Zermatt Day 2

So waking on day two (of two) in Zermatt itself, at about 1,750m, in a hotel, and not in a mountain hut some 1,000m higher up has its advantages. One, you get a nice shower; two, you get a nice comfy bed; three, you don’t get woken up about twenty times in the night by other climbers in your dormitory shuffling and snoring; and four, you get, if you are really really lucky, a view like this from your own balcony:

How stunning is that for a sight to wake up to? I didn't want to leave the hotel!

How stunning is that for a sight to wake up to? I didn’t want to leave the hotel!

So today we had planned a much easier trek than the one the day before, which had seen us do about 22km in total, including a climb to about 3,260m on the north-east ridge of the Matterhorn. Today we’d take in a couple of the tourist paths on the other side of Zermatt, the Marmot Trail and the ‘5-Seenweg’, literally the ‘5 lakes trail’.

From the top end of the town (the south, geographically) we walked through town, grabbing breakfast on the way, to the north eastern side, and the rothorn funicular railway. This takes you up entirely inside the mountain in about three minutes to the Sunegga area at about 2,300m. This can be seen in the left middle of the map link below: http://www.matterhornparadise.ch/pdf/panoramakarten/panoramakarte_sommer.pdf

Blessed again by absolutely cloudless skies like the day before, and even warmer conditions, we set off firstly up the Marmot Trail, (we didn’t see any today unfortunately, but we had the day before) which is numbered 8 on the map.


The Marmot Trail – a different and lovely side of Zermatt.

Then from the Blauherd cable car station at 2,571m we began on the 5-seenweg trail. The first lake, the Stellisee, is absolutely stunning, as you can see from the picture below: We stayed there for a while just to take it all in, as did many other people, it seems to be a bit of a tourist trap, and quite frankly why shoudn’t it be? It’s a natural lake, and just beautiful.

The Stellisee, at 2,537m. I can see why it is so incredibly popular!

The Stellisee, at 2,537m. I can see why it is so incredibly popular!

Upon leaving the Stellisee towards the next lake, the Grindjisee, the path takes a pretty sharp descent. At this point Verena decided that her knee, which had been giving her problems on the latter half of yesterday’s walk, was too painful to continue with the rest of the walk. She therefore suggested that I carry on with the rest of the lakes, and she made her way back to the Sunnega cable car, only about 20 minutes away. After checking she was ok and could make it on her own, I took her up on her offer, and carried on.

The Grindjisee is at about 2,350m, and is a small and very tranquil place. You’d probably never come across it if you weren’t looking for it in fact. It was in a really pretty area though, and of course you could see a reflection of the Matterhorn in the surface of the lake, what more do you need!

The Grinjisee, tranquil and stunningly beautiful in equal measures.

The Grindjisee, tranquil and stunningly beautiful in equal measures.

From the Grindjisee the walk is mostly flat for about three miles until you get to the Grünsee, which doesn’t have reflections of the Matterhorn, but you can still see it🙂.


The Grünsee - three down, tow to go!

The Grünsee – three down, two to go!

There was then a pretty steep and narrow trail through the woods towards the Moosjisee, a seemingly man made affair, but stunningly green in colour:


The Moosjisee – and there’s that mountain again!

The Moosjisee is the lowest of the five lakes, and from there after another brief descent with stunning views back towards Zermatt itself, there is a bit of a climb back up to the Leisee, which I unfortunately didn’t photograph.


The walk towards the Leisee, with some very pretty hillside hamlets en route.

Having got back to the Sunegga cablecar station, Verena was thankfully there waiting for me and her knee was fine. There would be no more walking for her though, and so we decided to have lunch at the very lovely mountain restaurant by the Sunegga, it would have been rude not to really! So a beer, a rösti, and some very pleasant views were the order of the day:


Now that’s the way to end a walk!

The 5-Seenweg walk is about two and a half to three hours overall, and well worth it if you are visiting in summer.

