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Wednesday
Jul242013

Bolivia

For culture and high peaks, Bolivia is the place to go in the Americas. The landlocked country has 13 mountains over 6,000 meters and population that's over half Indigenous. I've been wanting to return to Bolivia since 1999 when I guided there for two months. The opportunity arose last summer in the Talkeetna Mountains when Glenn mentioned his itch for 20,000 feet. Bolivia is the place! With James and Paul also on board, we had our regular team of many adventures. 

The crew: Joe, Paul Muscat, Tomas Sayme, James Kesterson, Glenn Wilson and Marco Soria. Tomas was our cook, camp guard and trekking guide. He made incredible Bolivian food and never served us a stomach bug. Marco owns Bolivian Journeys and was our logistics operator and driver. Before the trip he helped us nail down the ideal itinerary. I highly recommend Bolivian Journeys!

 

On our acclimatizing trek to Condoriri Base camp we crossed many llama-infested 16,000-foot passes with wild views.  

 

Beasts of burden carried our gear. 

 

We spent our second night at this beautiful refugio high in the Cordillera Real. Cost per night: ten Bolivianos ($1.50). It was built four years ago, then abandoned. 

 

This was our camp for three nights at Condoriri Base Camp. Pequeno Alpamayo, our first summit, is beyond the big glacier on the right. 

 

Descending Pequeno Alpamayo (17,600'). The route seemed steeper than years ago. Marco reminded me, "You're not 26 anymore."

 

We also trekked the non-glaciated summit of Pico Austria (17,500') from Condoriri. Luckily the summit was cairned, otherwise we'd have kept climbing. 


Our next objective was Huayna Potosi. Our route was the right skyline. Huayna is supposedly the easiest 6,000-meter summit in the world.

In 1999, Brendan Cusick and I climbed a 12-pitch route up the triangular, rocky face to the left of the summit. Amazing enough, in 2011 the same route had its first ascent! Now, the face appeared to me as a choss-pile. What stood out to my Alaska-adjusted mindset was that shining 1,000-foot, 50-degree face of powder dropping down and right from the summit. The French Route remained unskied during our visit.  

 

Twenty-six feet short of 20,000 but still having fun! James, Glenn and Paul climbing the knife-edge summit ridge of Huayna Potosi. Definitely more gripping than in 1999! 

 

We based our trip from La Paz, the capital city. This is the view from our hotel room, looking up to El Alto. La Paz sits in a valley ranging from 10,500 feet to 13,500 feet. The wealthy live at warmer, lower elevations. El Alto sprawls across the altiplano from the rim of La Paz. 

 

The other side of our hotel, looking into the San Pedro Prison. A line of people wait to see family. The 21,122-foot massif of Illimani rises above La Paz. 

 

Tomas (in red fleece) and I food shopping before the next trip. La Paz seemed exactly as I remembered it 14 years ago. 

 

Espera por favor! One stop shopping!

 

Paul and I visited the open market in El Alto. This Thursday and Sunday market is one of the largest in the world. We walked for two hours and only hit the automotive and clothing sections. We were the only gringos. 

 

Part two of our trip was to the Cordillera Occidental, a four-hour drive from La Paz. Our goal was two 20,000-foot peaks: Parinacota and Sajama. This is a truck stop at 16,000 feet near the Bolivia/Chile border. 

 

Pee break while four-wheeling into Parinacota, a 20,827-foot stratovolcano, the eighth highest volcano in the world.  

 

Pop quiz! Would you camp there? (Those are not our tents)

 

Sunrise on Parinacota summit day. Sajama, our next objective, in the distance. 

 

A VERY stoked Glenn gasping around the crater rim to the summit of Parinacota. Eight hundred and twenty seven feet over 20,000! Tick! We'd previously been to Logan at 19,551 feet and Cotapaxi at 19,347 feet.

 

Paul, Glenn and James at our hostel in Sajama at 14,000 feet during a rest day. Parinacota and Pomarape beyond. The classic Sajama rest day involves soaking in the hot springs. No photo, but you can imagine one brown dude and four white dudes steeping in a murky pool, surrounded by llamas and snow-capped peaks. 

 

Bolivian president Evo Morales is popular!

 

 

Tomas appreciates Evo's support of coca. Most Bolivians chew coca, a mild stimulant. 

 

Glenn feeling the hard turf of a yareta plant while hiking into Nevado Sajama. Many yareta are over 3,000 years old. 

 

Tomas and Glenn at our 18,650-foot high camp on Nevado Sajama. We gave the summit a crack, but we found that 21,463 feet is reeeeelly high. 

 

Thanks for an incredible trip guys! I can't wait until the next installment!