Huayna Potosi: Summit day

Posted: June 19, 2012 by Ben Weber in English, Hiking, Mountaineering, Training
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Up at 12.30am for hot drinks, we thought we were a little late, especially as we still needed to sort out our layers and backpacks for the ascent. As it turns out, when I got to Caleb’s tent to get hot water, we were actually doing pretty well for time and we ended up leaving the camp to the summit at 2am.

There were perfect conditions: the sky was perfectly clear and the stars were fully visible, and the weather was calm without even the hint of a wind. We made tea with the hot water, tea which went down pretty well as in spite of the perfect conditions, it was still around -10C, so quite cold. A thick base layer for both legs and torso; middle fleece layers and water and wind-proof outer shells, with big down jackets in our bags in case we were still cold. Oh and yes, big down mittens as well. Headlamps on… gaiters, crampons… ready to go and off we went – with around 25 other lights flashing in the darkness belonging to others hoping to summit.

The walk through the snow and over the glacier was easy enough. As with Pequeño Alpamayo, I was in the rope team with Caleb and Kirk, while Natalia was with José. They were in front of us and it was clear Natalia was having a bit of trouble getting to grips with the crampons and it didn’t look like she felt too good. Even though Augusto and José had gone effectively separate from us, for some reason we didn’t let them get on with it and we slowed down behind them. I heard Caleb saying some things, seemingly suggestions to help, and also José was saying for us to pass them. I am not sure why we didn’t as José is a more than capable guide.

But okay, we continued on up and a few other groups passed us. Our pace was reasonably good, though and I though that Natalia was doing pretty well considering this was her first time up so high. She had established a decent pace and rhythm and was going well. As dawn approached, however, and as we passed over half way up the mountain, she and José stopped. They started again, though Natalia was clearly uncomfortable. After some discussion and a couple more attempts to keep going, they turned back. It turned out that the stomach problems that almost ruined the start of my time climbing; the same problems that had ruined the second half of Augusto’s mountaineering; had come back to hit Natalia. A real shame as she was getting on so well.

We had no choice but to continue on as José had gone back with Natalia. The sunrise soon lit up the mountains and the snow around us and the goggles I had really did have a tremendous effect in reducing the flare and the brilliance of the light. We drew ever closer to the summit of Huayna Potosi and it was nice to see that there were no steep slopes as there were with Pequeño Alpamayo – though had we gone the direct route, there looked to be a 60 degree climb for anyone brave or strong enough. We instead took the traditional route: going along a path that went past the summit, steadily increasing in height, before doubling back on ourselves to go up the summit ridge.

My favourite part (yes, a lot of irony there!). On reaching this ridge, the first section is completely exposed and less than a metre wide. The fall on the other side: 1,500 metres or so; the fall back to the path below… enough to do a lot of damage. Great. I didn’t have much choice but to walk along it, with Caleb coaxing me along. Not particularly enjoyable. Fortunately, I was not quite so breathless as I was on the previous occasion. After the exposed part, the ridge was built of kind of ice walls which were to our right – stopping any potentially long fall to that side. It certainly eased a lot of the anxiety as it was only the short fall on the left and we were able to use our ice axes to help support as we went along. Half an hour or so later, and we were there, on the summit.

  1. walktassie says:

    Awesome Photos,
    I know your pain with knife edge ridges, they are unselltling to say the least, i find it worse on the way down than up.
    Nice blog.

    • Ben Weber says:

      Cheers!! Yeah, going down is even worse for me, that’s for sure – I guess we are forced to look down and at the consequences of a fall!! Thanks for following the blog and am glad you like it!

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