After lunch we took the funicular railway back down to Zermatt before a bit of shopping before heading back to Bern, where I would be lucky enough to get to watch Stage 16 of the Tour de France the next day. We’d had a great weekend, and literally didn’t see a cloud in 48 hours.

I’ll leave off with a view more photographs of Zermatt itself. A great little car free town, with lovely shops, and just an idyllic place to be summer or winter. It’s my fifth time here all in all, and it won’t be the last.







So it’s obviously been way way too long since I last put up a blog post. That’s because about 11 months ago I took the decision to stop my apparently futile attempts at high altitude success. I had three or four goes at getting above 6,000m, and they all seemed to end in one thing – me heading downwards feeling like shit. So in the meantime I’ve done some nice sensible things, like change job, move house, and do some cycling.

Lots of cycling in fact, culminating in a fabulous 160-odd mile ride doing the coast to coast in a day. Details of that here of that ride, less the last 6 or so miles as my Garmin battery decided it didn’t want to go for over 12 hours! See Strava section here: https://www.strava.com/activities/623638383


The Coast to Coast was at the end of June, and it was great, but (as is the way with me :)) I finished it and needed a new thing to aim for. And so after a bit of an impromptu flight purchasing, I was off to Switzerland at the end of July for a bit of ‘hill practice’ as they say!

I originally intended to head to Grindelwald, and trek around the North Face of the Eiger, something that has been ‘on the list’ for a little while. But after contacting my friend Verena, who lives in nearby Bern, she suggested that the Eiger and surrounds would be stupidly busy that weekend. She suggested Zermatt instead, as she hadn’t been there before, and would come along too!

And so off to Zermatt it was, for what proved to be an amazingly beautiful weekend in what is such a fabulous part of the world. For those who don’t know me, I have a bit (ok a lot!) of a fixation with The Matterhorn – I just find it a staggeringly beautiful and transfixing mountain. Spellbinding in fact. I also put my only ever Youtube video online with the mountain in it – I could still watch it every day! Skiing down towards Zermatt in 2013:

After a flight to Zurich and a train ride to Bern to meet Verena, we departed at the crack of dawn on the Saturday morning for the drive to Zermatt, about two and a half hours away. After a great drive which went under part of the Alps near to the Eiger in a car train, we arrived in the car free resort of Zermatt and headed up the mountain via cablecar to the Trockener Steg area of the resort. Cable cars aren’t cheap in Zermatt (nothing is cheap in Zermatt in fact!) at about £40 per single ride, but at least it got us up to 2,900m very quickly.

The great thing about the Zermatt area is that from practically anywhere you are, you can see The Matterhorn! It just dominates the place like the outrageous behemoth that it is, towering to 4,478m (14,700 feet), looking all Toblerone-shaped (the Toblerone logo is modelled on it for those who don’t know) and pointy, and just incredible.

The Matterhorn rearing up above Zermatt

The Matterhorn rearing up above Zermatt

We had chosen a trail which took us from Trockener Steg down to the Schwarzsee, and then around the west face of the Matterhorn and up to a mountain hut called the Schonbielhutte. I managed to persuade Verena though that en route we should try a tricky path up to the Hornlihutte, which is perched somewhat precariously on the North east ridge of the mountain at 3,260m. Thankfully she didn’t take too much convincing, and after trekking down to about 2,400m initially on what was a fairly uneventful route, we began the very eventful path up.

Approaching the Matterhorn - the Hornlihutte is on the tip of snow at about 3pm on the picture.

Approaching the Matterhorn – the Hornlihutte is on the tip of snow middle right of the picture.

It was slow going, as a.) we were up at 3,000m and unacclimatised, and also b.) the path has several places where in simple terms a missed footing could be your last ever step on earth. To add to the perils of point b.) the path was still snowy and icy in places, and without crampons (which I have to say weren’t required at this time of year, but a month earlier and you wouldn’t venture up any of this without them) it added to the general feeling of precariousness. Thankfully at the most tricky parts there was a metal rope in place to cling onto, which I gladly took advantage of.

