| 21,122ft Illimani - Bolivia Adventure Part 2
Part 2 Illimani.
This is continued from the end of the Pequeno Alpamayo Trip Report located here: http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=12285&parmuser=kushrocks&cpgm=tripuser
This second part involves the days in Bold Below and continues right from the end of Part 1.
Friday June 29th - Almost miss our flight leaving Denver at 7:30am.
Saturday June 30th - Arrived in La Paz at 3:30 am. Rested and walked around town.
Sunday July 1st - Car Ride to Chacaltaya ski area 17,185ft then hike up to 17,700 and other smaller summits above 17,200 then return to La Paz
Monday July 2nd - Drive from La Paz to Condoriri Base Camp area. Hike in from road at 14,670 to base camp at15,350
Tuesday July 3rd - Summit Pequeno Alpamayo 17,618ft and return to base camp.
Wednesday July 4th - Hike out from Condoriri base camp and return to La Paz and rest.
Thursday July 5th - Drive toward Illimani. Hike into base camp from 12,300ft to 14,500 ft.
Friday July 6th - Carry gear from 14,500 to just below Condors Nest High Camp 17,720ft
Saturday July 7th - Summit Illimani 21,122ft - Return to base camp sleep like we were dead.
Sunday July 8th - Return to La Paz - Tried to celebrate with lots of beer but just feel asleep early.
Monday July 9th - Wake up at 2am to catch our 5am flight out of La Paz and marathon it home arriving in Denver at 11pm.
Tuesday July 10th - Hate myself for not taking another day off before going back to work.
Day 7 Thursday July 5th.
Luckily the following morning I ran into a very nice elderly American woman at our hostel doing volunteer work down Bolivia. She told me about Charcoal Tablets that are really good for helping my....uh...um....stomach issues. I almost sprinted to the pharmacy to purchase them before our guides picked us up at 9:30am.
Illimani towering over the 12,000ft city of La Paz
The drive toward Illimani to 12,300ft was a long one. It took us 4 hours to get there and once outside of La Paz it was nothing but bumpy dirt roads the whole way there, some parts which were on the edge of cliffs. At one point we were driving on the edge of cliffs with only enough room for our car to get by. Paul asked "Are we on the death road?" and I thought we were on part of it as well but it turns out this was just a normal mountain road in Bolivia.
Part of our road to Illimani. Taken of another vehicle on the way back to La Paz.
We drove through small town after small town that really made us feel appreciative of how fortunate we are to live in the United States. Each town no matter how poor or small, had some sort of soccer field and a small store to buy Coca Cola. For most of the drive Illimani was hidden from us and then suddenly about 20 minutes from our destination, there it was!!!
We finally pulled up to a local village located at 12,300ft where our cook and driver helped speak with the local villagers about arranging horse transportation for our heavier gear. The villagers here spoke a different language so even Paul with his fluent Spanish was unable to understand them. They did also understand a little Spanish so we were able to communicate slightly. And by "we" I mean Paul was able to communicate with them slightly. The view of Illimani from here was immensely intimidating as it rose 8,800ft from where we currently stood.
Illimani seen from 12,300 where we get out of the car and load up our gear. The true summit is hidden in the clouds.
We had a quick lunch then slowly hiked 2 or 3 slow but scenic hours to base camp on a small path through fields and small farm houses.
Paul hiking into base camp admiring Illimani
Andreas and me walking into basecamp as it starts to warm up
It got hot as we started moving but the weather would not stay warm for long. On the walk in I began to talk more with our cook Andreas. He was very intelligent and kind. He also did his best to try talking to me in the little amount of horribly broken Spanish that I know. Still, I had learned more Spanish in the last 5 days than in the two years I took in high school. It turns out he is also a guide. I was able to understand that he is 48 years old with 6 children, 1 grand child, he has brothers in a nearby town, and that family is very important to him. I was even able to get him to laugh at some jokes I tried to make in Spanish but that may have been more due to the fact the words I were using could have been wrong. Regardless, I hope he understood how much I apprecited his help and conversating with him.
