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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.