Huayna Potosi – Day 2

Monday 19th October 2015

With Annabel we woke up at 11.30pm and started getting ready. Well…woke up. I actually didn`t sleep much that night, so at 11.08pm, I started looking at my GPS-clock more often until 11.30pm. I touched the arm of Annabel who was sleeping on my left. Annabel was kind of awake too at that moment. We got ready and had a mate de coca tea and some pop-corn and some bread with jam at 00.30am. When we left, everyone else was getting ready in the reception room. How were we equipped? I had my merino thermal leggings then my hiking pant then the snow pant they had given me on then the harness on which looks like a climbing harness. I had my thin socks and hiking socks and the extra socks they had given me, inside the snow boots. Had the crampons in my hands to put when we would reach the snow part 5 minutes later. At the top, merino sport bra, merino small sleeves, merino long sleeves, fleece, down jacket and goretex jacket. And my Cusco peruvian wool inside hat on. Had put the headtorch on the helmet and the helmet on my head. In my backpack, the extra fleece they had given us, the thermal hood, sun cream and sunglasses in the small pocket in case we would go down after sunrise, a bottle of 2L but with 1.5 liters left in it. Some Sublime chocolates and a few Bolivian cereal bars. Oh and two pairs of snow gloves, yes two! One in the pockets of my goretex jacket and one on my hands. I think that`s it.

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We walked a bit on the stones to the starting point going up on the snow. There we put the crampons on. We could see the lights of the refuge.

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00.47am Theo was preparing the rope to attach to our harness. The rule is that each time there are three people on a cord, the guide and two hikers, or it can also be the guide and just one person. Here is the beginning of the walk on the snow going up. Not very visible with ISO 25,600, no light and no flash but gives a rough idea.

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1.19am Our first break of 2-3 minutes. The idea is to walk slowly and constantly without stopping for about 45 minutes and then take a break of 2-3 minutes only because otherwise you get cold. We looked back and could see down the track the lights of the others.

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1.36am Annabel laces of her shoes were moving. Theo helping her to readjust them. At that stage we had been walking for about 50 minutes now. Everything was fine. The weather was not too cold. We were about 5,250 meters high. No headaches. Annabel started to get some stomach cramps. I was lucky to not have anything.

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To our right, we could see La Paz in the distance.

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In front of us, the “snow trail”. Can you notice all those little sparkles on the snow? It was incredible to walk by night on the snow with our torches because we saw triple stars. There was the clear sky above us with amazing stars and a bright milky way. Because it was the middle of the night, Scorpion was not visible anymore but Orion was there, I love that constellation too. Then there were all those thousands and thousands of sparkles on the snow while we walked which looked like thousands of stars. And in the distance, the thousands flickering little lights of La Paz that we started to see more and more while going up and up. Triple stars. On the pictures, everything looks dark but when walking on the snow, we could see the shapes of the mountains around us. It was just the three of us at that stage, walking with crampons and ice axe on the snow, going up that very pretty and gentle moutain that is Huayna Potosi, and the silence, the triple stars and the shapes of the parts of the mountains all around us. It was awesome!

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2.39am About 1 hour and 20 minutes later. We got passed by several people, half of the group at that stage, including Lluis and his guide. They waited at some point where they had a break. We arrived. I was not finding everything that awesome anymore, well still, but less. I started being like a zombie. I was freeezing!! I took my goretex out and added the 6th layer, the additional thermal they had given us and put my goretex back on. My gloves were wet also and I changed them for my other pair of gloves, the ones I had brought. Nevertheless, I was still cold and my fingers were yellow and hurting, pins and needles and burning. My feet tips also were cold. My body is not very good at handling the colds at the extremities. They call that Raynaud’s syndrome, when your extremities stop receiving bloods and get yellowish faster than they should. I remember coming back from primary school in winter and crying of pain because my hands and ears and feet were suddenly having the blood rush back to the extremities and it would be horrible for 10-15 minutes. Then it got softer and less painful. Anyway. What it meant was that I should have bought and brought better gloves for myself knowing that!! Saying that, we were about 5,400 meters high, I still had no headaches and no stomach cramps and I wanted to carry on. I had read again the article of Paul and Emmanuelle who came to Huayna Potosi a few weeks before and made it to the summit even if Manue had incredible stomach pain. While walking the same road they had gone on, I couldn`t help thinking of her and how courageous she had been!