The path starts easily with a footpath and metal railing

The path starts easily with a footpath and metal railing

The path starts to wend its way up quite steeply....

The path starts to wend its way up quite steeply….

...and there are parts where you have something to hold on to....

…and there are parts where you have something to hold on to….

...and finally the hut comes into view just in the snowline.

…and finally the hut comes into view just in the snowline.

It was a really great climb, requiring the use of hands as well in places to add to the mind’s focus. We reached the hut at about 1.45pm, and sat at the terrace for lunch (it would have been rude not to really) and it became apparent as soon as we stopped moving that the temperature when stopped was considerably colder than it had felt whilst climbing up, so jackets and hoods were quickly donned. The views were majestic – including the view directly upwards of the top of the mountain, which whilst still over 1,100 vertical metres above us, seemed much closer. I vowed looking upwards at the near vertical face to never, ever feel brave or stupid enough to try to climb it🙂.

This is the closest to the top I am ever going to get, promise!

This is the closest to the top I am ever going to get, promise!

Just to prove I made it there!

Just to prove I made it there!

The area around Zermatt is also home to around 25 4,000m+ mountains, including the Dufourspitze and the Dom, at 4,630m and 4,550m respectively the second and third highest mountains in the Alps, and the highest points in Switzerland.

Starting the descent, Zermatt a long way down the valley in the distance and lots of 4,000m peaks up above.

Starting the descent, Zermatt a long way down the valley in the distance and lots of 4,000m peaks up above.

From the Hornlihutte we took trail 27 and then a black-marked steep track down the mountain (see attached map) to Stafel, where we intended to begin the trek back up to Schonbielhutte.  http://www.matterhornparadise.ch/pdf/panoramakarten/panoramakarte_sommer.pdf

However on getting down near to Stafel at about 4.30pm, Verena was struggling with a twisted and sore knee, and so the climb up to the hut at about 2,700m and about three miles distant all of a sudden looked a bit of a long way. This was more relevant given the fact that the hut needed us there by 6.30pm latest (the cut off point for evening meals) and also there was no alternative should we not make it as the hut is at the end of a long and isolated valley.

Near Stafel - the Schonbielhutte in the far distance.

Near Stafel – the Schonbielhutte in the far distance.

We thus phoned the hut and said we would not be able to make it, and then tried to find alternatives continuing steadily down the mountain towards Furi. Cutting a very long story short (about which I could write not just another blog post, but actually a fairly lengthy novel) we ended up all the way back in Zermatt itself at about 8pm. This at least left us best-placed for the next day, when we intended to head up to the other side of the resort, the Rothorn area.

The Matterhorn looking quite different from Stafel, this it's western face.

The Matterhorn looking quite different from Stafel, this it’s western face.

One of the very pretty hamlets we passed on our way back down towards Zermatt. This is Zmutt, I think.

One of the very pretty hamlets we passed on our way back down towards Zermatt. This is Zmutt, I think.

Our route is in the attached Strava link – it was a fabulous walk of around 22km, showcasing some fabulous views of much of the Matterhorn area, and a lot of ascent and descent  https://www.strava.com/activities/643124049

After a very long day, sleep would come very easily, and at the thought of seeing the ‘5 Lakes Trail’ the next morning, where each lake held a different reflection of the Matterhorn, I was very very much looking forward to day 2!


Bolivian Climber – postscript

And so my trip came to an end prematurely. There was no going back to the mountains, and not even really second thoughts once I had come down to La Paz. I did actually see a doctor at my hotel, just to get checked out so to speak. He said I was as fit as a fiddle, and that my blood pressure was 120/80. I am not sure that I believed him, but I certainly felt the benefits of being at just 13,000 feet or so.

Over the next two days I ate steak, drank wine, enjoyed La Paz, and booked myself an early ticket home. I met up with the rest of the gang who had come down to rest for a day whilst they recovered from not having been able to attempt Pequena Alpameyo. They went up the next day to try to do summit two, Huana Potosi, and some summitted, but that was the end of the line summitwise – Illimani was a no go area due to dangerous avalanche risk, and so didn’t happen for anyone. The mountains, and the weather gods, won this time, as so often happens. The overall trip report is below from our outstanding leader Olan:


In the meantime, I got delayed going home by snow, saw more of La Paz and Llama foetuses than I really needed to, and generally killed time, no more of which I need to record here. I had had a fabulous adventure though, which was capped off by the following when I was flying from La Paz to Santa Cruz in Bolivia on the first of a long leg home:…………………I have left it ‘unedited’ from how I wrote it at the time, which was Friday the 14th August:

“Oh my God” The phrase is so overused. A bit like awesome, a word I have never much cared for.

Today however I have used both, a lot.

I am sitting in seat 1A of an American Airlines 757, flying over the Amazon jungle. I’ve never seen it before until today, and it is absolutely fucking staggering. Sorry about the expletive – maybe I should have stuck with awesome?

From this point in my flight, it just got more and more amazing.......

From this point in my flight, it just got more and more amazing…….

From this.....

From this…..

....to this......

….to this……

....to this.....

….to this…..

...to this!......

…to this!……

...and this.....:)

…and this…..:)

This, is the Rio Grande. The greatest tributary, and the lead in, to the biggest river in the world, the Amazon. It discharges more water than the world’s next seven rivers added together apparently. Truly there are no words, in my language at least, to describe how utterly amazed I feel just looking down on it.

I have taken probably 50 photographs on my phone out of the window, none of which I know will ever even begin to convey the marvel, wonder and jaw dropping majesty of what I am seeing. The way the various tributaries snake backwards and forwards, the brownness of the water, the denseness of the jungle for unimaginable distances of vastness, the so abundant and different shades of green, which couldn’t even be replicated on the world’s most complicated supercomputer.

So many thoughts run through my mind: Why have I never been here before? Why is it declining in terms of deforestation as badly as it is and how can governments let it happen? What do the people who live down there think? Do they know how utterly, ridiculously amazing it is? I honestly thought I had seen it all when I saw the Himalayas, or Kilimanjaro and the plains of the Serengeti, but this is better, bigger, and more fantastic, if that is even imaginable as a ‘thing’. I feel incredible.

I feel so very lucky today, and just wanted to capture those thoughts. My plane out of Bolivia (firstly out of La Paz down to Santa Cruz) to Miami was delayed by an hour and a half due to ‘maintenance issues’. When I get to Miami I will miss my connecting flight out of here back to the UK, and have to probably sleep on this floor of the airport. None of that matters. I have seen under almost cloudless skies the majesty of this earth. The Bolivians have a name for this – Pachamama, the Mother Earth. Well Mother Earth, I see now, clearly, and almost for the first time, just how stupendously beautiful you really are.

Bolivian Climber Day Ten

Note this is a repeat of a post that I put on Facebook, but it is from my blog entries from my tenth day of my Bolivian trip, and so is repeated here for that reason…….:)

I am now back in La Paz, having come down from the Cordillera Réal range to recuperate, whilst the rest of the group that I was with carry on with their attempts on various mountains therein. I got to 5,340 metres at the top of Pico Austria two days ago, and all felt fine, but since then I haven’t been feeling the full ticket.

So today I took a decision to end my high altitude endeavours. I’ve been above 5,000m five times now, and each time I got varying forms of altitude sickness. My last three trips ended with just one summit, which was itself eclipsed by my getting high altitude cerebral edema (which could have been fatal), and the last two I have had to descend without summitting. My attempts this time to get to 6,500m (21,500 feet) have been futile, and maybe I should have known that before I came out here, but I wanted to give it one last go. I tried, but I haven’t failed. 

Over the last five or so years since I got to the top of Kilimanjaro, I’ve had a brilliant time. I started this episode of my life at age 45, and I don’t regret one single minute, in fact the total opposite. I’ve met some absolutely fabulous people, some of which I hope will be lifelong friends; I’ve seen countries, people and cultures that I would never have been close to had it not been for my pursuit of this; I’m healthier and fitter than I have ever been in my life; I’ve accomplished things and learned a lot more about life, and me, than I ever would have done otherwise.

