Monthly Archives: July 2007

Return to Cusco

July 17, 2007
Day 657

This morning I took a bus to Cusco. The bus originated back in Puno, and at least half the passengers were tourists. Juliaca doesn't get tourists for obvious reasons. The ride took most of the day and passed through some pretty empty high altitude territory.

It was strange walking around Cusco again. I last was there in October, 2005, about one year and nine months ago, at the beginning of my trip. I had forgotten how nice Cusco was, with buildings that actually had completed roofs and paint, colonial architecture everywhere, two huge cathedrals in the central plaza, and no garbage in the streets. The center of the city was full of upscale restaurants, jewelry shops, and friendly police officers.

On the other hand, I had also forgotten how many tourists Cusco has. In the center of the city, tourists easily outnumber the locals. Many of them walk around in large guided groups, while others take along the whole family. They bring in a lot of money to Peru, but they also drive the prices up in the city and attract a multitude of thieves. It's not even possible to sit on a park bench for five minutes without ten different people coming up to you and trying to sell you something. Walking around is even worse. People constantly attempt their sales pitches on me: "My friend, come eat at my restaurant, only fifteen soles" (never mind that you can get a meal for two soles at many places), "Painting my friend?" "Finger puppets my friend?" "Massage my friend?" "Weed my friend?" (before shaving), "Charlie my friend?" (after shaving).The sheer amount of these annoying types is greater in Cusco than anywhere I've ever been, and this is only due to get worse now that Machu Picchu has been named one of the new seven wonders of the world, and Cusco is on the radar of high-end tourists around the world. Still, for better or worse, Cusco now is the center of tourism in Peru because it once was the center of the Inca empire, a fact that the Peruvians are quite proud of and tourists come here to experience.

Rockin' Out Juliaca

July 14-16, 2007
Day 654-656

Picture of Leo and Keru.

Leo and Keru before the concert.

Today I had to get up before sunrise to get as early a start as possible. The plan was to go to Juliaca, Peru for a heavy metal festival with Keru and his friends, who play in a band. They used to be called "SadomasoChrist," but now they're simply known as "The Undead." I met Keru, Eaves, Leo, Marcello, and Krubs near the cemetery where all the buses would leave from, while it was still dark and freezing cold.

We took the bus up the hill through the city to El Alto just as the sun was coming up. Once we got past El Alto it was just a few hours through the Altiplano to get to Desaguadero, on the border with Peru. I got my passport stamped out, walked across the open border, then got stamped back in on the other side. The others filled out some forms and hired a cart to take their luggage across because they had to cover their instruments, less they face a steep charge from the customs officials. We then had a longer ride around Lake Titicaca to Puno, then finally an hour or so in another bus to Juliaca.

Juliaca is different from most cities in Peru in that it's flat as a pancake. This makes the city perfect for tricycle taxis, which we rode to our hotel. At first it was great riding in front of a tricycle through the city, being free from a noisy, polluting engine, but soon the novelty wore off when a hundred cars, each sporting a noisy, polluting engine spread their fumes upon us.

We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and took a walk around town. Right away I noticed how, uh, unaesthetic it was. The buildings all had steel rods sticking up from them and looked unfinished, nothing was painted, there was garbage everywhere, there was not one tree or even a patch of grass, it was cold (Juliaca sits at 3840 meters), windy, and dusty. On top of that, there were disorganized markets everywhere, selling just about everything except paint, shingles, and garbage cans. The vendors flowed over the sidewalks and into the streets, so there was nowhere to walk. Cars kept passing us and nearly hitting us, but they weren't the biggest problem. The aforementioned tricycles, silent with no lights or reflectors, were constantly sneaking up on us and trying to put us out of commission. On several occasions, I witnesses a tricycle driver attempt to plow through an uncontrolled intersection rather than waste energy slowing down and speeding back up, only to come within inches of getting sideswiped by a motor vehicle.

After eating lunch and spending the afternoon shopping for heavy metal t-shirts, we went back to the hotel where the band prepared for the concert. We took another tricycle taxi to the outdoor arena just in time to see another band starting. I didn't recognize any of their songs, but the music was loud and fast, and the lead singer's voice had a certain simian quality to it. The audience was about ninety percent male, and everyone wore but one color: black. At one point, someone asked me with a straight face if I preferred death metal, black metal, or death black metal. I told him I liked Black Sabbath and he seemed pleased with my response.

