I met the ridgeline and immediately got pushed back by the wind. As I braced myself I looked across to the mountains and questioned my route for the day.
Dolina Chocholowska round 26.5km
With only one day left in Zakopane to go hiking I caught the bus to Dolina Chocholowska. I’d wanted to visit this valley so I could tick off all of the major valleys in the Polish Tatras and complete another round of mountains.
Everyone who heads to the Polish Tatras visits Morskie Oko as it’s a popular beauty spot. Whilst I usually look to get off the beaten track I had decided a bus ride around there would provide a great opportunity to walk back to Zakopane over the mountains.
To Morskie Oko
The walk into the Morskie Oko hut from the bus stop is a very boring 8km walk along a tarmac road. There are horse carriages but I’d opted to walk and save money, and as I was staying at the hut that night I didn’t have anything else to do that day.
The Kirklees Way circles the borough providing a 73 mile/ 118km challenge which takes in some of the areas rugged trails and industrial scenery, along with plenty of farmland, moorland and woodlands.
I undertook this route over three days, but 4-6 days is more realistic.
I should add that like many named routes in the area, the Kirklees Way might be a marked trail on the map, but a lot of the route isn’t well signposted and can be quite overgrown (especially at the height of summer). Some of the stiles and gates are also in poor condition. Map reading is definitely required!
“Pull me up!” I yelled as I clung on with my fingers jammed in a narrow crack of slimy wet rock and my huge mountaineering boots failing to balance on a tiny ledge bearly visible. I was sliding and failing to remain attached to the rock face. ‘There’s a reason there’s only English climbers up here today’ I thought as it crossed my mind we hadn’t seen anyone else climbing all day.
Sliding on La Somone
It was more than disappointing when after only one day of Alpine climbing we ended up trapped in the valley by poor weather. Like good Brits who are used to torrential rain and getting soaked to the skin, we didn’t want a bit of rain to prevent us having a great holiday. So after a good soaking on the first wet day walking through the woodlands, we decided it wasn’t that wet really and headed out to Le Brevent to climb La Somone.
‘It will be like climbing in Wales’ we remarked as we got on the empty cable car. It was cold when we got off at the top of Le Brevent but not freezing so why not climb?!
“I’m going to struggle with that crux pitch” I said, as I watched an Italian guide following his client up the rock face and wobbling on his crampon points as he went. When his foot slipped it crossed my mind that if he was finding it difficult to keep his crampons on the tiny slots cut out of the face, I was going to do more than struggle.
I should start by saying I’m not really a cycling and have never mountain biked before. I own a bike which gets used once in a blue moon in the summer but is currently unloved in the shed collecting spiders.
But since I was in Bolivia it seemed like a good idea to take up the chance to mountain bike the famous Death road. How hard can it be? Its all downhill after all.
If you’re a strong cyclist or experienced at mountain biking, the Yungas road, or Death road isn’t that hard at all. But if like me, you’re a bit shaky on anything with front suspension, its a bit hair raising!
The Yungas road or Death road as its otherwise called, runs from the top of the pass from La Paz at 4600m high down to Coroico at only 1,200m (the lowest I ever made it in Bolivia!)
The 64 km route actually starts at the top of the hill with a long section on the road. I was quite scared of flying over the handlebars with the power of the brakes so I avoided hurtling down the hill at lightning speed.
The top part of the route is actually very impressive, as you wind through the mountains, and despite being on the main road its not too busy that you feel threatened by traffic.
Looking back up the valley you can just make out the route of the road.
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.
Its a 6 hour drove from La Paz to Copacabana on the bus. Negotiating the insane traffic and roadworks around El Alto’s ever expanding construction area and then along empty roads winding through the hills alongside Lake Titicaca.
Mid October I’d flown to Bolivia with the intention of climbing three 6000m peaks – Ancohuma, Illimani and Sajama. The three highest peaks in Bolivia.
What happened instead proved to me that mountaineering is relentlessly punishing and that the desire to climb mountains is sometimes something that is only enjoyed in retrospect.
Ancohuma at 6430m was our first objective, and we climbed to its base camp at 5100m in 5 days. Nestled in the Cordillera Real mountain range Ancohoma is about 4 hours north of La Paz and a half hour drive from the nearest town of Sorata to the start of the trail.
I didn’t intend to spend so much time in La Paz but over the course of three weeks it became the centre point of my trip – somewhere to rest, rejuvenate and explore. The opposite of the rest of my trip which was about endless travel, camping at high altitude and sleeping rough, craving a shower and decent food.
La Paz is a crazy city but weirdly not the maddest place I’ve ever been. Arriving on Sunday to find the municipal weekly fair in town, an opportunity for children to play in the street and dogs to get dressed up (?!) it was somehow much more like home than I expected!