Posts Tagged ‘mountaineering’

On the glacier - IllimaniThe two climbers from our 360 Extremes training project in Bolivia, alone on the glacier up to the summit of Illimani; two insignificant dots on the ice, making a slow journey up in the thinner oxygen levels at over 6,000 metres (19,600 feet) above sea level.

Down from the mountainClimbing down the knife-edge ridge from the summit of Huayna Potosi, just over 6,000m above sea level. With a 1,000m  drop on one side and 500m on the other, it’s slightly scary for anyone with a bit of vertigo..!

 

Dare you to walk over to that ridge...

It has been a good year and a half since we officially started working to this project; a good couple of years or more since we came up with the ideas. A lot of things have happened and a lot of things will still be done. It goes without saying that without  sponsorship, the more ambitious parts of the projects, the Poles, will simply not be possible – the whole logistics of these parts would be prohibitively expensive. But, in cutting down our daily expenses on little luxuries; spending less money going to restaurants, more time training and building the project, we have been able to do a lot more than we ever could have imagined that we would do prior to committing ourselves to this, and we still will be able to do a lot more.

Riding through the snowWorse case scenario and it doesn’t work out (yes it’s a worry!), we still will have opened up a completely new world of adventure and sports that we wouldn’t have done otherwise. If we hadn’t committed ourselves to this… goodness knows what we would be doing, but am pretty sure that we would not have gone mountaineering in Bolivia, and am pretty certain we would not have ridden from Land’s End to John O’Groats in winter. We probably wouldn’t be going to the gym and be in anywhere as near as good health as we are today, and I doubt that we would be entering into the various races we are going into now. We probably would be just working away, content but not happy with everything, in a standard city life somewhere, wondering what wasn’t quite right.

But fortunately we did come up with this whole mad-cap crazy project, and the world that has been opened to us is incredible. So much to do! Kite surfing (training for the polar training) in June… (hopefully) a two-week adventure race in Chile in February 2014, to be swiftly followed by our polar training at Baffin Island for a few weeks in February-March 2014… followed by either another mountaineering expedition or a traverse of the Greenland ice-cap (something that no Brazilian woman has ever done, as far as I have seen, so Natalia will be the first!)… exciting stuff! And then off… in August 2014.

The question is, do we wait a year longer if we can’t get sponsorship, or just go anyway on a round-the-world bike ride…? that is a good question and one that I do not yet know how to answer.

Since the end of our last training project, riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats in the British winter, we have settled back into Brazil, something that has been much harder than it does sound (I know, that sounds silly… settling back in Brazil… how hard can it be to settle back into such a wonderful country..?!). It has been over three months since we got back, but it is still a bit difficult.

Sao Paulo Metro rush hour

The daily rush on the São Paulo metro system… and this is a good day.

Well the first thing is that we are back in the daily grind of the work place, earning our salaries to try to pay for all the training projects that we are still yet to do and all the equipment that we need; going through the São Paulo traffic can make life hell for the commuter – going to work by bus in the morning can take 40 minutes (at night, 30 minutes)… if you are lucky. This morning, like many other mornings, it took two hours. The alternative is metro, where in the rush hour, the stations and trains seem to be operating massively over capacity, and it isn’t fun.

Coming through the snow - beautiful but tricky conditions

Coming through the snow – beautiful but tricky conditions

The second thing is that, though it might sound crazy, riding that challenging route in the UK, even in the middle of winter, was simply a massive amount of fun as well as nice and challenging: every day, we had our goals – we needed to get to our next place in accordance with our schedule; trying to get there before dark; every day different challenges… The first day, absolutely miserable weather, cold, windy and raining cats and dogs… arriving at our host’s house completely soaked, like drowned rats; the next day, nicer, cooler, fresher… until we got over Dartmoor, when the weather closed in before we went down to Exeter… every day was different…  snowy days, icy days, fresh days, wet days and the gale force winds on our last day. Every family with whom we stayed was fantastic, welcoming, interesting and incredibly helpful. The HD with the photos and the videos of the journey may have been lost, but it is hard to imagine any of these memories fading.  I guess the adrenalin of doing all of that really was much higher than it is with us now back in São Paulo… back in this concrete jungle.

