(107) On top of the world!!
Having time on my own which I knew I had to get used to but being in the casa wasn’t really time on my own and to be honest I appreciated the company. With Andy, Jules and Sara all safely back in the UK all be it a little lighter I could now focus on expecting Steve a day later then planned. I had been looking forward to him joining me for a couple climbs that if he hadn’t come out, I did wonder weather I would have done it. Being able to spur each other on we would defiantly give our best shot and be there to support each other. With both mountains we planned to climb being over 6,000 metres we knew it would be tough and with Steve coming from Sea level it was massive challenge to see if he would cope with the altitude!!
Having agreed to be picked up outside the casa at 8.30am we got up and had breakfast with some of the other cyclists in the house. We stood outside just after 8.30 and were greeted by Charlie. He had come back from the South and was now staying at the casa. Agreeing to catch up later I made a call to check that we hadn’t been forgotten and were then joined by Christian. After 10 minutes more we were on the mini bus and heading up the mountain. It seemed to take forever to get to the top weaving in and out the traffic to get to the pass. We reached the top and were handed our bikes to find they were so old and knackered with hardly any on the gears working and loose suspension. With a little adjustment we managed to get my back wheel to spin and Steve and I set off up to the view point.
The weather wasn’t great and knew we would get wet so with our jackets on we set off with the group down the first 24km of Tarmac. It was great going although a little nerve racking watching a car pull out in front of Steve and the guide.
Having room to pass the car gave us room and we rode on until we reached the barrier. Once the bikes were reloaded on the van and we’d had some food we set off again to the start of the death road. By the time we reached it the mist had turned to rain again and so set off down the track getting more and more soaked. Apart from Steve’s gears jumping he loved it and seeing the mist clear from time to time which gave us the view of the road drop away into an abyss made it exciting.
As we neared the half way point the clouds cleared leaving a clear, warm sunny day. I spotted the same massive butterfly with a bright metallic blue flash that caught my eye before. I stopped to try and get a picture but although it seemed to float with grace it was almost impossible to get a picture.
Time for the bike to take a break
We rode on and reached the bottom which by now was in the tropics and met our guide waiting at the end. It was a different place to where I had finished with Andy making me wonder where we had gone different. Steve arrived shortly after the rest of us with a broken chain and we loaded the bikes and went to a different hotel. This was also a different place but the food was good and there was a swimming pool and hammocks that we could lay in. We were there for about 2 hours relaxing before we set off again heading back to la Paz.
Steve taking it easy after a hard down hill
These flying ants were also making themselves at home at the hotel
Tomorrow we were going to climb a mountain and just hoped that Steve had adjusted to the altitude enough. After another three hour bus ride along the new but perilous highway we arrived in la Paz around 7.30pm. The traffic into the city was the worst we had seen and so got out the van early. It seemed to be going through the city the wrong way and would be quicker to walk. We reached the casa around 8pm and sorted our things for the climb. With tea cooked and having caught up with the other cyclist we needed an early night ready for our big day.
Friday 1st May
Both waking up early for our journey to the mountain was exciting. We were both a little nervous at not knowing how we would cope at altitude. Needing to be at the shop at 9am we had breakfast, grabbed the kit we thought we needed and made our way up through town. By the time we reached the bottom of the hill to the shop I was out of breath and wondering how on earth I was going to climb a mountain. We made it to the shop checked our kit and set off being joined by another couple who were booked on for an extra training day on the glacier. Not having ever used a ice axe or crampons before I was wondering weather it was something I should have done but by now it was to late and knew it would be a steep learning curve literally. The bus slowly climbed on the old road out of la Paz picking up a few bits on the way reaching El Alto and heading north towards the mountains.
Leaving La Paz
Huayna potosi soon came into sight looking a lot more technical then the pictures had shown. We tried not to think about it and enjoyed the views of the city and the view of illumini on the way up which by now was in full glory.
After passing through a checkpoint we went on to the Refugio and unloaded our gear and got ready for the climb to the high camp where there was another Refugio. With all our gear checked and on our backs we set off along the track on to the Refugio and the snow line.
looking fresh and ready
Hopefully on the way down we would be able to see the view
Taking a break for sweets
Making our way up to the snow line
With a bit of scrabbling and climbing we reached the Refugio in around 2 hours and took in the view. It was incredible form here and couldn’t imagine what it would be like higher up.
Time to relax and enjoy new friends
We were shown to the beds where we would rest until midnight. There were about 20 other climbers there waiting to climb that evening and so settled in and joined a Ozzie and English couple Abigail and Stuart, another English guy James and Remi who was a French cyclist from the casa. With a few games played and night drawing in we all settled down to sleep.