We continued walking and passed two groups of hikers on their way down none of which had made the summit. There was a European team and a Japanese team that both turned around due to high winds. The Japanese team made it the highest around 20,000ft before they had to turn around. Our spirits sank knowing that our wind forecast for our summit day was the same as theirs. We continued our hike in. At Base Camp according to my GPS we were at 14,580ft. Still we were looking up at almost 6,600ft of glaciated terrain that looked incredibly intimidating. I made the comment to Paul "It looks like Mt. Rainier on Steroids."
Paul, all smiles after first reaching base camp.
Weather at this time was quite nice with clear skies and great views of the peak. After dinner that would change. Those clear skies turned to clouds at base camp. We were having dinner inside the tent and I walked out 30 minutes later into pitch black mist. No stars, no moon, no distant lights, nothing. Without headlamps it was spooky how dark it was. I called Paul out of the dinner tent and we laughed in awe of how spooky it was even with our headlamps. We couldn’t find our tents 20ft away from us without the headlamps and even then we could only see 10 to 15 feet or so. A short while later we crawled into our tents that evening only to be awoken by a flash. I asked Paul who was in the tent next to me "Dude, did you just take a picture?" He didn't and almost immediately after he responded we heard a couple big cracks of thunder. My heart began to beat a little faster knowing we might be in the clouds causing that thunder. Shortly after I thought I heard the sounds of rain on my tent. I got out of my sleeping bag and was trying to put on my headlamp to take a peak outside when I realized how cold it was and knew there was no way it could be rain. I looked outside and it was actually graupel. We got about ˝ an inch before it turned to snow adding another inch or so.
Day 8 Friday July 6th
We awoke to what we first thought was a beautiful scene with about 2 inches of fresh new snow.
Waking up to about 2 inches of new snow
The lower mountain below the glacier that was snow free had turned white and beautiful. At the moment I had no idea how big of a problem this snow would create for us.
Me in the morning after the two inches of snow covering the lower mountain
We packed up, had a small breakfast and waited for Edwardo to show. He was supposed to arrive around 9:30am and head up the mountain with us. By 10:30am only one porter had arrived. I wasn't sure the exact verbal exchange between Paul and Andreas, who was talking to Edwardo on the phone back in La Paz, but I know he wasn't happy and neither was I. We came all this way and we wanted to give this mountain our all and at the moment felt like we had been ditched by our guide.
We grabbed everything we needed except our boots which ended up making our packs weigh around 45 lbs. We were going to wear our climbing boots up to save weight but they said that a porter would carry them up this afternoon so we didn’t need to. By 11am there was still no sign of Edwardo. Paul and I were upset to say the least. All we were told is that he is now on his way. Paul and I along with our cook Andreas and one porter began the hike to high camp. Here we were once again shown the strength of the climbers in Bolivia. Our cook Andreas new we weren't happy and did his best to accommodate us. He ended up carrying about 60 lbs to help us out as much as he could. Even carrying the 60lb pack he made the hike into high camp look easy. You can see the size of his pack in the photo below.
This was a long slog. The scree that comprises the majority of this route to high camp was covered in a light layer of snow and very slick in some places. In other places the dirt had turned to mud which made traction difficult. I thought wow microspikes would be awesome right now too bad they are home in Colorado. This was the worst day for me. I have carried 45+ packs to the summit of 14ers but never from 14,500 to 17,700 which was really tough. Between 15,500 and 17,000 I began to feel like crap. My head cold had returned and I noticed my balance was slightly off. Were my stomach problems affecting me? I was mad at myself. I had already climbed above 17,000ft twice so why was I struggling so hard from 15,500 to 17,000? I forced down water and some energy gels and turned on my ipod trying not to think about how I was feeling. I knew if my symptoms got much worse I would only be going as far as high camp. At around 17,000 I didn’t feel better but I at least stopped feeling worse.
Andreas and a struggling me approaching high camp. Look at the size of Andreas's pack!!!
