Bolivian Climber Day One

The Bolivian Climber trip is run by a few of the big climbing operatives, most notably Jagged Globe and IMG. I chose to go with the former and my trip took place from 1st to the 22nd August 2015. The context here overall is that up until the turn of this year I was (perhaps over ambitiously) harbouring designs on the Seven Summits. However, my attempt on my third mountain, Aconcagua, ended up in me descending due to AMS.

Having wondered what to do next, I came upon this trip, which if successful would get me to 6,500m or so, higher than I had ever been before. If I failed, then I would know that physiologically I was not meant to be up that high. The trip consists of four mountains altogether. Pico Austria at 5,350m as an acclimatisation summit, and then the more technical ascents of Pequena Alpameyo (5,370m), Huana Potosi (6,088m), and finally Illimani (6,438m). All mountains are situated in the Cordillera Real range of the Andes, all within Bolivia.

Day one (and two in fact) was one long long haul to get to Bolivia itself, a distance of some 7,500 miles from London where my flying journey began. I would fly American Airlines to Miami, and then after a four hour layover from Miami to La Paz, the highest capital city in the world. The first flight was 9 hours and the latter 6 and a half.

First view of Illimani flying into La Paz

First view of Illimani flying into La Paz

The arrival at La Paz airport was at 7am local time, and by the time we got to the hotel I had been travelling for nearly 28 hours all told.

The airport at La Paz is actually well above the city, itself at 3,650m, or 12,000ft. The airport sits on the Altiplano, a high plateau at 4,100m (13,500ft). Getting off the plane at this altitude without acclimatisation was something else, the air so noticably thinner that just walking a few steps was a chore. Following a fairly painless customs and passport check, we stopped for some photographs straight out of the airport itself, looking down from El Alto into La Paz itself.

First view down into La Paz itself from El Alto, at 4,100m

First view down into La Paz itself from El Alto, at 4,100m

Following a steep journey into town we checked into our hotel, the Ritz Aparthotel in downtown La Paz. The hotel was really nice, much nicer than I had expected. The standard room rates here were about $150 a night, which must be a king’s ransom in Bolivia. Having been allocated our rooms, some of us went for a quick explore round town, stopping for a quick beer along the way (it would have been rude not to, even if I didn’t feel exactly 100%!).

The streets of La Pax, near the church of San Sebastian

The streets of La Pax, near the church of San Sebastian

Another typical (if quieter) La Paz street scene. The lady wears the bowler hat if she is married.

Another typical (if quieter) La Paz street scene. The lady wears the bowler hat if she is married.

Another typical downtown city scene. Pacēna is the local beer, meaning "of La Paz".

Another typical downtown city scene. Paceña is the local beer, meaning “of La Paz”.

In the afternoon we got to meet our Jagged Globe guide, Olan Parkinson. Olan had just returned from another identical trip, and gave us a bit of information about what to expect etc. I then put my head down for about two hours as I was absolutely wiped out. About three hours sleep in the last 24 hours had seen to that.

In the evening Olan took us with two of the local guides to a local restaurant. It was clearly quite smart by La Paz standards, and the food was as nice as it was unexpected. I stayed safe and went for pasta instead of venturing for local Bolivian fare. I figured I’d see enough of that on the mountains themselves, and clearly Llama was very much the most popular dish.

So by now I’d got to meet all of the group. John, Alessandro, and Laura I’d met before on the pre-expedition weekend in Snowdonia some 6 weeks previously. All of the others were new faces, Gavin, (my roommate), another John, Jim, Lesley, and Patrick and Lotte from Norway who were the only ones who came together.

Bed came early that first night, even if sleep didn’t. I always tend to struggle the first night at altitude and this was no exception. I was awake probably very hour on and off. Hopefully the acclimatisation schedule that was planned over the next few days (it would be another three days before we’d head up into the mountains) would make things better.

So game on, as it were. Tomorrow was another day in La Paz to get used to the thin air, and it would be a great and eye opening adventure.

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