Friday, September 17, 2010

Sajama (6,554m) - Departamento de Oruro, Bolivia

The weather remained good after our trip to the Payachatas, and as we were so well acclimatized, and still feeling good, we thought we'd give Sajama a go. At 6,554m this it he 15th highest mountain in the Andes, and the highest in Bolivia, but we were told the mountain was in good condition to climb, unlike many of the other 6,000ers in Bolivia this year.

Haz on the walk to BC

Our first day was very gentle - walking a couple of hours from Sajama village up to base camp at 4,800m. Here we met a couple whom we thought would be our only companions on the mountain - however the following day they didn’t even make it to high camp, so, once again we had a mountain to ourselves (we’ve been fortunate that of all the big mountains we’ve climbed this trip only on Lanin and Parinacota did we have other people climbing on the same day). We decided to maximise our chances of summitting by letting a kind mule carry most of our kit to base camp, then the following day we carried only 10kg packs and hired a porter to carry the rest up to high camp at 5,675m. There was a good path most of the way to high camp, though the last 100 vertical metres were quite steep and on loose scree.

High camp

High camp is perched on a lovely spot on the NW side of the mountain, and was 400m higher than we'd ever slept before. However after dinner we went to bed and managed to sleep ok until the wind picked up around midnight. We'd heard lots of reports that the mountain could be very cold, so this worried us a bit, but when we rose and left at 02:45 the next morning it was only -3C and the wind had died down.

We walked up the path above high camp, and at 5,950m put on harnesses and crampons and roped up as the climb became a bit harder. A short icy section was made easy as the ice had formed itself into convenient steps, then we had to use our hands a couple of times in reaching the ridge and then working our way along this, slowly gaining height.

Pikes on the summit at dawn

At 6,100m we entered a penitentes field, which didn’t prove to be difficult to negotiate as previous climbers had left a slight path. In fact, this was the most enjoyable part of the climb – striking the penitentes with our ice axes made them clunk like cracked bells. The penitentes ended at 6,200m, above which was a nice easy-angled (about 35 degree) snow slope to the summit. The last few hundred metres we began to feel the altitude a bit and had to pause every few minutes to catch our breath, but apart from a deep, but narrow, crevasse to cross there were no more obstacles on the way to the summit.

We arrived at the top of Bolivia at 07:00, just after dawn and 4h15 after setting off. After the disappointment on Pomerape a few days earlier we were delighted at having made it, and spent 20 minutes watching the sun rise further, and Sajama’s shadow recede from the Payachatas. The climb hadn’t been cold, but on the summit there was a chilly breeze, so after savouring the moment for a while we made a leisurely descent back to high camp and then base camp, arriving back in Sajama village by mid afternoon.

Some GPS Points
DescriptionGPS Point
Base Camp18.11125 S, 68.91687 W, 4,811m
High Camp18.10065 S, 68.89464 W, 5,675m.
Start of harder ridge18.10259 S, 68.89106 W, 5,947m.
Still on ridge18.10324 S, 68.89015 W, 6,029m..
Start of penitentes18.10406 S, 68.88889 W, 6,128m.
End of penitentes18.10523 S, 68.88868 W, 6,221m..
Sajama summit18.10820 S, 68.88261 W, 6,554m.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Parinacota (6,351m) and Pomerape (6,282m), Departamento de Oruro, Bolivia

We cycled through PN Sajama in late July, but didn't have time to climb any of the moutains before having to rush to La Paz to pick up Peter. This done, we cycled back to Sajama via PN Lauca in Chile, quickly organized a guide and transport and headed to the Payachata volcanos.

By Bolivian standards the 800Bs (U$115) charged in Sajama to hire a jeep for the return journey to Parinacota 'base camp' is a rip off, but we were short of time and cycling the 27kms on a very sandy road would have meant Peter missed his return flight to London. So we jumped in a 4x4, driven by a 13 year old, and were at the car park that comprises base camp within an hour. From there it was a 90 minute walk up to the high camp near the col between Parinacota and Pomerape at 5,140m, with a porter carrying up for us 4 days' worth of water.