We arrived at high camp, 17,780, just below the normal high camp known as Condors Nest. It was amazing to think that our high camp was a little taller than the Pequeno Alpamayo summit. We chose this location because it was sheltered better from the wind where Condors Nest is very vulnerable to high winds. This camp, while having better wind protection, was also very exposed with room enough only for 2-2 person tents. The edge of our tent sat right at the end of a ledge with a couple hundred foot drop. Paul was smart enough to get into the tent first and pick the opposite side of the tent to sleep on.
View out of our tent door at high camp
I wasn’t hungry but knew I needed some calories. I forced down some corn nuts and beef jerky . . . . . . . and almost instantly felt back to normal. I thought back to what I had eaten the last few days. With my stomach issues I had taken in nowhere near enough calories and everything I did eat for the last 24 hours did not contain hardly any sodium. Lesson Learned!!!
View up the Illimani Glacier from high camp
Paul at sunset from high camp
Me at sunset from high camp looking toward La Paz
We had a small dinner that night and crawled into our tent where we were told by our cook Andreas that Edwardo was coming . . . . but when? This was our first time sleeping above 17,000ft so we expected to not sleep at all. Surprisingly, Paul and I both got about two hours.
Day 9 Saturday July 7th – SUMMIT DAY!!!
Around midnight we heard our cook Andreas say he needed to borrow our headlamp. He saw Edwardo and a few others coming up towards us and told us he was going down to help them. He left with Paul's headlamp. My heart sunk when he returned alone. We woke up at 1:30am with still no sign of Edwardo and we were not happy. Paul and I began to discuss our options. Edwardo and the porters had not shown up so even if we wanted to try going up Illimani on our own we didn’t have our boots because we were told not to bring them. Mentally this whole game had messed with our heads a little. Are we going, are we staying? It was tough to mentally prepare for going to the summit and then later think you can't because your gear hasn't arrived. My fear was that we would have to hike down to base camp and then back up to get our boots and the rope.
The confusion happened when we got the two inches of snow at base camp. Our cook Andreas called the company in La Paz early Friday morning to tell them we had about 2 inches of fresh snow. He spoke to an employee who we never met and somehow that employee told Edwardo that we didn’t want to go up Illimani anymore because of the snow so Edwardo didn’t come from La Paz that morning. When Edwardo later found out from Andreas that his employee had made a mistake and we still wanted to go he drove the 4 hours solo from La Paz, hiked into base camp, and made two trips with 40-50lb loads from 14,500 to 17,780 at our high camp bringing up gear, gas and food all through the night. Two trips through the night to make sure we had a chance at the summit and then he was ready to guide us up the mountain to over 21,000ft on no sleep. Our faith in Edwardo was totally redeemed and then some. His employee made a mistake and he made up for it . . big time. It was about 2:15am at this time when I poked my head out of the tent finally seeing Edwardo. He said "Hola Ryans" and I smiled. He said something in Spanish and all I understood out of it was "Tres" and I knew that meant we were leaving at 3am. WHOHOO!!!
I cranked my music while getting ready to get in the zone, said a silent prayer, shortly after that we were off around 3:15am. This was it. The first part of the climb over loose rock mixed with snow and ice was really sketchy until we reached Condors Nest about 10 minutes later. Condors Nest was a flat area very exposed and covered in a couple feet of compact snow. Just past Condors Nest was a reminder that we needed to be careful. There were about 5 or 6 crosses dedicated to a few of the people who have perished while trying to climb this mountain. It was a very sobering reminder of where we were. We continued to climb expecting summit day to be nowhere near as steep as it was. At around 18,500 feet we started post holing?!?! ARGHH!!! It was only about 8 to 12 inches for a short while but it was very exhausting and up a steep slope. Just below 19,000ft we traversed a really sketchy sugary snow slope that angled upward and got steeper and steeper as we moved across it. A slip here would not be good. Luckily we got past this and took a quick break on a firm flat section. We were just under 19,000ft. Yahoo a new altitude record for both Paul and myself!
