2006 Apolobamba Expedition
Paso Piedras Camp to Lake Kotani Base Camp
There was no hurry to get going as we had to wait for Alcides to come up the trail with the remainder of the gear. We knew he would get an early start and figured he would arrive at about 10 a.m. As a matter of fact, he may have told us 10 as if there is one thing that Alcides Perez can do, it is predict to a minute or two his arrival time at any given point. Of course, he has moved mule trains across this terrain for eighteen years by his count.
We partook in the standard breakfast, meaning local rolls and jam. Mario can cook a mean egg as well but a fancy breakfast did not jibe with the effort we made to get to this point with as little weight on our backs as possible. We likely lugged the better part of 25 lbs but that was better than cooling our heels in Pelechuco for another day. We needed to start the acclimatization process . . .
Alcides came into view down valley perhaps 20 minutes before his formal arrival at our camp, wherein we re-shuffled the loads to eliminate a good bit of bottled water that was weighing the mules down far too much. We found good water at every camp over the course of our Apolobamba trip and I'd say there is no need for lugging the bottled variety anywhere. We boiled and pumped in between boils and never had a touch of stomach illness at anytime over the nearly two week trek. The bottled water came off the mules and was stashed behind rocks for pick-up by Alcides when he deadheaded back a two weeks later.
The mule train was loaded and we headed on upward to the top of Paso Piedras, a 4700 m crossing and the first of a half dozen high passes we would cross between Pelechuco and Curva. The approach is long but easy and after a few switchbacks near the top, one arrives at the 15,275 foot crest. Each pass crest includes a conical pile of stones and tradition calls for those who pass by to add their stone to the multitude place by others passing through. We placed stones for luck as Alcides broke out a few coca leaves to leave for the benefit of pachamama.
The horses had had a long morning but now they were about to encounter their first seriously tough ground. The southern part of the pass is much steeper and switches back and forth as it descends a steep couloir to the valley floor. There was snow in the shadows and fresh ice remaining from the previous night's cold temperatures. The train made it down the pass without mishap or injury, over a course that they had likely covered a couple times per trekking season since they were solid enough to carry a load.
Once we arrived at the valley floor, we crossed the small concrete bridge after passing a group of campesino ladies tending their flock of alpaca and llamas. The trekking route continued south but that was not our intended course. Instead, we would head for Cololo and camp at the far shore of Lake Kotani, which lies at the base of the peaks we hoped would provide a few days climbing. The route toward Cololo is clear but not distinct as one simply chooses a strong llama path and keeps climbing. Gaining elevation is the name of the game over the first part of the approach to Lake Kotani, then key to the second half is to make one's way through a series of steep headwalls that guard the lake proper. The route never degrades to a bushwhack as there is never high vegetation and the general route is well worn by locals moving their herds to and from high pastures.
The route up valley is a geological and climbing showcase. If you are into geology, there are some of the most well shaped alluvial fans one could ask to see and massive headwalls carved the Cololo Glacier eons ago. the climber in you looks not only ahead to Nevados Cololo and Posnansky but to the un-named points that seem accessible by icy scramble route departing from the far valley floor. We continued and surmounted what appeared to be the last headwall and sure enough it was as high as we would go that day. We crossed the rolling glaciated terrain and then skirted the edge of the lake, heading for a hummock visible on the far shore.
The pack train cut low to avoid the rock steps that cause us humankind less grief. We rejoined at mid lake and then cut down to cross the grassy mushy lowlands to arrive on the camping hummock. this is about it for camp sites as it is surrounded by mushy mounds interlaced with gulleys cut by water coming off the till at the base of the nearby peaks. The llamas were grazing high when we arrived so our only company were pairs of Andean geese, seemingly not interested in us but quite interested in an ongoing series of internecine squabbles.
We pitched camp, small tents, big tent and set about getting settled for what would be few days stay. We did not know it but, we had just chosen the coldest damn ground I ever slept on outside of the ice of a glacier. The secret was the hummock, which I think was really a mound of permafrost provided by Pachamama for the chilling of gringos. We set up camp, in ignorant bliss, and enjoyed another fresh Mario style mea. I like beef and chicken and he is not freeze dried kind of cook, he puts a fresh meal in your plate.
The sun set soon after dinner but not before G and I had formulated a plan for the next day. there was an inviting line of peaks forming the backdrop of the camp, peaks that we needed to climb the next day. We assembled the gear, laid it for the next morning, and headed for the tents . . . to shiver and freeze. Five in the a.m. would come soon enough and I was ready for bed. I downed one half of a Diamox and was out in no time . . . until I woke up to pee . . . and then woke up to pee . . . and then woke up to pee.