Rotator Placeholder Image
  • Mt. Bierstadt Group Summit - Front Range, Colorado
  • A rest before the summit push on Dallas Peak - San Juan Range, Colorado
  • Broken Ankle + 6 Miles = Tired
  • The classic San Juan approach - San Juan Range, Colorado
  • Overlooking Noname Basin from Twin Thumbs Pass - San Juan Range, Colorado
  • Upper Noname Basin - San Juan Range, Colorado
  • Nearing Noname Cabin - San Juan Range, Colorado
  • Twin Thumbs Twins - San Juan Range, Colorado
  • Nearing the summit of Pt. 13,736 - Sawatch Range, Colorado
  • Blustery day on Iowa Peak - Sawatch Range, Colorado
  • Morning snow at 15k, Cerro Ramada - Cordillera Ramada
  • Artesonraju from the summit of Nevado Pisco - Cordillera Blanca, Peru
  • February crowds on Gray's Peak - Front Range, Colorado
  • Kicking steps on Cerro Lliani - Cordillera Vilcanota, Peru
  • Final traverse to the summit of Wheeler Mountain - Ten Mile Range, Colorado
  • The long walk to Pachanta - Cordillera Vilcanota, Peru
  • banner31
    Afternoon at 17k on Cerro Ramada - Cordillera Ramada, Argentina
  • banner22
    The final ridge on Iowa Peak - Sawatch Range, Colorado
  • Summer summit on Longs Peak - Front Range, Colorado
  • A rest day at the Pachanta Hot Springs - Cordillera Vilcanota, Peru
  • Mind over matter on Mt. Parnassas - Front Range, Colorado
  • Rest stop on Cerro Lliani - Cordillera Vilcanota, Peru
  • banner30
    Post nap surprise on Cerro Ramada - Cordiller Ramada, Argentina
  • Summit on Cerro Lliani - Cordillera Vilcanota, Peru
  • banner23
    Ridge walking on Grizzly Peak - Sawatch Range, Colorado
  • Enroute the summit via the West Ridge on Pacific Peak - Ten Mile Range, Colorado
  • Mule train bound for Chilca - Cordillera Vilcanota, Peru
  • Taking in the view from Fletcher Peak - Ten Mile Range, Colorado
  • Hiking on Silverheels - Mosquito Range, Colorado
  • Traversing! Gladstone Peak - San Juan Range, Colorado
  • banner24
    The best of times at Willow Lake - Sangre de Christo Range, Colorado
  • banner29
    High Altitude Cerebral Edema? - Cordillera Ramada, Argentina
  • Bound for Chilca - Vilcanota Range, Peru
  • Going alpine light, Holy Cross Ridge - Sawatch Range, Colorado
  • Cumbre! Campa I - Cordillera Vilcanota, Peru
  • Roadside lunch with the best of company - Cordillera Vilcanota, Peru
  • banner25
    Long ridge walk to the summit of California Peak - Sangre de Christo Range, Colorado
  • banner28
    Crossing el Rio Colorado . . . in the afternoon - Cordillera Ramada, Argentina
  • banner37
    Dealing with Fall snows high on Casco Peak - Sawatch Range, Colorado
  • Moonrise over Mercedario - Cordillera Ramada, Argentina
  • Still climbing at 20,900 on Cerro Ramada - Cordiller Ramada, Argentina
  • Talus on Halo Ridge, Mt. of the Holy Cross - Sawatch Range, Colorado
  • banner26
    Deteriorating conditions on Mt. Arkansas - Ten Mile Range, Colorado
  • banner27
    After the climb - Cordillera Ramada, Argentina
  • banner38
    Taking in the view from the summit of Crystal Peak - Tenmile Range, Colorado
  • Topping out on Mt. Arkansas' North Couloir - Mosquito Range, Colorado
  • Glissade on Mt. Arkansas - Mosquito Range, Colorado
  • Hard snow morning on Teakettle Mountain - San Juan Range, Colorado
  • Spring snow announces the start of the climb on Dallas Peak - San Juan Range, Colorado
  • Crossing the Eolus Catwalk - San Juan Range, Colorado