At that stop, our two guides whispered to each other and the guide with Lluis said that Annabel was faster and she should probably go with Lluis because I was slowing her down. I heard them and said that yes, we should do that, that was a good idea, I knew I was slow, so better if she changed to not been slowed down by me. So she went with the guide and Lluis.

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We started walking again, me and the guide, and it was getting tougher. Much harder to breathe after 5,500 meters high. After another 40 minutes, I also had a breakdown crisis for a short minute. It was 3.20am.

I was now the last one at the back and could see the lights of everyone in front walking up. This picture looks like nothing but those lights over there kept going up, while I was exhausted and wanted to stop every minute. I started feeling crap for being so slow and it gave me that little panic moment where the combination of tiredness, lack of sleep, demotivation at being slow made me have an asthma panic crisis. It was hard to breathe and I was making lots of sounds. A little voice inside told me to calm down immediately cause that was definitely leading me nowhere. Come on, aren`t you the slowest in the world? Right? So all this here is not about getting to the summit. Actually, you don`t really wanna go to the summit right? You just wanted to come here to experience walking on snow with crampons and go to the highest altitude you manage to go to in your life so far. Who cares if you are slow, who cares if you can`t make it. Look around you. Those crazy stars above your head, those crazy stars in the snow, those crazy lights of La Paz. This itself is just worth coming you know it. So stop bloody panicking. Yeah, actually you just came to annoy that guide and walk so slowly that he will remember you at the slowest walker on Earth. So, hey, let`s be proud of being slow and soaking inside so much of the surroundings while the others are speeding up. Let`s even slow down way more. Cause catching up with them would be totally insane right. Imagine one of them starts to slow down too. No,no,no. So let`s keep going a bit more, slowly, and we will see.

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.3.42am It was about 22 more minutes since my crisis. I looked up and saw this. That was the turning point for me. Seeing that super steep hill going up made me think: Naaaa, can`t bother. But besides that, Theo turned to me and said that it wasn`t good to walk like this, we could not keep stopping like that constantly, we would get cold. And most important, we would not make it to the top in terms of timing, I was too slow. I said ok, I think it is time to go back. Half-way on that hill, Annabel was still having stomach pain and the guides shouted at each other and I told Theo that it would be hard for me to keep walking closer to the bottom of that steep hill. I could wait for him here. He untied the rope and was a bit worried and told me to make sure that I kept walking to not get cold and to start walking down but to not get out of the path. Fine with me. He went to take Annabel so Lluis could continue with the other guide. I checked my GPS. 5,590 meters high. The highest I had ever been. Could not even bother walking just a little bit to claim having been at 5,600 meters but was very happy with that already.

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In the distance, La Paz lights were very pretty, quivering like candle light.

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I started walking down casually, whistling, enjoying the view, the landscape, having fun. Then Annabel and the guide caught up and we were on the rope again, Annabel first, then me then the guide. Annabel was walking faster than I would, but we were going down and that was fine to walk at her pace. We stopped at this crevasse we had seen when going up that was really pretty. It was 4.28am.

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Then we passed this one again too. 4.35am. It is hard to take a photo as it goes deep deep down. I had never seen crevasses from so close, it was freaky and so beautiful at once.

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Then we walked back without stopping apart from a short break to drink water at some point. We got back to the mountain refuge at 5,100 meters high at dawn. It was 5.29am when I took this picture. I sat on the flat rock outside and contemplated this view which was not too bad either for a sunrise view. I was mourning a bit not being able to make it to the top, but hey I knew I was slow. If there was not that time deadline, I could have had lots of water and snacks and sandwiches and hot pads to keep my hands warm and two thermos of hot tea and you know what? I think I would have made it to the top. At my pace. Would have got there for…sunset!!!! Yep!!! Ahahahahahaha. 😀

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I kept going back and forth between inside and outside to watch the progression of the sunset. The sun got out at 6:00 am exactly. Perfectly on time.

