June 24, 2003 - Huayna Potosí Summit

Huyana Potosi high campWe got up at 2:00 am. Ana had hot tea and coffee ready and we stumbled around in the sightly breezy, cold, but clear darkness of the Andean morning at Huayna Potosí High Camp.

At 4:00 am we stepped onto the glacier on our rope teams and our crampons began to pierce the cold glacier snow as we walked upward. The crunch of glacier snow and alpine ice beneath our boots would become a familiar sound during this climb of one of Bolivia´s biggest peaks, Huayna Potosí at 6088 meters (19974 ft). It would be 12 hours before I would take my crampons off again.

Wally and Dave ScottWe ascended the glacier in two rope teams. Myself, Dafna, Sue and Matt were on one team. Dave Scott, Woody, Alex and Jack on another. Dennis Comfort, who had put a great effort in yesterday reaching High Camp with his load, had stayed at camp, feeling his acclimatization and ability to move at these altitudes on this type terrain was a little too off to allow him a reasonable chance at the summit.

At about dawn, we reached a giant bergschrund, or crevasse where the glacier separates from the mountain, which was spanned by two aluminum ladders lashed together. Just like the Khumbu Icefall!

Ladder in icefallAfter ascending the ladder which spanned the deep drop into the bergschrund, we continued climbing towards the steep summit pyramid of Huayna Potosí. We were blessed this day in that the higher we climbed the more the winds subsided. By early morning at 18,500 ft (5640 meters) we were hot in our down jackets.

At about 18,800 ft (5730 meters) Sue, who had been pushing hard for six hours of climbing, saw that her energy was dropping fast and said that she should not continue. Woody also said "this is my high point". Woodie had been on the top of the most beautiful mountain in Bolivia, "Danny Boy´s Mountain", Pequeño Alpamayo, only a few days before and he knew that pushing harder on this mountain was not in the cards for him on this day. Sue and Woodie rested while we moved across to the mountain face leading to the top.

Bernardo and his team of skilled Bolivian climbers had been setting fixed lines on the face while we approached. At the base of the fixed lines, Matt decided that he was satisfied with the climb to this point. Dave Scott, Woodie, Sue and Matt began the slow descent back down to the high camp at around 11:00 am.

Matt and Sue - the climbing coupleIn the meantime, Dafna, Alex Willis, Jack and myself began pushing our ascenders up the fixed lines, using them as a self belay as we climbed the steep ice up to the top. It was spectacular all around us. Views down toward the cloud-covered Amazon, across to the gleaming glaciers of Illimani, and even down to the city of La Paz.

At 12:00 Noon we stepped onto the summit. It was not to be one of those summits where we lounge around on the top and relax with our accomplishment. We looked at one another, gave congratulations and said, "Let’s get out of here". Dafna, Alex and Jack descended the fixed lines using prussiks, as they had learned to do while climbing Pequeño Alpamayo.

Both rope teams had reached our high camp, where Ana had hot soup waiting, by 4:00 pm. David Moretz and Leila had walked up toward High Camp to meet us.

This climb in unique in the world, in that it is easy to return from 6000 meters to the city of La Paz after a summit is attained. By 8:00 pm, we were driving through the back streets of La Paz toward the Hotel Europa. By 8:30 we were standing in the lobby, still in our plastic double boots, knowing that our hot showers and room service meals were only moments away.

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