2001 Huyana Potosi and Condoriri Expedition


Huyana Potosi Base Camp – July 29

Packing for the trip to Huyana Potosi

The departure from La Paz to the hut below Huyana Potosi was complicated by the still missing luggage. Last minute phone calls and a stop at the airport failed to yield even the slightest indication of a potential positive outcome to the quest for the absent gear. Dan was able to scrounge a set of double boots, crampons, and an axe, and with the addition of our extras; we were off to the mountain by noon.   The outfit providing our transportation and operating the refugio said they would check the airport the next two mornings on the off chance the gear made an appearance but given the degree of airline organization seen so far, we knew the odds were against us.  However, unknown to us, there was another, more powerful force at work . . . Anne’s dad.

A quick glance at the Illimani Massive as we plummet uphill!

The route to the Huyana Potosi refugio winds up through the narrow streets of La Paz, departing the four lane just a few hairpins below the canyon rim near the airport.  From there, it was rough single lane, first with some evidence of paving in the past and then just a single track winding up into the highlands above the city.  For me, the ride in itself was a new personal altitude record as before we even reached the flats from which Huyana Potosi was visible we were tearing along at 15,000 feet.  One must bear in mind that driving in Bolivia is an expression of machismo, even as in this case when the driver is not a man.  To slow down for a curve atop a precipice or make any effort to salvage but one more potential mile from the admittedly rugged suspension of a Toyota Land Cruiser is a sign of weakness.  The road topped out and we saw Huyana Potosi, Illimani and other peaks of the Cordillera Real.

Miner's graveyard below Huyana Potosi

We drove further on the dirt track, at a high rate of speed, until we reached the military checkpoint at the ruins of a tin mine. The cemetery just before the mine provided proof positive of Bolivia's past labor strife as the graves were those of miners killed, not by their labors underground, but as they left the mine during a particularly violent strike. The graveyard is unlike anything in the U.S. in that each grave is above the ground and composed of a shelter into which a wooden tray of sorts rests, supporting the bones of the dead.
Our destination was the refugio operated by the local guide service Dan was using for transport to the mountains and local guides on the climbing days. The road to the refugio skirts the side of the Zongo reservoir and dam, arriving at the refugio just before dropping from the altoplano into the lowlands of the Amazon rainforest, butting up against the eastern flank of the Andes.  We unloaded our gear and claimed bunks within the refugio, our base of operations for the next three nights.
The plan called for two days of training and practice on the glacier, primarily a review of cramponing techniques and most importantly crevasse rescue systems and procedures. We unpacked gear and continued the acclimatization process by killing the rest of the afternoon with a hike to the toe of the Huyana Potosi glacier. Fortunately, Gary and I had been hiking as much as possible at a minimum elevation of 8000 feet, so the climb up to the toe was not too strenuous. Regardless, it was another altitude record for me, 16,500 feet.

The Refugio - our base camp for the Huyana Potosi climb

The owners of the refugio provided both shelter and meals for the daily $10 charge. Breakfast and dinner are served hot and the portions are in keeping with the degree of hunger one will experience in preparing for a climb or after returning from one.  The fare is definitely Bolivian but with a touch of weird here and there. For example, each meal started with soup and the potato soup was not made with potato chunks but with frozen French fries. No problem as every meal was well prepared, even if occasionally on the bizarre side. Before heading for bed, we filled water bottles and used the toilet, making sure to do so before the entire water system froze for the night. After that, it was take your chances with the hut's cistern and flushing the toilet with a slosh of water from a 5 gallon bucket, making sure not to drown the rat that lived behind the can!
The first night at altitude also introduced every member of the group to the Cheynes-Stokes breathing syndrome that affects climbers until they are acclimated. The end effect is that as you fall asleep, your breathing stops and anywhere from 15 to 50 seconds later, you wake up gasping and wondering what happened to the air. Five minutes later, you have had your fill of oxygen and doze off again, only to repeat the process throughout the night. As you can imagine, sleep does finally come but only after you are pretty much exhausted and it never resembles the quality of sleep at home.

Practice on the Glacier – July 30

After an eight o'clock breakfast, everyone but Anne packed their axes and crampons and headed back to the toe of the glacier for the first of two days of practice and acclimatization. Anne hung out at the hut, having picked up a bug of some sort shortly after her arrival in Bolivia. She greeted this morning by puking on Dan's gear from the top bunk of a three-tier bunk bed. We left her with water bottles of Gatorade and our wishes for improved health.

