Technical Training

Today we had our first up close and personal encounter with Huayna Potosí. Our day began with a meet up at the Jiwaki office in La Paz with our guides for the next couple of days. There we met two other adventure seekers who would be joining us, Mike a 29 year old structral engineer from Liverpool, England, and Ronan an 18 year old semi-pro downhill mountain bike racer who has been traveling solo thru South America.

After getting some gear, we signed waivers, then our group of 4 climbers and 3 guides clamored into a van for the 2 hour drive to base camp, sitting at 4,755 meters (15,692’).

In the drive up, we stopped on the outskirts of La Paz and were measured for and issued our climbing kit, which included an ice-axe, crampons, harness, helmet, and snow boots.

Upon arrival at base camp it was overcast with a slight rain, so we went directly inside our lodging for the night, the Happy Day Refugio. I was pleasantly surprised! It wasn’t the rustic, bare-bones lodge I was expecting; instead it had electricity and plumbing! The four of us will sleep in a bunk room designed to hold 20, so it is nice to have some extra room.

After a lunch of beef, vegetables and rice we began the day’s hike to the glacier to practice with the climbing gear. This is a day for acclimatization and technical training, so William our guide, demonstrated the proper ice-axe and crampon technique for ascending and descending steep snow fields. Then we climbed the final distance to the glacier to begin the highlight of the day, climbing the 40’ vertical face of the glacier.

Now the fun begins! By this point in the story you may be wondering why we are spending our first day practicing ice climbing techniques. I suspect the real answer to that lies somewhere high on the mountain where we may need the acquired skill to navigate a particularly steep, icy section of the route. I’m sure you’ll be hearing about it in the days to come!

Although I have climbed with crampons and an ice-axe, I have never scaled a vertical wall of ice. Today we got to do just that. After William ascended and set the climbing rope, each of us got a chance to climb the 40’ vertical jwall of ice. Harnessed in, we used two ice-axes to get solid holds before kicking our crampon’s into the ice. After testing the hold, we slowly used the technique to ascend the wall. Between the elevation, exertion, and nerves, this was hard work. Ultimately we all reached the top then enjoyed a short rappel back down. This was definitely an experience to remember!

Once complete, we headed back down to the refugio for a well earned rest, hot meal, an evening of cards and sharing stories before bundling into our sleeping bags and wool blankets to ward off the cold night.

Don high on the wall… yikes!
Ron on the left, apparently racing the guy on the right!

Today we accomplished a lot, and most importantly, learned a critical climbing skill while allowing our bodies another day to acclimatize by hiking high and sleeping low! Tomorrow we have a short 3 hour climb to high camp 5,130 meters (17,025’) from where we will begin our push to the summit at around midnight.

I hope you tune back in for the rest of the story…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: