Wednesday, August 30, 2017

2017 Bolivia Expedition - Part 2 Skills Expedition: Day 17 - Huayna Potosi Summit Day

Guides: Richard Riquelme and Jaime Avila

Climbers: Albertus P. (Australia), Jacobus P. (Australia), Jim H. (Utah), Matthew H. (Maryland), Kate K. (Washington D.C.), Ryan K. (Texas), Lorenz S. (Switzerland), Ven S. (Canada), Erin-Leigh H. (Washington)

Today we heard from our guide, Richard Riquelme, with some great news!

Hello, everyone!

I'm very happy to report that in 5 of our climbers made a successful Summit achievement on Huayna Potosi on Monday morning! Jim reached the Anselm Baud hut at 5,270m and then waited there while the rest of the group completed their summit attempt. Ven, Matt, Lorenz, Albertus and Jacobus reached the Summit between 6:30 & 7:35am!

Our other group member, Kate waited for us at Casa Blanca hut (4,800m) while recovering from some stomach issues. She was finally recovered from her digestive issues on the very last day of the trip. She and Jim were in great spirit and happy to see the crew's pictures from the Summit adventure on our way back to La Paz on Monday night.

Thanks to everyone of our staff crew here in Bolivia that made it possible to travel safe through the country and have a great time at the same time.

Until next time everyone.

This is Richard Riquelme signing of.


Taking in the sites from Huayna Potosi. Richard Riquelme.

The summit photo on the peak of Huayana Potosi! Richard Riquelme. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

2017 Bolivia Expedition - Part 2 Skills Expedition: Days 9 - 11 - Arrive at Base Camp Chair Khota

Guides: Richard Riquelme and Jaime Avila

Climbers: Albertus P. (Australia), Jacobus P. (Australia), Jim H. (Utah), Matthew H. (Maryland), Kate K. (Washington D.C.), Ryan K. (Texas), Lorenz S. (Switzerland), Ven S. (Canada), Erin-Leigh H. (Washington)

A reflection: 
Every moment spent in the Condoriri region makes the mind grow calmer and the heart beat deeper. I will never forget this place. 
Erin-Leigh Hardy

Day 9: Travel to Refugio at Laguna Tuni

Today was a slow, lazy recovery day, which I welcomed though other climbers were antsy to get moving again. We bussed to Refugio Laguna Tuni to set up camp for the night.

The Refugio was in disrepair with several windows missing in the main room. Richard and Jaime worked diligently and creatively to patch the windows for us to keep the cold wind out while most of the group went out on day hikes to acclimatize to the area once again. I chose to stay behind and read my book in the sunshine. 

A resident llama at Refugio Laguna Tuni with the Condoriri mastiff in the background. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

After tea time, a few of us gathered around the dining table to catch up on some journaling.

The toilets in the Refugio weren't working, so Augustine, one of our porters and assistant chef, built us an excellent toilet outside with view of Huayna Potosi. 

Our beautiful pit toilet with a stunning view of Huayna Potosi. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

Dinner was great and conversation was very spirited. Having Jaime on the team added twice as much laughter to the table! He's a funny guy and a great guide.

Day 10: Hike to Base Camp at Chair Khota and Skills Training

We woke up with the sun, around 8:30 and were on our feet by 9am.

We hiked from Refugio Laguna Tuni to Chair Khota, where our base camp will be for the next 5 days. The hike was very pleased and scenic - another blue bird day!

We saw a couple of other climbing groups along the way, for the first time all trip.

We took a long break at the shores of Chair Khota. The water was so calm and clear that there was a perfect reflection of the Condoriri mountains. Richard pointed out that this group of mountains were named after the condor because the three central peaks resembled a condor, with the most central peak The Condor Head.

Glistening peaks and reflective waters at Chair Khota. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

We made our base camp on the far side of the lake. It was a very nice campsite, with wind blocking stone walls and 2 bathrooms (complete with doors and toilet seats!!) 

A panoramic view of our base camp at the base of the Condiriri Mastiff. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

3 of the tent teams had the genius idea of tiling their vestibules with the flat stones found around camp. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

At 2:30pm, most of the group went to the tow of the glacier below Cerro Tarija to start our skills practice.

The group approaching the Cerro Tarija glacier. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

Richard, Jaime and Banito lead the skills practice. We reviewed 'flat footing’ with just boots, how to use an ice axe, how to walk on a glacier with an ice axe and trekking pole and a few minutes of walking with crampons. Skills practice ended when the sun went behind Pick Austria and the area became very cold.

The group practicing the various styles of flat footing. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

When we got back, there was hot water and tea waiting for us. A very pleasant thing to come 'home’ to. 6 of us played a rousing game of cards before dinner. 

Dinner was great, sausages, mashed potatoes and veggies. 

