Bolivian Climber – postscript

And so my trip came to an end prematurely. There was no going back to the mountains, and not even really second thoughts once I had come down to La Paz. I did actually see a doctor at my hotel, just to get checked out so to speak. He said I was as fit as a fiddle, and that my blood pressure was 120/80. I am not sure that I believed him, but I certainly felt the benefits of being at just 13,000 feet or so.

Over the next two days I ate steak, drank wine, enjoyed La Paz, and booked myself an early ticket home. I met up with the rest of the gang who had come down to rest for a day whilst they recovered from not having been able to attempt Pequena Alpameyo. They went up the next day to try to do summit two, Huana Potosi, and some summitted, but that was the end of the line summitwise – Illimani was a no go area due to dangerous avalanche risk, and so didn’t happen for anyone. The mountains, and the weather gods, won this time, as so often happens. The overall trip report is below from our outstanding leader Olan:

In the meantime, I got delayed going home by snow, saw more of La Paz and Llama foetuses than I really needed to, and generally killed time, no more of which I need to record here. I had had a fabulous adventure though, which was capped off by the following when I was flying from La Paz to Santa Cruz in Bolivia on the first of a long leg home:…………………I have left it ‘unedited’ from how I wrote it at the time, which was Friday the 14th August:

“Oh my God” The phrase is so overused. A bit like awesome, a word I have never much cared for.

Today however I have used both, a lot.

I am sitting in seat 1A of an American Airlines 757, flying over the Amazon jungle. I’ve never seen it before until today, and is absolutely staggering to the point of being overwhelming.

From this point in my flight, it just got more and more amazing.......

From this point in my flight, it just got more and more amazing…….

From this.....

From this….. this......

….to this…… this.....

….to this….. this!......

…to this!……

...and this.....:)

…and this…..:)

This, is the Rio Grande. The greatest tributary, and the lead in, to the biggest river in the world, the Amazon. It discharges more water than the world’s next seven rivers added together apparently. Truly there are no words, in my language at least, to describe how utterly amazed I feel just looking down on it.

I have taken probably 50 photographs on my phone out of the window, none of which I know will ever even begin to convey the marvel, wonder and jaw dropping majesty of what I am seeing. The way the various tributaries snake backwards and forwards, the brownness of the water, the denseness of the jungle for unimaginable distances of vastness, the so abundant and different shades of green, which couldn’t even be replicated on the world’s most complicated supercomputer.

So many thoughts run through my mind: Why have I never been here before? Why is it declining in terms of deforestation as badly as it is and how can governments let it happen? What do the people who live down there think? Do they know how utterly, ridiculously amazing it is? I honestly thought I had seen it all when I saw the Himalayas, or Kilimanjaro and the plains of the Serengeti, but this is better, bigger, and more fantastic, if that is even imaginable as a ‘thing’. I feel incredible.

I feel so very lucky today, and just wanted to capture those thoughts. My plane out of Bolivia (firstly out of La Paz down to Santa Cruz) to Miami was delayed by an hour and a half due to ‘maintenance issues’. When I get to Miami I will miss my connecting flight out of here back to the UK, and have to probably sleep on this floor of the airport. None of that matters. I have seen under almost cloudless skies the majesty of this earth. The Bolivians have a name for this – Pachamama, the Mother Earth. Well Mother Earth, I see now, clearly, and almost for the first time, just how stupendously beautiful you really are.


So here we go again then. It’s time for an update on proceedings, and I have decided, after much deliberation, to head to Bolivia this summer. Why? Well you might well reasonably ask that question, and even if you don’t, then for posterity, here goes:

I had decided a couple of years ago, probably much against the laws of physics, or at least my own physiology, to try to do the Seven Summits. Kilimanjaro was fine. But having had ‘a bout’ of AMS (the onset of HACE, in fact) on Elbrus, and then having had (albeit milder) AMS on Aconcagua which prevented me summiting, I have had to reconsider my endeavours therefore, and try to be realistic.

At best, I will spend a lot of money on the likes of Vinson and Karstenz Pyramid (both cost around $30,000 each) and may not summit either, and then don’t even know if I will be able to (regardless) get high enough on Aconcagua to succeed. Then there is Denali, a mountain which although “only” 6,000m, thwarts even hardened Everest veterans if the weather isn’t right. Oh yes, and whilst we are on that, Mount Everest – who am I trying to kid? Really?

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t given up, even despite the above analysis. I love the very thought of it. It’s inspirational, aspirational, and more exciting than anything I can think of. If anybody asks me if there is one place I’d like to go to on planet earth it is the summit of Mount Everest. That’ll probably never change, but I won’t get stupid, or obsessive, or both about it, promise.

