Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Bolivia - Glacier Climb

So we are stuck in La Paz for 4 days whilst the embassy sorts out a temporary passport. We decide that we have had enough of the city and seek out something a bit different - 3 day glacier climb? What’s the worst that can happen?

Big mistake

Neither of us had done any real climbing before - there are not a lot of glaciers in the east midlands. As such it’s fair to say we were novices. No problem, said the travel agency; this mountain was for beginners...

The day of the climb begins at base camp with us being woken at 3am for a 3:30am start. The day ends back at camp at 4pm. In between these times lies sheer misery.

It turns out this is a serious climb. At basecamp you are given heavy duty trousers, jacket, gloves, gators etc, along with crampons (big spikes for your boots) and an ice axe. Alarm bells should probably have started to ring at the mention of “ice axe”.

After 5 hours of climbing, half of which is in pitch black and all of which is in the freezing cold (-15 degrees just before dawn), the first peak is reached. Rather than elation at having battled through the pain to reach this point, you are greeted with despair as the second and final peak (see above) looms above you.

The ascent to the final peak is the scariest thing I have done in a very long time and involves a climb up a near vertical wall of ice.

You are grouped in threes. The guide went first, followed by me and then Dan. We are all roped together and inch up the face at a cripplingly slow rate. After 30 minutes and about half way up, Dan slips and falls 3 metres before the rope tightens and he is caught by the guide. Dan is now hanging, back to the mountain, by a length of rope and is attached to the ice only by the 12 spikes on the guide’s boots.

What the hell are we doing?

Happily we recover and make it the top. The view is breathtaking. We have 10 minutes of serenity, before more pain in the form of the descent. 4 hours later we make it back to base camp and collapse into our tents. Never have I been so tired.


- There was an American in our group, very nice bloke by the name of Bryan. The morning after Bryan summed up the climb in 4 words: “That shit was nuts”. Perfect.

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