We all went to bed early that night in preparation for an early morning. 

Day 11: Ascent of Pico Austria and Erin-Leigh's Return Home. 

Easing into the Alpine Starts, we woke up for breakfast around 5:30am, though most of the team woke up earlier than expected. Perhaps out of excitement for the upcoming climb on Pico Austria.

I said my goodbyes to the group before they took off. I was greeted by big hugs from most of the group. It was harder to say goodbye than expected. I will miss this bunch very much. 

At 9am, I said goodbye to Hildago, our driver and head chef, and he gave me a big hug and said 'see you soon!’ then Augustine and i took off toward the Refugio 'at the end of the road’ (I don't know another name for it). We had a peaceful 2 hour hike.

Diego and his mother meet me at the end of the road and I said goodbye to Augustine, again, with a big hug.

I was awake during the drive through the countryside (for the first time all trip). It was really interesting to see old buildings, built out of clay that were deteriorating alongside newer houses made of the popular red bricks you see in the cities. I wonder how old those clay structures are.

Coming into town was crazy as usual. I took some videos of Puente and El Alto to show the folks at home because no deception could do it justice. 

Now I'm back at the hotel, getting rest before my early morning flight home. I wish the group the best of luck in weather and health on the rest of their adventure!

A full group photo on Day 9. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

2017 Bolivia Expedition – Part 2 Skills Expedition: Day 8 - Tiwanaku Archaeological Site

Guides: Richard Riquelme and Jaime Avila

Climbers: Albertus P. (Australia), Jacobus P. (Australia), Jim H. (Utah), Matthew H. (Maryland), Kate K. (Washington D.C.), Ryan K. (Texas), Lorenz S. (Switzerland), Ven S. (Canada), Erin-Leigh H. (Washington)

Day 8: Visiting the Tiwanaku Archeological Site

Richard emailed the following dispatch from the group's day at Tiwanaku:

Hi everyone at home!

This is Richard Riquelme signing in from La Paz Bolivia.

Today we enjoy a great deal of cultural bath of Bolivia's more iconic archeological sites, Tiwanaku an UNESCO World Heritage Site located western Bolivia.

We enjoyed a cool but sunny day at Tiwanaku (3,870m / 12,697ft) after couple days of clouds on the trek. 

We experienced the whole tour around the world-renowned political and spiritual structures of this ancient culture. The areas of Akapana, Akapana East, and the Puma Punku with thier stepped platforms, as well as the Kalasasaya, the Kheri Kala, and Putuni enclosures, and the semi-subterranean temple are open to public access and visitors.

The Gate of the Sun. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

The stepped platform of the Akapana pyramid. Richard Riquelme.

The carved faces of ancient peoples in the Semi-Subterranean Temple. Richard Riquelme.

We looked into the enclosed museum and learn a great deal about the megalithic statues and the iconography with which the megalithic statues are adorned with.

We also learn the pre-Columbian history of this people and observe with great amazement the extraordinary stone masonry and metallurgical skills, as well as the great ingenuity of managing pilgrims at the time of festivities and religious rituals. One ceremonial tool was demonstrated by our bilingual guide when she spoke thru a grey andesite block of stone that acts as a P.A. megaphone - amplifying her voice at least 3-4 times louder. The stone sculpture was a block with a special hole shape in it.

The ancient megaphone at the entrance of the Tiwanaku Archaeological site. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

One of the massive stone blocks found at Puma Punku, depicting the amazing recision and complexity of the structures found at the site. Richard Riquelme. 

Ponce Stela in the Tiwanaku Kalasasaya temple, showing the intricate symbolism carved into the megalithic stone. Richard Riquelme and Erin-Leigh Hardy. 

After our explorations, we just enjoy a casual lunch at the parking area with fruits of the season and local bread specialties.

We return to Laz Paz after lunch to get ready and pack for our next adventure at the Condoriri Valley, where our climbing objectives begin the day after tomorrow.

Everyone is doing great, but starting to get the itches to start climbing soon.

OK everyone that's all for now. Please stay tune for more coming soon.

Until then, this is Richard Riquelme signing of from La Paz Bolivia!


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

2017 Bolivia Expedition – Part 1 Acclimatization: Days 3-6 Trekking

Guide: Richard Riquelme

Climbers: Albertus P. (Australia), Jacobus P. (Australia), Jim H. (Utah), Matthew H. (Maryland), Kate K. (Washington D.C.), Ryan K. (Texas), Lorenz S. (Switzerland), Ven S. (Canada), Erin-Leigh H. (Washington)

Day 3:  Trekking begins

This was the first day of our trek, and it was an eye opener.

