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.

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