„I cannot go any further!“ was I talking to myself. Started at 1am from the last camp we had been climbing for about four hours. Air was thin. We could barely walk for ten minutes without having a break. The moonlight was gone. It was dark. And freezing. I was close to just sit down in the snow and relax. But the very next moment the guide said: „We’re almost there.“ And indeed, about half an hour later we were at the top of Huayna Potosi expecting the sunrise at 5.30am. Priceless!
From 0 to 100 in 40 minutes
Passing through Bolivia I heard about Huayna Potosi. About the opportunity to climb to more than 6000 meters above sea level. As an amateur. Just a little outside La Paz. It wasn’t planned at all. I didn’t have any gear or appropriate clothes with me. So I didn’t know if it was even possible for me to go up there. And if it was, I still had a lot of questions. Would there be a lot of people? How would the guide be like? Would it be safe? Are the companies trustworthy? you mention it..
So I arrived in La Paz and I was wandering in the streets aimlessly when I saw an office advertising Huayna Potosi. Actually, I just wanted to ask a few questions. After about 40 minutes I walked out of the office ready to climb the mountain the next day.
The lady in the office was very nice and convincing. Moreover, the online reviews about the company were great. So I decided spontaneously to go on this exciting and exhausting (I didn’t know yet back then.. but it is!) journey. I checked the size for the gear, clothes etc. so they could get it ready. Furthermore, I had to go buy some small stuff like batteries for the headlight, gloves, socks, snacks etc. (they tell you what you need). Luckily, Bolivia is rather cheap so it was no problem. For the entire trip with everything included (gear rental, food in the camp etc.) I paid around 250 USD only!
So the following day in the morning we (my friend and I) got picked up by 3 guys. I lady and a gentleman in their forties and a boy no older than 18. It looked like he was their son. However, it turned out that he was 18 exactly and he was our guide. „Really?“ was I thinking. But honestly, I couldn’t have imagined a better guide than him. Calm. Motivating. A lot of empathy. And experienced. He has been to the top more than 50 times!!
We went to an apartment, changed our clothes and packed the backpack with all the necessities but no more! They laughed at me when I wanted to pack my shampoo. I would not need it. Just toothbrush! You wanna travel light because every kilo will be perceived like 6 times as much up there. Anyway, we left all our other stuff in the apartment, grabbed the ice axe, the spikes, helmet, shoes, and so on and drove to Huayna Potosi. We stopped at the bottom of the mountain at a little house where we had breakfast and joined with another guy (with a guide from the same company) who arrived there the day before.
Side note: You can do the trip in 2 or 3 days. The extra day is used to get familiar with the ice axe and adjust to the altitude. Since we had no idea that we would need something like an ice axe (you actually do need it) we thought the 2 day tour was okay.
After breakfast we – two guides and three tourists – started hiking up the hill. Up to the last camp. There was no snow and it is pretty easy if you’re used to hiking. So we arrived at like 3.30pm at the camp.
Beyond the comfort zone
After some me-time and enjoying the silence of the mountains we had dinner – which was prepared by our guides – shortly after 5pm. Pretty early but we went to bed between 7 and 8pm in order to get some sleep. Anyway, I couldn’t sleep until like 11pm.. and we got up at 12.30am. I wasn’t the only one, though, who had barely slept. Well we had a quick breakfast, put on our clothes and stuff, and got ready. 7 tourists with 4 guides (there were two other groups from another company who joined in the afternoon before) started walking up to the peak.. each group by itself.. 1 guide for at most 2 tourists. In total there were one girl and six guys – everybody between 25 and 35 years old.
My friend and I were in the front with our guide having a reasonable pace. I wasn’t too exhausted at first but the higher we got the thinner the air became. We paused quickly like every 15-20 minutes and were „fed“ with some dried fruits and tea by our guide. When we had a longer break further up the hill after like 2 hours another group joined and told us that 3 of the tourists had to go back with 1 guide because they couldn’t go further.
We continued climbing until there was some kind of ice wall.. Just like 20-25 meters. Not too far. But tiring! We grabbed our ice axe and one by one climbed up the ice. Once up there, I was super exhausted like I’ve never been but we had to keep walking. I was at a point where I thought I could not go further. Exhausted. Freezing. But the guide was super motivating so we kept climbing towards the peak. The night was now at its darkest and coldest. We kept going. Step by step. Slowly. But eventually, after climbing and pausing, climbing and pausing, we finally reached the top at around 5.30am. We made it! 6088 meters above sea level. Just in time to watch the sun rising. With a wonderful view over La Paz and surroundings. It was one of the most memorable moments I’ve had.
We stayed around 20 minutes at the top to enjoy the view, take a few photos (even though the smartphones didn’t work anymore due to the cold).. then we had to head back down. Going down was way faster but we couldn’t rest at the last camp due to possible problems that may occur to your body at this altitude after such an effort. So we went back down all the way and when we arrived we just sat into the car, drove back to our beds.. and went to sleep.
Tips to climb Huayna Potosi:
- Get adjusted to altitude beforehand. If you fly in to La Paz take a few days to adjust. I had the opportunity to continuously climb in altitude when traveling.. so it was perfect.
- Look for a trusted company. (I went with Altitude 6000)
- Don’t be arrogant and underestimate the mountain or overestimate your body. You don’t know how it is gonna react due to the altitude.
- You shouldn’t be afraid of heights 😉
- Take the 3 day tour if you’re uncomfortable using an ice axe or if you think you need some more adjustment time.
- Follow the company’s advices and bring everything they tell you but no more! You’re gonna be thankful for packing light.