The roof of Africa.......

The roof of Africa…….

Stood in the shadow of the highest place on planet earth..

Stood in the shadow of the highest place on planet earth..

...to the highest point in all of Europe....

…to the highest point in all of Europe….

..to nearly the roof of South America....

..to nearly the roof of South America….

...and my latest adventure in the Bolivian Andes....

…and my latest adventure in the Bolivian Andes….

...and some very special places inbetween. What a journey!

…and some very special places inbetween. What a journey!

I fly back in a couple of days time, and will think about things in the meantime, but I’m not going to stop going to the top of (much smaller) mountains, or walking in the hills and fells, or travelling, or doing things outdoors that I love. I’m just not doing any more high altitude trips, ever. I’m done, and I’m good with that. The good thing too is that I have a million things to look forward to, and my life is richer because of what I’ve done. I’m very proud and happy about that.

Meantime, to those great people I’ve met along the way, and probably more importantly to those who have worried about me while I’ve been away, I’ll just say thank you, for everything, and for being part of this adventure. If you look forward on life now with as much enthusiasm as I do, then your life will be a fabulous and fulfilling one. Embrace life, we all only get one of them after all.


Bolivian Climber Day Nine

It was now day 3 at Condoriri Camp at 4,700m. Or I think it was day three. My mind was a bit puddled through the altitude, and thoughts of whether I wanted to go up or down, and also by the fact that a massive gale had blown all night and kept me awake for at least half of it. I’m never good anyway when I don’t sleep, and the gale last night reminded me of a night in a hut at high camp on Elbrus last summer, when I thought that just surviving the night was a long shot at times.

So we all at least arose this morning to a much calmer wind, and considerably bluer skies than we had seen for the last 36 hours. Despite that, the forecast for the day was snow. Apparently someone had been blown off Illimani last night, presumed dead, a sobering enough thought if ever there was one, especially considering we would be there inside a week.

We breakfasted outside due to the destruction yesterday of our meal tent, although it was freezing cold and down jackets, gloves and hats were the order of the day.

Breakfast alfresco. Cold, bitterly cold in fact.

Breakfast alfresco. Cold, bitterly cold in fact.

During breakfast I continued my contemplations of yesterday as to whether to stay or head down. I had a mild headache, felt a bit dizzy and weak, and had had as mentioned my usual fitful night’s sleep. I think the latter might have been a bit better if I think about it, other than for the aforementioned gale sweeping through camp. At any rate, I now needed to make a decision. It wasn’t easy.

At the end of breakfast I was still in a bit of a daze, but decided to walk up to Olan and say the following to him: “I’ve decided that I’m not properly acclimatised to be a good member of the team for the climb tomorrow morning, so I’d like to know what I need to do to get the f*** out of here”. Olan, being from Dublin, understood both the language as well as he did the sentiment behind it. I was fortunate as it turned out – one of the guides was going down to meet one of the local support team to collect a replacement meal tent in an hour’s time, so if I could be packed up and ready by then I could walk down the mountain with him and then get a lift back to La Paz too. The deal was done.

I immediately told Gavin, my tentmate, of my decision. He suggested that I was being a bit hasty, but he got it. I had talked at some length with him about yesterday’s blog post, which I had read to him out loud in our tent last night. We had a good talk about how fine a balance it is between ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in these things, and it was good to share experiences and thoughts. I packed up my kit and helped Gavin clean out our tent, which was full of all sorts of grassy deposits after yesterday’s stormy conditions, and then that was it, time to go. After a farewell to each of the group I left with the guide Renée, and trekked the 3 or so miles down to the waiting minivan at the trailhead. With every step down the mountain, even though the slope was gentle, my breathing became easier, and I felt better, fuller, fresher.

The last look for me at the Condoriri range. It'd be the last time I'd be there, I knew that much already.

The last look for me at the Condoriri range. It’d be the last time I’d be there, I knew that much already.