Keru's band started playing later, and I decided to make the most of it and joined the mosh pit. It was great fun slamming into the Peruvian metalheads who were half my size and ten years my junior. I think I was the only person there who was not from Peru or Bolivia. Even though everyone tried to look as tough as possible, I didn't see any fights break out, nor were there even any police in sight. The night turned out to be a lot of fun, and I was glad I traveled as a roadie of sorts with The Undead.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Reflections of Bolivia

July 7-13, 2007
Day 647-653

Picture of La Paz.

La Paz, with Illimani in the background, and a sign for Evo Morales in the foreground.

My plan after getting back from the mountains was to rest a few days and catch up on some menial tasks. I washed my tent and all of my clothing, cleaned out my stove and pots, and bought a few small things I knew I'd need soon. I was soon ready to head to Peru.

I went to the bus station to buy my ticket, but the lady at one company said she couldn't sell me one until Friday. I thought that was strange and went to the next company. This time the salesperson told me the same, but added that there was a strike in Peru and all of the roads leading into the country were blocked. Every other company I talked to gave similar advice. It sounded like it was the miners once again. I got lucky a week ago when I missed the mining strike in Bolivia that left some of the main roads blocked. This time I wasn't so lucky and would have to wait a few days for the roads to open back up again.

It all seems to be happening in this region right now. Besides the mining strikes in both Peru and Bolivia, the bakers in La Paz recently went on strike, leaving no bread in the entire city. It started snowing in El Alto, and with no infrastructure for snow removal, many of the roads became impassible. I saw a bunch of kids and teenagers walking down the road one day dressed up like witches and shouting, but it turned out that they were just on there way to watch the latest Harry Potter film (yeah, it's even popular in Bolivia). There are protests in Sucre because the government wants La Paz to be the only capital of Bolivia, whereas Sucre has maintained its historical capital identity for decades. This latest strike will apparently shut down all commerce in La Paz one day next week. The city still seems peaceful, however. The only reason I know all of this stuff is happening is because the local people tell me. There are protests almost constantly in Bolivia, but they rarely turn violent.

Picture of beer sign.

A beer sign boasts La Paz's altitude of 3593 meters, while the much higher Illimani sits in the background.

In the meantime I spent some time hanging out with Keru, a local Pace?ño I met when I came to the city after the animal park, and his friends. We watched several Copa America soccer games, in which the US lost all of its games, Brazil barely beat Uruguay in the semifinals in a shootout, Argentina crushed Mexico in the other semifinal game, and Brazil easily won the championship, as expected. We also went to El Alto to visit the largest flea market in South America. Absolutely anything you could possibly want was for sale there. We saw tools, old t-shirts, bootleg CD's and DVD's, refrigerators, cars, and much, much more. I heard the Brewers were doing well this year, so I bought a new Brewers hat for $3. Leo got a Tickle Me Elmo for $2.50 and a "Pig Floyd: Pork Side of the Moon" t-shirt for $1.25. It took all day to see only twenty-five percent of the fair, and I was told that it was empty because it was a weekday. Oh yeah, the view of La Paz and the surrounding mountains was great too..

Bolivia is a great country to visit. There are so many interesting and unique things to see and do here. For example...

The Jungle: You can take a tour in the Amazon rain forest and discover the vast diversity of wildlife that exists there, or you can do as I did (twice) and buy a canoe and paddle it down an Amazon tributary to your heart's content. Or, if you really want, you can volunteer at an animal park walking through the jungle with a puma, no experience necessary.

The Mountains: There are several incredible mountain ranges in Bolivia. You can undertake treks that require major expeditions, like those in the Cordillera Apolobamba, or ones for which you don't even need a stove, tent, or guide, like those in the Cordillera Real. And if walking around the mountains isn't enough for you, you can also climb them. There are 6000-meter peaks that are climbable by anyone with a reasonable level of fitness, and those that require extreme technical climbing skills.

