La Paz, Bolivia

We entered the highest capital city in the world (roughly 3,650 m/11,975 ft) at dusk and were greeted with rain and an abundance of people walking, panhandling and manning their micro-mini-markets that crowd every sidewalk.  There are also witch markets all over the city, which sell potions and llama fetus. It is nicknamed the city that touches the clouds and is quite a bizarre city. There are many urban and rural actives to do in and around La Paz and we took advantage of the latter.

View from hostel in La Paz

View from hostel in La Paz

Bolivia has many high mountain roads and one in particular has been deemed the most dangerous road in the world.  Because of the amount of accidents and casualties this road earned the name “Death Road”.  Wisely the Bolivia government has built a new safer road and closed this road to most traffic.  Now that it is mostly close to trucks it is wide-open to mountain bike down.  We booked a tour to embark on this epic down hill journey.  After being issued knee and elbow pads, gloves, full-face guard helmet, biking pants and jacket, accompanied by a full suspension mountain bike we were ready to take on “Death Road”.  The first hour of down hill riding was on the paved new road where Katie got a flat tire.   Our starting point was over 15,000 ft cold and rainy and after the first hour we were soaked and freezing.  Once we took a short break had a snack and some hot chocolate it was time to take the plunge down the gravel portion of “Death Road”.

Waterfalls on Death Road

Waterfalls on Death Road

The amount of fun it was to be flying down that steep and muddy road is indescribable.  We were like little kids playing in the mud having the time of our lives.  The combination of fear, concentration, and shear joy made us forget about the cold and love the rain.  Each short break was greeted with screams of joy and high fives all around our group.  Our guide did a great job at taking pictures and videos, which we received the next day with a shirt proclaiming us survivors. After riding through several swollen streams that crossed the road we reached the end of our 11,800ft descent and got the opportunity to take a much-needed hot shower.  What a thrill and glowing memory we will cherish forever.  We thought biking down “Death Road” would be the most dangerous and challenging thing we did in Bolivia until 3 days later.

Huayna Potosí is the closest high mountain to La Paz, at 6,088m or just shy of 20,000ft.  Having previously traveled to Bolivia, our friend Lori told us about her summit of this mountain.  So we thought why not give it a shot.  Without doing our research we though summer would be good time to submit but soon found out that it is a more difficult time for this venture.   We booked with the mountaineering company, Huayna Potosi Refugio, which came highly recommended.   The first stop for our group of 8 was getting fitted into our equipment of boots, gators, helmets, climbing harnesses, crampons, and ice axes which we realized had to be carried up to high camp by us…..or by Zane.   Once fitted our highly energized group headed towards our personal Refugio base camp where we were greeted with a snowstorm and a freezing cold lodge.

Getting used to our gear

Getting used to our gear

Putting on and taking off all of our gear took up the afternoon (and was so tiring!) and we then headed out for a practice glacier walk.   The highlight was a fire in evening to dry our gear and then layered up with everything we had in order to sleep comfortably through the night.  The next afternoon we made a 3-hour ascent to high camp, which was the most basic accommodation we have experienced but is understandable since it lies at 5,300m/17,400ft.   After forcing down a plate of noodles and braving the snowstorm to the outhouse, bedtime was at 7pm, as we had to wake up at 12:30am for breakfast and the beginning of the climb.   Sleep was a challenge with 12 people in one room, nerves running high, and the realization of what we signed up for setting in.

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Ascending Huayna Potosi

For most of us the morning brought more effects of elevation such as nausea, dizziness and headaches.  Placed in teams of 2 people and roped to a guide we were off.  With almost a foot of fresh snow the climb was slow, arduous and breathing was very difficult.  Warned that the weather conditions could force a turn around at any point we trudged on with our robot-like Sherpa, Mario, which wanted to stop for no one or nothing.  Arriving at very steep portion at 5,700m/18,700ft the group in front of us decided to turn around which was the 3rd group to throw in the towel for the day.  But one of them wanted to continue so we performed a switch-a-roo and Katie returned to base camp and Zane continued on.   Katie’s descent had amazing views of the stars, La Paz lights, and the outline of the mountain.

Glacier

Glacier

Zane had 2 more hours of a hellish, dangerous journey.  Battling physical exhaustion and oxygen deprivation I crossed avalanche fields and a final knife-edge vertical ascent to reach the summit.  Instead of enjoying the view and soaking in the accomplishment at the top time was spent hyperventilating and fighting nausea.   If only a helicopter or snowboard were waiting at the top the journey would be over.  Instead it was hours of descent breaking the windblown trail with fresh tracks.  This truly was the toughest thing either of us has physically done.  We doubt there will be a next time but if there is training and researching time of year will be in the plan.

More Pics: https://picasaweb.google.com/105315223482012434599/LaPaz

View from the top

View from the top

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2 Responses to La Paz, Bolivia

  1. Jeather Carleton says:

    2 words on your adventures in Boliva so far, Holy Shit.

  2. Darlene Schwartz says:

    I am reading this thinking, you guys are nuts!! Thank you Lord for getting you out of there safely.

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