The journey back to La Paz took about two hours altogether. I was picked up by an SUV by a Bolivian driver, and we traveled back wordlessly through the altiplano and then the crazy and dirty suburbs of El Alto, a place I don’t think I could live in for all of the tea in China. It’s a ghetto really at best, and dirty too. It has however apparently grown by incredible rates to become Bolivia’s second biggest city at nearly 1m people.

The main street of El Alto.

The main street of El Alto.

This is about as pretty as it gets.

This is about as pretty as it gets.

Although you do eventually get some good views down into La Paz.

Although you do eventually get some good views down into La Paz.

A better view of the sprawling La Paz.

A better view of the sprawling La Paz.

Getting back down to La Paz itself felt good for two reasons. One, I had by then descended over 1,000m, and although I was still at 3,600m or so, it was a big difference. Secondly La Paz had that ‘feel’ about it, which made it a welcoming sort of place, dirty and grimy though it is.

The local agent, Griselle, couldn’t unfortunately get me back into the Ritz apartments (where we had stayed when we first arrived), which had been great. I got put instead into the El Rey Palace Hotel. All I can say is that if you are ever in La Paz, don’t go there. It flatters to deceive at first with a nice lobby, and large rooms, but underneath the surface it is dirty, tired and just clapped out. I’d rather get a dingy hostel to be honest than ever go back there again.

Probably the most disappointing thing was that after the time I’d been out, all I wanted really was hot water for a shower, and it couldn’t even deliver that. The water was too tepid to even stand under and so I gave up, and stayed stinky for another day. You can get hot water up a mountain at Aconcagua Base Camp, or in Africa at the foot of Kilimanjaro in even the most basic of hut hotels, so why not in a supposed 4 star hotel in a country’s capital city? Rubbish, right?

I did go and find me that evening the same steak house (Gaucho) that I had been to the previous week before we left for the mountains. It didn’t disappoint. The steak was fantastic and the Malbec was just what I needed.

I knew then that I wasn’t going back up to the mountains at high altitude. I was done, I had tried. Life is full of so many opportunities and wonderful things to do, and I have had such a good run at this. It was time to start a new chapter, and his day was the start. More of those thoughts and conclusions in the next post.

Bolivian Climber Day Eight

So today would be the first time on the glacier. Or that would be the case for 8 of our group of 10 at any rate.

At breakfast time, one of the two Johns announced that he was feeling nauseous, and he looked it too, so confined himself to bed. I didn’t feel much better than he looked, despite not too bad a night’s sleep (as in I only woke up about 10 times, which is about normal), but managed to eat breakfast, so I thought I’d soldier on.

So by 9am, with our first very overcast sky, and a pretty strong wind blowing, we set off in mountain boots and down jackets plus carrying full complement of crampons and axes etc ready for the glacier. I felt at best very lethargic, but trundled along hoping that I would feel better on the walk in to the glacier, which would take about 40 minutes. Unfortunately I didn’t feel better at all.

We made it to the snout of the glacier at about 9.45, and as everyone was putting on harnesses and crampons, I just stood there feeling a bit pathetic. I realised that I didn’t have the energy (or moreover the inclination really) to put mine on, and so trying to head up a glacier would have been foolish. I thus told Olan that I was going to bail from today’s activities because of how I was feeling, to which he said that was fine. He asked if I needed help getting back to Base Camp, but I told him no, and that I’d be ok and would just take my time.

Even though it was downhill on the way back it took me longer down than it had up, but I was feeling a bit wobbly and so being by myself I didn’t want to fall on the rocks. Making it back for about 11am, I took off my boots and got straight in my sleeping bag. The wind was howling, but I got an hour or so’s sleep which I think did me good.

The group got back at around 2, and I had a chat with Olan. He suggested I start taking Diamox and see how I felt after that. My head was telling me that I should just forget this mountain malarkey once and for all, but my heart really wanted to try to get mountain 2 done, Huana Potosi, which would be an altitude record for me at 6,088m. But for what?

