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:

http://www.jagged-globe.co.uk/news/report.php?id=1213

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……

Bolivian Climber Day Six

Waking up to a frozen water bottle and a frozen pee bottle is a very big shock to the system, especially when you spent the previous day in shorts on a tourist boat at Copacabana beach on Lake Titicaca.

But frozen indeed everything was. We woke in tents at our pre-base camp situated at 4,417m in the middle of a pass heading up to Condoriri in the Cordilla Réal. I had slept very fitfully, and had the need for paracetamol in the middle of the night to stave off a reasonably significant headache. I hastily put my base layer and socks inside my sleeping bag to warm them up before I even thought of getting up.

The sun nearly reaches our tents at our first morning waking under canvas.

The sun nearly reaches our tents at our first morning waking under canvas.

And looking up the valley, the sun is about to poke its head around Huana Potosi too.

And looking up the valley, the sun is about to poke its head around Huana Potosi too.

The llamas meantime, know how to seek out a sunny spot.

The llamas meantime, know how to seek out a sunny spot.

Breakfast was a similarly cold affair in the dining tent, after we had packed the tents and bags ready for the impending mule train by about 7.30am. We eventually began walking at about 9am, by which time the sun had come up and the temperature had risen probably 20 degrees.

We set off up the dirt road and the conditions were breathless. The impending beast of Huana Potosi, at 6,088m loomed large in front of us most of the way. It looked colossal, and I wondered how achievable it really was, it being our third mountain of four this trip. But no matter, we had to get to Base Camp and hopefully achieve two other even more technical mountains first!

Huana Potosi - not looking quite so imposing here, but in real life it is quite a sight.

Huana Potosi – not looking quite so imposing here, but in real life it is quite a sight.

About half way into the journey we turned off the dust track and headed up the side of a lake and onto a mountain path. Never steep, it gently turned up towards the Condoriri mountains, which looked very steep and dangerous, precipitous ceracs hanging from huge glaciers.

The Condoriri range comes into view.

The Condoriri range comes into view.

And the mule train brings in all of our equipment and supplies.

And the mule train brings in all of our equipment and supplies.

The mules passing us by at their own quite sedate pace, but I would too if I had a table on my back!

The mules passing us by at their own quite sedate pace, but I would too if I had a table on my back!

We stopped for a break at the edge of a lake overlooking the mountains, and we could now see our first two objectives too. On our left, Pico Austria, tomorrow’s objective at 5,300m, looked considerably larger than her actual height. Far far in the distance above a large glacier peered the summit of Pequena Alpameyo, which looked far steeper than the proclaimed 60 degrees in the brochure. I reminded myself that this trip was called Bolivian CLIMBER, and now I knew why. I also turned round to Olan, our guide, and said “bloody hell that looks ridiculously steep!”. Instead of him replying with what I expected to be something like “ah don’t worry it’s not so bad when you’re on it”, he just said “yep”. I shuddered slightly. This was going to be far far more difficult than anything I had attempted before, but I blocked those thoughts out and carried on with the trek and resolved to just take one day at a time.

On our way into Condoriri Base Camp - this lake is at 4,600m.

On our way into Condoriri Base Camp – this lake is at 4,600m. Pico Austria, tomorrow’s objective, is on the left.

We reached Base Camp not long after midday, and after deliberating about whether or not (the answer was not) to do some fixed rope practice in the afternoon, we ended up with the rest of the day to ourselves. This was great, as it gave the opportunity to just get used to the altitude and acclimatise. We were just above 4,700m, a height at which I had only slept three or four times previously, and so I’d need to get used to it, especially as we would be here for five nights.

Some of the others went on an acclimatisation walk up the ridge to take them higher still, but about half of us decided that this was high enough for now. We also needed the rest, tomorrow’s 5,340m summit attempt was going to be a tough effort both in terms of altitude and effort, so a rest was to me just perfect.

Camp is set again, this time we will be here for five nights at Condoriri Base Camp.

Camp is set again, this time we will be here for five nights at Condoriri Base Camp.