So back to São Paulo where we have had to think and prepare for our next training projects, and keep developing our fitness and skills to make sure that we are in as good a shape possible for the kite training; the polar training and a number of other projects that we want to complete before embarking on the actual expedition. For me, the mini-projects like the half marathons help to keep me sane as they give additional goals to keep going in the short-term, but the daily training at the gym and with our personal trainer, Alercinho, with the functional training, is absolutely essential.

Time is flying – it is unbelievable that we are in May already… almost half way through the year… almost a year before we should leave. There aren’t enough days in the week to be able to do everything we want and need to do, though at the same time, being here rather than on the road, just keeping to regular training schedules… is hard. I mentioned in my previous post that I missed the mountains. I miss the UK as well. I miss being out and on the road, and really can’t wait till we get out of São Paulo for the next project.

Huayna Potosi, with its summit under cloud - quite daunting!

Huayna Potosi, with its summit under cloud – quite daunting!

It has been almost a year since our first major training project, mountaineering in Bolivia, and I am very definitely missing it all and would love to go back. I don’t know what it is exactly – I must confess that I did not enjoy every minute of it; I got pretty sick for a couple of days; I must have lost a good few kilograms of weight going up those mountains; the fear of heights and looking down those steep steep drops… those 1,500metre falls just inches to one side, and those 500metre drops just inches away on my other side… nope, those knife-edge ridges were not nice! Mountaineering certainly leads to a lot of suffering if you ask me, especially when you are adapting for the first time to the high altitudes; your body just isn’t used to it and doesn’t know what to expect. Looking back at the video when I got sick and remembering back, and the change in my own physical state from good and enthusiastic, to vomiting and other nasty things, is too alarming to think about; literally in an hour or so!!

But I miss it, and I look at the photos and videos – even the one when I got sick – and the good memories of it all easily outweigh the difficult parts.

Why..??!

I guess all the moments which were hard were all balanced by the exhilaration of the challenge; really going for a goal that I had never done before but had wanted to do, and in facing some of my worst fears; going against the exhaustion with the altitude and the fatigue that the lack of oxygen causes in the body; managing to get to the summit and (more importantly!) back again… definitely amazing feelings. Seeing the tents of base camp, after 15 hours of climbing from midnight, just as the weather closes in… a superb sense of accomplishment. So I really do want to go back.

When will we be able to? Good question. I thought about it for this June, but we really do need to train for the kites, so we are going to Fortaleza for training with that for a week or so. Then we will have to keep working to keep income in for paying for this whole project; a month or so training up in northern Canada in February next year… meaning that may be possible next June or July – this would be the last chance before heading on the actual journey… so here’s hoping.

Joe Simpson - Touching the Void

Joe Simpson – Touching the Void

Finished off another book this time quite an old and pretty well-known book by Joe Simpson, Touching the Void. Since being published it was also made into a film-documentary, which I haven’t seen yet though definitely would like to after having read this work.

Siula Grande

Siula Grande (EdsOpinion) – for a good review of the DVD see EdOpinion.com

As I say, it is pretty well-known, but in case you haven’t read it, in summary Joe was climbing with his friend Simon in the Peruvian Andes up a remote mountain, Siula Grande, which hadn’t been climbed before along the particular route they chose – the west face. It hadn’t been climbed that way for good reason: it was incredibly dangerous! The mountain presented a whole range of problems rested: cornices – massive snow over-hangs that had nothing supporting them, so any extra weight on top of them could lead them to collapse; mazes of snow flutings (very steep snow channels in powder snow that lead up the side of the mountain, that occasionally get closed off at the top – something that is difficult to see from the bottom – and can lead to climbers getting trapped); high altitude; ice falls; crevasses; weather; avalanches… basically a dangerous place.

Touching the Void - Route

(C) Joe Simpson, Touch the Void – The route and the accident

They managed to make the summit but on the way back down Joe got injured – he fell and badly broke his leg. Something like that on such a remote mountain invariably leads to death because of the altitude, the cold and because there is no way to rescue the climber. The two, however, managed to keep going, in spite of the pain Joe was feeling and both with worsening frost-bite and becoming increasingly weaker and dehydrated; with Simon lowering Joe, down as quickly as possible in order to get to safety. Because of their dwindling supplies they kept going into the night and through a storm, meaning they couldn’t see where they going. As a result, Joe fell down another, much longer drop and wasn’t able to get any grip or strength to climb back up. Simon was in the impossible position – his strength was also running out and he wasn’t able to pull Joe back. The only choice that he had – a choice that Joe also recognized as being the only one – was to die or to cut the rope that would lead to Joe plummeting from the cliff… He did the only thing he could do.