Culture: The European conquests have touched Bolivia less than any other country in South America. Outside the big cities, many people still speak native languages like Aymara and Guarani before they learn Spanish. People still practice ancient rituals like burying a llama fetus in their yard to ward off evil spirits. There are villages all over with no modern technology where life still is almost the same as it was before the Spanish arrived in South America. There are even still uncontacted tribes in the Amazon, not that I'd recommend visiting them. Even La Paz is interesting, sitting in a "bowl" at 3500 meters, with its mixture of (a small amount of) European influence and native traditions.

Unique Experiences: You can ride a bicycle down the world's most dangerous road. Or visit a silver mine with almost no modern technology. Or drive across the world's largest salt lake. Or see geysers erupting at 5000 meters at temperatures well below freezing (or at least try). Or see flamingos on colorful high altitude lagoons. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Money: If you don't have much of it, Bolivia is the place to be. You can get a hotel room for $2. Restaurant meals normally cost anywhere from fifty cents to $1. I once had a meal of soup, bread, salad, rice, a milanesa de pollo (a flat breaded piece of chicken), desert, and a glass of juice for sixty-three cents in La Paz. You can get a licuado (a smoothie of banana, papaya, strawberry, or a number of other fruits blended with milk) for twenty-five cents, or a large glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice for eighteen cents. A taxi across the city will cost $1, but if that's too much, you can take the bus for eighteen cents. And my favorite thing, the Internet, will cost you a quarter an hour to use.

Of course, Bolivia is a very poor country. A lot of people say it's dangerous, but if you take some simple precautions, it's unlikely anything bad will happen to you. I spent six months traveling around Bolivia and never got robbed there. The tourism infrastructure is bad, and you have to build a few extra days into your schedule for the inevitable delays, but travel there can be quite rewarding. For now the tourists who do come to Bolivia are almost all backpackers with very few high-end tours finding their way into the country. Still, Bolivia can be a great travel destination for anyone with some time, lots of patience, and a heart for adventure.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Time to Head Back to the Big City

July 6, 2007
Day 646
Condoriri Climb Day 4

I finally got to sleep all night last night. For once I had a real breakfast, too. After eating only stale bread for breakfast the last two days, my bowl of instant porridge felt like a meal fit for a king. My tent was covered with frost from the freezing high altitude air, but before I had time to dry it out, our donkeys arrived and it was time to leave.

Once again, I walked past the dam and reservoir, curving around a landscape sprinkled with mountains. The walk back seemed to take an instant now that my body had become accustomed to much higher altitudes and I didn't have to carry anything but my camera.

Back in Tuni, we had to wait forever for our taxi to show up. I was mad that we had to leave high camp so early, only to wait for over an hour for our taxi. When we finally left Tuni, the driver must have sensed that it was getting late. The long gravel road took an hour, but as soon as we hit pavement, we covered a larger distance in five minutes. I'm not sure how fast we were going because the speedometer wasn't working, as per the usual Bolivian specs, but we were flying around other cars and buses so quickly it felt like Ludicrous Speed compared to our gravel road travel.

When we got back to El Alto, it was a complete mess. I thought an earthquake had struck, but it turned out that the road was just under heavy construction, and there was no clearly-marked detour to take. We searched around the wreckage for half an hour before finding a small path leading into a drainage canal and back up to a passable road on the other side. Other cars all around us were also frantically searching for a similar route.

Eventually we made it back down to La Paz. I dropped off all of my rented gear and said goodbye to Teo and Pedro. I could finally catch up on sleep in a real bed and take a couple days to relax. Climbing mountains in Bolivia has been an amazing experience, but now I'm worn out and need to take a few days off.

The photo album for this entry is here.

One Final Summit

July 5, 2007
Day 645
Condoriri Climb Day 3

Picture of Pequeno Alpamayo.

From the bottom of Pequeno Alpamayo.

I was delighted today when I got to sleep in all the way till 1:00 AM. The moon was no longer full, but it was still high in the sky this time of night, almost eliminating the need for a flashlight, and giving us a great view of the Cabeza del Condor. Pedro, Teo, and I had a meager breakfast and left as soon as we could. Once again not a creature was stirring in the high camp.

