Climbing Huayna Potosi (BOLIVIA) - Story By James " Diego" Cruikshank
The first ascent took place in 1919 by Germans Rudolf Dienst and Adolf Schulze. The easiest route entails an exposed ridge and sections of moderately steep ice, with a UIIA rating of PD. Huayna Potosi’s summit is at 6,088 meters.
I met up with my buddy Alain Denis from Squamish and his girlfriend Angela in La Paz. They have been riding their motor bikes through Latin America. Big Al and I decided to go on a mission to climb our first 6000 meter mountain. So we took Alains’ motor bike on a gravel road from LA PAZ to the base of Huayna Potosi, which took two hours. Finally we came to a lovely lakes area at an altitude of 4700m. This was where we would begin our massive siege of the mountain
We had a coffee and jam sandwich and then found a concrete room to store the motor bike over nite. Al wrapped his baby in a blanket, kissed it good-bye and we were off. From here it was a 2.5 hour hike up to the high rock camp at 5300 m. We passed the refugio and opted to camp, thus climbing a purer, more ethical mountaineer style. The camp area was level rocks, and suitable for pitching tents. We arrived at 5pm and checked out the amazing scenery, mountains lakes and valleys below. We cooked up some lentils, took some pictures, watched the sunset and tucked ourselves into bed at 6:30 but we never really slept, just dozed, tossed because of the altitude. Al had problems breathing but no problem farting. I actually considereded getting out of the tent to sleep but it was windy and freezing -5 plus wind chill. It felt like -10.
We got out of our sleeping bags at 1:45 to make coffee and pack our tent and summit packs. We began our summit attempt at 3:15 AM after falafelling around with our crampons. Luckily we didn’t have ropes or harness to mess around with, we did have Alpine axes and ski poles though. After 30 minutes of hiking our feet were freezing or rather frozen.
The route was clearly visible because of the full moon. It followed the main glacier up and across the bergschrund and directly up a ridge. This was our first small semi vertical wall to climb, it was about 50 degrees. After that the route curves behind a small mountain.
I prayed for sun rise to come quickly and it did. Then it started to get warm. So we plodded along easy slopes for another hour.
The final approach is very exposed along the summit ridge it may may been safer to rope up but Al (a.ka. El Burro) had no fear and I thought OK just don’t fall. The summit is small and has a pronounced cornice, reducing usable space. We sat for 5 minutes took pictures and then bailed. As we arrived at 9 AM. Morning sunshine causes the snow to become less stable for walking, and increases avalanche risk from 8 am onwards. The views from the summit were unbelievable the mountain is far higher than anything else nearby, the Cordillera Real, Lake Titicaca, and La Paz are all visible.
With jelly legs we slowly plodded our way back down the mountain. Arriving at rock camp by 11 AM.
We napped for an hour, Split a 500ml. coke and headed down to when the motorbike was parked. The packs had gotten mega heavy, “did Al fill mine with rocks cuz I put a few in his”. We got to the bike by 2pm, packed it up and Al drove back to La Paz as fast as he could. We were both really tired and needed to sleep. We got pulled over by the cops in the city doing 110 KM. but they said “please slow down”. We arrived happy to have climbed our first 6000 meter peak....
Leaving the pollution of La Paz behind
My loaded DR... but no problem making it to base at 4800 meters
Cemetery and Huayna Potosi in background
Base camp at 5369 meters - full moon - cold night!
The last summit push, narrow and killer exposure!
James and I on the summit 8:45 am - 6088 meters