I parked decisions for a while as I didn’t want to be too hasty, and also hypoxia can cloud your vision sometimes. Plus I had just taken a Diamox, and if that meant that I felt much better by tomorrow, then who knows, maybe I would be flying up all of these mountains within a few days. But then who was I trying to kid?

Meanwhile we all got a bit of a distraction as our meal tent started to rip apart and blow down in the wind. It must have been gusting at 60mph or more, and first a pole snapped, and then despite about 6 people trying to hold it down with rocks it just effectively disintegrated. We would therefore be confined to tents for the next 16 hours or so and would eat in them too, as long as the guides could still manage to cook in theirs. Plenty of thinking time then….

At first it was a case of how many could hold it steady.....

At first it was a case of how many could hold it steady…..

.....and then a case of how many rocks.....

…..and then a case of how many rocks…..

....and then the realisation that there aren't enough rocks....

….and then the realisation that there aren’t enough rocks….

....and that nature usually wins in these situations.

….and that nature usually wins in these situations.

So here was my rationale during those hours:

I’ve had four (now five including this one) high altitude mountain trips. 1. Kilimanjaro – summited, but got AMS along the way. 2. Island Peak – no summit, had to leave trip early and descend due to AMS. 3. Elbrus – summited, but collapsed shortly after summit showing signs of life threatening HACE. 4. Aconcagua – no summit, had to descend due to AMS. 5 – Well here I am lying in a tent at 15,500 feet, considerably short of where I am trying to get to, and guess what? Hello AMS.

The above might be fairly compelling evidence to most people, but I am not most people, and I love what I am doing. Well I love it apart from the AMS thing, and getting up to go in stinky pits of a toilet (or not a toilet at all) in the middle of the night, and eating shit tasteless food whilst wearing two down jackets out of dirty plastic containers, and waking up about 12 times every night, and feeling wrecked every morning, and drinking purified bad tasting water out of a dirty bucket. Oh, and it taking up my entire annual leave for the year, and the fact that I’ve spent about 10 grand (more actually) on it this year just to not get close to the top.

So apart from those things, it is great, and I mean that, otherwise I wouldn’t have spent practically every weekend this year walking 20 miles up and down random hills, streets, or canal paths with weights on my back. But maybe there are other things out there, like smaller mountains for example?

I put all of those thoughts away from me, and huddled inside my sleeping bag. The tent was filthy now and full of debris that had blown in during this afternoon’s continuing storm. We’d just been told that it was going to continue for another 36 hours, and so we were stuck in our tents for that time now anyway. The question is therefore: “what the f*** am I doing here”?!!

By the time dinner was ready, or actually well before it, I think my mind was probably made up, but I resolved to sleep (or try to) on things. Nothing happens quickly up here anyway, and it wasn’t as if I could just go if I wanted to. That would require a guide to get me down, transport back to La Paz, and probably a fair bit of money. Tomorrow would certainly be another day.

Bolivian Climber Day Seven

So today was the day that we would do our first climb. I was apprehensive, but not overly, as at least the climb was non-technical. But having not acclimatised as quickly as I would have hoped, then getting to above 17,500 feet may stretch me a little too far. There was of course only one way to find out.

The day was considerably cooler and windier than we had had previously, but the sky was totally clear. We had been forecast a dusting of snow for the afternoon, but hopefully nothing serious. After a breakfast of fruit and cereal, we were on our way by 9am, our objective the summit of Pico Austria. Pico Austria is a trekking peak, and hence there was no need to carry crampons or axes or use mountain boots. I just used approach shoes although most others used hiking boots.

Waking up at Condoriri Base Camp

Waking up at Condoriri Base Camp

The camp is in a bowl and is flanked by 5,000m peaks and so the sun takes a while to reach it and warm us up a bit.

The camp is in a bowl and is flanked by 5,000m peaks and so the sun takes a while to reach it and warm us up a bit.

We started off very slow and steady, the sun beginning to warm us up only gradually, and this was never really a day for a single layer, so light jackets were the norm. As we climbed out of base camp the views of the surrounding mountains began to get better and better, and base camp itself became a speck down below.

