Climb Pequeno Alpamayo, Huayna Potosi & Illimani
Of all the Andean countries, Bolivia remains the least touristed and most adventurous. It offers all the attractions of its more popular neighbors, but has not yet been “discovered” by the masses. This offers a unique opportunity to adventurous climbers.
And for climbers, Bolivia is a dream. Even its capital city is made for mountaineers. La Paz sits in a valley at 11,900 feet (3,627 meters), surrounded by glaciated peaks and rolling hills . The airport, the highest international airport in the world, is even higher, at 13,200 feet (4,023 meters)! This means our acclimatization begins as soon as we land in Bolivia. We will take full advantage of this acclimatization time, exploring the Andean highlands and the sights of La Paz for two full days while we get used to living and sleeping at the same elevation as most of Colorado’s summits! We will also spend two days on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, where we will visit the famous reed islands.
From Lake Titicaca, we will attempt our first peak, Pequeno Alpamayo (17,482 feet/5,329 meters). Like its famous taller neighbor in Peru, Pequeno’s face is beautiful and the climb is technical yet reasonable. It is also an ideal place to increase your mountaineering skills. We will spend 5 days practicing glacier and climbing skills, acclimatizing, climbing sub-peaks, and finally making our summit bid. The summit day consists of a moderate glacier, followed by two pitches of fourth class rock, and then steep ice or neve on a knife-edged ridge. After our team makes its summit bid, we will return to La Paz for a hot shower and a much deserved night in a comfortable bed!
At 19,975 feet (6,088 meters), Huayna Potosi is taller than all but a handful of peaks in the Americas. After a short drive from La Paz to base camp, we spend a day practicing steeper ice climbing skills on the glacier’s edge. Our summit day route is comprised of steep glacier travel, huge crevasses, and a final airy ridge to the summit. A summit of Huayna is a proud day, and is excellent preparation for longer routes on the big mountains of the world. The views from this summit encompass the countless peaks of the Cordillera Real, the city of La Paz, and on a clear day the distant peak of Sajama, Bolivia’s rarely climbed tallest peak. After our team makes its summit bid, we will return to La Paz for a hot shower and a much deserved night in a comfortable bed!
While heading home after the summit of Huayna Potosi is one option, we encourage those that have the time to stay for an attempt of Illimani (21,125 feet/6,439 meters). Illimani looms over La Paz, and no climber has ever arrived into Bolivia’s airport without being awed by its steep flanks and sheer size. With the acclimatization and skills we have gained on Pequeno Alpamayo and Huayna Potosi, we will be ready to tackle this challenging peak, the tallest in the Cordillera Real. After a beautiful drive through Bolivian farmland and small indigenous towns, we will arrive at our base camp. From there, and with the assistance of local high altitude porters, we will move to the Nido de Condores, translated as the “Nest of the Condors”, our very aptly named high camp at 18,372 feet (5,600 meters). Summit day takes us across an exposed ridge and then onto broad snow slopes, around crevasse fields, and eventually onto the final, classic, knife-edged summit ridge.
Our Bolivia expedition will be guided by one of Alpenglow’s AMGA certified lead guides. AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) certification is the highest possible training available to guides, and only the most experienced and dedicated attain it. Our lead guides have also traveled and climbed extensively in South America and know the Bolivian Andes intimately. Their knowledge of Andean culture as well as the mountains, combined with their passion for teaching others to become competent mountaineers, guarantees that your experience will be one to remember! We combine our guides’ experience with the local expertise of one of Bolivia’s original logistics operators, a great cook, and our small team size (maximum ratio of 3 climbers to one guide) to ensure that you stay healthy, strong, and are able to enjoy each component of your experience.
Arrive in La Paz International Airport (13,200 feet/4,023 meters). Spend the day acclimatizing, followed by a team welcome dinner (Saturday).
Visit the ruins of Tiahuanaco. Close to La Paz, the largest archaeological site in Bolivia lends insight into this country’s past, and its Amyara civilization. The ruins date back to 1600 BCE. Exploring these high altitude ruins will also aid our acclimatization. In the afternoon we will continue driving to Lake Titicaca.
The world’s largest navigable lake, Titicaca sits at over 12,400 feet (3,780 meters). We spend the day on the water, visiting Sun Island and the indigenous people who live there. We spend a second evening in the lakeside town of Copacabana.
By now, we are ready to climb! Today we drive to Tuni, a collection of alpaca herder’s huts at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). We set camp here and take an acclimatization hike.
Hike (with lamas to carry our gear) to Condoriri base camp. Perched on the edge of a lake below 6 peaks over 17,000 feet (5,182 meters) in height, it is a stunning place. We set up our base camp at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters).
Climb Pico Austria, a non-technical 17,000 foot (5,182 meter) peak with fantastic views of all the surrounding peaks. It is a 3-4 hour hike up sand and scree to the summit, and is ideal for acclimatization.
After a big pancake breakfast we head onto the glacier below Pequeno Alpamayo for a full day of skills – we practice crampon and ice axe use, self arrest techniques, roped travel, and crevasse rescue.
Rest day in Base Camp. This is an opportunity to let our bodies recover, as well as to practice any skills that needed more work from the day before.
By now, we are ready to climb! A 2am start means we will cross most of the low angled glacier by headlamp. By dawn we should be moving up the steeper rock and ice slopes, a perfect introduction to more technical big mountain routes. The final steep knife-edge ridge to the summit is one that will never be forgotten! We return to base camp for the night.
Return to La Paz, where we take much-needed showers, eat a big meal, and sleep.
Rest in La Paz, exploring the local markets and neighborhoods. No trip to La Paz is complete without a visit to the Witch’s Market!
Today we drive to base camp on Huayna Potosi, near Laguna Zongo (15,700 feet/4,785 meters). After establishing camp, we head to the nearby glacier, where perfect ice serac walls up to 100 feet tall allow for some technical ice climbing practice.
With the assistance of high altitude porters, move to a high camp at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters).
Summit Day! 7-9 hours of climbing takes us through crevasse fields and moderate to steep slopes, before finishing on an exposed ridge looking over the 3000 foot (914 meter) West Face. After some hero photos, we descend all the way to Base Camp and drive back to our hotel in La Paz.
Extra contingency day for summiting if necessary. If not, we enjoy a day of pampering ourselves in La Paz.
Leave La Paz early morning. (Sunday)
For those staying for Illimani, this is another day of necessary rest. We enjoy more of the history and great food La Paz has to offer, and possibly do some rock climbing at the local sport crag.
Drive east to the trailhead of Illimani. With the help of burros, we make the easy walk into our base camp at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters).
Move to high camp, the Nest of the Condors, 18,372 feet (5,600 meters). Again, porters help to make this move more manageable and allow us to enjoy the stunning surroundings.
A pre-dawn start takes us across Illimani’s glaciers. As the sun rises, we will be nearing the steeper upper slopes, which will test all of the skills we have learned through our two weeks in Bolivia. Reaching Illimani’s summit will be a moment for each of us to savor, before descending all the way back to base camp.
Return to La Paz. This day can also be used as an additional summit day if weather necessitates it.
Leave La Paz early morning. (Friday)