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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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……