The bus ride through El Alto was amazing! I'm in love with the contrast between the crumbling street fronts and towering Neo-Andean high rises in downtown! Not to mention the outskirts of town, which resembled the movie sets of Mad Max.

There was a worker-strike going on. People were throwing rocks and logs onto the road to make them impassible. We took back roads, and Diego had to jump out multiple times to move objects out of the way!

After about a 3 hour drive across the vast Altiplano, we met up with our donkeys, burros, and horses at Laguna Khota and had lunch. There was one donkey, in particular, that was quite boisterous and we affectionately named it Delilah.

Some of the beautiful horses assisting us on the trek. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

The start of the hike was a bit tough for everyone. The trail climbed steeply up to a pass, and we all had trouble finding our breath.  Richard set an easy pace, and we stopped about every 20 minutes for a break, which was welcomed.

Our first view of Refugio Ajwañe.  Richard Riquelme
From the pass, we traversed through open country to Refugio Ajuañi, which is beautiful, colorful and huge! It was built in the 1980’s, the 'golden age of Bolivian tourism’, with the help of the government, but has since lost funding and is now kept up by a group of families. It is clear that there is much work to do to maintain a rural Refugio.

We arrived at the Refugio at sunset. Much later, the burros arrived with the rest of our gear. They were delayed because one of the donkeys carrying our food slipped on the steep terrain and lost its load. It was dispersed on the scree and included our coca tea:  a sacrifice to Pachamama, we all agreed. Once the animals arrived, we all napped until dinner.

Dinner was amazing!  Vegan soup followed by salad followed by ground beef with veggies!  Our chef makes good use of herbs and spices and it was delicious.  We ate so much!  And we went to bed immediately following.

Day 4:  Our 2nd Day Trekking

Overall, more uphill, but not as strenuous.

We woke up around 8:30 for breakfast and left the Refugio by 9:30. The terrain was very steep uphill followed by very steep downhill. It took us about four hours to reach Laguna Cistiña.

This area of land is run by two or three women. There is a lake and a beautiful waterfall surrounded by mountains.

Ven asked to take a photo of one of the women. She agreed - for $5 each photo - but she was so tickled by me and my gear that she grabbed my trekking poles and only wanted to pose with Kate and I, “the women mountain climbers.”  What an honor!

Our team’s porters set up everyone's tent, which was very weird for me. The camp was setup with one kitchen tent and one dining tent, which made it so cozy in the 19-degree weather.

A glimpse of camp life at Laguna Cistiña from inside one of AAI's rental Hilleberg tents. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

Day 5:  Our 3rd Day Trekking

Over the night, most of the group started feeling slight effects of AMS (acute mountain sickness). Most of us took Diamox to get some relief.  We learned a wonderful thing about does not mask your symptoms. Unlike pain killers that hide the pain without dealing with the underlying cause, Diamox actually heals your altitude headache! When you feel better, you are better. And we liked that.

Descending to Lago Sistaña.  Click to enlarge and see the refugio near the lower right corner of the image. Richard Riquelme
On the bright and light side, Hildago and the crew all dressed up in their fancy red coats to serve us breakfast.  It was a welcomed reason to giggle.

Once the sun was fully shining into the valley, offering some warmth, we packed up our gear and the porters packed up the tents.

The hike began similar the first two days, steeply, but this time we made our own switch backs to make the climb more gradual.

We paused for a break about every 20 minutes which allowed us to catch our bearings and take in the sights. As Bertus described, the mountains showed us their many moods throughout the day, and it was a wonderful new site each break.

Two climbers enjoying the scene of the 'moody mountains'. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

We then headed down to Refugio Juri Khota. The path was steep and loose, so we had great fun glissading down at triple the speed we hiked up the other side!  We arrived at the Refugio around 2 pm, and our burros and horses were right behind.  We enjoyed a light lunch, including the 'miracle cocktail’ of peach and pear juice - perfect for any ruffled tummies!

We had about a three-hour break between arrival and dinner. Some of the team explored the shores of Juri Khota and others (like me) took a siesta.

Dinner was spectacular! Our chef made soup followed by chicken thighs. We were feeling quite a bit stronger. We had big appetites and there was very little was left over.

Our scene upon arrival at Juri Khota. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

Day 6:  Our 4th Day Trekking

We woke up around 8:30 to a light dusting of snow on the ground. We all ate a light breakfast and began to pack up.

Waking up to snow and sunshine at Refugio Juri Khota. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

The mountain views on this trek have been great, and there was a nice passage of time this morning when most of us were sitting in the sunshine and admiring the lake and surrounding mountains, or getting up and playing with the donkeys.
The hike out of the Refugio to Laguna Tuni was very pleasant. We were all much more acclimated and happy to be heading home to La Paz.