This was the highest mountain we've tried to climb, but it turned out not to be too difficult.
We left at 03:00, when the temperature was a pleasant -1C, and climbed up steadily on the path that leaves the high camp heading W. As the mountain is climbed frequently the path is distinct and soon this is zig-zagging up the northern slopes of the mountain.

When we climbed there was very little snow, so the path peters out at where the snowline normally is, however from this point it is very obvious where to go and the remainder of the hike is simple.

We arrived at the lower of the N summits (6,346m) and then carried on the the point slightly to the W as it looked a bit higher. It was, at 6,351m. We stopped here even though the true, NW summit was further W round the crater rim, as we thought it was wise to save some energy for Pomerape the following day, and as Peter had stopped on the first summit and didn't seem too keen to continue further.
The views into the huge (about 300m deep) summit crater were impressive, but it would've been even nicer with a bit more snow around. As the weather was perfect, with no wind, we were able to stay an hour on the summit enjoying the views and the high altitude.
The descent was generally easy, on scree, though Peter was very tired by this stage and Ignacio ended up attaching him to a leash just in case he tripped on the steeper parts. We made it back to camp in 3 hours, 10 hours after setting off.

After resting 12 hours at high camp our alarm went off at 01:00 and we were off just after 02:00. After the previous day's exploits Peter didn't fancy another trip up a mountain, so he remained in bed while we set off with Ignacio.
Pomerape from the N summit of Parinacota
It was an hour and a half walking on rocks and sand until we reached the base of the glacier at 5,400m that leads up towards the summit. Here we put on our harnesses and crampons, roped up and began climbing up the glacier. It was an enjoyable climb - the glacier was reasonably steep, but not too steep at about 40-45 degrees the whole way. The snow was mostly in good condition with only a few slightly icy patches, and we made decent progress, finding ourselves at 6,000m by 06:00.
Here things began to become more complicated. The snow turned to ice, but as it was only at about 30 degrees we were able to continue upwards to 6,128m. Here we were at the base of a rock wall, and initially Ignacio said we might climb up this, until we realised that it was littered with lots of loose rock that would have made it too dangerous to attempt. The usual route from this point is to skirt round to the left of the rock and climb up a 60 degree snow slope, but with so little snow this season this route was all hard ice.
Ignacio with ice wall where we turned back mid photo
Looking at it we didn't think we'd be able to climb it, and eventually this proved the case, but we had a quick try anyway. Ignacio traversed across 40m of ice and secured a line for Haz to make her way across, while Neil sat in the cold for 45 minutes anchoring the other end. When Haz made it across the traverse and saw the 100-150m of 60 degree ice climbing that awaited afterwards we made the decision to turn back as we knew we weren't confident or competent enough to try and climb up this.

It had been a good adventure though, and it was nice to finally use the crampons that we bought in Mendoza and had been lugging around on the bikes for 4 months!
It took 3 hours to get back to high camp, Ignacio placing anchors and us abseiling down most of the glacier. All great fun.
We were back in Sajama in a few hours, and there had a well earned 2 day rest before setting off for the big one - Sajama itself.

Some GPS Points
DescriptionGPS point
'Base Camp'18.15866 S, 69.10130 W, 4,822m
High Camp18.15205 S, 69.12293 W, 5,143m

DescriptionGPS point
On the climb up the N slopes18.14850 S, 69.13022, 5,320m
On the climb up the N slopes18.15571 S, 69.13730, 5,962m
Hit the crater rim at18.16090 S, 69.14046 W, 6,296m
Lower of the N summits18.16087 S, 69.14153 W, 6,346m
Higher of the N summits18.16057 S, 69.14254 W, 6,351m

DescriptionGPS point
On the way to the glacier18.14463 S, 69.12362 W, 5,313m
Enter the glacier18.14111 S, 69.12586 W, 5,412m
On the glacier18.13776 S, 69.12656 W, 5,610m
On the glacier18.13419 S, 69.12700 W, 5,927m
High point18.13128 S, 69.12715 W, 6,128m