Yet both survived, and the story shows Joe’s incredible journey back through immense pain to the camp when all thought he was dead. It is definitely worth taking the time to read it really see this and this struggle for survival.

Now Natalia and I have only limited mountaineering experience in Bolivia, and we firmly intend to go back to the Andes and other mountain ranges to build on this. The whole book leads to people questioning Simon’s decision – I personally think he made the right thing; as does Joe. Though the book also begs the question – what would we do in such a situation? What would I do if Natalia was badly injured and we were both struggling to get off the mountain? Would I be able to cut the rope? What would Natalia do if she was in that position if I had such an accident? How would we react in such an extreme situation?? Now these are not nice thoughts or questions, and ones that I really hope to God that I never have to face, or have to ever answer. At the moment I can say that I do not know! Joe admits that the two mountaineers were a bit headstrong and a few mistakes were made in the climb and even before the climb at base camp – mistakes that with experience probably would mean that such an accident wouldn’t happen again. So the more experience we build, the better, so we can hopefully avoid such a terrible situation.

Okay, it has taken us a little while to go through all the video we got from Bolivia – quite a massive amount of content gathered, and so many hours in the day to go through it all, work at the office, and train, and organize everything. I hope you can forgive us!

This is just a short clip from the top of Huayna Potosi, the first time we had ever been above 6,000 metres, and only the third time we had been on mountains summits higher than 5,000m. So it was a pretty nice achievement, and I still feel pretty chuffed about managing it, though it wasn’t anything massively technical. At that altitude, every step is painful so, technical or not, a lot of work goes into it (and the body loses about 700 calories an hour!)

While it was exhausting, it was still amazing and had beautiful views of the surrounding mountains of the Bolivian Andes. As I guess I have mentioned a couple of times, however, my head for heights is pretty awful. I don’t like them! I have got used to the heights involved in climbing rocks, and that took a bit of practice… So going down the mountain was, with the knife-edge ridge down from the summit at least, absolutely terrifying. Makes me wince just watching this film and I hope you like it!

Thanks again to Casa de Pedra for their support with this project – and again to Kirk, for giving loads of help on the way down!

Among the additional equipment we have just acquired is the North Face VE-25 tent. Not the cheapest tent in the world, but certainly worth it:

It is a three-person, four season tent, which is used by mountaineers in the Himalayas and up Everest, and also by polar explorers – capable of providing good shelter in extreme cold and in strong winds.

In looking at the reviews of the tent, people have mentioned that it is heavy – which it is at just over 5 kilos when packaged. But then again, when you get a three person, four season tent, you don’t really expect that it will be light as a feather, do you? We will be able to split the load between the group, so it won’t be too much of a burden when we are cycling on the road. I have also seen a couple of people commenting that the tent is slightly hard to set up… though others have said that it can be set up easily by one person.

We never know what the weather will be like in the UK in winter – it could as easily be beautiful as it could be blowing a gale outside, so I think going with a four season tent for this journey is the best idea. Also, as we will be using this tent throughout the entire project, it doesn’t really make sense investing in a lighter, less substantial tent now, and then spending more on the four season tent in the future.

We shall soon see about how we find it – living in São Paulo, we don’t have that much space to practice setting things up – especially not in the central areas, where it is just an urban jungle, and people would probably be slightly… curious if we tried putting it up in the park! But we shall go off in to the mountains around the city soon to test this and get used to the thing.

In São Paulo, you can get the North Face VE-25 from Casa de Pedra – along with less expensive but excellent quality ones such as the Marmot Limelight 3 season tent, among a number of others. Check them out.

For more about our time in the first few Bolivian mountains, see our posts about:

Condoriri

Pico Austria

Pequeño Alpamayo

Strangely enough, in spite of not having reached the summit of Illimani and even having been within touching distance of it when we turned back, I felt content with the decision. As I said, I had done my best, and that was all I could ask of myself. Going back down the mountain to high camp proved easier and even turned into a confidence builder as, as we crossed the knife edge ridge we had crossed in the darkness, with stupidly lethal falls to either side, I was actually able to do so without getting close to panicking or hyperventilating – I was beginning to trust myself and my crampons a bit more and well enough to keep calm. We also crossed some narrow crevasses in the ice which, when we looked down them, did not allow us to see the bottom. It was nice that the cracks (about a foot wide) were visible as some serious damage could have been down had we placed a foot directly in one of them.