As the full moon rose we rested inside until it was time to climb
At this point I wasn’t feeling great in my stomach and was off my food. I took some meds to see if that would help and laid down to rest. Hoping that Steve didn’t snore I closed my eyes to sleep to hear the guy above me on the bunk start snoring. I couldn’t believe it I was about to climb a mountain I was tired and it was the only person in the room snoring and was the one right above me. With a few pokes from under Neath then grabbing his feet and turning him over he then slept quietly allowing me to drift off and catch up on some rest.
The stars came out while they slept
Saturday 2nd May
We woke from a deep sleep just after midnight and the room filling up with people ready to climb. I was feeling slightly better and put most of my climbing gear on before going for breakfast. It was only really a light one but the 2 coffees kick started me and were both soon ready. There was around 30 of us going up and by the time we went out side 2 groups of 4 including guides were already making there way to the large snow field.
We could see 2 groups heading up the snow field as we set off
It took a while to get our crampons adjusted and were then making our own way out away from the Refugio. With an almost full moon it lit the mountain and made the snow field shine. The second group looked slow and thought that would be the pace but as we climbed we soon realised we were catching. With a break to allow them to go on we eventually passed them after the second traverse.
The slope was steeper then I had thought but soon got used to it and just took it slowly pushing in to each ridge. The effort of climbing was making us quite warm so Steve didn’t bother with his fleece and I climbed with no gloves. With the lights getting nearer as we climbed we could see we were catching the second group as the ground levelled off and started to wonder if there was anyone else in front. I was tied into a rope at the back with Steve in the middle and Ramiro leading we pushed on make incredible progress. I was amazed at how well Steve was doing consider only a few days ago he was at sea level and here he was now at around 5,400 breathing a little heavy but strong as an Ox. We stopped for a break as we caught the group in front which gave them the chance to regain some distance, As we sat chewing sweets and chatting the clouds moved in obscuring the moon.
We set off again heading up the slope to see headlamps move high off to the right. Unsure what we were heading up we assumed it was just another traverse but once we reached the slope we soon realised it was a steep snow gully. Ramero our guide set off first and soon Steve then I were driving the ice-axes deep into the wall then kicking the fronts of the crampons deep into the snow to get a good purchase.
It happened so fast I didn’t have the chance to get my gloves out and soon my hands here freezing. We got have way up the wall when something strange happened to my crampon. I called up to Ramiro and I could tell by the sound in his voice it wasn’t a good place for this to happen. Looking down the wall dropped away out of site and out over a huge snow field. Digging my ice axe in hard and checking my left footing I managed to get the right crampon which was hanging off my foot up and hooked enough around my foot to continue. I shouted up to Ramiro that I could climb and how much further was it until it levelled enough to try and fix it. With 40 metres to go I used my left crampon and ice axe in my right hand to keep me stable and climbed to join the others. We found the front strap holding the crampon to the foot had broken and so with a tiny piece of thin rope we sat together fixing it ready to climb once again.
These were the lights of El Alto and the dark gap in the middle is where La Paz drops in to the Bowl
I couldn’t believe how good I felt and already being at 5,500metres we had already climbed over a third. From here the climb got easier with less steep sections and so we were able to make good progress. With my gloves now on I was toasty and with a cold biting wind that would pick up from time to time it was good to feel warm. We started to catch the group ahead once more and rested in the same place they had.
Steve getting some rest in before the big push
As we sat eating sweets and rehydrating we could see from the lights that there was another group ahead way up on a steep slope and the one in front had changed there pace. There would be only one reason for that and would be how steep it was. This was the last snow field to the summit and it not only looked steep,it was steep, really steep. With the field itself around 60-70 degrees and the traverse heading up the side at around 40 degrees we knew we had to be careful. We started to climb pushing our axes deep into the snow and watching as the lumps from the climbers above shot off down to our left. I had never been on such a vast, steep wall of snow and knew if I thought about it something would go wrong. I had to concentrate and not worry about the drop off the side that disappeared a kilometre off and over an edge. With the steep snow to our right we tried to dig our axes in deep but with them only going in a few inches at times we just hoped our crampons held. By this point Steve was struggling but to be honest he was incredible. We would just stop every few minutes to get our breath back and move on. We finally reached the last turn to the summit as the light of the sun was lighting the sky.
Almost at the summit with another team behind
On the summit!!
It was mad standing on a thin ridge and seeing Illimani off in the distance
It would be a while before it rose but we were almost there. With around six climbers already in the summit we arrived at the top to see it was a narrow ridge with a cornice that dropped off the west face. It was incredible and quite scary. To me 6.088 metres above sea level on a ridge no wider then a dinner table with the ground dropping away from each side was incomprehensible.
