People say you can´t describe this feeling. They are right. Few things in the world compete with the sensation of accomplishment of conquering a summit. After 5 intense hours of climbing, on Monday the 7th of October at 6.30am, I conquered Huyana Potosi, 6088m (Bolivia). I am on the top of the world. And I just caught the summit bug.
Let me be clear about one thing: I am not an alpinist and I never planned to climb mountains while being in South America. If you have been following me for a while, you know that my first alpinism attempt ended up with a fail. Altitude sick, I had to turn back at 5284m, more than 700m from the summit (read the story here).
Even if the experience was incredible, it left a taste of unachieved. So, when I got to La Paz, Bolivia and got to know about Huayna Potosi, a 6088m mountain, I got tempted. And strong of my experience on Cotopaxi, I prepared better this second attempt.
Putting all chances on your side
Huayna Potosi – “the easiest” doesn´t mean easy: just like Cotopaxi, Huayna Potosi has been sometimes qualified as the easiest 6000m summit. Many misread “easiest” for “easy”. This is no easy mountain. Huayna Potosi is considered as accessible to less experienced climbers due to the following reasons:
- Its ascension is non technical with 90% of it being a tough hike on a snow covered glacier
- The high refuge you start your night ascension from is located at 5130m, giving you “only” 960m of elevation left to conquer i.e. a 5 to 6 hours climb
But it remains a mountain over 5000m, meaning it´s no joke. People die over there, and you should take this activity really seriously.
Make sure you properly acclimatize: The main difficulty of summit of Huyana Potosi is the altitude. Over 5000m, the symptoms can be really strong if you didn´t give enough time for your body to acclimatize. We decided to attempt the summit as we had spent 3 weeks over 3500m (from Cusco to La Paz).
Learn the basic of mountaineering: Getting familiar with the equipment and some basic techniques such as securing your equipment, behaving in a party rope, walking with crampons, is essential if you have never tried alpinism before. You can acquire these basic skills in a couple of hours and it will help you being more confident for the ascent.
Your guide will make the difference: Choosing a professional agency will minimize the risks. Going cheap will compromise your security. (Thanks Tripadvisor for indicating us to one of the best agencies of La Paz!). Spend a bit of time to get to know your guide, you have to fully trust him/her when you start the climb.
D Day: your mindset is everything
When I put on my crampons at 1.00am just after a few hours of sleep, my mind is set “Today we bring this mountain down“. There is just no other option than going to the top.
This is one of the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. When your legs become heavy like stone, when your toes freeze in your boots, when your stomach turns bad due to the altitude and when you are on the edge of tears due to exhaustion, only the mental can take over. And that night, I was invincible.
The thing is, I never, ever, thought about giving up. I remember, I almost cried of joy when the guide announced “6020m!” and I realized we were about to make it. These 68 last meters were the toughest: I swore (in French), I yelled and I took mental note to never try something like this again… until I reached the top.
Climbing Huayna Potosi – make it happen
Make sure you are in excellent physical condition, and that you spent at least one week over 3500m. Book the 3 days program to maximise your chances: you will get more familiar with the altitude, the equipment and your guide. You will also try ice-climbing – fun- and enjoy the beautiful Cordillera Real!
I can highly recommend the agency Altitude 6000 in La Paz for the professionalism of all the staff and the pedagogy of their guides. Also, you will eat well!
Have a big goal and need some motivation and tips to make it happen? Check the Unstoppable podcast.