Summiting Huayna Potosi, Bolivia

After failing to summit Ancohuma due to altitude sickness and deciding to bail out of the rest of the trip, I didn’t want to feel like a total failure and go home having not achieved anything. So I decided that Huayna Potosi was an achievable objective.

Huayna Potosi is frequently advertised as one of the world’s easiest 6000m mountains as it is easily accessible by road meaning it has only 1400m height to gain and only requires one night on the mountain. Its also the closest mountain to La Paz making it the most popular mountain in Bolivia to climb.

That said it is still a huge effort to climbing and while the normal route is incredible popular it is still graded PD and requires the ability to use crampons and axe.

Driving to the mountain from La Paz takes you through El Alto and across the plateau on dusty back roads.

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The climb starts at 4700m where a series of huts can provide an overnight base camp or equipment for those climbing the mountain as part of a mountaineering training course.

Having already spent nearly two weeks in Bolivia and having already been up to Ancohuma base camp at 5100m I felt well acclimatised as we ascended straight from the vehicles up to the high camp refuge at 5130m. It was still hard going on the last steep stretch but with less than 500m to climb it wasn’t too challenging on the lungs.

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After food and some sleep we started the ascent at 12.30am for the summit. It only takes 20 minutes of scrambling on rock to reach the edge of the glacier. From there we slowly headed up the glacier on a well trodden route. It reminded me of summiting Kilimanjaro 3 years ago – following a line of people in the dark with head torches on, and feeling like I was shuffling along hardly gaining any ground.

Half way up the ascent is a steep section of snow and ice at about 40 degrees which required us to climb, or with the altitude it felt more like crawling with the aid of an axe. Later I’d rappel down this in no time at all.

I reached the final rocky section of the summit as the sun started to rise, although I didn’t make the summit until 15 minutes after sunrise at 6.05am and unfortunately just at the same time the mist arose around the summit. So no views of the city of El Alto below.

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Ok so it wasn’t the more challenging summit of Illimani that I had hoped to climb, but it was certainly an achievement and my first 6000m summit.

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On the descent back down to the refuge it was fantastic to see the amazing glacier we had crossed in the dark.

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The section I climbed up and rappelled down, the route running diagonally.

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What took me 5 and half hours to ascend in the dark, stopping frequently to breathe and slow my heart, I descended in 2 and half hours in the daylight.

After an hour break at the refuge we packed all our gear and hiked back down to the road. This little guy was sleeping at the refuge when we got back, I’m not surprised really as he’d managed to navigate the glacier until the steep section so had spent all night following us up the snow in the dark!

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Huayna Potosi might be the most climbed mountain in Bolivia, and its accessibility might make it an easy first 6000m mountain to choose; but I was still shattered by it and proud of myself for making it to the top.

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