I also don’t want to just give up on being ‘in the mountains’, as they are just a part of me. From being up on the Langdales in the Lake District, or Ben Nevis, or in the Alps on some random peak, I get a kick, of just being up there on top.

So anyway, after I got back from ‘not’ summiting Aconcagua this January, I deliberated for a little while about what I would do next. I was asked many times before I had even left Argentina if I was going to try it again. “I don’t know” was the best I could come up with, and I will still give that answer now, even if this is only some eight weeks later.

About two weeks after being back, I was up in Scotland to meet with (most of) the folks with whom I had been to Elbrus to last summer. We had a great weekend, and despite not being able to get near the summit of Ben Nevis due to very deep snow and high winds, three of us went up Aonach Mor the next day, with near perfect weather and a beautiful summit experience. Just being there made me feel so alive, so inspired, and so happy. I knew at that point that I had to do ‘something’ this summer, even if it wasn’t necessarily either Denali or some other Seven Summit related attempt.

On top of Aonach Mor, Ben Nevis in the background, January 2015.

On top of Aonach Mor, Ben Nevis in the background, January 2015.

En route to the summit of Aonach Mor. Fabulous, isn't it?

En route to the summit of Aonach Mor. Fabulous, isn’t it?

Looking down towards Fort William.

Looking down towards Fort William.


Over the last few weeks therefore, I’ve been trying to decide what to do, and the answer in the end was sort of prompted for me by one of the guides from IMG, with whom I’d been to Aconcagua with. He emailed me and asked if I’d like to join an IMG trip to Bolivia, where he was headed. He said it should be fine for me, whilst not being ‘quite’ as high as Aconcagua, it offered three mountains. They got progressively higher, and so offered good acclimatisation opportunities, and topped out at a mountain called Illimani (which I’d never even heard of before) at 6,462m.

Having looked at the itinerary I thought it looked great, and decided it was a definite possibility. In the end the dates for the IMG trip didn’t work out for me, and so I looked at Jagged Globe instead, who I knew also ran a Bolivia trip. At the same time as the Bolivia trip though, was an expedition to Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan. Peak Lenin is a bit of a beast (alright it is a monster, at 7,134m (23,405 feet) but that didn’t stop me wanting to try it! A week or so later, and after some ‘sensible’ conversations with Adele Pennington (thanks Adele :)), who has guided the Bolivian climber trip multiple times before, I was recalibrated – Bolivia it was!

Here is an excerpt from the Jagged Globe website about the Bolivian trip:

Straddling the Andes, Bolivia is an unspoilt and little visited country. Having landed on the Altiplano at 4,200 metres, you descend almost 1,000 metres from the airport to La Paz, where you relax for two nights. You then go back to the Altiplano to explore the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, spending a few days visiting sites of the Tiahuanaco, pre-Inca, civilisation. Then, ready to face the mountains, you enter a beautiful high mountain cirque at Condoriri. From here, you climb Pico Austria (5,100m) and Pequeño Alpamayo (5,337m), and do some glacier practice. Pequeño Alpamayo is a stunning climb along a well-defined ridge (50° in parts). Next you head for the bigger objectives of Huayna Potosi (6,094m) and Illimani (6,462m). Both mountains provide excellent glacier and snow climbs, with some easy ridge scrambling to get to the high camp on Illimani. The summit ridge on Huayna Potosi is not steep but it is exposed, whilst Illimani provides a very big summit day with a difficult section, which can involve 55° ice climbing at an altitude of nearly 6,000m.

So I signed up, just like that 🙂

Here are a couple of pictures that I have found so far of the climbs I will face:

Alpameyo has a pretty steep summit ridge....

Alpameyo has a pretty steep summit ridge….

...and Huayana Potosi looks like it has a bit of an "airy" summit :O

…and Huayna Potosi looks like it has a bit of an “airy” summit :O

I’ll post more in due course of what I face this summer (August), but I am learning that it will be a pretty technical climb in places, with some ice climbing and fairly technical rock and ice thrown in in places.

So to finish for now, I just did a quick search on the net for some good climbing/mountain quotes, not to help me, but to illustrate to some people who ask why it is what I do. It’s always hard to describe somehow, as frankly if you don’t get it, then you probably never will. These three are good starters though and are as follows:

Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” – Barry Finlay, ‘Kilimanjaro and Beyond’ (good book title by the way :))

“It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” – Sir Edmund Hilary

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

Meantime I have a few more low lying activities set up to get me in the best shape I can be. Tough Mudder, lots of running, cycling, and two goes at the Fan Dance for starters. More on those very soon!!