Me as light begins to come over the horizon. You can see the snow depth here is about 6 to 8 inches
My GPS which had brand new Duracel batteries put in it when we left high camp had almost no life left so I turned the GPS off for the time being. I was disappointed because I really wanted to see when we broke 20,000ft. We climbed higher and higher and got slower and slower. My breathing was fine but I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. Edwardo turned to us about an hour or so later and said we are now at 6,000 meters. I'm no doctor but I knew this meant we were approaching 20,000ft. Also, I could tell that we were about level with the top of Huayna Potosi off in the distance which is 19,974ft, so just under 20k. At this height we began to really slow down. It was windy and we once again started to post hole. At 20,000 ft it was more than exhausting. Even superman Edwardo was beginning to have a tough time. But that might have been due to the fact he had already climbed about 7k feet with 45 lb loads before deciding to take us up to the summit.
Light coming over a shorter sub summit of Illimani. You can see the clouds spinning over the top with the strong winds
Each step was slow and felt like we were hardly making any progress. However, with the steepness of the slope around 40 degrees we were gaining elevation relatively fast. We began counting steps. We stopped for a quick little rest and out of nowhere I blurted out a dirty joke to Paul and he cracked up laughing. When this happened it was a turning point for us where I knew we would make the summit. The sun began to show itself more and more in the distance which gave us another small burst of energy.
Steepness of the slop right around "Dirty Joke" time
Up and up we went until we crested what we thought was the final ridge. I knew we were around 21,000ft at this time. I could see the summit pyramid which was about 100 yards and maybe 50ft of elevation gain away. I knew the true summit was just a little ways past that point.
Edwardo slowly moving towards the summit pyramid taken at about 21,000ft
It was agonizingly slow getting to the top of that ridge. Once we were there we had another 100ft or so to walk and only about 5 more feet of elevation gain and we were there at 21,122ft on the summit of Illimani!!!
Paul and I on the 21,122ft summit of Illimani!!!
The wind was still howling up on the summit. You can tell by how my ice axe leash is horizontal. What a moment!!! I got some great video of a 360 degree view on the summit. Far off in the distance was La Paz. Towards the sun were beautiful mountain peaks all of which were well below where we were on the summit.
Holy Schnikes!!! If you look closely at the graph on my GPS you can see how steep the last section of the mountain was.
The views on the summit were great. Paul dropped to his knees thanking God for safely making the summit. I quickly snapped a picture because I thought it was a great moment and it made for a great photo. At the time he did not know I had taken the picture.
Paul truly thankful to be safe on the summit.
On top of Illimani I felt pretty good. The air didn’t seem as hard to take in now that I wasn’t trudging slowly uphill and I dropped to my knees to get out the photo I had most wanted to take.
Hi mom and dad!!!
A little side note for the photo above. Growing up in San Francisco when I was about 8 or 9 years old watching a 49ers (best team of all time by the way) game with my parents and I remember on TV when full back Tom Rathman was on camera briefly and he said "Hi Mom." My mom then told me if I ever became a professional athlete that it would be so cool if I did that. Well, I never became a professional athlete but I never forgot that moment so this is for my parents. Thanks mom and dad, love you guys.
Image #18 (not yet uploaded)
We knew that being in Bolivia only 7 days before going up the summit of Illimani at 21,122ft was pushing it acclimation wise so we descended after only about 15 minutes on the summit. We were very careful on the way down. A summit means nothing if you don't all get off the mountain safely.
Superman!!! On the summit of Illimani
How cold was it? I am not sure about temperature but my boiling water that was in my Nalgene bottle in an insulated carrier when we started began to freeze. I have never needed mittens before in any conditions in Colorado during Winter but I sure needed them for this trip and that was while wearing my liner gloves to. The wind was also howling maybe 30 to 40mph at times which didn't help things. Lastly even in my Spantiks (Double Boots) my toes were getting a little cold on the way up.
The way down was long. We stopped to delayer as the reflection of the sun off the glacier that was cold and dark on the way up got hotter and hotter. I finally took off the balaclava around 20,000ft and decided to put some sun block on but it was frozen solid to the point where I felt like if I squeezed it much harder it might cleanly break off. Whoops, now we are both going to set new personal records for our worst sunburn of all time.
