Huayna (pronounced Why-Na) Potosí hits 6088 meters (that’s 19,980 feet!) above sea level in the Cordillera Real, about 2 hours outside of La Paz. It’s considered by many to be the first technical mountain above 6000m that most people will ever climb. That seemed like a good enough reason for us to try and tackle it. With La Paz acting as a base camp of sorts for acclimatization at almost 3500m it’s only a 3 day trek to the top. With this being our first technical climb, we went with a guide.
After meeting our Guide we went by the Altitude6000 depot to get outfitted with a few things we didn’t bring on the trip, specifically mountaineering boots, ice axes and crampons! Unfortunately I had sold my crampons in a garage sale before we left – you know, since I only got to use them on one trip down the drive way in Dallas during an ice storm.
After driving up to base camp at 4700m we ate lunch and then took a short hike to Glacier Viejo to familiarize ourselves with our gear. This turned out to be more like an Ice Climbing 101 class and was awesome. Liz was a natural.
The next day we hiked up to high camp at 5130m with all our gear. After reaching high camp we dropped our gear, ate lunch and then climbed a little higher to try and help us acclimatize a little more. Then it was rest, rest and rest the rest of the afternoon; We would be waking up at midnight for our six-seven hour push to the summit.
With a full moon and headlamps we strapped on our crampons and started up the mountain. Huayna Potosí doesn’t mess around. It starts off steep right out of high camp and didn’t let up. As we climbed we were entertained by cloud-to-cloud lightening off in the distance. It’s something else to see lightening when you’re eye level with the clouds.
We got to practice our newly acquired ice climbing skills in the dark on a 15m wall that marked the halfway point.
From here on out it seemed like every step was twice as hard as the previous. Our guide was a huge help at this point as he was constantly motivating us to keep slowly moving up the mountain. After our Kilimanjaro experience we we’re to big on racing up the hill and were more than happy to the few other teams on the mountain pass us up. The only prize for getting to the top first is that it’s still dark and freezing cold!
As the sun started to peak over the horizon we could see the summit with in reach and that was just the encouragement we needed for our final push.
The summit was glorious… and tiny. I mean just enough room for the three of us, which made us thankful we were the last one to summit as there was no one to rush us off for their photo opp. We hugged, danced, cheered and took a couple of sips of our celebratory cervezas and attempted our now signature “Airplane” move only to realize it was going to take a lot more practice before we can do it with crampons. We made to the highest we’d ever been – 19,980 feet – just 20 feet short of 20,000 FEET!