eliseo!

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Lets have a mountaineering knot tying competition. Guaranteed jenine has me

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And Jenine crushes me. I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing

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.

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The Meredith's climbing in Bolivia

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Campo Alto - 5,130 Meteres. Tomorrow we start the climb to the summit

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The refugio at the base camp

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Jenine and I, bed time at 5pm for a 12am wake up call to start our hike. It was still bright outside

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Huayna Potosi Summit. Tomorrow we start the 6-8 hour climb to the summit

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.

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Jenine and I, we reached 6K meters together! right before sunrise on Huayna Potosi

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The final 100 meter climb. I'm dying at this point, but have to push on to the summit

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.

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Approaching the summit at 6am - Huayna Potosi 20K feet

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Victory pose, Huayna Potosi

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View from 20K feet atop Huayna Potosi

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.

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Hiking along the ridge Huayna Potosi Bolivia

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Hiking through the immense wonderful mountain scape on Huayna Potosi

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Hiking back down, approaching a sketchy ridge on Huayna Potosi

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Back at the refugio after the climb with our awesome guide Eliseo. He does this climb 3x a week, and it was just about the hardest thing I have ever done

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!

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Illimani Mountain in Bolivia, imposing over the city at 21K+ feet

More pics:

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Jenine at the border of Bolivia, after we had to fake our paperwork to get in

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Lake Titicaca por fin! Cerveza looking out over the lake

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Lake Titicaca, view from the Sanctuary above

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Jenine checking out the view in Lake Titicaca

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We finally are getting to hang with desk to glory, hiking around Lake Titicaca

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Isa de sol, Lake Titicaca

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Pretty sure sacrifices were done here

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Lunch time?? This spot looks good @desktoglory

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Are we in Greece or Bolivia?

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Sunset, view from our on the shore camp spot in Lake Titicaca

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Go Desktoglory Go!!

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Those are some sketchy ferries - how they do it in Bolivia

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Rich and Ash, motoring across

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Me and Titus, enjoying a little boat ride

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The crew before the start of the El Choro hike - In about 3 hours we will all be soaked...

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At about 5 thousand Meters - the highest point in our hiking careers so far

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Our friend Chris was carrying a refrigerator on his bike

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Out of my way lamas!

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Getting a lot wet, but loving this gorgeous hike

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What a nice looking horse

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Getting real wet.... El Choro hike Bolivia

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Welcome to night #1 camping...

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That Bano looks a bit treacherous

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Drying off, more tea please

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The advantages of hiking during the rainy season, we had the place to ourselves

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Camping day 1, we had the place to ourselves

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Our hostess at camp. She provided us beer, tea and dry wood for our fire

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Fire time! Time to dry out

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Start of day 2, crew heading out, enjoying the rain free mornings

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Jenine, there are waterfalls everywhere.... we dont need to take a pic at each one 🙂

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That's a sketchy log crossing! We survived

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Hello there

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Rich moving across the suspension bridges

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Night 2, we were getting dumped on. But we were so thankful to find this dry huts to camp in

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Drying out on the second night

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Hey pup!

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Start of day 3, posing with our hostess!

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Rich and I getting in a good pic

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Eli being a trooper in bare feet. She didn't have the sturdy footwear we all had, but she powered through with no complaints... barefoot

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After hike. Finally some sun and a chance to dry out

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Post hike meal. Huge plates of fish and chips... We'd all feel pretty sick afterwards

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Interesting.... spotted in a bar in Bolivia

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Going out for a drink in Bolivia

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The busy streets of La Paz, Bolivia

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Illuminati Mountain in Bolivia, imposing over the city at 21K+ feet

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Taking the cable car up in La Paz Bolivia to see the sights from above

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Bolivian family in La Paz

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Huayna Potosi in the center (19,974 ft/6,088m) we are about to embark on the hardest climb of our short mountaineering careers

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Here we are, super happy, but before we climb Huayna Potosi, looming in the distance

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Ominous grave site with Huayna Potosi in the distance......

