Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Bolivia 2019: Successful trip--here's the recap!

Sorry for the late blog update.  We've been back from Bolivia for about a week now--thankful to be back to the land of safe to eat food (staying healthy "gut-wise" is a challenge in 
Bolivia)!  Our expedition was a blast and quite successful.  Let me update you with some of the highlights.

We landed on 5/17 in La Paz (airport is over 13,000 feet) and spent a few nights/days there in the beginning and in between summits.  It was very hard to adjust to the altitude--as we essentially came straight from sea level.  Everyone felt a little out of sorts and I basically slept at most 1-2 hours over the first three days.  

Here are some pics from the city:

The city sits in a big valley, surrounded by several Andean mountains near by:

This is a view of the "Witch's Market":

La Paz street scenes:

Here is some of our team (l to r): Andrew, Geoff, Eric (guide), Anders and Andy (guide).  Missing is Rick and our Bolivian guide: Javier....

We first left La Paz and went north to the Peruvian border and acclimatized on Isla del Sol, a beautiful little village/island on Lake Titicaca.  This is home to about 3,000 souls who live a simple, agrarian life (no cars!).  We had several beautiful, easy hikes (4-5 hours):

The "road" to our Ecolodge--we had to climb about 600 vertical from the lake to get there (not easy at 13,000+):

Eric leading the way:

Truly stunning vistas!

Pretty flowers along the way:

Hiking scenes:

Anders and I hanging at the "Lodge":

The team hanging on the shores of Lake Titicaca.  Being competitive guys, before long we had a skipping stone contest and a "who can hit the buoy way out there with a stone first" contest.  (Which btw, I won...):

Javier and I ending a great day!

We left Isla del Sol and travelled through Copacabana and eventually made our way to the Condoriri valley.  Here, the 8 of us successfully climbed Tarija (17,241 feet/5,255 meters) and then the team, without Javier/myself also climbed nearby Pequeño Alpamayo (17,618 feet/5,370 meters).  After discussing with Eric, I elected to just sumit the first peak as I was the slowpoke on the team and we were worried about getting stuck high up on the glacier with a storm coming in.

No worries on my part as it was an awesome day for sure.  Tarija had a very technical section (for me) that involved about 10-15 foot/8 inch wide ice bridge with hundreds of feet of exposure on both sides followed by a 60+% ice wall that I climbed with my front points and ice axes.  Exciting but scary for sure--especially coming back down, which I did backwards--no style points there!

The climb to Pequeño Alpamayo was very rewarding for Anders and the rest of the team and involved some class 4 rock scrambling and a 60%, multiple pitch Neve section.  All told, it took me about 9 hours and the rest of the team about 11.5 hours:

Leaving Isla--the increasingly old man and the sea:

Copacabana pictures:

You'd definitely pay the price to eat any of this....

Heading towards the Condoriri base camp...

Hiking in the valley....

The Condoriri Valley--amazing!!!! (Yes, it does look like this!)

 Anders on the approach climb to Tarija, through the glacier, as the sun is rising:

 The C Boys (again).  The steep climb to the summit of Tarija is behind us....

Might be a little hard to figure this one out.  This is a screen shot from my Go Pro and I'm on the final summit ice wall climb.  You can see one of my crampons front pointing and the world of course looks sideways as you ascend.  Ice axes above....several hundred feet of exposure below...My heart was in my throat!

 On the summit of Tarija! Pequeño Alpamayo behind me.

Behind me is Huyana Potosi (3 days later we would be on top of it....)

Javier and I on the summit of Tarija:

 A view towards neighboring Pequeno Alpamayo:

 Anders and team on final approach to the summit of Alpamayo (summit is behind the spur they are on here):

Javier and I heading back to base camp:

Tent life...

The night of the Tarija summit, despite being ever so careful, I came down with a bit of a stomach bug, which I dealt with via Cipro and Imodium for two days.  This plus the altitude ( I wasn't really able to sleep the first three nights) left me a bit out of sorts for pretty much the entirety of the trip (not really that unusual given how high we were right from the start).

Heading back to the trailhead the next day....

After summiting on Wednesday the 22nd (5 days after landing), we travelled to Huyana Potosi--only about 20 miles as the crow flies, but it took us 4 hours as we had to return almost all the way to La Paz, in route. We slept in a "Refugio" at the trailhead that night as we treated Thursday the 23rd as a bit of a rest day.  The next morning, we climbed about a 2 hour trail (+1,500 feet) to another Refugio this one wasn't and nice and had no working bathrooms).  Here we "slept" (not really) and woke up a 1am on Saturday the 25th and then Andy, Anders and I departed a little before two am.

Huyana Potosi is a 19,974 foot/6,088 meter peak that requires about 6+ miles of glacier climbing and some 3,200 feet of net vertical ascent (and about 4,700 feet of descent back to the trail head).  It's really big.

The first 3-4 hours were filled with beautiful climbing.  After a challenging rock scramble, that had several fixed lines, we climbed up a 30-40 degree glacier.  We could see the lights of La Paz below.  However, as we neared the cruz of the climb (60 degree, +700 foot headwall) the wind really picked up and I became very cold.  I had trouble regulating my core temp and was wondering if it made sense for me to try to tackle the icy/steep headwall.  We were above 19,000 feet at this point and I was no doubt impacted by that as well.

However, my rope/team mates, Andy and Anders, came to my rescue and helped me get some warmer clothes on--this is harder than it sounds on a glacier at altitude (I went to 5 layers including my big 850 loft down puffy).  This helped a lot, as well as all the encouragement they gave me.  I had to move slowly and rest from time to time, but after about 2 hours of zig-zagging up the super steep wall, we finally reached the summit (joining Eric, Geoff and Andrew).  This was an extremely satisfying peak to bag.  I had to dig really deep.  The exposure was sobering.  It turns out, this is the highest peak that Anders and I have stood on at the same time (we both climbed Aconcagua before, but summited a year apart).  HP is the second highest mountain I have climbed and Anders' 4th highest (although, he has obviously spent a lot of time higher than this in the Himal).

Truly great and epic day (took 11+ hours in total):

These are not climber graves (thankfully) but rather those of miners--this is a region where that was big in days long past.  HP is the big peak in the 2nd picture:

Here we go again!

Anders, early on summit morning, with La Paz in the distance:

On the head wall--side stepping required....

Eric offers congrats as I reach the summit! Andy and Andrew behind...

Anders on the summit:

We did it together--truly a  magical experience!  We brought a picture of the family to the summit as well!

It was hard to beat that experience and we didn't.  We returned to La Paz and rested there next day, Sunday, the 26th.  During the afternoon, we even went to a local English Pub and a pint and fish and chips.  I was toast after one beer.  That night, Anders and I stayed in and had room service while the rest of the team went out for pizza.  This turned out to be the wrong call as they all got very sick (Andy and Geoff seemed ok) and ended up throwing up for there next 3-4 days (Cipro to the rescue).

We drove the 6 hours to Sajama on Monday, but the winds were ripping (50+ mph) and forecasted to stay strong.  With most of the team being really sick (Rick stayed back in La Paz) it was a no brainer to pull the plug (even healthy, the conditions were not safe to climb in) and drive back to La Paz.  We returned around 8pm and with Judy's help back in the states, woke up at 12:45am for an early morning departure.  We had a safe trip back including a nice breakfast together in Lima, Peru before we split apart.

Tremendous trip!  Memories for a lifetime....and a final look at Sajama--which we left for others to climb!  

A special thanks to Andy and Anders for helping me through there HP climb--I could not have done it without my teammates!