2006 Apolobamba Expedition
Pelechuco to Paso Piedras Camp
There was no rush to get going in the morning and given the departure of the midnight bus to La Paz, we were in no hurry to get up. The twice weekly departure from Pelechuco to La Paz is announced by the driver blowing the horn for perhaps 1/2 hour before sets to grinding gears and heading out of town. Fortunately, I can sleep through almost anything and after the first blast of the horn, I was numb to the remainder. G is less lucky and had the opportunity to take in the whole half hour serenade.
Mario covered breakfast by breaking out some bread and jelly for anyone interested, but not before boiling some water on the stove . . . on the floor of our room . . . and filling the entire space with a generous portion of atomized kerosene and carbon monoxide. What the hell, we had to acclimatize sometime and what could be a better start than to bind some of that loose hemoglobin with carbon monoxide for the duration of the trip. Meanwhile, Roberto had departure on the mind and he bid us well with a promise to see us again in two weeks . . . in a town no less than a 70 mile walk from where we stood. It was our last chance to re-consider our trek, but since we had already resigned ourselves to the aventura, we began sorting gear to pick what we would hump for the first six miles to our camp below Paso Piedras.
Our plan was to take only the bare essentials to hold the weight down as much as possible and leave the real load for Alcides and his mulas. We packed sleeping bags, ground pads, a tent, minimal cooking gear and food all around. The rest of the gear and provisions remained in the room, we needed only to deliver the key to Alcides sometime around midday.
We hefted our loads and made our way across the town square, turned east and headed for our Apolobamba destiny. The route leaves the cobbled streets of Pelechuco and turns south as it wends its way uphill along the side of the south trending gorge. The course is clear as this path has seen the feet of no less than a few score of Kalawaya travelers before the first Anglo footfall occurred with the arrival of the Spanish, oh, perhaps just 500 years before we arrived. The route winds steadily upward with a few steep segments here and there, but it is a great trail to stretch the legs out and begin the slow ascent to 15,000 feet.
The path takes you past individual farmsteads, each containing a thatched roof stone house and surrounded by the ubiquitous llama or alpaca corrals, formed by ancient stone walls. We had about 6 miles to cover before we arrived at what Alcides advertised would be an obvious camping spot, just shy of the final climb to Paso Piedras. We stopped for lunch about midway and managed to avoid getting bitten by one of the local's hounds, having taken a brief detour a bit to close to a local farmstead. The midway point also gave us our first opportunities to see the first of the snow covered peaks that would soon form a daily background to resting, hiking and climbing.
Our first day's trek concluded in the early afternoon when we arrived at the camp spot Alcides promised would be obvious . . . and it was. We dropped the packs, set up camp and awaited the arrival of Alcides for the passing of the room key. His trekking group came into view after about an hour with Alcides at the tail, following a train of six or seven well laden horses. Soon he had the room key in hand and was gone from view, promising to see us again by mid morning of next day.
Mario was going to cover the cooking angle so G and I had nothing to do but kill time and begin to scheme as to the climbing opportunities. From the small lake above the camp, we could see a number of snowcapped points and we assumed these were accessible from the Lago Kotani area. We had climbing on the mind but we knew that our effort would have to wait for us to arrive at our Kotani base camp the following afternoon. We lounged about, discussed the multitude of "virgin bouldering opportunities" that surrounded us and stared down the wandering bovines, whose bedding grounds we chose to occupy.
Mario came up with a good dinner, we checked in with the home front via two short sat phone calls and called it a day. We were camped at 14k, feeling good, and on our way to our first Apolobamba climbing camp.