Adventures in Bolivia (June 1985)

Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America

Up until 2008, our adventures were retained only as memories and on Kodachromes. While our memories may have faded (just a bit), the Kodachromes haven’t – and we have a lot of them. So we’re digitizing a select few to bring some of our past adventures into the 21st Century. This is one of those.


After the success of our climbs in Mexico in 1983, I thought I’d have a go at some slightly more challenging peaks in Bolivia.  Protracted negotiations with my then employer (Don’t talk to no commies!) got me time off to join an American Alpine Institute (AAI) trip to Bolivia. Our ostensible goals were a warm-up climb on an unnamed peak (Cerro 5310 (17,420 ft)), followed by Jankho Huyo (Janq’u Uyu) at 5,512 m (18,100 ft), and culminating with Condorir (5,648 m / 18,530 ft).  The Condoriri climb was described as among the most beautiful in the Cordillera Real and the route leading to its summit as a diverse combination of a glacier trek, technical climb, and an exposed ridge.

After getting organized and somewhat acclimated in La Paz, Bolivia, we drove (precariously at times) to Lago Janko Khota, where we camped. It snowed heavily that night – something unexpected in the Andes at this time of year {cue ominous portent sounds}.  The next morning, llamas carried our gear up to basecamp at around 5,000 m (16,400 ft), while we walked. After another day of acclimatization, we attempted Cerro 5310, only to be swept 300 m down its face by a slab avalanche. It all happened in a flash and we were extraordinarily lucky to come to a stop, not too deeply buried and unhurt, on a slight upslope some 100 m above a final plunge to the glacier.  After untangling our ropes, we made our way back to camp shaken and somewhat bewildered by both the avalanche and the highly unusual snow conditions. We took a day off to collect our wits and then attempted Jankho Huyo only to find the same appalling avalanche-ready snow pack. This time we were able to retreat to basecamp without incident.

Our guides figured (hoped) that we might find better snow conditions on Condoriri or, if we didn’t, that we could work safely around them.  So after a dinner hosted by  our local guide – featuring a whole sheep roasted between two huge flat rocks heated by an all-day fire – we move south to a camp a Laguna Chiar Khota. From there we made a quasi-technical ascent with full packs to a high camp on some flat rock ledges, where we pitched our tents in full view of Condoriri.  Snow conditions on the way up to these ledges had been pretty good but when we tried leaving them to approach the peak, we found ourselves sinking into soft snow up to our chests!  Attempts to flounder through this stuff to the summit ridge proved futile and we, once again, had to let go of a summit.

We’d spent two weeks trying to climb these three peaks.  When we finally gave-up because of the snow conditions, we still had more than a few days left in-country.  So we spent some time at Lake Titicaca, where we hired a small boat to takes us to the Inca temples on Isla del Sol. The boat we got was the low bid – meaning that the bailing buckets we were given when boarding were an integral part of its operation, not an option.  Furious bailing ensued as we took on water while plowing through chop to and from the island – a great upper body workout at around 4,000 m (13,100 ft)!  We also ducked into Peru to visit the villages there that float on the lake on reed mats.  Then it was back to La Paz where we arranged with a collectivo (taxi) to shuttle us to and from a hike on an old Inca road (Takesi Inca Trail; Qhapaq Ñan) from west to east over the Andes.  The engineering and stonework on these roads is amazing!  It took us two days to cross the Andes and descend into the jungle to the east.  On our last night, we reached Yanacachi and started to set-up our tents next to a field of small shrubs.  Before we could finish, one of the local kids appeared and pointed out that it wasn’t a good idea to camp in El Patron’s coca fields.  He suggested it would be better (in so many ways, but mostly for us) if we camped on the town’s football pitch and played a pick-up game with the locals.  We did, they won, and we got a good night’s sleep.  Next day, our taxi took us back to La Paz, where we further indulged in some excellent Bolivian beer (whose effects are magnified by the altitude), before boarding our plane for home.

From a mountaineering perspective, this trip exemplified that you don’t always get what you want. A good lesson to keep in mind when summit fever threatens to overtake self-preservation. From a purely tourist perspective, it was an excellent trip, in that we got to experience Lake Titicaca, leaky boats, floating reeds, tiny salted fish meals, the Andes, stunning vistas, the Incas, old roads, and excellent beer. Our timely lessons in where not to camp and how to lose at football were also a plus!


Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
Location of our summit attempts relative to La Paz, Bolivia
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
Piling-up rocks to keep our transport on the road
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
The ominous portent of heavy snow on our first night in camp
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
On the way up to basecamp
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
Looking toward Mullu Apachita (5,368 m)
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
We start for Cerro 5310
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
On the slopes of Cerro 5310
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
Cerro 5310: Where we triggered the avalanche (black arrow) and where we came to rest (red arrow)
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
Our futile attempt on Jankho Huyo
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
Our hot rocks lamb dinner
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
Walking toward Condoriri
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
Climbing to high camp on Condoriri
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
Our high camp on rock ledges
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
Condoriri – so near, yet so far
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
Arranging our shuttle across the Andes
Cerro Condoriri La Paz Bolivia South America
On the Inca road across the Andes

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