A famous tourist articles written on the cumbre (peak) of Huayna-Potosi starts like this: It was there. So we climbed it.
I can’t claim to have a more profound reason. I could conjure up a handful: inspirational words from a pair of intrepid Isreali trekkers, wanting to break the lax habits of travelling, a need to get off the dirty streets of La Paz and into the bosom of nature. But really, it was there. So we decided to climb it.
2 days at base camp and I am yet to see her. Huayna-Potosi. Famed for being one of the most accessible peaks over 6000 meters above sea level. 6088 to be exact. Everest is only 8840 meters high. This is the real deal, a high altitude ascent.
The last two days we spent ice climbing on a glacier and acclimatizing for the peak. Ice climbing is a blast: spikes on your feet and a deadly ice axe in your hand to penetrate the slope. Trotsky was killed with an ice axe. In Mexico of all places. I can assure you that the thought of impaling my twin sister, despite her communist tendencies and our current residence in Latin America, has not crossed my mind.
The trip has been filled thus far with ironies of biblical proportions. My expedition group is made up of myself, my sis, and 6 Israelis. And our guide? A gentle, tireless Bolivian of diminutive stature named Jesus.
Two days of learning how to walk on (frozen) water.
But Dr. Hugo Berrios was in all respects the highlight. He owns one of Bolivia’s premier climbing companies and he joined us on the ice to prove that you can achieve a professional title and respectable success in business without ever growing up.
He was as excited about sharing his love for rock music with us as he was about sharing his love for climbing. In his comfortable refugio, our climbing gear drying by a crackling fire, he was quick to introduce us to his extensive and tasteful music collection. The highlight was a Brazilian cover band that played rock hits in the soothing style of Bossa Nova. Bossa n’ Roses. Bossa Stones. Even a little Bossa Marley. He was also quick to strip down to his thermal tights and show us a little bit of his Mick Jagger swagger. Disturbing, but in an endearing way.
In his hype to get out of his office and onto the slopes, he had convinced us to start our trip a day early. His agitation also impeded his memory for our names. The first approximation stuck. I became Andy, a redhead Isreali named Oren became Ollie el zanahoria, Saci received the appellation Isaac (which unfortunately was how Hugo pronounced ice-axe), and Sela – which roughly translates to Rock in English – became Roca.
He was also an epic but erratic story teller. He switched effortlessly between orations of bible passages relevant to climbers to illustrative stories about innocently getting himself stuck in a single tent with two French lesbians. He recounted a rich, interconnected tale about his country’s and his family’s personal connection to Che Guevara which somehow (d)evolved into a giddy retelling of his weekend binges in Buenos Aires to watch rock concerts that he can’t tell his wife about.
The Chacaltaya glacier itself was an incredible instance of natural architecture. Its sharp pillars of grey ice jutted out at every possible angle. Intricate crevasses weaved between them, carved out of a perfect translucent blue: a terrible combination of danger and seductive beauty. Some of them echoed spectacularly, so I tried out my echoing in Spanish:
“Enrique!” – “Que…que..que…”
“Quieres plátano?” – “No…no…no…”
“Papaya?” – “Ya…ya…ya…”
And the hike to the glacier was not to be outdone. It took us through a mesmerizing, austere color scheme of white snow, rust-colored boulders, crumbling grey moraine and spiny tufts of yellow grass. In sharp contrast to this Martian landscape, the glacial lakes sparkled with an alien aquamarine – inviting us to risk a swim.
Tomorrow, we take on the mountain.