Learning How To Climb

July 25, 2006
Day 300
Huayna Potosi Climb Day 1

Picture of Huayna Potosi.

Huayna Potosi from the taxi.

I was supposed to get picked up at my hotel at 9:00 today. Someone showed up at 9:30, but there still was no car. Instead, I had to walk up the hill to a tour agency office and wait some more. About 11:00, a taxi finally showed up and explained that traffic was really bad. What more can I say? This is Bolivia.

On the way to base camp, I got to know my guide, Gervacio. He's been a mountain guide for five years. Before that, he was a cook, and before that, he was a porter. This year alone, he's climbed Huayna Potosi eight times. It's good that I'm going to be with someone who knows what he's doing.

When we got to base camp at 4700 meters, we ate lunch and discussed the plans for the next few days. Today will be a practice day where I'll learn how to use an ice ax and crampons. More importantly, it will give me an extra precious day to get acclimated to the extreme altitude. Tomorrow we'll climb to the high camp at 5130 meters. I'll be able to relax most of the afternoon and adjust once again to an even higher altitude. I'll have to go to bed quite early because on day three, we want to start walking by 1:30 AM to reach the summit by sunrise. Then we will begin the long walk all the way back to base camp to catch a ride back to La Paz.

One thing I wasn't prepared for was carrying a lot of stuff. I thought I would only have to carry my own clothes, but Gervacio and I are going to split what we carry because there are no porters. It's not a big deal except I only brought my daypack which isn't nearly big enough. Luckily, one of the guides lent me his pack, but it's still not very big. Hopefully I'll find a way to squeeze it all in tomorrow morning.

After lunch we loaded up all of the climbing gear and did a practice run. We walked over a dam that generates electricity for the area and up about one-third of the way to the high camp, where there is a glacier. There I got to test out my mountaineering jacket and pants, boots, crampons, and ice ax. We walked up and down the ice a bit until I had a feel for it, then we started using the ice axes on small walls of ice.

When I was ready for a bigger challenge, Gervacio climbed up the side of a cliff and rigged up a safety rope system. Then I proceeded to climb the sheer face to the top. Afterwards, I repelled down to the ground. I was surprised how well the ice axes and crampons stuck to the ice, making the climb easy and fun. We won't have to do much difficult climbing to reach the summit, but the test run was still a great introduction to ice climbing.

After our practice, we returned to base camp for dinner and bed. So far, I feel great. We went up a few hundred meters today and I barely got winded. I feel really good about my chances of reaching the summit in two days.

The photo album for this entry is here.

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