|Base camp kitchen tent glowing in the night|
It is usually easy to write these articles. But now I even don't know where to start. Should I talk about the skiing at 17,000 ft? The ice climbing to get there? Or spending a night in a tent at five kilometers? How sick I felt at the altitude? The craziness of climbing at these altitudes just hours after arrival, with no acclimatization at all? Or how my guides had been telling everyone I'm the chico loco, a crazy boy who skis mountains naked? (Based on seeing a blog article where I skied in a swimsuit on my local hill.) Or how the climb went from fun to an almost tragedy for my friend? And how my guide saved the situation by carrying her off the mountain on his back? For ten kilometers... and I had trouble keeping up behind them.
But all was well, in the end. And this entire experience lasted just 48 hours. A weekend to remember, if any...
|Views from the hike to the glacier|
|Laguna Chiar Kota and the site of our base camp at 4700 meters|
Getting to Bolivia
|Departure from Miami on an American Airlines 757|
Flying to Bolivia is surprisingly easy. American Airlines flies there daily from Miami. I took this flight on a Friday evening after my work was done for the week, slept in the plane, and landed in La Paz, Bolivia's biggest city at 6 AM. But while this itinerary sounds simple, the flight was exciting. First of all, El Alto, La Paz's airport is one of the highest airports in the world, sitting at 4061 meters. Arriving passengers sometimes pass out on arrival. All of us are familiar with how our ears pop as aircraft land and the air pressure rises inside. Our ears popped when we approached La Paz, too, but due to pressure dropping, as the pilots allowed the inside pressure to gradually normalize to the outside environment. This happened while we were still in air. The picture below shows pressure altitude being at almost four kilometers inside the aircraft, while we are still in the air. I do hope the pilots were donning their oxygen masks, as having them suddenly lose consciousness during the approach would have been bad.
|Cabin altitude almost 4 kilometers while we are still in the air|
But we had no problems, and I didn't feel anything special at the airport. The crew from Bolivian Mountain Guides was at the airport to meet me: the guide, driver, secretary, the small kid and the teenager. What an expedition! We took my gear to the hotel in La Paz, situated a bit lower, at altitudes between 3700 and 4100 meters. The hotels in La Paz offer essential amenities such as oxygen. But I felt OK without.
|La Paz sits in a valley surrounded by the high altitude plains.|
But we continued, and took off for a three hour drive towards the mountains.
|Dusty road trip|
|Tarija Peak from the base camp lake (the small peak above the large glacier on the right)|
|Kitchen tent - the best restaurant in all of Bolivia|
There were a couple of other climbing teams in the same camp, but my guiding company had the biggest setup. They had three guides, a cook, two clients, and four tents in addition to the kitchen tent. We also employed a couple of local teenage girls for running a few mules up to the camp with our gear, including my skis.
|Expedition transport personnel|
The base camp was on a rocky but level ground near the incredibly beautiful lake. Our crew tried fishing from the lake, but failed to catch any fish this time. (In school I had learned that the world's highest lake is Titicaca, but it is a kilometer lower than our base camp lake. I made an Internet search to find out that there are actually lakes and ponds all the way to 6,390 meters! Titicaca is merely the highest lake with commercial ship traffic. Lame.)
|Prettiest bathroom in the world? Maybe the coldest, too.|
|Nearing the top|
|Reaching the top of Tarija Peak|
I initially decided to just reach the main ridge, but then the steep snow cover on the face towards Tarija tempted me to climb a bit to ski the steepest initial part. Then I was so close to 5300 meters that it would just make sense to climb a few more meters... and then my guide insisted that the top of Tarija ja just a few more meters higher than us... and then I was at the top. Or the top of the skiable part; I chose not to climb the knife edge a little bit further on the same ridge of mountains that might have been the proper peak of Tarija, as it would have required proper ice climbing, and I felt it would be better ski back to lower altitudes as soon as possible.
|Top altitude per my altimeter|
Four minutes. Fast, on icy and hard snow, and no stopping. The snow was in perfect condition, fun to ski.
Details, details, ...
|Miami airport, about to depart to Bolivia|
|Airport views before sunrise|