Tim’s Huayna Potosi Experience 

The first mention of Huayni Potosi occurred in a hot mini van transfer in the Pantenal. Werner and Sylvia (avid treckers) were giving us some advice on some of the more wondrous treks they had done in Bolivia and Peru. We did say at the time that we were not overly experienced but were keen to do a lot more so they recommended loads of easier hikes and trecks for us and mentioned that just outside La Paz there was this mountain that was climbable and would mean that we would get up to 6088m.
Well at the time I think we sort of joked about it but since then we have done all of the other hikes and somehow along the way we have decided that we are gong to climb this mountain and yesterday I somehow ended up at 1 in the morning with crampons on my feet, an ice pick in one hand, a head torch on (A-mart cheap special please don’t fail me now) roped to Sarah and our guide at the bottom of the final ascent of Huayna Potosi!
First things first though. The big thing with climbing at altitude is how you cope with the altitude. So far we had spent about 10 days between 3500 and 4000m above sea level apart from a few days in Sucre when we were only at 2700m and one night on the salt flats when we were at 4800m. But so far so good for both of us as we had not experienced any real signs of altitude sickness.  
That’s not to say we didn’t feel the effects. You feel constantly short of breath to begin with and even the smallest of movements can leave you feeling out of breath. Standing up quickly can leave you light headed. Over the time we had gradually pushed ourselves by walking a bit further and further until we were feeling pretty good by the time we hit La Paz.
It’s funny how the altitude affects you though, because 2 days before the climb we were walking around town up and down the hill and I was really feeling the effects and on a few occasions and had to ask Sarah to slow down. However the day before on our “practice hike/bus ride” to just over 5000m I felt like a million dollars. I was finding breathing really easy and my recovery time after exertion was brilliant. So all in all I was feeling pretty confident about Huayna Potosi.
After having done a little research we decided to do the 2 day option for the climb/hike. This entailed driving from La Paz to base camp at 4800m then hiking with our gear up to high camp at 5180m before having a sleep until midnight when we would get up and go before 1am
The first hike with our backpacks fully loaded was fairly exhausting. The air was already pretty thin and the weather had turned a little nasty and it was now pretty cold and hailing. I was actually pretty lucky and was feeling really good but I could see that others were breathing very heavily and we were all out of breath by the time we reached high camp.
High camp was quite surreal and consisted of four rooms. A kitchen where the guides prepared our food, an entrance area for storing our stuff and getting dressed. Then a room upstairs for the guides and a large room full of bunk beds for us and one side taken up by trestle tables where we ate. There was no form of heating and we were relying on body heat and our sleeping bags to keep us warm.
The weather was pretty filthy and we even had to change bunks as there was hail falling in through the roof and onto my bed.
While I was feeling physically well at this point I could see that Sarah was struggling and I felt awful for her as no matter how many drugs we took to try and help she wasn’t getting much better.
After our short sleep we awoke at midnight and started getting our kit on. Three layers on the legs, two pairs of socks and three layers on top. It was exhausting just putting the gear on and at this point Sarah was really struggling but there wasn’t anything I could say as I could see she was determined to give it a go.
At first it looked like none of us were going to get to go as the weather was awful but it soon cleared and off we went.
The new snow made for tougher going and the climb started with us heading straight up a steep mountain. It was pitch dark and we were literally trudging up the hill just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.
I felt awful as Sarah felt worse and worse until she came to a point where she decided she had to turn back. It was quickly decided that France, our guide, would take Sarah back to base camp and the turn around and come back and continue on with me.
As I say at this point I was feeling really good and although it was going to be tough I thought I could make it. I was tied to Tom and Jess with their guide and we continued. It wasn’t that long before France had managed to catch us up again (amazing effort by him)
We trudged on and on and eventually during one of the longer breaks I started to feel pretty bad. I think it was a combination of things for me. Firstly I found out that we had made it to 5525m which was higher than Everest base camp which was sort of a goal for me. Secondly my heart was racing and I wasn’t catching my breath as well as before and was starting to feel unwell. 
The thought of carrying on for the same distance as I had already come was overwhelming. I was at this stage tied to Tom while Jess unfortunately was not well and was being physically sick. I decided that I didn’t think I was going to make it so asked to be untied from Tom so that I didn’t hold him back and Jess and I decided we were going to descend.
I think I was pretty gutted that I didn’t make it but I think I also underestimated how hard the ordeal was going to be. I think at the end of the day I don’t think I wanted it enough. I don’t think I was prepared to push myself through it to get there. That,I think, is the honest truth.
It was nice to descend and almost with every step I started to feel better and it was great to see Sarah back at high camp. We had a little sleep and then went out and sat in the glorious sunshine to cheer the other guys back.
The looks of absolute exhaustion on their faces and the tales of everyone throwing up as they got closer to the summit made us feel a bit better about our decision. Some of the guys were seriously unwell.
I think at the end of the day it was a great experience and one I will never forget. However I feel that although I am a pretty determined guy, you really have to want to climb to the top in order to be a climber. For me I think I enjoy hiking and trekking. I enjoy them more because I enjoy the constant changing views and the experience as a whole is enjoyable. The climb for me was just trying to prove you could get to the top. We did it in the pitch black so apart from a couple of times were we paused to see the stars the whole climb was to be a war of attrition and while I am sure the view from the top was amazing I don’t think it’s for me.
Thank you I am done for the minute with climbing but I am extremely proud to have made it to above Everest base camp. T

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