Huyana Potosi as seen from the Refugio above Zongo Dam

The hike up to the glacier gains about 800 feet over a mile or so, crossing the crest of the concrete dam, following an aqueduct, and then climbing up the terminal moraine to a silty frozen pond below the glacier's terminus. The first day was spent practicing cramponing techniques and then rigging crevasse rescue pulley systems. Each of us made sure we could rig a Z-pulley haulage system without the assistance of the others in the event we were the part of the rope that did not take a crevasse fall.  Dan also introduced us to building an V thread ice anchor by threading a cord through two intersecting ice screw holes after which everyone ensured that they could construct balanced anchors using threads and other already familiar anchor systems.  We certainly did not intend to lose anyone into a crevasse but everyone did need and wanted to be proficient in the event someone did take an unanticipated fall.
We headed back to the hut in the late afternoon and dinner was soon on the table. After dinner we socialized with some of the Euros and a Brazilian couple also using the hut and played many a hand of cards, before heading for bed and waiting for the morning to end the torment of intermittent breathing.

More Practice on the Glacier – July 31

Anne joined us for the second day of practice on the glacier toe and most of the focus was cramponing on steep ice, roped belay techniques, ice protection installation, rope coils and some two tool front pointing. By the end of the afternoon, everyone was ready and excited about the next day’s climb when we would head up the Huyana Potosi glacier and camp at the "Argentine Camp" located at about elevation 18,000 feet.
We were also pleasantly surprised to find Anne's colossal gear bag waiting at the hut when we returned from the glacier. The airlines, with some serious prodding efforts by Anne’s father, had finally delivered and the outfit that owned the hut came through like champs, having checked the airport before coming up to the hut that morning.  It was Anne's lucky day and now everyone had his or her own gear.  We packed our personal equipment in our packs and put the group gear such as tents, stoves, and fuel in large duffels that would be carried by porters to the glacier camp.   Then another filling dinner and many a hand of Rummy 500 before we began another struggle against Cheynes Stokes and the bottomless mattresses placed in each bunk.

Base to Argentine Camp – August 1

The porters packing for the walk to the Argentine Camp

After breakfast, the porters arrived and re-packed our group gear to their liking. We also met Daniel, a Bolivian guide Dan had hired to break our group into two three-person rope teams. Gary and I would climb with Daniel while Jim and Anne would go with Dan. My Spanish would have to do for the climb, as Daniel's English was minimal.
We started up by taking the same route to the toe of the glacier and then cutting east to ascend over boulders and along trail segments snaking up the spine of the lateral moraine. About 500 feet above the toe of the glacier, the moraine meets a rock headwall forcing the trail to climb a series of switchbacks to again meet the glacier higher on the mountain. This was a good spot for a rest and everyone took a breather to drink and eat.  So far, our acclimatization effort was paying off, no breathlessness or headaches in the group.

Porters making good time up through the moraines

After climbing the switchbacks, we were on snow, skirting the edge of the glacier for a bit before formally stepping back onto the ice for the remainder of the climb.  At about the half waypoint, we stopped to rope up and put on crampons for the rest of the hike up to the Argentine Camp. The trail made a steady ascent and in some places was steep enough to require sidestepping. In addition, those of the group not familiar with the rest step became familiar, and practiced it, from this point on.

The start of the snow portion of the climb

The trail continued to ascend, passing the lower camping area adjacent to a buttress of rock.  We would thankfully keep moving as the denizens of this camp had not made use of a communal pit and the remnants of that decision were scattered about, slowly melting their way into the oblivion of the glacier or being exposed by the sun where previously covered by snow.  After the rock camp, the expanse of snow was unbroken but for passing one particularly gaping crevasse. The trail wound its way up the glacier and we made the flat spot known as the Argentine Camp at about three in the afternoon.  We were the first to arrive that afternoon and immediately started flattening spots for the tents and digging a shallow pit into which the stoves could be placed out of the wind. Wands were placed to denote the no rope needed safety zone around the tents (crevasses) and everyone noted the location of the pit toilet, i.e. a 4’ x 4’ cutout in a snow bank suitable for #’s 1 and 2.  By four, other parties had arrived, including our porters who dropped the group gear.  The fact that this was going to become one very cold place when the sun dipped below a distant ridge was not lost on us and we made sure that the sleeping bags were soon lofting, and snow melting on the stoves for water and dinner. Needless to say, at 18,000 feet, there is no running water; therefore, every ounce is melted snow.