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Start of the Huayna Potosi hike, our first refugio

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Jenine and I getting ready to get some experience climbing on ice at the glacier at the base of Huayna Potosi

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Climbing up the ice wall. At almost 6K Meters, this was actually pretty damn tiring

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Reaching the top of the glacier

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Jenine doing an awesome job ice climbing. She has some big summits in her future

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Our awesome guide Eliseo!

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Jenine descending the ice wall, after a great climb up

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Jenine celebrating a great climb

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hacking some ice

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Lets have a mountaineering knot tying competition. Guaranteed jenine has me

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And Jenine crushes me. I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing

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Jenine's looks a little better and safe than mine. I suggest you climb with her....

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Jenine and I, at the base of Huayna Potosi. We look so energized.... that is about to change!

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Let's do this

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The Meredith's climbing in Bolivia

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Campo Alto - 5,130 Meteres. Tomorrow we start the climb to the summit

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Huayna Potosi Summit. Tomorrow we start the 6-8 hour climb to the summit

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The refugio at the base camp

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Our guide and chef Eliseo!

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It gets cold up here!

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Jenine and I, bed time at 5pm for a 12am wake up call to start our hike. It was still bright outside

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Jenine and I on our hike up Huayna Potosi - about 5:30am when the sun is starting to surface

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Jenine and I, we reached 6K meters together! right before sunrise on Huayna Potosi

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The final 100 meter climb. I'm dying at this point, but have to push on for the final 1 hour climb to the summit

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Approaching the summit at 6am - Huayna Potosi 20K feet

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Sunrise over Huayna Potosi

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Completely exhausted, standing on the summit after 6 hours climbing

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View from 20K feet atop Huayna Potosi

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Other hikers ontop of the summit

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Victory pose, Huayna Potosi

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Huayna Potosi

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The climb back down on Huayna Potosi

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Dont get too close.... Huayna Potosi is mostly a safe climb, but there are things to watch out for

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We are completely exhausted at this point, 8 hours into the climb. On the way back to camp

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Hiking along the ride Huayna Potosi Bolivia

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Jenine and I walking along a ridge onHuayna Potosi Bolivia

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Hiking back down, approaching a sketchy ridge on Huayna Potosi

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Hiking through the immense wonderful mountain scape on Huayna Potosi

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Back at the refugio after the climb with our awesome guide Eliseo. He does this climb 3x a week, and it was just about the hardest thing I have ever done

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Our fantatic home in Bolivia - Colibri Camping

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Jenine and me racing to complete a figure 8 climbing knot.... It wasn´t really even close

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Hoping over cravasses on the Huayna Potosi climb-hike

Posted in Bolivia Tagged with: , , ,
8 comments on “Climbing to New Heights in Bolivia
  1. Jane says:

    Holy smokes–you guys are nuts! But, WOW!

  2. Dan says:

    Very inspiring teaching us all how to live!

  3. Jacqui says:

    Amazing, congrats you guys!!

  4. Paula says:

    You guys area Ahhhmaaaazing! And crazy. Congrats!

  5. Jason Griffith says:

    Nice work guys! I wish I could say I wasn’t jealous. And, FYI, ice climbing is way easier with two real ice tools.

    Onwards to Patagonia!

  6. Aunt Patty says:

    For me, I can honestly say this is the scariest thing you two have completed. But you did it. YOU BOTH ROCK! Lots of love??

  7. Emma says:

    Wow! Huayna Potosi looks amazing, we really wanted to climb that last time we were there, but the universe was not on our side—probably a good thing we didn’t—now that we know our new Spanish skills will allow us to pick up a local guide for a fraction of the price. You guys did awesome and the photos look amazing 🙂

  8. Joe and Pam Lara says:

    Great Job to you both…WOW this was beautiful.