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.
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 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.
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.