Argentine Camp at elevation 18,875 feet

By 4:30, the sun was about to drop below a far ridge and the reality of cold, serious cold, entered the group's consciousness. Though the glacier is just about tee shirt country in the sun, it is seven layer turf 30 seconds after the sun is blocked. Everyone layered up and sure enough, the temperature bottomed within seconds of the sun's departure. Brave attempts were made by all to remain outside of the tents and engage in conversation, but nobody lasted more than a few minutes before seeking the warmth of a sleeping bag.
Daniel and Dan made dinner and each of us popped out to give a hand gathering snow or watching the stoves. Dinner was the typical climber’s camp chow: ramen noodle soup with tuna fish tossed in for flavor. Add hot tea and you have a meal that would be good if the altitude had not destroyed your appetite and the cold did not freeze anything not promptly eaten. Everyone choked the meal down and then looked at the clock with some degree of dread. Five in the afternoon is a long way from three in the morning when you are laying in a tent and have little hope of sleep because every doze is abruptly terminated by sleep apnea.  It was a long night for everyone, especially when nature called . . .

Argentine Camp to Huyana Potosi Summit – August 2

Knife edge ridge leading to the summit of Huyana Potosi

Summit day began with a 3 a.m. wake-up and a quick breakfast of oatmeal heavily laced with brown sugar. The boot liners came out of the sleeping bags and cold remained the governing theme.  Most of the group started with long underwear, fleece, down, and wind shell layers before later shedding layers on the way to the summit. After breakfast was choked down, everyone emerged into the darkness and rigged the harnesses and ropes for travel across the glacier.  We split into two rope teams; Gary and I again were with Daniel as we left camp just a few minutes before the second rope of Jim, Anne and Dan.

Gary and Howard atop Huyana Potosi, elevation 19,974 feet

An hour later, we were at the base of the bergshrund marking the top of the lower glacier. This large crevasse, formed where the glacier has pulled away from the valley headwall, required about a 120-foot climb up ice and snow at an inclination of about 70 degrees. Daniel climbed first and set up a belay for Gary and me to follow. The route had seen a lot of travel so rather than being faced with a sheer face, we scrambled up the trough cut into the ice by the ascents and descents of many a party before us.  At the top of the ice wall, we re-spaced on the rope and set off up the ridgeline leading ever upward toward the summit. By this time, day dawned over the Amazon Basin, very much lower and to the east; however, it was still cold enough to keep the shell zipped and the heaviest BD gloves on the hands.

The view from the summit of Huyana Potosi, looking north to the peaks of the Condoriri

The route up the ridge alternated between sections steep enough to require a bit of side stepping and more tame sections where the going would have been monotonous but for the views off toward the east, the sun rising steadily over the jungles far below. Our team made good time, passing a number of slower Euro ropes as well as a few gaping crevasses before arriving at the flats that form the base of the summit pyramid.

The knife edge ridge leading down from the summit

Daniel gave us a choice between a direct climb toward the summit versus a more circular route that gained the summit via a knife-edge ridge. We chose the ridge primarily for the experience of movement along an exposed ridge as compared to a simpler but more steep and straightforward snow climb. Our experience in Colorado had provided plenty of climbs right up the middle of a slope or couloir but no opportunity to move along a knife-edge with a touch of exposure to keep one’s attention tuned to the task. We made the ridge after another half hour and with Daniel on belay; we made our way up the knife-edge. The exposure to the north was about 3000 feet whereas the southern edge was a more tame 500 to 800 feet. We traversed along the southern side and after a steep pitch or two, made the summit at about eight in the morning. Overall, we felt good and took in the sights from this lofty 20,000-foot high perch.

