The Bolivian Andes

The first major expedition undertaken – climbing Huayna Potosi and Illimani, both of which are over 6,000m, in Bolivia, with additional climbs up slightly smaller mountains like Pequeno Alpamayo. Exhausting – literally a journey that left us breathless, with the extreme altitude really taking its toll on us even as we arrived into La Paz, which rests at 3,600m. A great learning experience, giving us true ideas of how tough we could expect things to be with future journeys.

Landing in La paz…

…already left us breathless. This was our first time above 2,000m, so flying up from Sao Paulo to 3,600m in this city was already a challenge. Natalia even momentarily passed out the first night. We gave ourselves plenty of time to acclimatise, however, before the main expedition started – able to enjoy a ride along the “death road” and then get to the Salar de Uyuni, where we also managed to see the Train Cemetery. Quite an amazing country, though eventually the time came for us to meet the team who would be joining us on the climbs ahead.

At the first base camp we went to, at Pequeno Alpamayo, I got pretty sick; we thought it might be altitude, though I felt it was different… very sudden; stomach issues and vomiting… not nice! but then the day after guide and two other people came down with the same symptoms, so camp wasn’t too pleasant. We figured that it was some kind of food poisoning. Eventually we recovered, but just as we did, Natalia (who had been on antibiotics beforehand because of an infected cut after falling from her bike) came down with it and she took longer to recover, so the rest of the time there wasn’t so enjoyable for her.

We managed to head up the mountains though, and the experience was exhausting and terrifying. Am not so great with heights, and going up the knife edge ridge to the summit of Huayna Potosi, with near vertical drops of hundreds of metres either side of the narrow path, was quite… dizzying! This coupled with the altitude made progress so very slow as every step seemed to take an eternity. That ridge, which is around 400metres or so… must have taken us about an hour to get to the summit.

Illimani presented the greatest challenge, however, and I still feel regret and annoyance on thinking about it. The guide got us up two hours too late and progress again seemed to be so slow; so slow that we had to turn back about 300m below the summit. Very disappointing and I still think about whether we could have made it had we got up when we should have got up. I do think it would have made a difference. But ah well… the mountain will always be there (though the snow might be slightly reduced), so it is better that we didn’t push it too far.