July 26, 2006
Huayna Potosi Climb Day 2
I had a long sleep last night, and we had a leisurely start today. One problem that became apparent right away was that I didn't have enough room for all of my stuff in the small backpack that was provided for me. I'm still kicking myself for not bringing my full-sized backpack. I made due by carrying the tent, my crampons, and my harness on the outside and wearing my mountaineering boots (which aren't needed for today) and leaving my regular hiking boots behind.
We didn't start hiking until about 9:30, but that was OK because we only had to get to the next camp today. Gervacio set the pace slow on purpose, and I'm glad he did. The weather should be fine at the summit, so the main reason people fail is because they didn't wait long enough to acclimatize themselves properly. Slow and steady wins the race.
On the way up, we met two Spaniards going up without a guide and a few groups of people on their way down. When we got to the top (no problem at all), we were greeted by several other groups of climbers. It seems that I will be joined by about twenty others in my quest for the summit. The climbers look like a mixed group of experienced mountaineers who don't even need a guide, newbies with expensive tents and gear, and people sleeping in a tent held up by nothing more than two trekking poles.
I sat around all afternoon, ate as much food as I could get down my neck to build up energy for tomorrow, and listened to the guides talk to one another in Aymara. Yesterday I heard Gervacio speak Aymara and I figured that he was a special example, but today I learned that everyone from this region (except La Paz) speaks Aymara as their native language. They don't speak Spanish until they learn it in school.
It was surprisingly hot all afternoon. Temperatures probably reached 18 C (65 F) with no wind and almost no clouds in the sky. The view of the base camp, glacier, and summit were picture-perfect. The base camp looked very far away but the summit didn't look any closer for some reason. By 3:00, the daily winds and their accompanying clouds wiped away all fantasies that this was a relaxing picnic on the beach.
I started to feel a slight headache late in the afternoon, but maybe it was psychosomatic. I didn't have a novel to read, so I foolishly brought my trekking guide with me for entertainment and started to read about altitude sickness, which can eventually lead to cerebral and pulmonary edema, both potentially deadly conditions. Coincidentally, as soon as I started reading about altitude sickness, my headache started up. I don't exactly want fluid to fill my brain and lungs, so I might have to turn back if the problem gets much worse toward the top.
I did nothing all afternoon while people shuffled in, set up camp, and practiced climbing with their crampons. Just watching them made me tired. It seemed pretty crazy that people without any previous experience climbing mountains would get rushed to this altitude, practice with their equipment, then be expected to climb to the top, all within about twelve hours. I attempted to go to bed by 7:00, knowing that I'd have to be up by 1:00 for the long walk to the summit.
The photo album for this entry is here.