The alternative to the knife edge, a snow slope al the way to the summit

The altitude of the Huyana Potosi summit was 6000 feet higher than any other point I had achieved in my previous climbing experience. The air was thin to say the least but we found that as long as quick steps were avoided, both Gary and I remained clear-headed and steady on the feet. We took some summit photos and headed back down the ridge that we had ascended just one half hour earlier. We had been lucky; the weather was picture postcard Bolivian winter, cold, dead still and clear. 
Our route back to the flats retraced our ascent and after a couple of belayed sections, we were able to downclimb without belay back to the base of the summit climb.  Dan, Anne and Jim were by this point nearing the summit, having taken the more direct route.  We watched their progress and estimated they were only one half hour from the top when we finished a brief rest and hoisted our packs for the trip back down the ridge to the Argentine Camp below. 

Howard sidestepping down the glacier after descending the bergshrund

The trip down to Argentine camp was fast and warm in the now bright sunlight. We easily descended the undulating ridge, passing crevasses unseen in the darkness of our ascent, before reaching the top of the bergshrund.  Daniel rigged a belay and we down climbed the steep chute to the flat below.  We now had only to cross the top of the lower glacier, so once again we roped up and stepped our way on back to the tents by just after 11 that morning.  Our climb to nearly 20,000 feet had been a success and taken only seven hours in the process.
The porters arrived soon after our return to the tents and together we broke the camp and prepared to head down to the hut at the base of the mountain. However, we could not leave before the other rope team returned, which they did about 2 1/2 hours later. Upon his arrival, Dan immediately gave his blessing to move out and we again roped up and started moving down the glacier. The trip to the base took another 3 hours and placed us almost a vertical mile below the summit we stood upon just a half dozen hours before.

Jim, Anne, and Dan returning to the Argentine Camp

Jim and Anne caught up with us on the way down and we arrived together at the hut, tired but satisfied with the results of our two-day climb.  To a person we were anxiously looking forward to the comforts of La Paz and a well deserved in town meal.  Transportation back to La Paz was to arrive in an hour, so we spent a few minutes speed packing our remaining gear in the hut and sitting down for some tea. I took this opportunity to try the local tea variety, coca tea. It is prepared by covering the bottom of a coffee mug with whole coca leaves and adding hot water, allowing it to steep for a few minutes before drinking. Coca tea and coca leaves are part of the Bolivian culture and have been used for years for the relief of the soroche, or altitude sickness. I did not detect any major effects but figured the experience to be a harmless part of the Bolivian climbing experience.

Dropping to Zongo Dam and the refugio far below

Our transportation arrived as planned and before leaving the hut, we took care of the tips for the cook, guide, and porters, each of who had been great and contributed to our success on Huyana Potosi.  Two hours later we were back in Calacoto, thinking about a hot shower and the possibility that the off and on banter about a llama steak might become reality before the close of the evening meal.  Also, we were now at the paltry altitude of 12,000 feet . . . no Cheynes-Stokes tonight!

Rest day in La Paz – August 3

Plaza de San Fransisco, Zona Central, La Paz

Dan needed the day to line up the remainder of the trip, which was to prove very different from the plans made before coming to Bolivia. Our original plan was to climb Huyana Potosi and then move onto the even higher Illimani. However, we talked with a group out of Pennsylvania who had been to an area called Condoriri instead of Illimani and they had had a good time. Both the Pennsylvanians and Dan told of this glacial cirque and the half dozen or so peaks ranging from 17,000 to 18,500 feet that were accessible from a central campsite. We came to a unanimous decision to forgo the higher altitude and cold glacier camps needed to do a climb of Illimani and instead set up a more temperate base camp in the Condoriri cirque, located at a pleasant 15,000 feet.
We took advantage of the day to rest up and most of us headed into central La Paz to wander about with stops in the markets, the central plaza, the government plaza and a bank to change money. The maze of streets above the witches’ market was especially interesting as we found whole streets dedicated to open air marketing of particular goods.  There was the leather block, the rug block, the household goods and cookware section and of course, food venders are everywhere.  Our wandering was extensive before we closed by dropping down onto the main street and walking to the financial district before hailing a cab for the ride back to Calacoto.  The necessary packing session and a good night’s sleep followed the group dinner.