After nervously shovelling around the summit we stood and looked out at the world around us. It was breathtaking and a sight I had never had the fortune to experience and I was here with Steve. We buried a note and a picture for Sharon and soaked in the experience our guide was brilliant and wanted to get some pictures with us.
Cowburt and Duncan on hand to help
Being there was one of the most incredible feelings in the world
Remiro and me
Cowburt and Duncan being the first cow and minion to ever to summit Huayna potosi
We had made it but knew we were only half way. The thought of climbing down such a steep snow field was daunting but with the new experience with the equipment and nowing how grippy it was we slowly descended passing climbers on the way.
Stu and Abigail on their way up
As we defended we found it wasn’t as bad as we thought and made amazing progress. We reached the base of the steep snow field and knew it was just the wall that would be technical. By this point Steve looked shattered but we both knew we both had made it and how well he had done.
Dropping down the steep snow field wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be
Steve demonstrating the knackered position
After 5 hours of climbing we were back at the Refugio in just over 2. We stripped off and climbed into our bunk bed for a few minutes sleep. As soon as Steve’s head hit the pillow he got up and went our side to be sick. He had put everything into the climb and had beaten it. I was so proud of him but for now we were both exhausted. The remainder of the climbers reached the camp and we worked out about 60% had made it.
Our route down over the snow fields
Just the most incredible scenery
Taking it easy going down the wall
Still having 2 hours to basecamp we set off with a few others and continued down. By now my legs were getting tired and the Refugio didn’t come soon enough. It was clear by now and were glad with our timing to climb. We were so lucky with the weather having had so many thunder storms but now it was clear and we were loving it.
Able to see at last and weren’t disappointed
We lay in a bed waiting for our lift and made our way back to la Paz. Still delirious we agreed to climb Sajama in a couple days and headed back to the casa to get some rest. As soon as we arrived we went straight to bed and slept. It had been incredible the feeling of being so tired and climbing into bed us amazing we just hoped we regained enough strength for the next climb.
Sunday 3rd May
Waking up from one of the deepest sleep was so nice although my body was tired. I got up and joined the others for breakfast but today was for rest. I went upstairs and uploaded some photos as Steve seemed to have super fast internet which is unheard of in the casa. While the internet was so good I set about preparing the next blog which was great while I had the time. Steve got up and while I worked he prepared dinner and so we joined the others.
Remi looking tired after his climb and Lucy listening to our tales
With my legs still aching I was worried I had taken in more then I was capable. All I could do was rest eat and expend as little energy as I could. We caught up with all the other cyclists in the casa and checked to see if Charlie and Stuart had booked to climb with us who had both shown an interest in climbing once we had completed Potosi. Once we had gone down to the supermarket to pick up snacks for our trip we headed back to cook tea and await news. Charlie arrived shortly after to say he was all booked on followed by a call from Stu to say he was in. With four of us now it should be a better motivator to get up Sajama which is another 500 metres higher. All we could do now was relax make a nice dinner and have a glass of wine with Christian and his girlfriend Denise his girl and enjoy the company of Lucy and Frederick as it was the last night we would see them. With an early night for maximum rest we sorted our stuff out to make the morning easier and went to bed nervous of how we would be the next day
Monday 4th May
The alarm went off just after 7am and we both got up and started to pack. I felt like I had slept well but was still tired. We went down for breakfast and joined Lucy, Frederick who had booked to ride the death road along with Remi. Charlie called in and headed out for breakfast while we put the rest of our things together. We made our way to the shop and met Charlie and Stuart. We set off out of la Paz climbing out on the old road picking up supply’s on the way. We headed South out of the city towards Patacamaya which was the same road we had ridden in on and stopped in the town for llama and rice. From here we could already see Sajama which was 100 miles away and still looked prominent on the horizon. Following the same road through the cannon we had ridden was nice as it gave another view at the scenery without the effort. As we got closer the mountain became bigger and was hard to see any route up it. We reached the town around 4 pm checked in at the park office and headed north to the turn off for base camp. After about a mile the road came to an end and we unloaded our kit in front of the giant.
The sky’s were so clear the mountain rose up uninterrupted. With a bit of a panic after missing a pair if waterproof trousers only to find Stu had both pairs we set off towards base camp.
looking ready for the climb
I felt tired and hoped I would recover a little with a good nights sleep. We walked for about an hour and a half and reached a stone circle with a cleared area at the base of the volcano. The porters arrived and we set camp and got tea on the go. At this point we were at 4,700 metres and by the time we were settled it was already getting cold.
