So at 0900 outside the main Travel Tracks office we eventually meet the guides, as is usual for South American time, 0900 means 1030. Not to worry we needed the practice of getting up early as the trip was going to involve a few early rises.
Once we are all assembled, us, Phil, Paul and two other guys – Florian (French) and Petr (Czech) we walk back up the hill to a van parked near the Blue Note bar. There we try on heavy duty mountain boots necessary for the crampons we´ll be wearing later, once sorted we pack the van and head out of town. We stop at El Alto which is the flat area high up out of the La Paz valley which used to be classed as part of La Paz but is now a city in its own rite, its home to all the poorer inhabitants of the area, it´s also where the airport is and sits at roughly 4100m. The stop is for the market to get some last minute supplies and we finally get a view and photos of the city from here.
Carrying on it´s a somewhat rickety journey to the base of the trek, where after offloading all the gear and sharing it out, we make a 15min walk for the 1st refugio, “Zongo” where we´ll be staying the night and which is at 4750m.
Lunch is the priority on arrival and this is prepared by our chef while we unpack and organise what equipment we need for the ice climbing, which is about 30 min walk away and our mission after lunch. It´s great fun, the other guys’ haven´t done anything like this before and although we have been walking in crampons and done some ice safety work/avalanche training previously we haven´t climbed vertical walls with crampons and ice-axes before either. The fact that we have been climbing before shows through and other than Paul we are the only ones that manage to get to the top.
Exhausted after an hour or so, we head back to the refugio for some dinner and an early bed. The scenery is stunning and along with photos of ourselves halfway up the ice climb everyone is also snapping photos of the glacier itself and the surrounding valley. The idea of today is just to do a little bit of work, and concentrate of acclimatising to the altitude. Some of the guys are already experiencing altitude headaches. Bernice started on the altitude pills we bought as soon as we left La Paz, liking them to seasick pills – if you wait till you need them it´s already too late. Not being able to argue with this Huw follows suit soon after and luckily we don´t experience much in the way of headaches like the others.