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.

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