Saturday, 16 February 2008

Huayna Potosi - ´Begginers Mountain´

So off we went.
Mandi full of excitement, me full of trepidation.
I was unsure of this from the start, but I had to give it a go.

The plan:

Day 1
4,700 m, Basecamp. Trek for about an hour, to get to the Ice Glacier. Practice Ice Climbing. Trek back to basecamp. (Pictured). Sleep. (Note, we were to camp outdoors).

Day 2
Trek about 3 hours, up to 5,000 and something metres to the Midcamp. (This time, a proper building with a proper bed). With a view to sleep at around 6pm.

And get up at midnight, to begin the final ascent to the peak, at night, a 5 hour-ish trek, to 6,088m.

By which time it´s Day 3
Descend mountain.

The Raj version of events:
We arrive at basecamp. Have a fab lunch, just me, Mandi and our Bolivian guide who is tiny and built like a goat. (He has lost track of how many times he climbed the mountain, so VERY experienced.)

We layer on our gear: Merino wool baselayers, our regular day clothes, then tough North Face outer wear, snowboots, Alpaca wool gloves followed by snowgloves, crampons for the ice go in our backpacks, hats go on our heads and ice picks are in hand. (Ice picks double up as walking sticks...VERY necessary). I am told its a short hike uphill to the Ice Glacier where we practice our climbs. We should be there and back in about 3 hours. Apparently.

And we´re off.

First thing I notice, is that these snowboots are not so great for rocks. Great for snow, not great for rocks. But thats ok...´plough on´ I tell myself...

And so I step in front of the other...we climb.
And climb. And climb.
This glacier aint so close.
The guide and Mandi seem to be making much better progress than me.
The air is getting thinner. And thinner.
It´s hard to breathe. Damn, we are very high up.

Time goes on, and I start to panic a little.
I don´t know if I can do this.
I try to focus, on every breath, and with every step, I find myself saying a prayer.

Channeling the mind into a sort of rythymic meditative state, will help...and it did.
I managed to stop myself bursting into tears, about twice.
Higher and higher we climbed, and then we came to a little stream.
By this time, I was exhausted, my legs ached, I was panting for air and fighting tears.

Mandi appeared to fly across the rocks to the other side with apparent ease.

I panicked, I was terrified, I didnt trust my boots and the rocks were wet from the moisture from the cloud we were walking through. I did not want to fall in that stream.

The guide came back for me, held my hand, which I gripped with all my might, and I slowly, tentativly, crossed the stream, rock by rock. When I got to the other side, I was so relieved that I hadn´t fallen that I really did burst into tears, and gasping for breath I hugged Mandi, so glad she was there. The guide looked so bored by the whole scene...bless him, he must have seen this so many times, we had to laugh.

Anyway, eventually we got to the Ice Glacier. And it was well worth it.

That´s where we did this: (Image stolen from someone else´s blog...)

Now this was WICKED.
You put your crampons on your snowboots (big scary spikes) and grab your ice pick, wack the ice pick in the wall, then wack your foot in, haul yourself up, wack your other foot in, then the ice pick, and before you know it you have climbed to the top of the Glacier! SOOOOOO much fun! And not that hard...made the long arduous climb well worth it.
So that was Day 1 done. Back at basecamp, we ate well, watched the stars come up and gazed at the mountain that we agreed to climb. As night approached, I became more and more unsure of whether or not I wanted to do this. The mountain was prettier, and I liked it more, when I was NOT on it. Even the Llamas and goats avoided those heights. What the hell was I thinking, trying to go where no goat had gone before?!? Not a good sign...
We went to bed. Or rather, we crawled into our tent, wearing all the clothes we could get our hands on, crawled into our sleeping bags and lay awake freezing all night. That was enough to shift me into ´Princess mode´as Mandi calls it. I hate being cold. I hate sleeping in tents, unless its Summer and I am at a music festival, armed with whisky. As the night continued to insist on NOT ending, I lay awake asking myself, do I REALLY want to climb the mountain? How ´bovvered´am I, really? I pictured being back in La Paz, sleeping in a real bed, warm, dry, clean... spending the day wandering around town, stopping for a Cafe Solo, maybe a slice of cheescake, absorbng the atmosphere, sketching and drawing. I wanted to DRAW goddammit, not climb a friggin cold mountain. Every bone in my body was telling me ´you don´t want to do this, do you?´...and I was saying ´of course not!!!!´, this is Mandi´s strong area, this is her dream. I didn´t want to dissapoint her, but at the same time, I had to endure the trauma of the climb for the right reasons.
So when morning FINALLY came... I told Mandi that I didn´t want to climb.
She was understanding, but dissapointed...but glad I was being honest.
I was pissed off at myself for feeling that way, because I wanted this to be something we achieved together, you can´t get any more monumental than climbing a mountain, and I was sad that she was doing it alone...but both us knew it was for the best. This way, I wouldn´t hold her back by being the slowcoach, and she could focus better on getting to the top.
Everything was cool, we parted with heavy hearts, both worried for each other, hugged, said the ´I love yous´and waved at each other till she dissapeared over a hill.
She was off to climb her mountain.
And I was off to sleep.

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