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Ben and Ange - On the Road

Edmund & Tensing

BOLIVIA | Sunday, 29 June 2008 | Views [601]

MADE IT!!! All 6088 meters of it!

MADE IT!!! All 6088 meters of it!

Ben wanted to climb a mountain.

Said it was 6088m.

I said okay.

Off we went to climb Huayana Potosi.  A stunning snow capped mountain just to the east of La Paz. 

So picture going up a really big set of stairs.... now reduce the oxygen by at least half... increase the incline to at least 40 degrees .... add snow and ice that requires the use of crampons and an ice axe ... throw in some sheer and crumbling ice faces that have us roped to our guide for when we fall ... and make it 15 hours of trekking.  You got yourself an idea of what it was to climb this bastard!

Ok - the blow by blow account.

We drove up to our initial camp at around 4700m.  Here we pitch tents and get all our equipment:  Mountain boots - hard boots that make it impossible to flex at all... but boy don`t they come into their own on ice!  Crampons - spikey things that attach to said boots and enable you to cling to precarious ice slopes.  Gaitors.  Stop you from spearing yourself with crampons.  Harness.  Ready to be roped up and dangled from crazy ice structures.  Ice axe.  For scaling crazy ice structures.  Oh and then theres the balaclavas, gloves, sunnies, jacket, pants, headlamp....

Once we had all our gear we did a wee hike (thats about an hour UPHILL) to a nearby glacier for some practice using it all.  We got to do a weird sideways grab walk up and down ice faces of about 50-60 degrees.  Lot harder than our trustee guides made it look.  We also got to climb sheer faces (90 degrees) using two axes and rappell back down.  Sly Stallone Cliffhanger eat your heart out!  Of course all the while we`re doing this, we`re in amongst some simply spectacular ice formations and crevasses. 

Once we were sufficiently exhausted.... weilding axes and scaling ice faces when oxygen is low is no mean feat .... we head back down hill to camp.  Eat.  Sleep.  Well - lie in a sleeping bag thinking about how important it is to sleep cos we`ve got such a big day ahead of us while not sleeping a wink, for some.

Next day.  Remember all that equipment?  Yeah well, now we get to stuff that all in a rucksack with our own clothes (not many - cos who cares if you stink when you`re doing such stoopid things?) plus our sleeping bags and lug it uphill for another 3 hours to base camp.  We`re at 5100m now.  Its cold.  And rocky.  And I STILL can`t breathe.  But my, aren`t the views something!  Here we eat.  And sleep (hallaleuja I actually DO). 

At midnight the fun begins.  Up we get.  A quick cup of coca tea and a piece of cake.  Don all the equipment plus head lamps.... and so it begins.

The rest of the climb is entirely on ice/snow.  We`re roped two to a guide and we start that kookey crab-walk up the incline.  That kookey crab walk is what we do for most of the day - interspersed with proper axe weilding climbing and lots and lots and LOTS of pauses.  Not only is the incline enough to make you groan upon looking at whats to come, but also - there`s crevasses and ridges and drop offs that just make you sweat.  Dear god, please let our guide (Miguel) be strong enough to hold me when I plummet to a sure and not so entirely unwanted at this point death!

So I confess.  We wern`t all that far into our 11 hours of trekking when I had made up my mind that I`d cut my losses.  I`d tried.  It was just TOO HARD, theres no shame in not making it beyond 5500m.  Here, however is where our guides have informed us that if I stop, we ALL return.  Ah.  No way in hell am I gonna be the cause of others (Ben) missing out.  So a deep breath (as deep as I can manage) and on we go. 

Miguel was a saint.  I was struggling to make 10 steps between each 2 minute pause.  He`d simply stop, wait and continue once I started moving again.  There was the occasional "Esta bien?" and of course the explanation that resting... LOTS.. was "no problemo".  If Miguel was a saint... Ben was a hero.  I spose it was lucky for all of us that I didn`t have breath to groan, let alone complain or yell... but Ben somehow managed to say and do all the right things at all the right times!  Maybe it was the altitude :-)

Sunrise at this height was truely something to behold.  In the distance we have La Paz all lit up.  Mountain ranges and lagoons abounding.  Clouds below us.  The sun casting a wikkid orange glow over the lot and throwing a fantastic pink light onto the very summit we`re ascending.  And didn`t it just give me the perfect excuse for another wee rest?

The final approach to the summit was incredible.  Its possibly a good thing that we were so knackered - as it left less room for sheer terror at the stupidly thin ridge we climbed.  To our right was a thin wall of ice, about hip height, that gave way to a drop of, oh I dunno about FIVE HUNDRED METRES!!!!  To our left was the incline we`d just scaled (about 75 degrees) that would have us sliding down into some scarey, but really quite beautiful crevasses.

The summit.

Yep, nice views alright.  But just BEING THERE was sublime!!! 

Especially given we had to be roped to an anchor to prevent our plummeting from what was a truely precarious perch on toppa the world.

Photos.  Not many - have I mentioned precarious?  And then the descent.

Of course it`s light by now.  Which gives way to some awesome views, but also reveals to us that we probly should have been even MORE terrified on the way up.  All of the way down we are not only ecstatic, we`re also bewildered that we actually came all the way UP HERE?!!  Down down down .... and down, we trek.  Using the last of our reserves to keep it a controlled descent.  Upon arrival back at base camp we can remove most of our gear, collapse in sheer delight and relief and then get ready for the rest of the descent.  This time carrying all of our gear instead of wearing it. Knee breaking, quad shaking stuff.

So we did it!  A pair of sea-level flat landers managed to climb to 6088m! 

I think I can say this was the most physically (and possibly mentally) challenging thing I have done in my life.... so far.  Ditto for Ben.  How much we`ve done on this trip. 

YAY US!!! 

 

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