Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Climbing Huayna Potosi

i've just returned from what i consider to be the most physically challenging thing i've ever done- climbing Huayna Potosi. Huanya Potosi is one of the tall mountains overlooking La Paz, it stands at 6088m tall and is one of the most popular climbs due to its proximity to the city.
My 'trip' was to take 3 days, the first day practising ice climbing on the glacier below, climbing to the camp alto the following day and then beginning our ascent in the middle of the night to reach the summit at sunrise.
I arrived at base camp and met my fellow climber, Pascal a friendly belgium girl. We pitched our tent and then set off toward the glacier to practise with our guide Roberto. Pascal was already having misgivings as she spoke little spanish and had specially asked for a english speaking guide- not only did Roberto not speak english, but spanish was his second language (his first being the indigenious language of Aymara) and his pronouncation wasn't helped by the fact that as far as i could tell he only had 5 teeth (most of those were gold). But despite that practise went ok and Pascal revealed that she does some climbing back at home and so could give me some instruction. Then back to base cap for tea and an early night, the night was cold- so cold in fact that the pond outside our tent froze!
The following day we set off on the 3 hour climb to 5200m camp alto, this was made even more difficult by the fact that we both had full packs to carry (including crapons, ice axes and snow suits- finally i was using my rucksack for what its intended). The walk was beautiful and half way up we turned around to se a condor circling above us and then gliding away over the mountain (oh, if only it was going to be that easy for me to get to the top). We also meet those who climbed the day previously and ominously less than half got to the summit. Once at camp alto we had a (very) early tea and then were sent to bed and told that we would be woken at midnight to begin our ascent. Our tent was pitched on bare rock and didn't make the most comfortable bed ever, we both slept very little.
Midnight comes and we are both woken and given a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits and quickly dress in all our equipment. I by this time resemble a michelin man, in fact i don't think i've ever worn so many clothes, moving around is difficult, as is tying my own shoe laces! we set off and after half an hour of walking both Pascal and I realise we over estimated the number of clothes required and are both dripping in sweat. We pause for a moment but the wind soon freezes our sweat and we must walk again before getting too cold. There is very little to see as our head torches only illuminate the ground immediately infront of us, just enough to see when to jump over a crevass. We continue to walk for a couple of hours until we reach the first bit of technical climbing, "just like we did the other day" Roberto reassures us- except that in practise, it was sunny and he was stood on the ground and we were secured by a rope to ensure we didn't fall, whereas today we were tied together and climbed behind one another (in the dark).
I was really beginning to feel the altitude now and very often had to rest, but each stop we took the wind would soon freeze us, my nose was beginning to run and there was still no sign of day break. We continued walking for another hour or so, Pascal wasn't as troubled by the altitude as me and the guide suggested we separate so i could rest more frequently, we did and i have never felt so hopeless watching her walk away breathing so easily, i continued walking with Eli (the assistant guide) but had to stop frequently and was getting progressively colder, i was struggling to hold my ice axe as i could no longer grip properly and becoming exhausted and stumbling slightly. The dark mountain looks very forboding and i'm beginning to get a little frightened, as soon as i think this i get my crapons tangled and fall head first onto the ground and promptly burst into tears. My face is now not only covered with frozen snot but icy tears too, Eli helps me up and my ever-dimming headtorch finally goes out so i try to change the batteries only to find my hands are so numb i cannot undo my zip pocket. Eli trys to reassure me and points to a wall of ice a little ahead of us "we only have to climb that 200m to the summit, it should only take us an hour more", its at this point i realise i will not be able to climb the final wall as i have very little grip on my axe and decide that after 4 hours of climbing we should return.
The return is just as exhausting and i'm not warming up, i'm getting more anxious as everything is still so dark. We walk for a little longer and the eastern sky is beginning to brighten, we stop to watch the dawn but again i get too cold so we set of again, we have reached a steep bit and its nessecery to abseil, all the time the day is brightening. I wait for Eli at the bottom and turn to look up at the mountain at that moment the sun reaches the horizon and the whole mountain turns pink and below me i can see an ocean of clouds with only the highest other peaks visible. In that instant the mountain suddenly is not so frightening and i can understand why people push themselves to climb as high as possible. we watch the rest of the sunrise in silence before continuing to descend. It took me another 90 minutes to reach the camp by this time i was utterly shattered and went back to bed to wait for Pascal to return. When finally she did, after reaching the summit and over 2 and half hours later i'm glad i turned around when i did, as if i'd got to the top i wouldn't have managed the walk back, she also didn't get to see the mountain itself at sunrise as i had; so my disappointment was tempered and i actually felt quite proud of myself.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A little bit of luck, please