Paul and I fist bumping on the way down around 20k as it starts to warm up.
I had brought 3 liters of water for summit day and already burned through most of my water. What I had left was mostly frozen but Edwardo had once again brought only a 20oz coke for summit day and only drank half of it.
Me being the ginny pig on the way down navigating my way through a heavily crevassed area
We continued to descend taking our time and more photos on the way down. We found a way around our sketchy sugary snow slop at 19,000ft that had caused so much concern on the way up.
Me on the knife edge shortly before reaching Condors Nest on the way down
Shortly after this we reached Condors Nest. All that was left was a 10 minute down climb over the sketchy and exposed mixed rock, snow and ice from about 17,950 to our camp at 17,780. We saw our cook Andreas waiting for us and waved our arms to him to let him know we made it. He had started brewing more tea and some sugary strawberry drink for us that tasted fantastic. We crawled back into our tent, euphoric but totally wiped out. I think I downed 2 or 3 more liters of water, most of it hot. There was just one problem. . . .we still had to descend all the way back down to base camp. After 30 minutes of us being completely worthless we started packing up for the treck down. We began to feel more and more energized with the lower altitude and getting back down to where there was some form of plant and animal life which really lifted our spirits as we staggered into base camp exhausted but completely thrilled we had made it. Whoohoo's, high fives, and tears from both of us all expressed the amazing emotions we felt on returning to base camp.
Me almost too tired to get my shell pants off after getting back to base camp.
We had to thank Edwardo. We were so mad at him for something that wasn't his fault. He ended up climbing 10,000 feet of vertical that day 6,600 of that carrying 45lb loads above 14,500ft to help get us to the summit. Paul ended up giving him his crampons which was a really nice gesture. Edwardo had a very old, dull pair. It's amazing he was able to climb as well as he did in those. A week after we got back Paul received an e-mail from Edwardo thanking him. Apparently Edwardo had just climbed Illampu (20,892ft) and was thrilled with his new crampons that Paul had given him.
Sunday July 8th.
Once again it snowed around midnight at base camp this time about an inch. This time the snow made us smile because we knew it would not be causing us any problems.
Snow again around the local bathrooms.
We awoke early the following morning to thick clouds around the upper portion of the mountain. We then hiked down to catch our ride at 12,300ft watching Illimani disappear in the clouds the further away we walked.
Illimani disappearing in the clouds as we walked away form base camp.
We had done it . . . and most importantly made it down safely. We were greeted by our driver and several kids looking at us in our climbing gear like we had just come from the moon. Paul and I were hits when we handed out the last of our candy to children. I brought an extra bag of Starburst and gummy bears after reading in Jim's TR that the kids down there love you if you have candy. The smile on their faces was absolutely priceless.
Giving local kids starbursts. My giant head may be blocking 2 or 3 more kids from the photo.
We climbed into the car and tried to sleep on the long drive back to La Paz but with all the bumping around we were unable to. We got back to our hostel where, before we even were bothered unpacking or showering, we were looking at pictures and video that Edwardo had taken.
After looking at more photos and stinking up the lobby for another hour or so while getting looks from all the tourists that we stunk, we showered and packed for the flight home early the following morning. Paul and I went out to celebrate with some wine and beers but at 12,100 ft and no alcohol for a almost 6 weeks our tolerance was . . . . a little on the low side. It was brief but fun. We walked/stumbled back to the hostel and called it an early night.
Monday July 9th.
The alarm went off at 2am. We caught a ride to the airport at 3am flew out of La Paz at 5am and got home to Denver at 11pm. The only downside of this whole trip was somewhere between La Paz and Miami where we had to recheck our luggage my camera was stolen out of my checked bag. This checked bag was actually my carryon bag but because of the flight restrictions with weight in South America I had to check it. It was heart breaking. I didn’t care about losing the camera so much as the 150 photos I took on there of an a once-in-a-lifetime trip that I would never get back. Luckily Paul is more of a Japanese tourist with his camera than I am so he still had about 400 pictures with another 50 or so from Edwardo. All photos from this TR are from Paul and Edwardo's camera. Thanks guys!!!