The porters and cooks getting our dinner ready
Going to bed just after eating wasn’t the best idea having the food not settle. My bed however was so cosy with a good Thermarest and a thick down bag I was in heaven. It did take a while to sleep but I was resting as much as I could and woke to the sound of the stove firing up. We got up and packed our things then realised we didn’t have to get up so early as it took the cooks along time to get everything ready. We had breakfast and set off for high camp around 9am.
Heading for the snow line
The going was good and although it was on scree it was com packed enough not to slip to much. We stopped after an hour for a short break and waited for the porters. They were carrying about twice as much as us but knew they were only needed to get to high camp so didn’t need to preserve energy for the big push to the summit. After another hour we reached the snow line and put on crampons.
The slope was about 40 % and was quite sticky. We noticed the potters didn’t have crampons which surprised me as they could slip. They did have ice axes which was helping them and so we slowly climbed up to the saddle. I felt good climbing, resting, climbing and resting and as it got steep I would do short bursts almost running up getting my breath then going again.
Charlie leading to the summit
Our female cook not only carried the kitchen sink but did it in full local dress
This stopped me sinking to deep in the snow and gaining height much faster. We reached high camp at 5,700 metres around 2.35pm and arrived at a narrow saddle where we set about clearing a flat spot to camp. Although it looked precarious we were happy with our camp and relaxed.
High camp 5,700 metres
Our guide wasn’t feeling great to I gave him some meds hoping to settle his stomach and went through our kit. With little wind and a clear sky it was an incredible spot and one of the most amazing campsites I have ever seen. With a clear view right to the base and beyond with the other Volcanos rising out of the planes it was truly spectacular. The porters and cooks were now in their tents and so lit the stove for dinner. The fames from the stove came flying out the tent and at one point we thought it would catch fire. It did settle after while but we did wonder what the fumes were like in side. With dinner on the go there was only one thing for it and that was to rest but with 2 thin layers of material to stop me rolling over and disappearing down a snow field didn’t feel to reassuring but it was very exciting. laying on a thick thermarest under a super thick down sleeping bag was so cosy and i wasn’t going anywhere until we were ready.
Wednesday 6th May
The last time I looked at my watch it was 8.30pm and the next thing I heard was Ramiro calling us at 12.10 am. It was time to put our gear on and have breakfast before our ascent to the summit. It was freezing outside with a light cold wind blowing through our camp up the east face. We all had to be careful getting out the tents and not slipping down the snow field while trying to get everything on. Even with everything on it was going to take a while to warm up, putting boots on and fitting crampons was to fiddly with gloves on and so by the time they were on and done up tight my fingers were freezing.
All ready and accounted for
Once the down jacket and over jacket was on, then waterproof warm trousers and our harness’s were fitted it was a case of attaching our head lamps and locating our ice axes. By this time although we had warmed a little with the cold wind blowing it wasn’t going to last. We grabbed the little breakfast there was which was a shame as I could have done with something a bit more energising. I did have 2 cups of coffee which warmed me through and soon we were all ready for the off. We set off heading straight up a 40degree slope to a rock wall and traversed around to the left to then reach a gully at around 60 degrees that lead to a rock shoulder. With soft snow added to the gradient it seemed to take ages to reach the rock.
Climbing the steep snow gully
As we climbed over the shoulder a huge drop appeared in front of us dropping into the darkness. With the moon so bright we could make out so much but looking down into the depths was a little nerve racking to say the least. With a bank of snow built up behind the rock shoulder this allowed us to follow it along and up and over onto another steep snow field.
Taking five with a sheer drop behind us
We stuck to the left ridge with the sheer drop to the left and the steep snow field dropping away to the right and reached a rock step. The rock felt grippy but knowing what we were surrounded by didn’t help. Once over this we reached the main snow field that would lead us to the summit. After looking at the volcano from a far we thought it wouldn’t be very steep but once on it we were proved wrong. We moved from left to right and back gaining height slowly which in normal conditions would have been ok but the mountain was covered in deep fresh snow that even with crampons on we would sink down half way to our knees. It was hard, slow and very tiring.
We all managed to stick together making it better for motivation
Charlie and Stuart were keeping up with us and able to use our steps which made it a little easier. I swapped places with Steve who was in the middle and tiring rapidly to help make steps and continued on to within about 500 metres of the summit. By this point my right knee was starting to hurt and I to was getting very tired. We let the others go in front giving us a break and able to use their steps instead.
