Climbing Huayna Potosi – Bolivia

After being 4 months in South America Alex faced the biggest challenge she would ever face. She started a three-day hike to the top of the Huayna Potosi, the highest mountain of Bolivia. She didn't only stood eye in eye with the mountain but mainly with herself. This story is about what travelling really is about: getting out of your comfort zone, pushing the boundaries and overcoming your biggest weaknesses..

I was still shaking and my eyes were filled with tears. I was back in the refuge at a height of 5200M. The same refuge I left this morning at 01:00 am to start the final track to the summit of the highest mountain of Bolivia: The Huayna Potosi. I was crying because I was reading victory messages from people who made it all the way to the top: “Your mind is playing a game with you. I won the game and made it.” I cried. Not because I was moved by the heartfelt messages, but because I was disappointed with myself that I didn’t make it. I cried because I was angry that my body and mind failed me. I cried because I was not strong enough to do something I was determined to do three days ago, before we started this hike. This moment was definitely a moment in my trip I wanted to forget as soon as possible, because I had nothing to be proud of, or did I?

The tears were still pouring down my face when I felt a hand resting on my shoulder. I wiped my tears away and looked over my shoulder. It was my guide. The guide with whom I climbed to a height of 6020 meters. The same guide that picked me up from the ground when I fainted and fell down into the snow. And the same guide who screamed and yelled at me, smacked me in the face and pulled me down for meters until I woke up again. After those 3 days, the guide knew that I was beating myself up for not making it to the top, even though going down was the only option I had at that point. He started talking with his warm and friendly voice: “Beautiful all those little messages, don’t you think?” I didn’t reply. To be honest: I was filled with envy and I hated every single message I read. He asked me if I could read some out loud for him. I started: “Seeing the sun come up after three days of climbing to the top is one of the best experiences in my life.” and another one: “I am 52 and I am so proud that I made it to the top.” Just as I continued with the next message from a proud climber who made it to the top, he interrupted me. He asked me to only read the messages he pointed out. And so I did: “Yeah 5500, the highest I’ve ever been!” and: “We didn’t make the top, but the 3 days were amazing. Loved every minute!”

After our little chat in the refuge we still had to climb all the way down from 5200 meters. But now I enjoyed every step downwards and I thought about the past three days climbing up: the sunrise, the sunset, skiing on old school wooden ski’s without a slope, climbing a glacier with a pickaxe and being above the clouds. Not to mention, the badass mountain under our feet. What was there not to be proud of?

For the first time ever I was proud of something that I didn’t accomplish, because I have learned the biggest lesson I could have learned. Sure, I almost had to die for it, but I guess big life lessons are taught the hard way (by the right teachers.) I don’t even remember the name of my guide anymore, but I will never forget what he taught me.

 

Do you want to climb the Huayna Potosi?
(or any high mountain for that matter)

I would say: go for it! Climbing a mountain is a great experience and it will undoubtedly be a huge task. It’s only you and the mountain and you will forget all other things. Your mind is at complete peace and in full focus on getting your body through this challenge. But beware: once you’ve climbed one mountain you will feel the urge to climb another one. Because when you make it to the top (or now I know: even if you don’t) it’s a special experience like no other.

When you are in Bolivia and you do want to climb the Huayna Potosi you should take the following points into account:

  • There are two types of trips. You can book 2 days/1 night or 3 days/2 nights. The only difference is that on the longer tour you will use the first day to practice climbing a glacier with all your gear on (huge plastic ski boots, iron shoes with nails and ice axe). Plus you will have an extra day to adjust to the altitude (and the cold). I was very happy that I had this extra day, but I also met lots of people who said it was perfectly doable in 2 days without the training.
  • For the 3 day/2 night tour you will pay around 1130 Bolivianos.
  • On the second day (the first day if you only do a 2-day tour) you will leave early in the morning and climb 4-5 hours to the last refuge. Here you have time to rest in the afternoon – I used that afternoon to go off-piste skiing with old wooden skis. Really awesome!) The next morning (01:00 am) you will leave for the second part of the hike.
  • From here on up the mountain will be covered with snow. At some parts the slope goes over 45 degrees. That means that you will need your ice axe to pull yourself up. There is no fixed rope, but you are tied up with your guide and one other climber. This is why you need to find a good company which you trust (in my last bullet point you can find more information about different tour companies)
  • Take into account that you have to carry all the gear yourself. So you want to pack really lighty. Actually, you just pack for really cold weather and nothing extra. I was wearing thermal underwear, sports leggings, a fleece vest, wind breaker,  gloves, 2 pairs of socks (one pair of normal socks and one pair of ski socks) and a woolly hat. I wore it for 3 days and 2 nights. It was just too cold to take it off (I know gross!) But that meant I didn’t have to pack any extra clothes which saved a lot of weight.
  • The meals are very plain and were barely enough for me (I am a girl and eat like a mouse). I can imagine if you are a grown man or any other normal person with a healthy appetite the meals are not enough. Since food was included in my trip I didn’t bring any extra. I would advice you to do. Just some small snacks for three days to keep you going.
  • There were different tour companies who offer this hike. I just went to Calle Sagarnaga where most tour companies are based and compared their prices, but I mostly based my decision on what company made me feel safe. For me, that was Pacha tours. However, I also heard very good stories about Bolivian Journeys. A couple I met went with Viacha Tours (owned by a German guy) and they didn’t get picked up at all. When they went back to the office the owner stated that this was not his fault but the driver’s fault and never offert them a discount or refund for a new trip. So I would avoid booking at this office. That said: I was here in 2014 and I don’t know how much has changed. If I were you I would just check out the different agencies, go with the one that feels trustworthy, do some final research and just book.

Hopefully this will be helpful. If you have any questions about this trek please let me know! If you want to read more experiences, check out the story Bold Travel wrote about their hike. And yes, they did make it all the way to the top.. Happy climbing.

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