The path was much easier to follow today with no rock slides. We just kept walking uphill for about forty-five minutes until we reached the snow. Pedro struggled to get to the point where we put on our crampons, and decided not to push any further. He must have had the flu or a bad cold, because he didn't think he had the energy to go up any higher. I felt really bad for him because he paid for this trip, but I think he took it really well. He's been all around the world and done a lot of climbing, so turning back must have been tough for him.

Teo and I put on our crampons and started climbing up. The path was pure ice at first, but soon it turned into tightly packed snow. The face we were climbing resembled a large ski hill with no powder. It was really wide and kept going straight up as far as I could see. There were a few large crevasses in the way, but they were easy to either walk around or step over.

After a few hours of steady walking, we reached the top of Pico Tarija, a small mountain on the way to Pequeno Alpamayo, the mountain we were trying to climb. From that point we could finally see our final goal for the day. When I saw it, I thought it didn't look as small as its name would suggest. From that point, we had to remove our crampons and climb about 100 meters down the rock wall of the other side of Pico Tarija.

At the bottom of Pico Tarija we were ready for the summit push. Some parts were steep, but not nearly as much as the other mountains I had recently climbed. It wasn't too difficult to climb, and before I knew it, we were at the summit, with about ten minutes to spare before sunrise.

True to form, Teo immediately had to call his friend to let him know he was at the summit. I guess there's good reception from the tops of mountains. I sat around looking at all the other peaks in the area and felt like a king, perched at the top of my kingdom. I imagined that there were people getting to the tops of all the other mountains I saw at about the same time, and that they were surveying their kingdoms as well.

Picture of base camp.

Back at base camp.

We stayed at the top again for awhile, watched the sun come up over the world, then started to head back down. At the bottom of Pequeno Alpamayo, we had to climb back up the rock face of Pico Tarija, then started heading back down again. While walking down the glacier, we passed a German group with no guide and apparently lots of experience, but they were coming up a little late, and they were walking up the glacier with no crampons for some reason. Maybe they wanted a little extra challenge.

From the bottom of the glacier, the walking was easy and were were back at base camp by 9:00. I was tired, but not completely exhausted like I was yesterday. I still had to sleep most of the day, though. Later on, many other groups began showing up, many of whom were also climbers, but a lot were trekking through the region as well. This time I didn't have to worry about waking up in the middle of the night and was actually able to socialize with the people at the camp until maybe 7:00.

The photo album for this entry is here.

The Head of the Condor

July 4, 2007
Day 644
Condoriri Climb Day 2

Picture of me.

Me at the summit.

My alarm rang way too early at midnight tonight. I dragged myself out of bed after only sleeping a few hours and made myself a couple cups of coffee. I wasn't too hungry, but I managed to force down some stale bread for my "breakfast." Teo and I got all of our gear coordinated and ready to go. Nobody else at base camp was crazy enough to be awake at that hour, and as it turned out, we wouldn't see any other people until we were back at camp.

We started walking at 1:00. The trail leading to the mountain was an easy, gentle climb for the first hour, but then we came to the steep part leading up to the glacier. It was a mixture of largish boulders, smaller rocks, and especially a lot of sand-like pebbles. Every time we'd take a step up, we'd slide back down half a step. It was a very frustrating experience that used up a lot of my energy, and we'd only just begun our ascent.

As soon as we hit the snow line, we hopped off the sand and put on our crampons. Walking on the snow was much easier, and soon we had reached the icy glacier. It was at this point that the path got much steeper and the wind became a problem. Being out in the open, the wind was whipping fiercely through my body, but my fingers took the hardest hit. Suddenly I wished I had not trusted the tour agency and spent only $2 on my gloves. The agency had lent me some gloves to use, but when I tried them on this morning, I realized that not only could I not fit my fingers into either of them, but they were both for my right hand, so I didn't take them along. My fingers may have been numb, but at least my toes were cozy warm, owing to the fact that I had smartly worn three pairs of socks for the climb.

The path wrapped all the way around the mountain, and our only obstacles for awhile were a few small crevasses which which were easy to step over. The mountain started to protect us from the wind, and I eventually regained the feeling in my fingers. I was worn out and desperately in need of some sleep, and I actually managed to snooze for a few minutes during one of our breaks.