Setting off for Pico Austria.

Setting off for Pico Austria.

Llama are never far away in these parts.

Llama are never far away in these parts.

The group after about half way began to split, as fitness and acclimatisation rates took their toll. I stayed deliberately towards the back, just only wanting to do the bare minimum to get me up the mountain. Even though this was a serious summit, it was still supposed to be an acclimatisation peak, readying us for the main events ahead over the next two weeks. We could see as we climbed a better view of Pequena Alpameyo, which would be our first serious test in three days time. It looked quite frankly like a big pointed dome of ice, and I just pushed it to the back of my mind.

Taking a breather at about the half way point above 5,000m, the landscape changing quite significantly up here.

Taking a breather at about the half way point above 5,000m, the landscape changing quite significantly up here…

....and the views improving too!

….and the views improving too!

Not too far from the summit, Patrick passed his own altitude record of 5,189m, almost at the same time as his partner Lotte began to feel nauseous. Gavin hung back with them alongside a guide, and I stopped too, and we just meandered from there very slowly to the top, the others having already got there safely.

The final slog up the summit ridge.

The final slog up the summit ridge.

The summit was a largely safe affair, although it had a massive precipice behind the summit stones themselves. It was great to be there, and I felt fine, this being officially 5,340m, about the same height as Everest Base Camp, and the 650m of ascent had taken us just under three hours.

Gavin, Alessandro, Patrick and Lotte at the summit...

Gavin, Alessandro, Patrick and Lotte at the summit…

...and me and Wine Bear make it too :)

…and me and Wine Bear make it too🙂

And my watch says 5,335m, or 17,600 feet.

And my watch says 5,335m, or 17,600 feet.

If you zoom in you'll see base camp down there by the lake a long way below.

If you zoom in you’ll see base camp down there by the lake a long way below.

We stayed up top for about half an hour and had lunch. I managed to get a fair few photos of Wine Bear, my Pete’s Dragons mascot. I think everyone now knew why I carried a teddy bear with me, which hopefully stopped everyone from thinking I was a weirdo :O, but no matter, I was very happy and not a little emotional that by taking Wine Bear on as many travels as possible, I was helping to promote the charity that is so incredibly dear to me.

In fact here's me and Wine Bear, and another nudge for Pete's Dragons, just for posterity......:)

In fact here’s me and Wine Bear, and another nudge for Pete’s Dragons, just for posterity……:)

At about 12.30 we began our descent. This was by slightly different route for the top third, allowing a scree ski for a fair while, which made for considerably more rapid progress than would otherwise have been the case. In fact the whole descent took only an hour or so.

Part of the descent through the scree field.

Part of the descent through the scree field.

Oh and for those of you who are interested, here’s my Garmin record of the climb: https://www.strava.com/activities/366959825

Back at camp we were fed some hot soup which was very welcome and then decamped to our tents for a while. At 4 when I was just about to fall asleep, we were called to go and do some fixed line practice, which was a rude awakening if ever there was one. So with helmets, harnesses and fixed line systems donned, we went up and down some makeshift ropes to practice our techniques. For me at least, if not everyone, this was invaluable, as I have never got to use a fixed line system before, other than a brief practice up and down my stairs at home! With big mountain gloves on it is tricky, and I can imagine in snow and with some only mild hypoxia it could be very testing indeed. We also practiced some abseiling/descending with a figure of eight, although we may not need to use this in anger on the mountain.

Fixed line practice above Base Camp.

Fixed line practice above Base Camp.

And coming down the other side.

And coming down the other side.

After a dinner at the now customary time of 7pm, most of us retired very soon thereafter for an early night. Tomorrow we would get up onto the glacier for the first time, and so that should prove quite tiring too after what had been our first proper day doing the ‘exciting’ stuff. It would be above 5,000m again, but on ice and with crampons this time.

It had been a very successful day. A first summit in Bolivia, and 5,340m reached. So far so good then……