As instructed by our guides we are all up at 0800 for brekkie. We have about an 1hr 40 trek today to the next refugio “Rock Camp” which is at 5130m. This is a short but arduous hike with all our gear, quite steep at the end over a boulder field and seeing our end goal before we start doesn´t make it any easier. The altitude is taking its toll on Bernice´s breathing and struggling to keep up with the group our guide offers to take her pack for her. “That’s not cricket!” and she tells him so, there´s little/no chance she´s going to give up her pack if she´s going to convince herself of being able to climb the mountain. Respectfully he backs down and stays back with us for the remainder of the walk.
Arriving at the refugio, we are struck by how much writing there is on the wall. Flags pinned up or drawn up, characatures, lots of “it´s f****** hard but really worth it” comments too. No one mentioned this to us, guess the agencies/guides don´t want to be seen as condoning it, we didn´t even have a pen between us, so even if we do make it to the top we can´t add to the scribblings 🙁
It´s only about midday and other than lunch now and dinner about 1700 there isn´t much else on the agenda, other than you guessed it – acclimatise. So needing to amuse ourselves we take to some cards, and decide on an old favourite of ours, “Mierda de Cabeza”, which as usual goes down well. That’s pretty much it for the afternoon, that and watch group after group arrive from other agencies with their guides.
The plan is bed for no later than 1800 to arise again at 2400 for setting off on the event of the trek – up the remainder of the mountain in our crampons with ice axe in hand. Most people manage to convince their bodies that sleep is required but some, such as Petr find it a real struggle.
Up again at midnight gear all on and roped, two at most to a guide, we all set off in staged departures to climb the beast that is Huayna Potosi. It would be a slog at the best of times as it´s very steep, cold and in a word challenging. Add to the mix that we are way over 5000m up and that it is a night hike and you might get somewhere close to what we are experiencing. Remembering what Aly in the agency said – take one step at a time, place one foot in front of the other, breathe and keep going – Bernice motivated herself to do just that. Interestingly it all smacked of “the tortoise and the hare” as a large group of Norwegians, some Israelis, and in fact most of the other groups kept speeding past us, and then a short while later were overtaken again as we carried on at our slow and steady pace.
Bernice just wants to point out at this stage that over the whole trek so far we have only come across one other girl, disappointed girlies!!!
Our guide is called Marcelo; Bernice is roped to him 1st and then Huw. It´s probably a good job we are doing the hike in the dark by head torch as it becomes apparent as we walk that there are quite a few crevasses around and we are thankful of a guide who knows the mountain. He is also very good at setting the pace, reading from how taut the line is how quick Bernice is able to walk. Well done Marcelo, we truly appreciated your efforts, patience and expert knowledge. At one point we had to straddle across a hole which we agreed will make for an interesting re-traverse on our descent laters!
When we think we are nearly there, we round a corner to find the last few hundred metres are steeply up an Arête to the top. It was blatantly obvious that no matter how fit all these other lads thought they were they hadn´t tackled much in the way of mountains before and many of them were dumb struck at this point. Rooted to the spot and basically petrified! One lad didn´t want anyone to come anywhere near him, fearing we´d send him careering down the steep 1000m or more steep edge.
It was gibbering up there and no amount of whinging was stopping us pass. Marcelo made sure we were comfortable about where we should put our feet and we glided past them. He was a bit surprised we (or should we be specific here, Bernice) weren´t fazed by the exposure but silently glad as he too was feeling the cold.