Huayna Potosi. It’s worth recognising I had never attempted a 6,000m+ peak before, in fact this was my first alpine mountaineering experience. As I was a novice climber (and still am) the experience was definitely something I wasn’t taking lightly. I had a desire to challenge myself with something completely new. I built this up in my mind as the biggest challenge of my entire trip to South America.

What was meant to happen.

For this story to make sense you need some context about the standard game plan for climbing Huayna Potosi. The climb is broken up into a three day itinerary shown below. Basically the first two days are designed to give you the chance to acclimatise and do general mountaineer training. This is because there are some technical sections of the climb that need knowledge of how to use ice climbing equipment.

Day 1

  • Transport from La Paz to base camp at 4,400m.
  • 1 hour trek to the ‘training ice vertical’.
  • 2 hour ice trekking and climbing exercises including vertical ice climbing and crampon training.

Day 2

  • 2 hour trek to high camp at 5,100m.
  • Rest and preparation at this altitude. (Acclimatisation)
  • Preparation of mountain gear including crampons, ice-axe and ropes for midnight ascent.

Day 3

  • 12 midnight wake up time to begin overnight climb.
  • 2 hour snow trek segment.
  • Ascent of 30m, 45° ‘ice vertical’ with ice-axe and crampons.
  • Continue along a 3 hour snow trek segment.
  • Ascent for 2 hours up 45° ‘ice wall’, a section of compressed snow that zig zags up the mountain.
  • Reach 6,088m summit at 7am.
  • Descent to base camp.

What actually happened.

Calm before the storm.

Got on the rickety minibus to the Cordillera Real mountain range from La Paz. There was a spectacular view of the mountain range coming in, although driving directly past a cemetery was a little ominous. We pulled up to a small little building at Huayna Potosi base camp at 4,400m. On the bus I met our climbing guide Feliciano and my Mexican climbing partner Carlos. We shared the bus with others doing the same climb but in a different climbing group. On the first day the training conditions were snowy and foggy. Wow this was different. Trusting the crampons was hard at first. Just as I trusted them, one dislodged from my boot. Feliciano quickly assisted me to put it back on. I hoped it would be fastened a little better before I attempted the ‘training ice vertical’.

I took on the ‘training ice vertical’  with an ice-axe, crampons and cramping hands. The climb was tough, however all went smoothly which gave me a huge amount of confidence to complete the technical sections of the main summit climb the following day/night. Very glad and comfortable that I now felt prepared. The encouragement from my guide and climbing partner gave me further inspiration. Crashed out that night and prepared for the hike to high camp at 5,100m the next day.