Back to the tents, and packing up – after a little rest before the porters got there. It was time to leave our final mountain and go back to La Paz for the final time before returning to São Paulo. Going down the scree and rock face wasn’t easy for me. It was nice that Caleb belayed me down some of the steeper sections, and short-roped me on trickier sections where we had to go over only ice (with the nasty falls to oblivion) with no crampons or ice axe to support us. There were footprints carved into the ice which helped make things easier, though it was still pretty slippery. After three or four ten-metre sections lie these, we had passed the worse, and then it was just the scree and occasionally flat-panel rock faces.

We arrived at base camp at around 5pm. Natalia must have spotted us coming from some distance away as she had come away from the tents to meet us at the trailhead. She explained that she and José had been pretty worried about us as we had been out of radio contact – Caleb had tried calling from the mountains but the radio didn’t seem to want to function. José was preparing to leave the camp to try to find us on the descent. She then told me about how José had lost two friends who were guides on Illimani on separate occasions – basically because in each case they were in rope teams with one tourist, and the tourists lost concentration and fell with nobody being able to arrest the falls. The slopes of Illimani are steep enough that arresting a fall is tough enough for one person by themselves but for the guides to save both themselves and their partner… well it wasn’t possible for José’s friends and that was the end of their stories.

I was just happy to be back for a final night under those clear stars. The disappointment of not having reached the summit hit a bit more on the two-hour walk back in the morning to our vehicles, when we were continually looking back to those spectacular mountain peaks behind us, and during the drive to La Paz. But ah well. At least there can, and will, be a next time.

<— Marathon to high camp

Negative thoughts did include hearing avalanches and ice falls in the background after dark, and the thoughts of falling off the side of one of the knife-edge ridges that we were bound to encounter. Also, as I mentioned, it would have been nice being able to speak with Natalia. It was good being in the same tent as Caleb though as we were able to chat about everything, though he he had spoken with other climbers who were going down who had said they had completed the summit after leaving at 4am as opposed to the normal midnight. Caleb decided that would be okay to do the same due to the cold that can be experienced on the mountain, though we had said we would meet the porters to go down to base camp at 1pm.

Fine by me, and when I woke up, all of the negative thoughts had gone and I was ready to go. It took a little time getting everything together and getting the gaiters on, though everything was in order. It would have been pitch black outside were it not for the stars which were brilliant. The moon was hidden by the mountain and it was only a very thin crescent moon as well. We could also see the lights of La Paz glimmering in the distance behind us. Headlamps on, and off we went.

Immediately there was a slope which went up to a knife-edge ridge. Fortunately with the dark I was not able to see the consequences of any fall and I was able to get by without too many problems. Up and beyond that and the slopes just did not let up. In comparison to Huayna Potosi where there were relatively gentle slopes coupled with frequent platforms where one could catch one’s breath, this was just un-remitting slopes. Not gentle ones either.

My body didn’t feel great at the start and the slopes soon started to have affect on me. Not sure if it was because I was still tired from the trek up to High Camp – Caleb, in a frank discussion about fitness, said that he thought I was above average fitness in comparison to others he had worked with. Problem is that at the altitude of High Camp, the body doesn’t recover quite so well from physical exertion quite so quickly, and it needs much more water to be able to function properly – more than I had been drinking, though from my urine I did not appear to be dehydrated at all. Caleb thought that the altitude at around 5,800 seems to hit me a bit like a wall and perhaps my body is still not completely adapted… I guess this will only come with practice though.

We kept going, though pausing frequently. At around 6.30am the sunlight appeared in the sky, though the sun was coming directly from the other side of Illimani, so we remained in the shade for a good while longer before the rays did eventually reach us. The wind was pretty strong and for the first time during the three weeks, I had all my layers on while walking, including my think down parker jacket and down mittens. My pace became slower though and though I was using breathing/walking techniques Caleb had taught us, I still had to stop every five or six steps or so to recover some more air. We could see the summit and it was slowly getting closer.

Passing crevasses to both sides of us, we weaved our way up and over the main glacier along the route, and up so we could see the trail in the side of the mountain leading its way to the summit. Caleb estimated that we were about 200-300 metres below the summit, though we would still need a couple of hours at my slow pace to reach it, and the time was already 10.30am… then we would need to get back down again. So it was I who took the decision: we would admit defeat and turn back.

