La Paz Stories and Tips

Climbing the Huayna Potosi

Llama, Condor and Coca Cola Photo, Bolivia, South America



The Mountain

Huayna Potosi separates the Andean Plateau from the Zongo Valley and is almost ubiquitously visible from El Alto. Roughly an hour away from the city, it reaches 6088 meters above the sea level and is covered by snow during the whole year. The summit has a solid cornice and one of the best views in the Cordillera Real.

The Altitude

Before attempting to climb the mountain, acclimatization at 4000 meters should be achieved (that's the altitude of El Alto City). If arriving directly from sea level, that means staying more than a week at the city, walking around, drinking lots of water and exercising lightly. The sun radiation at such altitudes is extreme; sunglasses and a hat are imperative during daylight. As well the area is extremely dry; lip balm would be useful for most people.

Climbing the Huayna Potosi
The mountain is considered to be one of the easiest 6000 meter peaks in the world. It includes only one technical stretch in the form of a vertical thirty meters ice wall. Except for the rainy season (January-March), it is possible to climb it at all times. In the last years, climate is changing rapidly in Bolivia and that can mean an unexpected delay in the case of an off-season rain.

The Packages

Many tourism agencies at Sagarnaga Street in La Paz offer climbing packages o the Huayna Potosi. Most of them wait until they have three clients, hence, short delays should be taken into account - or considered to be part of the acclimatization period. There are two basic deals. The professional one takes two days and the one for beginners takes three. The difference is that beginners are taught to use crampons and to climb a vertical ice wall. The beginners' package costs around a hundred dollars, the professional one slightly less. All deals include a mountain climbing guide and assistant, meals, private transport to the mountain, carrier mules for baggage, porters, camping and cooking gear, and technical climbing equipment (mountain climbing shoes, crampons, ice axe, ropes, carabiners, tends, mattress, gloves, gaiters, harness, rain jacket, rain pants).

The Route

The easy and most popular route to the summit climbs a few moraines and follows gradual glaciers with a few short steep sections until reaching the summit.

The Event

The beginners' package begins with a training session in the old glacier - near the refuge - where basic mountaineering and cramponing techniques are taught, including how to walk on ice and snow and the use of the ice axe and ropes, it is suitable for people who have no experience climbing.

After sleeping at the alpine refuge, the second day for beginners (or the first one for professionals) begins by walking until the High Camp, which is located at a plateau at 5200m. The easy walk takes around five hours and it allows further acclimatization to the altitude.

The last day begins very early. At 2am the climb to the summit begins. The main obstacle in the way is a thirty meters tall glacier wall. However, after crossing it, a gentle ramp leading to the summit is reached. The summit is accomplished after some six hours. Afterwards begins the descent all the way down to the base camp and the return to the city.

The View

From the summit there is an impressive view of the Cordillera Real. There are six peaks of more than 6000m in the area and more than twenty of above 5000m. Moreover, to the east is the Upper Amazon Basin and to the west the strikingly blue Titicaca Lake.

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