Bolivia mountaineering

Huayna Potosi

From 26 May until 24 June, we spent our time in Bolivia, climbing peaks of over 6000 metres, training in cold and difficult conditions, learning mountaineering and roping techniques, dealing with illness, and getting used to each other over sustained periods in challenging environments.

Pequeño Alpamayo

This was the first time we have been to Bolivia – a wonderful land-locked country resting between Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru. The country has an incredibly varied geography, with the Andean plateau and peaks in the west of the country reaching  6,542 metres with Mount Sajama, in contrast to the eastern lowlands of the Amazon basin. On the plateau you get the world’s highest fresh water lake, Lake Titicaca, and also the world’s largest salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni – a massive ocean of hard white salt covering thousands of square kilometres at 4,000 metres and higher. Connecting the different regions are roads that can be described as spectacular but at the same time, highly dangerous – single lanes with traffic coming both directions and vertical drops spanning hundreds of metres for anybody who strays just a little to far from the centre.

The country is a democratic republic, has around 10 million people and has a massive array of different ethnic groups (the number of different local languages we heard while we were there was impressive). Furthermore, Bolivia has a rich history, having been the centre of the Tiwanaku civilization which began to grow from around 1500BC and reached its heights at around 950 AD, when climatic changes led to its effective disappearance by 1000AD. They were eventually replaced by the Incas, temporarily at least until the colonial forces of Spain arrived.

The principal city where we were was La Paz, a city of around 1 million people situated on valley slopes from 3,500metres up to 4,000metres where it merges with the slum-like city of El Alto that sits itself on the high ground. Flying into the airport at El Alto is one of the more enjoyable descents you can have in an airplane, as you have views of mountains such as Huayna Potosi and Illimani which immediately surround La Paz, lake Titicaca, and the Cordillera Real mountain range as a whole.

While getting to Bolivia proved to be much trickier and more frustrating than we would have liked, our time in the country was divided into two phases: acclimatization and mountaineering.

Acclimatisation

Acclimatisation took place over ten days and saw us enjoy a number of different parts of the country before the hard work began:

La Paz – enjoying the sites, sounds and general quirkiness of this fantastic city

The Salar de Uyuni – the World’s largest salt flats

The Yungas “Death Road” – cycling from 4,700 metres just a few kilometres outside of La Paz to 1,500 metres at Coroico in the Amazon region – this is considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous and treacherous roads

Tiwanaku – journey to the central city of this ancient civilization

Lake Titicaca and Isla de Sol – a day on the world’s highest lake

Mountaineering

So, after a good period of adapting to the high altitudes of the Andean plateau, to the mountains and dealing with even higher peaks, illness, fears of heights, and plenty more…

Condoriri base camp – the main base camp for a number of 5,000metre+ peaks in the Cordillera Real

Pico Austria – a low, non-technical 5,100metre+ climb, great for acclimatising for the higher peaks

Pequeño Alpamayo – a 5,300metre+ climb – low but beautiful, and actually quite technical for first time with crampons

Huayna Potosi – Our first peak above 6,000metre (6,088m) and what a wonderful mountain it is!

Illimani – Even higher now, at 6,438 metres, but so much tougher!

Photo Galleries

Though plenty of photos are in the posts, just a few galleries of the images taken from the expedition…

Acclimatisation – Yungas Road, Salar de Uyuni and La Paz

The first few mountains – Condoriri base camp, Austria and Pequeño Alpamayo

Final challenges: Climbing Huayna Potosi and Illimani

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