Time and exhaustion were the main elements in the decision. It would have been nice to have had longer to complete the ascent, but there was nothing much that could be done now in this regard. The climb had turned into a continual struggle to place one foot ahead of the other and push mself up the mountainside, so I think it was the right choice. A shame, but the mountain will be there for a long time to come (hopefully with glaciers in tact, as they have been shrinking with global warming), and I don’t want to kill myself reaching any goal. I had done my best to get as far as we did (Caleb was pretty impressed that I had pushed myself as far as I got considering the struggle it proved to be for me). Am pretty confident that with a little more training, and a bit more time, I will be able to reach the summit of Illimani and higher peaks. Same with Natalia. Maybe we didn’t make it this time, though next time it will be a different story.

Thanks to Caleb for letting us use a few of your photos!

So yes, instead of hiking to just camp I (about a five hour walk away, at around 5,000 metres), it was decided that we would go straight past that to high camp (another couple of hours hike/climb at around 5,400 metres); get there for around mid-afternoon, rest and get up at about midnight for an attempt at the summit of Illimani (just under 6,500 metres). Altitude gain of about 2,000 metres in less than 24 hours. Something I wasn’t quite sure I was ready for. Apparently there was no water at camp I, and no snow to melt there. José, who had climbed the mountain a number of times, was to stay with Natalia, whilst Caleb, who had not climbed the mountain before, would go up with me. The one good thing was that we had porters to carry our heavier bags so we were able to go with lighter rucksacks with extra layers in case the cold got to us.

Hot drinks at 7am, though we left at 9am. The sun was still behind the mountain so it was still quite cool and a bit breezy. The walk was quite easy at first; steadily increasing in altitude along a reasonably well trodden path, going up around and over lateral moraines, down again into carved out glacial valleys, and back up over the moraine on the other side. We could see small streams with ice on the surface, with water running underneath, and in one of the small sub-valleys, there was a glacial stream running quite strongly – strongly enough that we were able to re-fill our bottles with it. We made such good progress that we completed the apparently five-hour hike in less than three hours, as we passed a small plateau where wind walls had been built from rocks to protect tents which had been encamped there. The tents had gone, and as we though, there was no water or snow to melt. So  passing that, and upwards.

Which was when the hiking turned into effective climbing and scrambling over scree, and steep, loose, rock surfaces. It was a struggle, that was for sure. We had to be very careful with our footing with the scree and the angles of the falls to our side gradually increased meaning that any loss of balance could have led to bad injury or worse. The fact that we had porters was even more gratefully received as had I had to keep my pack on going up those rocks, I would have … let’s say, had difficulties. Then when we got to parts where we had to cross over ice with steep falls to the side, I was even more grateful as I took step, then a breath, and further steps forward. Painfully uncomfortable for me.

It was more or less consistently like this for the entire two hours we took to complete the trek to high camp. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure: as well as the struggle over the scree  and rocks, the altitude certainly took its effect on me as well, and I gradually became slightly more breathless with the steps I took.  It was great to finally get there, above the snow line, on a small platform of ice, looking down over the valley of base camp and with amazing views of the various summits of Illimani. The porters had set the tent up for us which was even better, as I was able to move in and rest almost immediately. It looked like we would be the only ones attempting the summit in the early morning, as the only other climbers there were going back down to base camp.

Caleb later radioed to José to say we were okay. I could hear him outside the tent talking with him, and I heard him say that he didn’t think it was possible for me to speak with Nat. I guess this was because I was in the tent and he was outside. I didn’t say anything at the time, though I was a bit annoyed about that. I later asked if possible to radio back to them though he said that the radio at the bottom would have been switched off for the night. Definitely would have liked to have spoken with her before I went up the mountain, and I went to bed with slightly negative thoughts about the climb.

Our journey to Illimani didn’t start out too well when the stomach bug that had hit us returned to affect Natalia. It happened early in the morning we were due to set out and it meant that we had to postpone this journey by a day to give time and hope for Natalia to recover. When we did set off, she did seem a bit better but it was clear that all was not fully well.