Tuesday July 10th
Back to work . . . . .
If anyone has any questions please feel free to PM me or Paul, we are happy to answer whatever we can.
Tips/Pointers/Interesting Facts About Bolivia
- Don't bother bringing American Dollars to Bolivia. There are only a few places that take it and the bills have to be perfect to be accepted meaning no small tears or even hard creases. It's much easier to take your Credit/Debit Card down there and get Bolivianos, their form of currency, at nearby ATMs which are everywhere.
- The American dollar is currently worth $6.94 Bolivianos
- Don't eat any food that isn't cooked. . . or cheese, which is apparently not pasteurized and makes for a really unpleasant next day.
- The food in general isn't very good so bring lots of snacks and other junk food. At one point I would have killed for some Top Ramen.
- If you think the drivers in Mexico are nuts try driving around in Bolivia. I have never been so continuously scared every time I rode in a car. Their level of comfort driving so ridiculously close to other cars and people is insane. Amazingly enough we were told there are hardly ever any accidents.
- There are mountaineering stores all over La Paz. It wouldn't be ideal if you forgot/lost something but you could always buy gear down there.
- The only fuel we could find for cooking stoves is MSR.
- If your addicted to Diet Mt. Dew like me you are out of luck. The only sodas they have down there are Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Sprite, and Fanta all of which don't taste as good as they would in the US.
- Buy an Oximiter. Paul brought one on this trip and we became obsessed with it checking how much oxygen our bodies were absorbing as we acclimated. When we first arrived in La Paz we were in the low/mid 80's but at the end of the trip we were in the low 90's which really proves that your body will adjust to the higher altitude.
- Bring a solar powered cell phone/ipod charger. Having mine there was fantastic!!!
- Learn your mountain heights in meters or bring a calculator before you head down there.
- The beer down there sucks. Celebrate with wine.
Special Thanks To
- First and foremost my climbing partner Paul for making this trip happen. You are a tough dude who can handle some tough and brutal conditions at high altitude. I also want to thank you for answering all my questions on what does (insert almost any Spanish word here) mean?
- Our guide Edwardo aka Superman, hands down the most badass person I have ever climbed or hiked with in my life.
- Our cook Andreas for being very helpful, supporting and one of the humblest people I have ever met.
- Fellow Illimani Summiteers jimmtman, Woodie Hopper, ulvetano for answering about a thousand of my questions on Illimani.
- climbing_rob for also answering a ton of questions I had and reviewing our itinerary.
- The “Brat Pack”
- My buddy Ryan (Dchild10) who gave me some great advice on VO2 max training that totally changed both Paul and my workout routine and was extremely helpful for this climb.
- Paul Duchsherer owner of my favorite gym Anytime Fitness in Northglenn where I obsessively trained 2.5 hours a day 5 sometimes 6 days a week to get in shape for this climb.
- Once again a big thank you to jimmtman, without his trip report, this trip for Paul and I would have never happened.
Whats Next?!?! I would really like a chance at Denali next year but there are a ton of peaks in South America that I have my eye on as well. I could very easily be convinced to go back to Bolivia to climb some other peaks especially Conrodriri. I still love the Colorado 14ers as much as ever. As long as I keep enjoying mountaineering I plan on doing it as long as I can. To me mountaineering is freedom.
Gear Worn on Summit Day
- La Sportiva Spantik double boots.
- Grivel Cyborg crampons.
- Liner socks
- Heavy wool socks
- REI middle weight long underwear
- Dynafit Serak softshell pants
- Marmot wind/waterproof liner shell.
- Arc'teryx S240 Sport Climbing Harness
- 2 long sleeve base layers
- First Ascent base layer hoodie
- Timberland fleece jacket
- REI – wind/waterproof jacket
- Sierra Designs 800 fill down jacket.
- OR PL 400 liner gloves
- Hestra Heli Gloves
- Black Diamond Himalayan Mitts
- Julbo Nomad sunglasses
- XXL balaclava that still didn’t fit my ginormous head
P.S. I did end up buying Paul's Spantiks.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):