We can count our remaining days in Bolivia on one hand. There are exactly five days left until we move on to Argentina on our Expedition 6000. But before we do that, let's honor the name of the expedition and climb two 6000s. A challenge that Christian and I have been preparing for for several weeks. You could say almost months if I count my endurance training at home.
We are on the way with Porfi from South America tours. He has been our loyal companion, driver, guide for days and knows Bolivia like the back of his hand. We have already acclimatized ourselves on the Hampaturi Trek around La Paz and are facing the first two highlights of our trip. We plan to climb the Acotango and Parinacota. Both are over 6000 meters high and are located directly on the border with Chile in the immediate vicinity of Sajama, which at 6542 meters is the highest mountain in Bolivia. We save ourselves to climb it for another time. The weather and the season are not on our side today.
Of colorful springs and lagoons in Sajama
From the lively La Paz we take a nearly four-hour drive to the western border of Bolivia. In the Altiplano plain, our goal can be guessed from a distance of 100 kilometers. The volcanic chains in the border area form a kind of wall at the end of the huge plain. There are no hills worth mentioning. It goes up immediately. To equate a picture similar to the great African rift valley or the view from Munich of the Alps. Only here is the plain at 4,300 meters.
The volcanoes come with natural soil activities, which can be seen in the Sajama National Park in the form of hot springs and geysers. We start with the Land Cruiser from the town of the same name Sajama and drive the last few kilometers through the plain to follow the valley in an incision between two mountains and to start our first hike from there. The hot geysers bubble over a green, gray, white surface of several soccer fields. Vapors rise and lie around us with a slightly unpleasant smell. The floor changes its consistency from firm to spongy, making every step a little adventure and covering the shoes with white deposits.
From here we follow a small path to Laguna Casiri Macho. The Chilean border lies on the pass. A lonely mast holds up a white plaque with the names Chile and Bolivia. On the shore of the lagoon, it immediately becomes greener and forms a contrast to the rather light brown rocks. The Laguna Sora Pata is just a few hundred meters away. The question arises whether we can just cross the border like this. At least it doesn't look like we're going to be stopped.
The mountain air and the sun are slowly getting on us and we do not want to literally "burn" all our energy on the day before climbing the Acotango.
A cold pot and a few hard spaghetti are waiting for us in our accommodation. It takes a while until we have the water at spaghetti temperature and until the noodles are finally soft to the touch, we are almost starved. Jan Willem and Erik join us. Two Dutch with big ambitions and little planning. You join our tour to the Acotango. We toast it with a glass of Bolivian wine.
With dance performance on the Acotango
If you want to go up, you have to get up early. We will encounter this wisdom more often. But now it's uncomfortable. When the alarm clock rings at 4 a.m., we are sitting almost vertically in bed. The clothes are ready and breakfast is not far away. When the first rays of the sun flit across the Altiplano, we are already sitting in the Land Cruiser and bumping over the slopes. Faster than we would like, the slope becomes a gravel path that connects the mines on the mountain with the outside world. The engine roars on every slope and lifts the car up with us. We are six people. Porfi is our guide today. He is supported by Nielson. Then there are the two Dutchmen, Christian and me.
We stop at 5300 meters. It shouldn't be too easy either. No, fun aside. From here it really only goes on foot. After all, there are still 700 vertical meters to the summit at 6052 meters. The path initially runs gently but firmly upwards. After a short flat phase, it climbs steeply after almost two kilometers and leads us to the grade. We are welcomed by an ice field made from penitent ice, pointed ice pyramids shaped by wind and weather. Along this field we gasp up the breath. The slopes shimmer yellow and green. The stench of sulfur is in the air.
Only two and a half hours after the first step on the mountain we reach the summit. The view is stunning. Two people from our group go down and have to catch a breath. Our summit photo session will then be unusually long. We have our fun. Headstands are made, small skirmishes are fought with the hiking aids and the surrounding volcanoes are observed. On the Chilean side, a small plume of smoke rises from one of the mountains. Sulfur, smoke, ashes: we stand on a volcano and he lets us know.
Only when the first clouds appear around our heads do we start our way back.
Just in time we reach an ash slope and slide down the slope and soon reach the car. Dark clouds are now hanging over our heads and snow is beginning to fall. The tip does not wait long for its white hood. We are glad that we don't have to be on the mountain in the coming thunderstorm with snow deposits. Even in Sajama the wind blows us through our hair and dust us.
From students with a roar
When we get up the next day there is snow in the mountains. The full extent can only be guessed at because the clouds are still hanging low. In Sajama itself, the weather is stable and uncomfortable. It looks like a thunderstorm, but nothing comes. Hell is going on in the village. Everywhere children run around in costumes and prepare to graduate. The party is celebrated with dance performances on the sports field. Each class level prepared a different dance and performed it in front of a jury. A real feat here at the height of dancing for 15 to 20 minutes. The children stage their performance with fireworks, firecrackers and smoke bombs. Each group tries to outdo its predecessors. It is a journey through the folk dances of Bolivia. Porfi guides us through the program, integrates us into the tradition and supports us in understanding the dances.
At the end of the day we drive to the hot springs and jump into the warm, relaxing water. Our muscles thank us with complete relaxation. We also need them for the next day.
With the last strength on the crater
It's getting out of bed early. This time at 1 a.m. It is uncomfortable. Final decisions about the choice of clothes are made quickly and are quickly revised. Christian and I run through the room like an anthill. Is it getting warmer than expected? Is the water bottle full? Why doesn't the light go on in the room?
Only with breakfast there is some peace. Porfi and our guide of the day Aloy are already ready. In the end, we are too.
The trip takes us to the foot of Parinacota for almost 2 hours. We don't just get stuck in the sand with the Landcrusier. How Porfi brings us to the goal in complete darkness with all the tangle of paths remains a mystery to me. It will be the experience of over 15 years. Strange but true. We are at the foot of the mountain. And our goal is 1200 meters in altitude. That is 500 meters more than the Acotango and it is 300 meters higher up to 6348 meters. Fortunately, we cannot see the summit yet. Our head lamps illuminate the small path that we follow in small steps. A scree field halfway makes us stumble forward and exhaust our strength. Christian will soon start counting steps. In the beginning we manage over 200 to a short break. The window quickly reduces to 100 and soon to 50. I start stopping less than 200 meters later.
When Aloy announces that it is only 15 minutes to the summit, we think he is crazy. But suddenly we are standing on the crater rim of the perfect volcano. In front of us is a 200 meter deep circular crater and the summit is in sight. Only a few more meters, which require another three breaks. Small steps, short-term goals and then it's done. We enjoy sitting on the highest point on the Bolivian side. We are just too flat to take another step towards Chile.
We made it. After a month of drudgery, planning, failures and spontaneous decisions, we are sitting on the Parinacota. A wonderful feeling and a great relief. The tension of the past few weeks has dropped. We'd love to stay up here, but the last leg of Expedition 6000 at Aconcagua in Argentina is within reach ... just get the plane to Mendoza quickly.
With a little melancholy, but also anticipation of the highest mountain in South America, we say goodbye to Bolivia!
This hike was supported by www.suedamerikatours.de .
This article is part of my series “Expedition 6000+. It takes two months through the most beautiful hiking regions of South America from Patagions, Bolivia to the highest point of the trip, the Aconcagua in Argentina. Follow the journey and enjoy the wide landscapes, high mountains and the varied cultures of South America.