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.

Bolivian Climber Day Six

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 RĂ©al. 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.

The sun nearly reaches our tents at our first morning waking under canvas.

The sun nearly reaches our tents at our first morning waking under canvas.

And looking up the valley, the sun is about to poke its head around Huana Potosi too.

And looking up the valley, the sun is about to poke its head around Huana Potosi too.

The llamas meantime, know how to seek out a sunny spot.

The llamas meantime, know how to seek out a sunny spot.

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!

Huana Potosi - not looking quite so imposing here, but in real life it is quite a sight.

Huana Potosi – not looking quite so imposing here, but in real life it is quite a sight.

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.

The Condoriri range comes into view.

The Condoriri range comes into view.

And the mule train brings in all of our equipment and supplies.

And the mule train brings in all of our equipment and supplies.

The mules passing us by at their own quite sedate pace, but I would too if I had a table on my back!

The mules passing us by at their own quite sedate pace, but I would too if I had a table on my back!

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.

On our way into Condoriri Base Camp - this lake is at 4,600m.

On our way into Condoriri Base Camp – this lake is at 4,600m. Pico Austria, tomorrow’s objective, is on the left.

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.

Camp is set again, this time we will be here for five nights at Condoriri Base Camp.

Camp is set again, this time we will be here for five nights at Condoriri Base Camp.

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.