By the time we were just minutes from the summit we were all exhausted and the wind had picked carrying with it a bitterly cold icy wind and thick patches of clouds. We reached the summit around 7.10am which with it being so flat and in the cloud felt a little of an anti-climax. With the cloud breaking up at times leaving us an incredible view we knew we had made it.
Finally on the summit of Sajama 6,542mtr.
Taking timeout before the descent
With a few pictures taken we turned around and started then descent down to high camp. It was freezing and we had to descend fast, Stu and Charlie headed off with their guide and we followed. It was hard and slow going in the soft snow and already being tired we needed to be careful.
The wind was freezing which meant we had to cover up before our descent
In the light we could see our path up more clearly
We soon cleared the snow field and next was the rock step. In the daylight, being able to see just how far it dropped and being tired wasn’t a great combination. With the rope anchored we picked our way slowly over the snow covered rocks next to the drop off and down on to the next steep snow field.
This bit felt a little dodgy
We knew once we got around the rock ridge it would be much easier and so picked our way along the snow ledge and out back onto the steep west face. Ramiro secured a rope while we pretty much dislodged metres of snow as it was so soft. From here we could see high camp perched on narrow saddle with our brightly coloured tents clinging to the edge.
Basecamp just coming in to sight
By the time we reached camp Charlie was asleep on a rock and Stu was fast asleep in his tent. Once we had got rid of most of our stuff Steve and I climbed in our tent with boots and crampons still attached poking out the door and It wasn’t until someone shouted dinner that we woke and dragged ourselves out of the tent. Needing to pack and get lower we loaded our packs and packed the tents and headed off down the snow field to where it ended. We had been told we would walk to the thermal pools and relax and stay at a hostel there. Already tired it took us another 3 hours to walk from high camp to the thermal pools.
By this point we were exhausted and it felt hard dragging our backsides through the pampa in the heat to go and sit in a hot pool
If we hadn’t been totaly knackered after the climb we were now. It seemed to take ages to reach the pool and it couldn’t come soon enough. With no water since we left the summit we were all dehydrated and shattered. After spending probably an hour in the pool where we were told we were saying, we were then told that we would need to walk another 20 minutes to where we would eat and sleep. By the time we reached what looked nothing more then farm buildings we were shown a shop where we ate, then to quite a nice little place where we would sleep.
Our camp for the night, oh how we slept
By now it was 5pm which was 17 hours since we got up to climb and we were all totality exhausted but at least we would get a good rest before we returned to la Paz tomorrow. It had been such a hard climb with the snow condition but we had all managed to climb a 6,544 metre peak and make it back safely which is what we set out to do and thats what we did.
Thursday 7th May
Volcan Sajama you were tough but kind we will always remember you
Steve woke me around 7.10am after sleeping for 14 hours. I couldn’t believe I had slept for so long. We went and had breakfast to find all of us had slept right through and were all feeling much better for it. The climb had been a lot tougher due to the conditions then we had first thought and didn’t feel at the time we ever wanted to climb another but the more we looked up as this giant the more we were proud to have conquered it.
We were all pretty pleased with ourselves
We loaded the van took a couple pics before setting off on the long trip back to la Paz. It was great to have had the company of Charlie and Stuart which made the drive back less tiring stopping on the way to have lunch. When we stopped we were worried we would be fed the meat the female porter had in her pocket but luckily it was all in saucepans. We reached La Paz around 2pm thanked our guides and headed back to the casa. It felt good to be back and finally be able relax and sort our kit. We had arranged to meet up for dinner that evening with Charlie and Stu so while relaxing I managed to get some work done before we headed out. With steak on the menu and not having had any dinner I was so hungry making my meal taste even better. It was great to have the four of us there and to absorb what we had done. I’d had such a great time with Steve managing to pack the death road in and climb two peaks over 6,000 metres all in 9 days and I think he enjoyed it to. It would be sad to see him go but I knew he had to and was also time for me to move on. For now I was tired and we both had to get a good nights sleep with Steve needing to leave early I couldn’t let him miss this flight. Well I could 🙂
The last 9 days had been incredible and a new achievement for the both of us. To see the look on Steve’s face at the top was priceless and reinforced how I felt. It was the most incredible feeling stood on the 2 summits and to share those moments were incredible. Taking a picture up and burying it on the summit made us feel closer to Sharon and we had no doubt she was there with us both. I was not only really chuffed Steve came out but so proud of what he had done and had overcome the battle with altitude. It was now time to say goodbye and get back on my bike. In just a few days I would be leaving Bolivia and crossing over into Peru leaving behind a lot of pain and sadness but also some incredible memories with not only Sharon but also Andy,Jules, Sara and Steve all of which had been big parts of our lives and hope will continue to be part of my future.
Thanks for reading xx