The last 300 horizontal meters (and probably 150 vertical ones) were tough. The path was only about a foot wide, with steep drop-offs of 500 or more feet on either side. It was not a great place for those afraid of heights. As safety became an issue at this point, Teo and I were no longer able to climb together. Instead, I would anchor myself with my ice ax and wait for Teo to walk sixty meters (the length of our rope) and set up an anchor on his end. Then I would begin the slow balance beam act of walking toward him, at which point the tedious process would begin again. If I happened to fall at the beginning of my walk, I would "only" fall sixty meters down the hill and probably bash into the many rocks that were jutting out of the side, but I tried not to think about that.

Fatigue wasn't an issue anymore because we were moving so slowly, and after an hour of careful concentration, we made it to the 5648-meter summit at 6:25 AM, with sunrise just around the corner. The view was incredible once again, as I could clearly see all of the other mountains and our base campe in the distance. We were on the summit for about twenty minutes when the sun finally made an appearance, but by then I was getting too cold to enjoy it anymore. Teo didn't think we'd make the summit until 8:00 when it would be much warmer. I cursed myself for walking so fast.

Once I had had enough, we began the slow process of descending to the bottom. We were able to walk simultaneously (although very slowly and carefully) to a point where Teo had hammered a snow picket into the mountain on the way up. Teo set up a belay for me using the picket, and I walked down first, once again being very careful not to step too far to either side of the narrow track. Not falling was especially difficult because my stance while walking couldn't be too wide or too narrow. If you are walking with crampons and they touch each other even just a little bit, chances are they'll get locked together and you'll fall. After another tedious hour, we finally had gotten past the narrow ledge and down the steep, icy glacier that was treacherous because of the loose rocks hanging out on either side.

Walking down the rest of the glacier was relatively easy. There were no cliffs to fall off of, and the path was flat enough that I could walk down facing forward. Fatigue started setting in by the time we got back to the rocks, however.

I didn't have much control when we took our crampons off and started sliding down the sandy rock face. I suppose that part normally would have been fun, but I was too exhausted to enjoy it. My knees started buckling every time I would start to slide again, and I had to focus most of my concentration on not tearing a ligament.

I was relieved when we finally made past the sandy part and onto the nice, solid path. Base camp, and more specifically, my cozy tent appeared to be right in front of me, but my mind was playing tricks on me. I struggled the rest of the way down the zig-zagging path, and could think of nothing but the precious sleep I was about to get. It took about half an hour to get back to base camp, but if felt more like six.

Back at base camp, I drank a bunch of water to rehydrate myself, laid out all of my drenched clothing to dry in the now warm sun, and collapsed in my tent. Despite not being quite as high as Huyana Potosi, the Cabeza del Condor was much more difficult for me, and I was completely drained in the end. I spent most of the day sleeping, but during the few times that I was awake, I learned that Pedro was feeling much better and would come with us tomorrow. Oh yeah, I remembered that I still had another summit attempt the next day. Luckily, I had recuperated most of my energy and felt good again by dark.

The photo album for this entry is here.

There's no Bread in La Paz

July 3, 2007
Day 643
Condoriri Climb Day 1

I went to meet everyone at the tour agency this morning. Pedro was already looking pretty bad. He figured he had food poisoning from the night before. This was probably the worst day he could've picked to get sick, but he still wanted to go along for the trip.

We stopped to look for bread on the way out of town. Normally, people sell bread all over the place on the streets, but today there was none. We found out that the city's bakers had gone on strike over increased prices. Finally we were able to find some old prepackaged rolls for sale. I guess they'll have to do.

We went in a taxi down the usual route through El Elto and into the Altiplano. When we were passing through a small village, we turned down what appeared to be a driveway between two houses, but then the route opened up into a hidden road. The 21-KM drive down that heavily-potholed, sparsely populated road took about an hour. The taxi finally dropped us off in a little village called Tuni, which was still within a stone's throw of La Paz sitting under the backside of Huayna Potosi, but being just a few mud brick houses with no other towns in sight, it felt like the remotest place on Earth.

We contracted two donkeys to haul our stuff to our base camp and soon were on our way. I've had the pleasure of using donkeys to haul my gear a few times since arriving in La paz. Walking has been way too easy for me lately.

The walk to base camp was very nice. We went past a large reservoir of water destined for La Paz, and got our first glimpse of the Cabeza del Condor, the toughest mountain I was due to climb at 5648 meters. The Condoriri group of mountains, and specifically the Cabeza del Condor (condor's head) was named because it resembles a condor with outstretched wings. For the entire walk, we had a great view of Huayna Potosi (the opposite face from the one I climbed) in the background.

After a few hours we reached Laguna Condoriri, at about 4750 meters, where we could see the entire group of mountains available to climb. At the far side of the lagoon, we made our base camp. It was an amazing location, somewhere worth visiting just for the sake of seeing it. Pedro's condition didn't improve much throughout the day, and he decided that there was no way he'd be able to make it tomorrow. Teo and I agreed to attempt Cabeza del Condor (our most difficult summit) tomorrow while we still had some energy, and to try Pequeno Alpimayo the next day, hopefully along with Pedro. We cooked dinner early and were in bed before dark in anticipation of tomorrow's climb.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Preparing for the Next Climb

July 1-2, 2007
Day 641-642

I originally wanted to climb Illimani, but I lost my ambitions after hearing about the number of deaths on the mountain. Several guides still tell me that it will be no problem if I go with them, and they probably are right, but I simply don't have the skills necessary to get myself out of a bad situation should one arise on a mountain like Illimani. I have too much respect for the mountain to attempt to climb it now.

Pedro, the Spanish firefighter I met on Huayna Potosi, was all set to go to the Condoriri mountain group, which is just on the other side of Huayna Potosi in the Cordillera Real. He was more than happy to have me join him and his guide Teo to reduce the price a bit. We're going to go for four days, camping in the same spot each night and possibly climbing two or three mountains. They aren't quite as high as Huayna Potosi, but they have a bit more technical climbing, and I think they'll be a suitable challenge for me before I leave Bolivia for the last time.

A Beautiful Climb (Again)

June 30, 2007
Day 640
Huayna Potosi Climb Part II Day 3

I got up at 1:00 AM along with everyone else at high camp and quietly started preparing to leave. I rented all of my climbing gear, but there was still a question of whether I'd be warm enough in the -10 degree Celsius conditions. I had on my thermals, a couple of fleece jackets, a windbreaker, a pair of Bolivian clown pants that are all the rage in backpacker fashion at the moment, and a pair of rain pants, basically a potpourri of all of my clothing that made me look more ready to join the circus than to climb a mountain. But warmth is more important than fashion, right?

It was hard to tell faces in the middle of the night while wearing our winter gear, but a couple people at the lodge didn't look familiar. They were two French Canadians who had only shown up an hour earlier straight from La Paz for their summit attempt. On top of that, they were going to attempt the French Route, which is much more difficult than the Normal Route everyone else would be doing. They explained that they were trying for a one-day summit because it would be much easier for them not to have to carry any camping gear or extra food to the high camp.

Everyone left within half an hour of each other, and Roque and I started out near the end of the pack. The moon was only one day away from being full, so I quickly realized that I didn't even need my headlamp. We slowly made our way up the hill and passed most of the other groups along the way. We never really stopped long enough for me to get cold.

Before long we were at the mountain's only crevasse, about halfway up. Pedro the Spanish firefighter and Teo were the only people in front of us. There was no need for a belay as we went around the crevasse and the steep hill that followed. The four of us took a longer break because we were on pace to summit far before sunrise. Pedro called his friend in Spain and explained that he was at 5700 meters.

Pedro then asked if I had a digital camera, explaining that he only had a cell phone camera and a film one. I didn't have my camera with me because Nicolas and I agreed that because we'd have to carry so much gear with us that we'd only take his camera because it was lighter. He took it back to La Paz with him yesterday. When we were ready to start walking again, the next group caught up with us and none of them had a digital camera with them either. D'oh!

The four of us walked together the rest of the way. It was a steady, easy climb until we made it to the final summit push: A 200-meter wall with a fifty-degree slope. We had a long break until my fingers and toes were beginning to freeze, then began our ascent. Roque went first and stayed several meters ahead of me the entire time. I used two ice axes and slowly picked my way up. The climb normally wouldn't have been too difficult, but at this altitude, I was out of breath after every step. I didn't remember the summit push being so hard last year. I must have blocked that part out of my mind.

