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Published: December 21st 2006
Huayna Potosi and the lights of La PazAbove the clouds
Looking down on the highest capital of the world.
It was certainly the earliest breakfast in my whole life: 11pm. Maybe you could argue that it wasn't a proper breakfast: A bit of bread and a cup of coca tea had to do. But early it was. Six hours later - it is still dark - we are standing at 5900 meters above sea level ready to tackle the final ascent to the peak of Huayna Potosi (6088m). I am sure now that I would make it to the top. The air is thin up here and for many climbers this is the hardest part - a nearly 200 meters wall which you have to clamber making full use of your crampons and ice-axe.
But I have had my crisis long before. About half way, just after the first wall I suddenly found myself with stomach cramps which left me so weak that the idea of turning around was more than just an option. I continued very slowly stopping Brigitte and our guide Lorenzo - to whom I am roped - every couple of minutes by just standing still and resting on my ice-axe. But as the peak has come closer the cramps have gone away and
now I feel that I could run up the mountain if it wasn't for Brigitte and Lorenzo in front of me.
However, even the slow pace is a good pace and the timing is perfect. Shortly before sunrise we reach the top as the first party of the three this day (we learn later that three other groups had to turn around). Happily exhausted and with frozen hands (two of my finger tips are still numb as I am typing these lines some four weeks later) we gaze dazed into the distance. Lake Titicaca to the West, the lights of La Paz to the South, the threefold peak of Illimani to the Southeast and a sea of clouds moving around below us. We appreciate how small we are and nevertheless we feel great. Before the climb
We had met the man whom everyone just calls "the doctor" the day before we left for the mountain. After hearing our concerns about the weather (November is not the prime climbing season) he took us by the hand and ran from internet cafe to internet cafe to check the latest satellite images from a German weather station giving his best to
interpret the data. I doubt that you can make any predictions for a 6000 meter peak from just one image but the fact that the doctor who happens also to be the owner of the tour company devoted more than one hour of his leisure-time to us gave a good impression. Following another check the next morning we decided to go.
After gearing up (all necessary equipment is included in the 130 US$ (off-season) price for a three day tour) we drove the one and a half hours or so to Paso Zongo where the company runs a nice refugio at 4750 meters. We spent the afternoon on the glacier face practising crampon techniques before we got served a delicious dinner and went to bed. The next day we ascended to the base camp which sits at about 5200 meters and - surprisingly - still provides such luxuries like windproofness and mattrasses. We ate dinner at 6pm and after a short snooze breakfast at 11pm. Whether it was the prognosis of the doctor or pure luck I don't know. But we happened to have brilliant weather on the mountain although we hadn't seen the peak from below in 24 hours. Good to know
*Spend at least one week acclimatizing above 3500 meters and do some excursions to 4000 meters or more.
*The possible evils which can get you at high altitudes are many. While most people can't sleep and lose their appetite, many suffer from headaches. Some get the runs while others have to vomit. The cold can be another problem. It is hard to predict what will affect you before you are there.
*Consider the fact that one of your party has to turn around. If you have only one guide this means that the adventure is over for everybody. Thus, taking a spare guide for the ascent might be a good idea.
*Keep your camera (battery) warm to avoid malfunctioning at the top.
*Walking times: Paso Zongo to base camp: 2-3 hours. Base camp to summit: 4-7 hours.
*For the guides, the equipment and the food we can only recommend Huayna Potosi Tours.
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