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Picture at 6:06am

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The full set of all the morning sunrise photos here

I hanged out again in the reception area reading more of the messages on the wall.

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That one really summarised the situation for so many of us who didn`t make it to the top.

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I could relate to that one really well too. I came. I tried. At least I saw the summit.

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The dorm in the morning.

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After some mate de coca tea, and some bread and jam and biscuits, we started going down to 4,700 meters lower basecamp with Theo and Annabel. It was 7.16am. At least, it was a beautiful day that day and the view was clear.

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The view we didn`t have the day before.

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That edge on which I could not see anymore Theo and Lluis the day before.

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The snow to our right.

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The lake over there.

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Kept walking down with our 20 kilos on your back as we were back in normal hiking shoes and carrying the crampons, ice axe and all the rest of the equipment in the bags.

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Landscape to the left

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Annabel and Theo stopping at the big flat rock for a rest.

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The continuation of the path we were walking on.

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Looking back.

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Theo waiting for us sitting on the pipe.

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Almost there.

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On the bridge again.

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Looking back

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Just 10 minutes left to reach the lower basecamp but we were tired and needed a break. When I saw Annabel stopping and sitting there, I did the same, I sat on a rock overlooking the lake.

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View I had from my rock. Can you see the 5,100 meters basecamp over there? It is the tiny dot at the peak next to the snow.

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Zooming in. That little stone house over there. That`s where we slept at 5,100 meters high.

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After that rest, Annabel and I walked the last 10 minutes to the lower basecamp. We were so tired that we didn`t even want to take the little steep path to the left, we preferred to walk on the main road a bit further and then turn left on a less steep and wider path back to that basecamp. There we unpacked our bags, gave to Theo the equipment Inca Land Tours had lended to us and had some more mate de coca and sat on the chairs not doing much really. Lluis arrived maybe half an hour or 45 minutes later than us. He had made it to the top. I could only admire him really. Made it to the top, then went down, from the top! And then from the upper basecamp to the lower basecamp. He told us that three other people had turned back. That means 15 of them had made it. So really, it is hard when you are slow like me or get stomach cramps that make you decide to stop, but most people make it eventually! Even if they say that it is the toughest day of their life. Paul and Emmanuelle made it and you can read the incredible epic text of Paul and see their awesome shots of the summit here:

Patrick made it too a few days before we went and wrote an awesome text too with incredible photos here.

And I am sure Lluis will update his blog soon here:

I will conclude about Huayna Potosi on this: Most people say “Never again!” and I say “I will be back one day!!!” 😀

After that, we went back to La Paz and while Annabel and Lluis spent the journey chatting, I spent it sleeping!! We went back to the hostel and Lluis took the single room as he was the one who needed the most to rest and Annabel and me took the twin rom. However, we realised that the wooden floor had just been polished and the smell of the product used was terrible. There was no way we would sleep in that room. So we moved to Cactus Hostel nearby. It was about 1pm. We did nothing until 6pm, we just chilled, like zombies. At 6pm we met with Lluis and went to the central market near San Francisco church where they serve food. The concept is awesome, two or three women are together cooking in their little box and on the other side there is a table which can sit 10 to 15 people. It is so cool. So we stopped in one of them where we had dinner.

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The women cooking

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It always starts with a soup! Then a main.

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We bought some sweets for desert here. In Bolivia, you can find many many pastries and they are pretty good! Who said the food was terrible in Bolivia? From what I have seen so far, sorry but I do not agree!

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We also tried out with Lluis this jelly and sweet cream. We had wanted to try out before to go to Huayna Potosi but had decided to wait in case it could get us sick. It was very sweet, a bit too much and we didn`t finish it, but at least we tried!

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After that crazy day, it was 7.30pm and we went back to our hostels. By 8pm, we were asleep!!!

The next 4 days, I spent them resting and blogging in La Paz! I needed a break!!! Voila.