2001 Huyana Potosi and Condoriri Expedition
Pyramida Blanca – August 8
The start of the climb the next morning was almost routine at this point . . . rise at three, choke down oatmeal, on the trail at four, and onto the glacier an hour later. This time I was the lead on a rope of four, following the same route toward Tierja but anticipating a cut off toward Pyramida Blanca within yards of the valley headwall. The trip up the glacier toward the headwall was the same as two days before and the cut off to Pyramida Blanca was almost all the way to the saddle. Our route then took a traversing line toward Pyramida Blanca with zigs and zags to avoid a number of open and closed, but obvious, crevasses along the way.
Soon we were at another smaller headwall, which required placing a picket to protect the remainder of the group's ascent. Once atop the second headwall, we crossed two 40-foot deep but only 2-foot wide crevasses and then moved across a flat snowfield to the base of the summit rock climb.
We snacked and then down climbed back to the snow where I again took the lead for the trip back to camp. This time however, we did not take the climber's trail but instead made a straight line traverse of the glacier. I came to the first obvious bridged crevasse and asked Dan what was the crossing procedure, he said to probe with the axe while the rest of the rope readied to arrest a leader fall into the crevasse. We all crossed over without incident but as we moved lower on the glacier, we encountered a pattern of crevasses, which appeared to the eye to be streaks of smoothed over snow, as if running water had polished a foot wide icy ribbon. I poked and sure enough, it was a one-foot wide crevasse. We moved on and as I crossed another ribbon, it proved to be a weak snow bridge over a much wider crevasse. Suddenly, I was up to my waist in snow, feet hanging in air as Gary and Jim assumed the arrest mode. I was going nowhere quickly so I kicked forward to plant a crampon and kicked backward to plant the other, while calling out that I was fine.
Gary held tension and I chopped away the snow to look at just what I was hanging in. The snow bridge proved to be about 3 feet thick and it was ice for about 40 more feet down. My crampons were secure and I planted my ice axe forward to "swim out" . . . easy enough. Soon, I was standing on the far side with the rest of the rope remaining on the opposite side of a crevasse too wide to jump. We turned course 90 degrees and traversed the crevasse field along its length until we intercepted the packed trail we had used on earlier in the morning. We were back at the camp in just another two hours and enjoyed a cold beer purchased from the local eight-year-old beer merchant. More cards, dinner with a focus on killing off the duffel of dehydrated food, and a decent night's sleep.
While we were climbing Pyramida Blanca, Anne and Elrochio were making their attempt on la Cabeza de Condor. They had gotten an earlier start, leaving camp at 3 a.m. and made it to within about 20 minutes of the summit. The summit however eluded them that day and they arrived back at the tents about an hour after we returned. They had long day and gave it a good try, climbing to well over 18,500 feet in the attempt.
Back to La Paz – August 9
The mules were due at 8 a.m. so everyone was up at sunrise grabbing a quick bite to eat and breaking camp. Most of the gear was packed the night before so it did not take long to get ready. The extra fuel went to the old guy who watches over the camp, the stoves were given to Elrochio for his personal stockpile and some left over gringo food was passed out to the local kids, we were ready to go.
After the mules arrived and we packed for the trip out, we hefted the personal packs and started out to the trailhead. We walked back past the lake, the casa blanca and on down the trail leading gently down the long curving valley to the reservoir below. The walk out was relaxed, as we had accomplished much, and there was little to occupy the mind beyond taking in the scenery. We again passed grazing llamas on the slopes above and flocks of sheep below with the local kids and sheep dogs as always in attendance.
At the head of the reservoir, the leader of the mule crew met us with a truck and cut the last mile off the hike as well as about a year off each of our lives with this driving technique. Dan finally told him to mellow out or we would walk and he could kiss his tip goodbye. Safely, and more slowly, we arrived at the trail head/mule corral and after dropping our gear on the ground (read llama dung collection surface) and were ushered into the house for another trout dinner. By this time, I had become a serious fan of the Bolivian style fish fry, and I was up for this meal, as compared to more camp food. Oh sure, the health risk engendered in these meals was probably significant but if you go to the Condoriri, don’t miss out on this local fare as it sure beats trying to heat gringo dehydrated food at 15,000 feet.
An hour or so after the meal, our ride to La Paz arrived and we made our way a dozen miles down the long valley to the Pan American highway, which leads back to La Paz. Bodies and gear were back at the hotel by mid afternoon and after a hot shower, we made plans for a finale dinner in the central part of town at a restaurant located on the top floor of La Paz's best hotel.
Last day in La Paz – August 10
Our last day in La Paz was spent playing tourist and just wandering around. Jim and I were intent on getting a tour of the main Bolivian penitentiary, which the guidebook said could be arranged. We also wanted to hit the witch's market one more time and wander the markets on the hillside above the central plaza.
Our luck did not hold with the tour of the Pen, as there was a fresh sign on the door that said no more foreign tourists given would be tours of the “joint.” Something about folks being grabbed and used as hostages and the Bolivians no longer wanting to play that game. Seriously, they used to give tours in that they would let you in, a con would be your tour guide, and then when he brings you back, the guards let you out. Now keep in mind, this is a penitentiary, Bolivian style, meaning a self contained community within a high wall where the function of the guards is to control only those who come and go . . . A real shame for Jim is an attorney and I had just finished my first year of law school.
We caught lunch in the witches’ market and changed a last bit of money to pay for dinner and our exit tax at the airport the next day. I think everyone bought something for the folks back home, in my case a woven pack and wonderful basket for my wife. In the meantime, Anne found a rug that she needed to take home. Not a small rug mind you, but a big rug that once rolled and ties was still about the same size as she. All too soon, the day was over and we finished the trip with a simple dinner at a café run by a British expatriot just up the street from the hotel.
Flight Home – August 11
The last day dawned and my gastronomic luck finally ran out. I’d eaten fried trout, boiled potatoes, rare beef, without problems, but somewhere the right bug had managed to survive my immune system. Fortunately, Gary is a pharmacist and at his urging (he would be seated next to me on the plane) I downed some Imodium to “stop the show.” Precautions now in place, we took a taxi to the airport, getting ripped off on the fare in the process. It was our first rip off and I could have fended it off but for just not having the desire to fuss with the cabbie over the extra $3. It was not the amount, but the principle but at the time, my principles were completely engrossed in precluding any delay in arriving at the airport restroom. It was a reasonable fee for my peace of mind.
Leaving Bolivia is a bit harder than getting in due to their cooperative agreements with our government. You have to answer a series of exit questions, primarily to determine if you are attempting to take dope to the U.S. Then, regardless of your responses, you have to get patted down to find out if you failed to admit you were hauling dope home. After determining that there is nothing on your person, the bags get searched and finally you can walk through the metal detector to see if you have a gun on you. Obviously, we passed without problem and were soon in the departure area, awaiting our flight. We were in the air by a little after seven in the morning and after a stop in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, were Miami and eventually Denver bound. Debbie picked us up at the airport and by the end of the evening we were home in Cheyenne.
The trip to Bolivia proved to be everything Gary and I had wanted in a climbing trip. We got the lay of the land for La Paz, achieved new altitude records, and got to lead a climb on a glaciated peak over 17,000 feet high. Dan proved to be an able guide and teacher, and Jim and Anne were excellent climbing partners and travel companions. Overall, our group made twelve summit attempts, eleven of which were successful. Much credit goes to every member of the group and especially to Dan who managed and reformulated a trip that was a complete success and enjoyed by all.