Now, if you look at the guide books they will tell you that this mountain is actually one of the easiest 6000m peaks in the world to climb. After doing this, i can only say that there is no such thing as an easy 6000m peak as the human body is just not supposed to survive at this altitude.
We chose a 3 day trip on the mountain to give us a good couple of days to aclimatise due to the fact that just walking around the streets of La Paz at 3600m made us pant for more air.
So, base camp, 4700m above sea level is where we set up our tents for our first day which consisted of a days climbing on the foot of the glacier getting our ice climbing skills up to scratch.
Our first nights sleep in the tent resulted in minus who knows what temperatures and the top of the tent being completely iced over by the time we woke in the morn. After a hearty breakfast cooked up by our chef we head off for the relatively small hike up to Rock Camp, 5200m above sea level. It only took
a few hours for us to hike up to here so the rest of the day we sat and watched most of the other groups coming down from their summit bids. Group after group of people stumbled back into camp, some who could hardly walk others who were near enough being carried and the few hardy souls who were bounding down and asking for more. They certainly made me a bit nervous seeing the state of a few people on their return and there was also many a story about people who simply never quite made it and had to return.
Luckily the affects of altitude sickness never seemed to affect me at this point in time so after a good meal around about 6ish it was time to go to bed and get some kip before our time to climb came around.
I must say that this was most certainly the earliest breakfast i can ever recall eating, 1.30 AM, along with the fact i had been awake most of the night listening in to the ever increasing wind i never really got things off to a good start. Breakfast served and i couldnt eat a
thing, the first true sign really of altitude sickness. Anyway, we had what we could then started to gear up for the climb. 2.30 AM was our set of time from Rock Camp and we had to make it to the top for around 7ish to catch the sunrise. I was with one of our guides roped to him while Kev and Dave were roped to the other.
We all set off in good spirits, feeling fit and raring to go. The best thing that i had to do was just get in rythem with the guides footsteps and just keep on plodding. One foot in front of the other. If i could keep this up i knew there would be no problem. So we continued, footstep after footstep, hour after hour. Obviously it was pitch black and the only light we had came from the headtorches we had strapped to the helmets so we couldnt see anything in front of where our heads were pointed. Mine was generally pointing at the feet of our guide and nowhere else.
Everything became very simple, there was absolutely nothing else to worry about apart from putting one foot in front of the
other and to keep going. My head felt fine, legs a little sore and then the first ice wall arose. Already there were a few groups waiting their turn to go up yet our guide shouted something in Spanish and we just flew in front of all of them and bounded up the wall. The top of this climb we had a quick rest and then once more bounded off behind our guides, not knowing where or what direction we were heading but just plodding on regardless. At this point my head began to throb a bit and the legs were really burning now yet there simply was no way i was going to turn back. Kev and Dave followed behind me in silent unison (pain) and we just kept on going until finally we reached the last hurdle.
The Ice Wall
To arrive on the summit you must overcome the hardest part of the climb. Your legs are burning, your head is throbbing from the lack of oxygen and in front of you, which luckily because of the darkness you cant see, is a 200 metre ice climb to the summit.
With the guide leading me we
were the first people to attack the cliff and soon a rythem became apparent. Sink in the ice axe, step twice with the feet, have a breather. Sink in ice axe, step up, have a breather. I must admit, at this point i was absolutely exhausted and really didnt think i could go much further. With Kev and Dave alongside me fighting in equal amounts we continued up the cliff face until finally the summit was in reach. It really did take everything i had to push to the top and i was absolutely knackered, fighting for breath that just wasnt there with my muscles in my legs screaming at me for more oxygen.
However, what a reward. The elation of achieving a dream of mine combined with the first rays of daylight spreading out over Bolivia made for a truly emotional moment. I could of cried had i had the energy for it!! A quick amount of backslapping from one another, including a small group who followed us to the top who we had no idea who they were yet it was nice to acknowledge the pain, and it was time to leave.
I must add at this point
i had had no water for about 3 hours due to my water completely freezing and my head was by now really banging, propably due to the lack of h2o. Yet we were only half way there, we now had to walk the rest of the way back as well. The morning sun was on us though and the views over Bolivia and the Cordillera Real were absolutely amazing and something that will stay with me for ever. Once more, i was completely exhausted and the only thing was to put my head down and plod on back, with an increasingly banging headache. I couldnt eat, i felt sick and my head was pounding but we made good time and arrived back to High Camp by 8.30 where i collapsed fully clothed along with ice boots into my bed and fell straight to sleep.
What a night. What a climb.
Heres a little bit of perspective for anyone who doesnt quite realise the height (mum)
Highest Mountain in Africa, Mt Kilimanjaro 5895m
Highest mountain in North America, a little taller at 6194, Mt Mckinley
Highest Mountain in all of Europe, Mt Elbrus, 5642m.
As i say, it has
been a dream of mine to climb a high peak ever since trekking through Nepal over the Thorong La pass a few years ago. So, one dream complete and onto the next. Not quite sure what yet but theres plenty out there.
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