Bolivian Climber Day Seven

So today was the day that we would do our first climb. I was apprehensive, but not overly, as at least the climb was non-technical. But having not acclimatised as quickly as I would have hoped, then getting to above 17,500 feet may stretch me a little too far. There was of course only one way to find out.

The day was considerably cooler and windier than we had had previously, but the sky was totally clear. We had been forecast a dusting of snow for the afternoon, but hopefully nothing serious. After a breakfast of fruit and cereal, we were on our way by 9am, our objective the summit of Pico Austria. Pico Austria is a trekking peak, and hence there was no need to carry crampons or axes or use mountain boots. I just used approach shoes although most others used hiking boots.

Waking up at Condoriri Base Camp

Waking up at Condoriri Base Camp

The camp is in a bowl and is flanked by 5,000m peaks and so the sun takes a while to reach it and warm us up a bit.

The camp is in a bowl and is flanked by 5,000m peaks and so the sun takes a while to reach it and warm us up a bit.

We started off very slow and steady, the sun beginning to warm us up only gradually, and this was never really a day for a single layer, so light jackets were the norm. As we climbed out of base camp the views of the surrounding mountains began to get better and better, and base camp itself became a speck down below.

Setting off for Pico Austria.

Setting off for Pico Austria.

Llama are never far away in these parts.

Llama are never far away in these parts.

The group after about half way began to split, as fitness and acclimatisation rates took their toll. I stayed deliberately towards the back, just only wanting to do the bare minimum to get me up the mountain. Even though this was a serious summit, it was still supposed to be an acclimatisation peak, readying us for the main events ahead over the next two weeks. We could see as we climbed a better view of Pequena Alpameyo, which would be our first serious test in three days time. It looked quite frankly like a big pointed dome of ice, and I just pushed it to the back of my mind.

Taking a breather at about the half way point above 5,000m, the landscape changing quite significantly up here.

Taking a breather at about the half way point above 5,000m, the landscape changing quite significantly up here…

....and the views improving too!

….and the views improving too!

Not too far from the summit, Patrick passed his own altitude record of 5,189m, almost at the same time as his partner Lotte began to feel nauseous. Gavin hung back with them alongside a guide, and I stopped too, and we just meandered from there very slowly to the top, the others having already got there safely.

The final slog up the summit ridge.

The final slog up the summit ridge.

The summit was a largely safe affair, although it had a massive precipice behind the summit stones themselves. It was great to be there, and I felt fine, this being officially 5,340m, about the same height as Everest Base Camp, and the 650m of ascent had taken us just under three hours.

Gavin, Alessandro, Patrick and Lotte at the summit...

Gavin, Alessandro, Patrick and Lotte at the summit…

...and me and Wine Bear make it too :)

…and me and Wine Bear make it too 🙂

And my watch says 5,335m, or 17,600 feet.

And my watch says 5,335m, or 17,600 feet.

If you zoom in you'll see base camp down there by the lake a long way below.

If you zoom in you’ll see base camp down there by the lake a long way below.

We stayed up top for about half an hour and had lunch. I managed to get a fair few photos of Wine Bear, my Pete’s Dragons mascot. I think everyone now knew why I carried a teddy bear with me, which hopefully stopped everyone from thinking I was a weirdo :O, but no matter, I was very happy and not a little emotional that by taking Wine Bear on as many travels as possible, I was helping to promote the charity that is so incredibly dear to me.

In fact here's me and Wine Bear, and another nudge for Pete's Dragons, just for posterity......:)

In fact here’s me and Wine Bear, and another nudge for Pete’s Dragons, just for posterity……:)

At about 12.30 we began our descent. This was by slightly different route for the top third, allowing a scree ski for a fair while, which made for considerably more rapid progress than would otherwise have been the case. In fact the whole descent took only an hour or so.

Part of the descent through the scree field.

Part of the descent through the scree field.

Oh and for those of you who are interested, here’s my Garmin record of the climb: https://www.strava.com/activities/366959825

Back at camp we were fed some hot soup which was very welcome and then decamped to our tents for a while. At 4 when I was just about to fall asleep, we were called to go and do some fixed line practice, which was a rude awakening if ever there was one. So with helmets, harnesses and fixed line systems donned, we went up and down some makeshift ropes to practice our techniques. For me at least, if not everyone, this was invaluable, as I have never got to use a fixed line system before, other than a brief practice up and down my stairs at home! With big mountain gloves on it is tricky, and I can imagine in snow and with some only mild hypoxia it could be very testing indeed. We also practiced some abseiling/descending with a figure of eight, although we may not need to use this in anger on the mountain.

Fixed line practice above Base Camp.

Fixed line practice above Base Camp.

And coming down the other side.

And coming down the other side.

After a dinner at the now customary time of 7pm, most of us retired very soon thereafter for an early night. Tomorrow we would get up onto the glacier for the first time, and so that should prove quite tiring too after what had been our first proper day doing the ‘exciting’ stuff. It would be above 5,000m again, but on ice and with crampons this time.

It had been a very successful day. A first summit in Bolivia, and 5,340m reached. So far so good then……

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 Réal. 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.