It took nearly an hour of exhausting climbing, but finally I reached the summit. The view from the top was just as good as, if not better than, last year. About ten minutes after I got to the summit, the moon made its final descent behind the horizon of the altiplano to the west, and directly opposite above the yungas in the east, the golden sun began bathing me with its flames and bringing back the feeling to my fingers and toes. Besides the yungas and the altiplano, I could see the whole Cordillera Real, Lake Titicaca, El Alto, and even Sajama, the tallest mountain in Bolivia, which was 100 miles distant. I didn't have a camera with me, but that picture will be burned in my mind forever.

Other people started making the summit about twenty minutes later. Pedro struggled his way to the top along the same path I had taken. It was weird seeing him so close, a distance that would normally be walkable in ten seconds, yet knowing that it took every ounce of strength he had in him to move another inch. Yet I knew exactly what he was going through. Some of the other Bolivians began summiting next, opting to get a full fifty meters ahead of their clients to set up a safe belay system at the top.

The summit began getting crowded after half an hour, and it was time to go back down. Roque and Teo used two snow stakes to set up a rappel system for Pedro and I, who were both put on the same rope. We quickly made our way down the hill, stopping every sixty meters so our guides could set up their anchors again. I'm sure this section would have been very difficult if it were just Nicolas and I, but with the guides doing all the work it was a piece of cake.

After a quick break, we walked the rest of the way down. The only time we had to stop was at the crevasse, where Roque pushed his ax into the snow, wrapped the rope around it a few times for safety, and let me climb down first. I almost could have run the rest of the way down. We were back at high camp by 9:30.

The Canadians attempting the French Route had just gotten back as well. They didn't make the summit because of the waist-deep snow they encountered near the top. They still seemed quite happy with their near-success, and vowed to come back for another attempt next year.

I envied the ten or so other climbers who turned back before the summit and were already fast asleep in their sleeping bags. I desperately wanted some sleep, yet I knew that my ride would be waiting for me at the bottom, and if I laid down, it would be for at least a few hours. Instead I peeled off layer after sweaty layer, stuffed everything into my backpack, had a quick lunch and headed back down.

The rest of the walk was tough in my plastic boots and heavy backpack, but I made it down with no dramas in less than an hour. Miguel was waiting for me, this time with the owner of my hostel and a different vehicle. He told me that the tires in the other car were fixed, and I decided not to ask any questions. Despite the horribly potholed gravel road, I slept most of the way back.

Several people at the hostel that I thought would be gone by the time I got back were still there. I found out that the reason was because the miners of Potosi had blocked the main road leading out of town in protest. Everyone had been stuck for about three days. I thanked my lucky stars that I wouldn't be leaving La Paz until the road would be open again. Little did I know of events yet to come.

Despite all of the setbacks, climbing Huayna Potosi for the second time was still an amazing experience. Nothing in the world matters when you are standing on top of it.

Relaxing Before the Summit Attempt

June 29, 2007
Day 639
Huayna Potosi Climb Part II Day 2

This morning, Nicolas went back to La Paz with some people coming back from their summit attempts. The first few people coming down had made it to the top, but they said that many others gave up when they saw the 200-meter, 50-degree snow wall at the top. I started searching for a guide to take me to the summit tomorrow and encountered Roque. He had just come down the mountain with an exhausted American with sore knees. He said he had to go back to La Paz with his client, but he'd be happy to return tonight and be my guide. I was a little bit worried about him being too tired for another summit attempt, but he seemed incredibly fit and was my only apparent option.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing and meeting the incoming batch of climbers. Most of them were as inexperienced at mountaineering as me, including two large French groups. I also ran into Pedro and his guide Teo again. They stayed at the lower camp and practiced on the glacier yesterday after the flat tire debacle, and will make an attempt at the summit tonight. The only experienced group consisted of four Americans and Irish who were on a mountaineering-specific trip. Most of the people I met thought I was crazy for wanting to climb Illimani, and I was told many stories about those who have lost their lives there in the past. I started to reconsider my previous ambitions.

Roque returned late in the afternoon, we agreed to wake up at 1:00 AM and leave by 2:00, and I went to bed before dark to try and get some rest ahead of the big climb.