"Why did you decide to climb Bolivian mountains?" my friends asked my boyfriend and climbing partner Dick Stone as we showed the slides of our trip. "Well", he admitted for the first time "My Mom gave me a book about climbing in Ecuador and I meant to go there". So I guess that mistake determined our climbing destination.
But I wasn't daunted by the fact that there were no climbing guides to Bolivian mountains in English. Or that we decided to do the trip without using a guide service, relying instead on my high school Spanish. And I had been to La Paz in 1969 as a missionary for my church. Most importantly, Dick was an accomplished mountainteer, even at that time. (He has since summited Everest.) At least there were mountains in Bolivia.
We flew into La Paz at 13,000' and spent a few days acclimatizing and visiting the local Aymara Indian markets which is something I always enjoy. Some of the more interesting items in the bruja or witches market are the llama fetuses. I never did learn what their purposes was. I guess my high school Spanish only goes so far.
The town had changed quite a bit in the 25 years since I had been there. There was traffic on the roads and highrise buildings where there had been single level mud structures. And Illimani, one of our objectives at 21,200', was still visible from town.
The translation issue is always interesting to me. I consider myself pretty outgoing and I enjoy engaging people in conversation when I travel. When I first arrive in a Spainish speaking country I am a bit shy (and rusty) with my language skills and am more comfortable talking to the children until I get used to using my Spanish. Dick also wanted to get into the spirit of the conversation but as happens with lots of non-native speakers, he tended to agree when he didn't know what was said. After he finished the conversation with the woman below, I informed him that he had just hired her!
Before we started our climbing expedition, we took at trip to the altiplano above La Paz to Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America and at 12,500' the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. We took a boat to the island of Surqiu where Thor Heyedahl discovered the reed boats upon which he modeled his Ra II. It also has excellent truca or lake trout.
Finally we headed out to a pleasant valley where we planned to climbed two mountains-Condoriri (18,640') and Alpamayo Pequeno (17,800'). Because we had no guidebooks, we hoped that the routes would be obvious once we got on the mountains. And we generally found this to be true.
We camped one night on the flanks of Condoriri which we found to be a cold and windy experience. But the mountain is beautiful and steep and we were the only ones climbing it the day we summited. I suspect that after English guidebooks were published, that was no longer the case.
The next day we attempted the perfect Alpamayo Pequeno, named after the mountain in Peru. I was just too worn out to summit, leaving Dick to solo that peak which he did in style.
After a rest day in La Paz, we headed back out to Huayna Potosi at just under 20,000'. We made a Base Camp at 15,000, then proceeded up to Campo Argentina at 17,000' for a night. From there we got an alpine start at about 2:00 am.
I would have said that I wasn't affected by the altitude. But I was struggling mightily with my crampons in the glow of my headlight. Dick came over to see what was taking me so long and gently remarked "They work better when the spikes are pointing towards the ground." I laughed so hard I could barely reattach them.
We set off for yet another perfect weather day to our summit. It was a beautiful, narrow summit, just like mountains are supposed to be. Another day where we were alone on the mountain.
After Huayna, we returned to La Paz for a rest day, then packed up to attempt our last goal, Illimani at 21,200' which would be a record for Dick whose high point at that time was Denali. My record was Huayna at 20,000' so everything was record-setting for me.
On Illimani, we had a Base Camp at 15,000 and high camp (Nido de Condorers or Condors' Nest) at 18,000'. As we headed up to the summit, I discovered that I had contracted a stomach thing. It just wasn't my day so I hung out at about 20,000' and Dick again soloed the peak.
I really wasn't disappointed as I had exceeded what I thought I could climb at that point. I am not really that drivin to "bag peaks' I am more interested in the fun quotient. When it stops being fun, I lose interest.