We passed through another territory where we had to open (and later close) a fence to keep one owner’s llamas from trespassing onto another’s property. It was bizarre to see a fence in a place that seemed to be the middle of nowhere, but all the land in Bolivia is run by one community or another.  Richard explained that our guides had a treat worked out that allowed us hikers to pass across this land.

We paused for a good break when we first saw the Condoriri Massif. The spirits of the team soared!  They are spectacular peaks.  There was so much enthusiasm, so many pictures, and so many questions!  It was very exciting.
Packing up in the morning on the shore of Juri Khota with Cerros Wawanaki and Janchallani in the distance.  Richard Riquelme.

We reached the Refugio Tuni around 1 pm and were greeted by Diego and fresh pork chop meals from El Alto!

The caretaker/owner of the refugio came out to greet us and offered us some of his hand made llama wool goods.  We gratefully bought everything he offered; it was wonderful workmanship!

The bus ride back was not interrupted by protest, but this time by a parade!  Richard explained this was a parade to celebrate the sand which protects the outskirts cities of El Alto (I forget the names).  It was such a sight to see everyone dressed in their finest along one of the dustiest roads on Earth! 

2017 Bolivia Expedition – Part 1 Acclimatization: Days 1 & 2 Arrival & La Paz Tour

Day 1: 8/12

Guide: Richard Riquelme

Climbers: Albertus P. (Australia), Jacobus P. (Australia), Jim H. (Utah), Matthew H. (Maryland), Kate K. (Washington D.C.), Ryan K. (Texas), Lorenz S. (Switzerland), Ven S. (Canada), Erin-Leigh H. (Washington)

Erin-Leigh emailed AAI with the following dispatch from the first few days of Part 1:

Upon landing in La Paz at about 13,500 feet, we were given forms to fill out for our baggage (which was a new one for me), but Customs and Immigration were both a breeze.
La Paz in the evening with 21,201-foot Illimani in the distance.  Francois Schollaert Paz

Climber Matt Hook was on the same flight as me, and he was kind enough to wait for me at baggage claim.  Our drivers Hildago and Diego were waiting for us with signs with our names on them and were both so happy and accommodating.  We felt very welcomed!

The driving from El Alto to La Paz was crazy!  It made Seattle drivers seem patient.  But Hildago is a very skilled driver, and we felt very safe in his hands.  It seems like in a lot of Latin American countries if you don’t get a little aggressive you don’t get very far.

We could see all the city lights of La Paz from above as we made our way out of El Alto. The streets looked like a thousand glow worms! The ride from the airport to hotel only took 35 minutes.

Check-in at El Rey Palace Hotel was easy and welcoming. They told us to get some rest and pay for our rooms in the morning.

Most of the group arrived early in the morning. We were able to contact each other via email. Some of the group woke up early to explore parts of downtown La Paz while other got some rest.

Kate, Ven, Jim, Matt and I met at 6:30 for dinner and went to a lovely Thai restaurant, Mathrao On. We passed Richard on the walk down with arms full of groceries and invited him to join, which he did later on.

The dinner crew at the beautiful Mathrao On restaurant. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

Day 2: 8/13

Diego met us in the lobby of the hotel around 9 am; he was our guide for the day. And he was great!

We went to the San Francisco church/ museum, but it was Sunday so the museum was closed for Mass. We were able to step in and witness part of Sunday mass which was a very special experience.  The church was beautiful; it was more like a sparkling fortress. You could see that the walls were very thick.  The building dates from shortly after the arrival of the “conquistadors.”

Iglesia San Francisco. Richard Riquelme
Then we walked through the streets, behind the church, to a shopping district.  We saw some mummified llama fetuses (born dead) that are used in a ceremonial offering to Pachamama - mother Earth.  Wow!  Not like markets we’d been in before.

We also passed by a market inside an old conquistador’s castle with truly authentic Bolivian goods, and then later, we went to 'old town’ La Paz, which is also the art district. The cobblestone streets are original 16th-century public works installations.  We found a nice contemporary art gallery there as well as a shop with lots of postcards we could buy for messages home.
Photos recorded in every direction - architecture and wildlife!  (Andean pigeon flying right to left in front of the white car).  Richard Riquelme
We visited a music museum where we could play with a significant variety of historical instruments.  There were also very friendly parakeets nearby, singing to us as we played the instruments!

One of the beautiful instruments on display at the Museo De Instrumentos Musicales De Bolivia. Erin-Leigh Hardy.

After the museum, we had lunch at a traditional Bolivian hotel/restaurant in Old Town.

After Lunch, we got coffees and made a plan for the rest of the day. A couple of us were feeling quite pooped after the morning's activities, so we went back to the hotel to rest while the others continued the city tour.  We are looking forward to beginning our trek in the morning!

Exploring the cobbled back streets of La Paz.  Richard Riquelme