After a peaceful afternoon involving a short walk to the lake and a few games of cards (a Norwegian game called ‘President’ was fun, even if I ended up becoming the ‘bum’) the temperature dropped rapidly even before the sun went down. Olan told us that there was some snow forecast for tomorrow, so although we wouldn’t be on the glacier, conditions might be tricky.

Bed came early at about 8pm as everyone just wanted to get into their sleeping bags. Tomorrow would hopefully be a very good day, and a first summit. My head was clear, I was finally ready.

Bolivian Climber Day Five

So today was the day that would see us finally move into the mountains. And as enjoyable an adventure as the last four days had been, we were all I think ready for it. The last couple of days had however seen a bit of altitude and a good bit of walking, but we were here for the mountains after all.

We breakfasted at the EcoLodge in Copacabana for the second and last time at 7.30, and after a bit of a delay for the bus to get to us due to traffic (today was Independence Day in Bolivia) we were on our way not long after 9.

The bus took us back about two thirds of the way to La Paz, and back over the little ferry crossing over the inlet of Titicaca. Then after a fascinating stop at a boat builder’s cottage who had been involved in the Kontiki expeditions, we turned off towards the Andes and our destination of Condiriri where Base Camp was situated.

Some parting shots of Titicaca, this one right the Peruvian Border...

Some parting shots of Titicaca, this one right the Peruvian Border…

...and this is Peru!

…and this is Peru!

And for posterity's sake, this is where we were...

And for posterity’s sake, this is where we were…

And it is back on the ferry again to cross back over the inlet....

And it is back on the ferry again to cross back over the inlet….

....with the bus following alongside us separately.

….with the bus following alongside us separately.

The boatbuilders cottage.

The boatbuilders cottage.

The road to Condoriri was just a dirt track, very bumpy and with virtually no passing places, so it was just as well in the hour or so that we were on it that we only met one other vehicle. The coach driver actually drove quicker on this road than he had on the main highway, making the ups and downs literally lift you off your chair at times.

We're in the wilderness now...

We’re in the wilderness now…

We stopped in the end in more or less the middle of nowhere, although there was one farm building nearby which seemed to be occupied. We were at 4,417m already, and we were to stop here (not at Base Camp as I’d thought before) for the rest of the day and night. We first ate lunch and then helped pitch tents next to a herd of llamas and alpacas (I’m still at times struggling to tell the difference between the two creatures, although I know that Llamas have longer necks, and that alpacas have more rounded backs).

Time to get camped then.

Time to get camped then.

A Trango 3 tent, home for however long it took from here.

A Trango 3 tent, home for however long it took from here.

After this we were free to take it easy if we wished, but everyone wanted to go and walk. Each side of the camp were ridges about 250m high, and so we all strolled up in various combinations, very much ‘pole pole’ style, as this took us to 4,650m (15,300 feet), much higher than we’d been so far.

If you zoom in you'll see our tents are down there in that valley somewhere.

If you zoom in you’ll see our tents are down there in that valley somewhere. Already this is 15,300 feet.

Huana Potosi (6,088m), nest week's objective, looms into view.

Huana Potosi (6,088m), nest week’s objective, looms into view.

When we got back down I had a bit of a mild headache so chose to just have a lie down in the tent, which was quite nice to just relax. By the time dinnertime came at 7pm it was completely pitch black, a reminder of the fact that despite the elevation, we were in the tropics after all, and so 12 hours of daylight and darkness are the year round constant. It was also now bitterly cold, and so two jackets, one down, hats etc were necessary to stay warm.

By the end of a three course dinner, when we got to meet our new guides, and had a briefing on what to expect over the next few days by Olan, it was time for an early night at about 8.30. Getting into a sleeping bag for the first time on the trip as in a way nice. It was the first time I’d been back in my bag since Camp Cholera in Argentina in January and my unsuccessful attempt to summit Aconcagua. I just hoped that this trip was going to give me some success, but of course I also just wanted it to be a good trip, be enjoyable, and to return home safely. Anything else is always a bonus.

Tomorrow we would need to have the tents down and our bags packed by 8am to trek to Base Camp at 4,700m, and our first summit attempt would be the day after that. It was all of a sudden getting very serious.