Back from Bolivia…and straight into the mountains again!

La Paz - not a place to go if you don't like pigeons.

I’ve just got back from an amazing trip to Bolivia, where I was leading KE Adventure’s “Bolivia Climber” trip. The trip takes in some sightseeing around Lake Titicaca, some high altitude trekking and finally 3 glaciated peaks in the Cordillera Real. Bolivia is an incredible country, with amazing and varied scenery and great people – I will definitely be back next year. In the meantime, here’s a load of photos and a short description of our trip.

We began in La Paz, the World’s highest capital city at a headache inducing 3600 metres. Luckily we had a couple of days there to relax and begin the long process of acclimatisation.

From La Paz we moved to Lake Titicaca, the World’s highest navigable lake (whatever that means) which, at 3810 metres, looks like a normal beach/lake, but certainly doesn’t feel like one when you try and run! We spent an amazing couple of days on the Island of the Sun, and then a further 2 in Copacabana (not that one), on the shore of the lake.

Llamas and Lake Titicaca

Acclimatising Bolivian style - the boat ride to the Island of the Sun

Sunset from the highest point on the Island of the Sun

Nothing cultural here- it just cracked me up seeing pigs living on a beach!

Reed islands on Lake Titcaca

Little fella on the reed island

By this stage we were acclimatised enough to begin trekking, and drove deep into the Cordillera Real, using the 4×4 vehicles that we were going to see a lot of over the coming few weeks.

The trekking stage was quite easy, as it needs to be when acclimatising, but the scenery was spectacular and it was great to ease into the trip, get plenty of photos and generally enjoy being in such a wild mountain range.

Another hard day at the office - driving to the start of the trek

Testing out the Gamow/Pac Bag, a vital bit of kit when going to altitude

The locals in the trekking regions are a bit unusual

Posing down on Argentine Peak during the trek

After 10 days or so in Bolivia we couldn’t avoid climbing any longer (!), and we arrived at Condoriri base camp in order to attempt our first objective – Pequeno Alpamayo (5350 metres) .  An alpine start saw us on the glacier at sunrise, and everyone made it to Peak Tarjika, the subsidiary summit. From there only 3 people wanted to carry on to the main summit, so myself and 2 local guides headed up too, and we summitted after about 2 hours of quite technical ridge climbing. Unfortunately the clouds had arrived by this time, and this turned into a full blizzard during our descent, but you can’t win them all.

Condoriri Base Camp

On the way to Pequeno Alpamayo

The summit of Pequeno Alpamayo from Tarjika

Mark and Sam on the summit ridge

Walking down the glacier in bad weather. Not sure I get paid enough for this!

Knackered! Back at Base Camp.

After a good night’s sleep at base camp it was back in the 4x4s and a long drive round to our first 6000er – Huyana Potosi (6088 metres). This is a popular peak, and as such there 2 refuges to stay at, which was nicer than the tents but they’re still not a patch on huts in the Alps!

The summit day is a long, long glacier plod with the odd technical step thrown in, and then culminates with an incredible, exposed ridge walk. With our hard won acclimatisation we were the fastest party on the mountain and we reached the ridge as the first rays of sun arrived, and summitted with Lake Titicaca and the Andes emerging into the dawn – incredible.

Sunrise from the top of Huyana Potosi

This is what 6000 metres looks like

One last summit shot, looking back at the Cordillera Real

After a long descent to the road head, a bumpy drive back to La Paz, and a well earned rest day, it was time for our final objective, Illimani (6400 metres). However, after a spectacular walk to base camp and a very comfortable night, we awoke to find ourselves in cloud, and not long after, a snow storm. Illimani is a notoriously serious peak, and is climbed relatively rarely, so it’s not just a case of following the path. If visibility is poor or if it starts snowing, it is a decidedly bad place to be. We gave the weather a couple of hours to clear up, but having had quite unsettled weather all the way through the trip and with it showing no signs of picking up, we abandoned our attempt and relocated to Wila Mankilijami (5350 metres), a 6 hour drive away. Although much smaller, it was nice to get a final peak in, and good to salvage something from the last week.

Driving to Illimani, but it wasn't to be

Our man in Bolivia - Juan. Legend.

With one day left, a group of us decided that there was nothing for it but to go and cycle the infamous “Death Road” which appeared on BBC Top Gear not long ago. I wasn’t expecting a huge amount from the day, but I was blown away by the length of the ride, the scenery, and the quality of the riding. There is no less than 45 km of off road, and it is ALL downhill (save for about 300 metres of flat), and there was no restriction on speed, so I did what any sensible, inexperienced mountain biker would and tanked it all the way despite having virtually no brakes. It rained all day, it was great fun and I crashed twice – what a day. Unfortunately my camera had broken by this stage so no photos but hopefully someone will email me some soon and I’ll put them up.

The journey back to Chamonix was LONG but well worth it for having been to such an amazing country – I really can’t recommend it highly enough. Thanks to Cherry, Alan, Will, Mark, Dave and Sam. Same time next year?!?!

Miami on the long journey home. Probably not a place I'll rush back to.

After a day of relaxing in Cham I was straight back into the hills, and Peter and I climbed the uber classic “Kuffner Ridge” on Mont Maudit (4465 metres) after a night in the Fourche hut. Exposed and in an unbelievable position on the wild south face of Mont Blanc, the ridge is never hard but continually interesting, and definitely a route where avoiding falling at all costs is the most important thing! Anyway, I’ll let Peter’s photos do the talking….

Me on the famous snow arete on the Kuffner

High on the ridge

On the final buttress

Me just below the summit

There had been mutterings about tagging the summit of Mont Blanc too, but it looked a mighty long way from the top of Mont Maudit, and we were happy enough just heading down to the Valley with a classic route in the bag without standing on top of Europe too!

Peter on the summit of Mont Maudit, with Mont Blanc behind.

Its great to be back anyway, and I’ve now got 5 days until I’m back to UK, so I’ll be looking to make the most of this good weather and get out again over the weekend.

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