New Year… New Adventure

It is a new year and a challenging new adventure awaits… In a couple of days, I will be flying to La Paz, Bolivia to join my brother in an attempt to climb Huayna Potosi, a 6,088 meter (19,974′) mountain in the Cordillera Real mountain range of the Bolivian Andes.

If you had asked me a month ago what I’d be doing in early February, a trip to Bolivia wouldn’t have even been considered. So, how did this all come about?… Well, it turns out that my brother, who had already planned a cruise to Antarctica in January, decided to extend his trip and explore a couple South American countries. You see, he is well-traveled and has a goal to visit 100 countries in his lifetime. For a country to be added to his already impressive list of 71 countries, two criteria must be met: 1) He has to spend at least one night in the country, and 2) He must visit a place of cultural or geographic significance.

So when he told me that he would be visiting both Paraguay and Bolivia during the trip, I was naturally curious about his plans. In our discussion, he casually mentioned that he was going to climb a mountain in Bolivia. Immediately I began pressing him for details to get a sense of what he was getting himself into. His response, which was a perfunctory list of facts about the climb, did little to satisfy the questions I had about what it would take to succeed. At the same time, he just happened to mention that he had to reserve a minimum of two spots with the climbing company (… a ploy I am sure he used to bait me into joining him!).

Although I didn’t immediately take the bait, my interest was piqued and I began to do some research about the mountain, the climbing route, and what preparation would be required to ensure the best chance of success. I discovered that this is a technical climb, with about two-thirds of the route on glaciers and steep snow fields that require the use of crampons, ice-axes, harnesses, rope and helmets. The climbing route begins just above 15,500 feet, already a very high elevation, so whatever we can do to adjust to altitude is critical and acclimatizing will be essential.

Huayna Potosi is located approximately 15 miles north of La Paz, the highest city in the world (see graphic to the left). Given the short duration of this trip, every hour spent at elevation will be crucial to acclimatizing. Since La Paz sits at an average elevation of 3,869 meters (12,693′), the two days spent there prior to the climb will definitely aid in our adjustment to thin air and less oxygen. The only other acclimatization we will get is on the mountain where we will begin the climb at approximately 4,750 meters (15,585′). From there, we will see what lies ahead.

I am hopeful that some of the past experiences of high altitude (Everest Base Camp and Kilimanjaro) and technical climbing (Mt. Shasta), coupled with an aggressive hiking and fitness regime over the past month, will be ample for the challenge ahead. I should even get a chance to try out some of my growing familiarity with the Spanish language!

Stay tuned for the adventure to come…

Graphic from Visual Capitalist

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