Bolivian Climber Day Nine

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.

Breakfast alfresco. Cold, bitterly cold in fact.

Breakfast alfresco. Cold, bitterly cold in fact.

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 last look for me at the Condoriri range. It'd be the last time I'd be there, I knew that much already.

The last look for me at the Condoriri range. It’d be the last time I’d be there, I knew that much already.

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.

The main street of El Alto.

The main street of El Alto.

This is about as pretty as it gets.

This is about as pretty as it gets.

Although you do eventually get some good views down into La Paz.

Although you do eventually get some good views down into La Paz.

A better view of the sprawling La Paz.

A better view of the sprawling La Paz.

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.

Bolivian Climber Day Five

So today was the day that would see us finally move into the mountains. And as enjoyable an adventure as the last four days had been, we were all I think ready for it. The last couple of days had however seen a bit of altitude and a good bit of walking, but we were here for the mountains after all.

We breakfasted at the EcoLodge in Copacabana for the second and last time at 7.30, and after a bit of a delay for the bus to get to us due to traffic (today was Independence Day in Bolivia) we were on our way not long after 9.

The bus took us back about two thirds of the way to La Paz, and back over the little ferry crossing over the inlet of Titicaca. Then after a fascinating stop at a boat builder’s cottage who had been involved in the Kontiki expeditions, we turned off towards the Andes and our destination of Condiriri where Base Camp was situated.

Some parting shots of Titicaca, this one right the Peruvian Border...

Some parting shots of Titicaca, this one right the Peruvian Border…

...and this is Peru!

…and this is Peru!

And for posterity's sake, this is where we were...

And for posterity’s sake, this is where we were…

And it is back on the ferry again to cross back over the inlet....

And it is back on the ferry again to cross back over the inlet….

....with the bus following alongside us separately.

….with the bus following alongside us separately.

The boatbuilders cottage.

The boatbuilders cottage.

The road to Condoriri was just a dirt track, very bumpy and with virtually no passing places, so it was just as well in the hour or so that we were on it that we only met one other vehicle. The coach driver actually drove quicker on this road than he had on the main highway, making the ups and downs literally lift you off your chair at times.

We're in the wilderness now...

We’re in the wilderness now…

We stopped in the end in more or less the middle of nowhere, although there was one farm building nearby which seemed to be occupied. We were at 4,417m already, and we were to stop here (not at Base Camp as I’d thought before) for the rest of the day and night. We first ate lunch and then helped pitch tents next to a herd of llamas and alpacas (I’m still at times struggling to tell the difference between the two creatures, although I know that Llamas have longer necks, and that alpacas have more rounded backs).

Time to get camped then.

Time to get camped then.

A Trango 3 tent, home for however long it took from here.

A Trango 3 tent, home for however long it took from here.

After this we were free to take it easy if we wished, but everyone wanted to go and walk. Each side of the camp were ridges about 250m high, and so we all strolled up in various combinations, very much ‘pole pole’ style, as this took us to 4,650m (15,300 feet), much higher than we’d been so far.

If you zoom in you'll see our tents are down there in that valley somewhere.

If you zoom in you’ll see our tents are down there in that valley somewhere. Already this is 15,300 feet.

Huana Potosi (6,088m), nest week's objective, looms into view.

Huana Potosi (6,088m), nest week’s objective, looms into view.

When we got back down I had a bit of a mild headache so chose to just have a lie down in the tent, which was quite nice to just relax. By the time dinnertime came at 7pm it was completely pitch black, a reminder of the fact that despite the elevation, we were in the tropics after all, and so 12 hours of daylight and darkness are the year round constant. It was also now bitterly cold, and so two jackets, one down, hats etc were necessary to stay warm.

By the end of a three course dinner, when we got to meet our new guides, and had a briefing on what to expect over the next few days by Olan, it was time for an early night at about 8.30. Getting into a sleeping bag for the first time on the trip as in a way nice. It was the first time I’d been back in my bag since Camp Cholera in Argentina in January and my unsuccessful attempt to summit Aconcagua. I just hoped that this trip was going to give me some success, but of course I also just wanted it to be a good trip, be enjoyable, and to return home safely. Anything else is always a bonus.

Tomorrow we would need to have the tents down and our bags packed by 8am to trek to Base Camp at 4,700m, and our first summit attempt would be the day after that. It was all of a sudden getting very serious.