What i need now is for you all to wish me luck on my next most challenging and exciting adventures, which i have crammed into a short as time as possible (not entirely sure why i did that). but please cross your fingers, cross your toes and hold your breath (well possibly not, it might be a week or so before i write again). ok got to go now, i'm too excited to sit at the computer any longer! chao.

bolivia is beautiful

ok, so after my previous lazy blog entry i promiseto try harder, so here goes..
i arrived into Bolivia a day later than planned. Due to me trying to find the cheapest bus company possible en route one of the types exploded (yes fully exploded all over the road!) and so by the time i got close to the border it was actually closed (thats Bolivian effciency for you). Finally entering Bolivia and staying on the shore of lake titicaca at Copacabana i spent 2 days not doing very much at all, and it was lovely especially after all the buses i'd had to take with Roo. At an altitude of 3800m the days are hot hot hot and the nights absolutely f-ing freezing but the scenery around is beautiful. I didn't realise just how beautiful until getting the bus to La Paz however...
Looking out of the bus window i am warmed by the fierce sun shining down from a cloudless sky, the bus is travelling along a mountainous ridge and below me i can see the deepest blue of the lake- as inviting as any stretch of water i've ever seen. The round hills rise gently from the lake edge, covered with greeny-brown tufts of spiky grass and are dotted with tiny houses, very basic in their construction and built from mud bricks. The road i'm travelling alternates between a patchwork of pitted tarmac to just a dusty track, the bus continues slowly and very occasionally an old vehicle passes going the other direction. Beyond the hills on the horizon there are the snowy peaks of the Cordillera Real, these mountains, in contrast to the hills around me sparkle majestically as the snow clings to their sharp rocky slopes...
well you get the idea, i was very impressed with the scenery around me, after about 5 hours on a bus i arrive in La Paz. As we arrive in La Paz i'm struck by the remarkable resemble it has to Bradford (just go with me on this one), the city is set in a deep valley and surrounded by beautiful scenery (albeit the andes and not the pennines), a whole manner of life goes on in the streets- people selling many coloured fruits and vegetables, the very centre street is constructed of awful 1960's tower blocks but after walking just a few blocks away you can find beautiful (but run-down) period buildings and finally.. its just so cheap! The hostel i'm staying at may not be five star but it costs me less than $5 a night and includes breakfast and my own private room.
Yesterday, after a brief exploration of the city immediately surrounding my hostel (including the witches market- complete with llama feotuses for sale as offerings to the Motherearth when getting a new house- oohh Laura guess what your souvenir is.. ) i took a bus and head for 'la valle de la luna', this is a strange geological site that suprisingly enough looks just like the moon (and from what i could gather from the guide was given this title by Neil Armstrong. The landscape basically comprised of huge towers of muddy rock and looked to me like giant termite mounds, it was created due to eruptions of the nearby volcano, we spent an hour or so walking on top of and amongst these strange towers and craters after which we walked on to the zoo which was a mile-ish away. The zoo was actually really nice and the animals looked after quite well. It also gave me a chance to see some of the native animals close up- the puma was amazing!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Roo arrives..