Though Illimani appears to be very close to La Paz, the journey there takes a good three-four hours. The roads are incredible: carved from nothing along the sides of mountains en-route, terrifyingly steep drops on the edges; spectacular views and can be good fun to drive on. You can see areas of the mountains where landslides have come down over the road though since been cleared up. The road to Illimani for me at least seemed more treacherous than the Yungas “Death Road”  we had cycled down at the beginning of our journey in Bolivia, with even more tighter corners and falls that maybe were not quite so vertical, but were equally lethal should a driver get a bit carried away. The only reason why the road was not considered more dangerous was because the Yungas Road was a main trunk road and the road to Illimani much less frequently used, so less prone to accidents.

What was amazing that along the road is that you pass so many tiny farms in the mountain, with a few Andean girls tending to crops and animals. It seemed so steep that it would be impossible to do anything there. But they, impressively, managed to make a living there.

Illimani slowly but surely grew larger before us as we went around the continual twists and turns in the road. Every now and then it became obscured by the slopes  but then peaked out in the beautiful weather – sunny, calm, blue skies… it was all set to be perfect climbing conditions over the next couple of days. Eventually the road came to and end in a small village further up in a valley that led to the base camp for the mountain – a camp that was a gentle two hour hike away. Again, splendid views of the mountain through the trees – the mountain looked even more fantastic to climb. A couple of mules and a small boy came along and this time we were able to load our main rucksacks on to them to carry to the camp. So it was set to be quite easy for us.

We got going at a gentle pace, though soon it was clear that Natalia had not recovered properly at all. Her stomach pains returned and in spite of having calmed down over the previous day, diarrhea struck. She kept going though the hike transformed into a four-hour struggle for her. We got to base camp an hour or so before dusk and she pretty much collapsed into the tent once it was set up. It was clear that she wouldn’t be able to continue to the next camp. So it was decided that she and José would remain in base camp: apparently there have been some robberies at the camp and disputes between local communities there make it slightly dangerous (in one dispute, one community had blocked off the stream that went to the other side of the valley and as such the other community put a dead animal in the water of the former…). Probably nothing would happen, though it was for the best. This meant that Caleb and I would tackle the mountain by ourselves, even though Caleb had never gone up it before. Furthermore, we would go straight to high camp in the morning instead of taking a day at Camp I, before attempting to summit in the early following morning. It promised to be a marathon couple of days.

The views from the summit of Huayna Potosi were spectacular. We could see the Condoriri mountains with Pequeño Alpamayo; Illimani  was clear behind La Paz… lake Titicaca; Mount Sajama in the distance. It truly felt like we were on the roof of the world. There was a group of five other climbers who shared the summit with us for ten minutes or so, but when the left, it was just myself, Kirk and Caleb. There was not even any wind so there was a blissful silence as we looked over Bolivia. Incredible.

We had a couple of chocolate bars each (these had become our staple energy diets when going up the mountains. Apparently we were easily spending about 5,000 calories each in the course of the ascents); took a few photographs, and packed up to leave. Descending didn’t take too long with the exception of the knife-edge ridge from the summit. Going down was even harder for me than going up, though maybe I was not quite so breathless with each step. I guess in going down, as with Pequeño Alpamayo, we are forced to look at the consequences of any fall… down, and a long way down at that. The wall of ice to our left was a great help as I was able to plunge my ice axe into that every couple of steps and it was nice to have that extra security, but the fully exposed part towards the end, with no ice walls for protection, was again terrifying, but Kirk and Caleb coaxed me along and I was able to maintain my balance. As you can imagine, I was extremely pleased to get to the end of that part.

And yes, straightforward after that – the trail through the ice and snow was quite clear; all the main crevasses were clear either side of this path and no new crevasses opened up beneath our feet, so it was all good. Back to high camp and it was nice to see Natalia and José again, though they were leaving earlier to go down to base camp. We had chance to have a quick nap and some noodle soup before we had to pack our things up to go down. It was heavy work. Going down the perilously slippery rock-ice path with full back packs was tough (no porters); we needed crampons for parts because the snow was quite deep and going down in inflexible plastic mountain boots made it even harder. Then after that, the path just seemed to go on forever until we saw the buildings of the refuge. We saw a group of people on the glacier leading up to the mountain and they were coming down – they soon passed us and apparently this was training that they were doing in preparation for an ascent. José commented to Natalia that in general in Bolivia, inexperienced groups would do this type of training – and it would have been nice if we could have spent time doing it… but ah well, we had managed it anyway.

So back to the refuge; Kirk got us all a beer which was great, then the two hour drive to La Paz, a day’s rest and then, if things went according to plan, to Illimani.

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.