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!
Returning to the city from Lukla was a little of a culture shock. Swapping very basic wooden lodges with plastic sheet windows and long drop toilets in quiet valleys, for a plush hotel in Kathmandu with (relatively) endless hot water and busy traffic outside.
Swapping freezing at night in a sleeping bag clutching a hotwater bottle, for sprawling out on a bed under clean sheets with the air conditioning on.
And while I celebrated New Year’s Eve in Thamel with cocktails and dancing in the street in the dark amidst the crowds, the following morning I had to remove myself to find peace and tranquillity like I had in the Hinku valley – as close as I could find.
I couldn’t face the walk through busy streets from Boudha stupa so I negotiated a taxi to Kopan monastery and had a few hours of quiet bliss overlooking the city.
Kopan monastery caters for westerns keen for retreats as well as training local Buddhist monks. In its grounds you can wander round stupas and admire the gardens. It turned out to be a perfect way to relax.
I set off wandering through Thamel to attempt to reach Swoyambuthan temple up in the hill. Armed with a crap map and a good sense of direction I found the tiny signs and meandered out of the back of Thamel towards the temple up on the hillside. It can’t be that hard to get to, as its so visible on the hill top, or so I assumed.
It was nice to wander the back streets through housing areas and local neighbourhoods to see places tourists in Thamel rarely venture through. My sense of direction was a bit off, and while I got there in the end it was certainly not the most direct route.
Of the three Durbar squares in the Kathmandu valley, Bhaktapur seems to have suffered the most from the Earthquake in terms of impact on tourism – the day I visited I was one of only a handful of tourists there. The fuel crisis hasn’t helped – it cost me 4000 rupees or about $40 to get there, so I made the most of the taxi ride to also see Pashupatinath temple and the Boudhanath stupa too as they are on the same side of Kathmandu.
Bhaktapur is a small town with an amazing history and worth a 30 minute taxi ride at any price to be able to escape the pollution of Kathmandu. It’s peaceful and beautiful despite damage from the earthquake and I think that is why it is my favourite place of those I visited.
I intended to walk the 7km to Patan today, but when I negotiated a taxi down to 800 rupees I then realised quite how far it was and I would have got quite lost along the way.
Arriving in Patan I made the mistake of hiring a guide to take me around the Durbar Square, which in hindsight wasn’t necessary as he didn’t give me that much information and the town is easy to navigate. At least I didn’t pay to enter Patan’s Durbar squarem, the only one of the three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu region which I managed to get in free.
The square has faired well in the earthquake and while a few buildings are propped up with wooden struts not many have significant damage. Of the various buildings only 2 were completely flattened and one statue destroyed.
My first impression of the city is that you’d never have guessed there’s a fuel crisis in Kathmandu!
The traffic is crazier than that I experienced in Phnom Penh which suggests there’s possibly more wealth here despite both cities being in third world countries, and despite a lack of fuel people are still whizzing around in their cars and bikes. I’m told the traffic is calmer than normal.
Here people seem to pip their horns to alert others to their presence, to scare the tourist as they pass to deafen them, or simply because no one else is pipping and someone always has to be.
I’ve said before that I’m not a good climber, but always keen to have a go at something new and not one to turn down a holiday, I jumped on the chance to have a go at via ferratas in the Dolomites when invited to Italy with friends.
So having arrived in Cortina and pitched my tent, we headed off to do an easy introduction to via ferratas on the Marino Bianchi route just east of Cortina. Graded a 2b, means it is easy and also close to civilisation – the route is very easy to access from the top of the ski lifts and the Refugio Lorenzi. For route description check out this link.