well, actually the title is a total lie- Roo has just left, that is the reason for the lack of any blog entries recently. So much has happened in the last few weeks i don't really know where to start; so instead of me rambling on for pages here is the extracts from Roo's diary (comments in brackets are my own additions):
Day 1: arrives into Lima at 5.45pm- knackered! We stay one night in Miraflores. (and being such a caring sister, we get straight on with the itinery despite an inkling of Roo's illness)
Day 2: Travel to Ica, takes 5hrs, arrive and stay in Huanchina. (both of us are pleasantly suprised by the presence of a pool at our hostel)
Day 3: Sand boarding and chilax by the pool. Roo gets burnt. (really really burnt- and i did tell her she would)
Day 4: Leave Huanchina and travel from Ica to Cusco on 'cruz del sur' night bus. (neither of us have any sleep)
Day 5: Arrive into Cusco. Annoying irish girls make katie irrationally angry. (due to lack of sleep). Confirm inca trail. Stay at Hostel Loki. Roo gets ill. Horrid irish girls throw a banana at her! (they really were horrid and annoying)
Day 6: sexy woman ruins, walk around Cusco. Katie ate alpaca. (lovely fluffy creatures that make jumpers- Roo was appalled)
Day 7: Hospital! (Roo told she has bronchitis and its touch and go whether we'll go on the inca trail- Roo spends the rest of the day lying down and moaning)
Day 8: inca trail day 1- Katie carries Roo's bag up big horrid mountain. Sleeping was super cold. Wee outside tent in middle of the night. (both of us were too scared to go any further into the darkness)
Day 9: inca trail day 2- Walked to highest point! Then down, eat lunch, and back up again to ruins. more ruins. Foggy campsite- lost american woman-Ha! (Roo manages to carry her own belongings today!)
Day 10: inca trail day 3- met porters, down for a full days walking, arrived at campsite midday, free time and hot showers! wiƱawayna ruins.
Day 11: inca trail day 4- Machu Pichu. walk down to aguas calientes and then train back to Cusco. 24 hour challenge. (which Roo didn't complete due to her being a wimp- 4 out of 13 did it)
Day 12: Travel to Puno- took 8 hrs! Stay at Inca's Rest. (Roo was slightly concerned that our taxi was actually a motorbike with a tent over it!)
Day 13: Walked around town, booked Roo's flight back to Lima and trip to lake titicaca. Went to Sillustani- threw bits of katie's camera down the cliff.. (i lost a lens cap and a case, ggrrr)
Day 14: early start to lake titicaca and floating islands. Dinner with Auzzy boys and the fog catchers. (yes in real life we met a german couple that had come to Peru for 18months solely to catch fog!!??)
Day 15: Left for Arequipa on a bike taxi! 5hr bus -stay in Andes house. (i broke the Tv after being in the room less than 5minutes)
Day 16: Free breakfast! (which means we checked out before they realised we had to pay for it!) Shopping and booked colca trip. Moved into 'lluvia de Oro' (bargained for price of a room)
Day 17: 8.30am start to colca canyon. Hot springs and annoying complaining english dude. Pizza in bed. (our rock and roll lifestyle)
Day18: Colca canyon at 6.30am! saw condors. travel back to Arequipa. (amazing!)
Day 19: Roo goes home. (sad sad sad)
ps photos to follow- internet very slow here.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I climbed a glacier!!

Having not much time in order to get to Lima i had the choice of; a) spending the day travelling to lima and then spending the night on my own or b) doing something fun all day and get the night bus down to Lima. Obvious choice really. I decided i'd go ice climbing up a glacier- its something i've never done before and sounded like fun, except the leaving at 7am bit that is! When i arrived at the tour agency there was only one other boy coming with me, he was a russian israeli (and spoke like a James Bond baddie) but having just finished the army i expected him to be very good and make me look even more rubbish than i would already. Ha ha, was i wrong or what- i kicked his ass!The drive up to the glacier was beautiful, through a national park which contains a special type of flower, the tallest in the world actually. Apparently they take 40 years to grow, flower once and die (unless of course my spanish translation didn't fully grasp the concept); snowcapped mountains on my right and indigenious people with herds of fluffy cows deeper in the valley. At the sight of the glacier we had to walk towards the bottom of it, this wasn't too far but still took 40 minutes or so (partly due to the altitude, we were now at 5000m). Glaciers are amazing, once up close you can hear the trickling water beneath the rocks, the creaking of the ice itself and as the ice has been so tightly pressed it is full of swirling layers all brilliant white. So bright in fact that to look at it required sunglasses, now this posed a slight problem as yesterday i seemed to have lost my 'Oakleys' somewhere between booking ice climbing and getting back to the hostel (you all knew i would lose something sooner or later!). But i'd been told i must bring some eye protection, yes that's right, i took my huge pink beach sunglasses- i fitted right in with the others with all their proper climbing gear and sporty sunnies! After a few laughs the climbing got under way, the Israeli (Alex i think) went first and it looked extremely difficult and tiring but he got to the top and then had to abseil back down (which he didn't get and kept using his ice pick, much to the amusement of our guide!). Then it was my turn- yes, it was really tiring using both arms and both legs to bash holes into the ice in which to secure yourself; i had to stop halfway up to catch my breath but i did make it to the top and then back down- abseiling was definately the the best bit i thought. As we had lots of time we could climb up a second time, so i proposed a race with Alex- totally kicked his ass, even the guide said that i did well! yes.
On the return we walked around the bottom of the glacier to an ice cave, once inside the cave it was huge with icicles growing from the ceiling and floor and everything taking on a glowing blue colour- i could imagine living in an ice palace, it was very beautiful we couldn't however stay long as our guide told us it was dangerous and last year part of the cave had collapsed (oh dear, perhaps not so great to live in an ice palace after all).
That night i caught the night bus to Lima and then waited for Roo to arrive!...
(photos to follow)