Playing Mountaineers – Huayna Potosi

Huayna Potosi – Bolivia

I am not a bad ass bitch. But sometimes I like to think I’m a bad ass bitch. So when my boyfriend suggested it would be a cool idea to mission up above 6000m on Bolivias third highest mountain I was like Oh hell yeah. Challenge accepted.

Day 1

Huayna Potosi schooled me better then a 50s principal with a mad cane.

The day was unbelievably full of sun. Our group (two Swiss, one German and us two kiwis) were arrogantly full of cheer…4 hours later I was stomping and sliding down from the glacier. I could barely keep my eyes open or keep my big clumpy moonboots from lifting high enough off the ground not to trip me over a rock and smash my raggedy body into the Llama chomped dirt.
That was just the practise day. We had finished 2-3 hours of crampons on ice and a 90 degree climb to get us ready for day 3…
The fucking practise.

The law enforcement of my body had been activated in protest. My arms and calves were having mini muscular aftershocks, trembling constantly. My only comfort found deep in a murky brown blend of instant hot chocolate and instant coffee. Self-doubt steamed down my throat with every gulp. This was not good. For the first time I can remember the idea that I was quite possibly out of my depth and not going to make it crossed my mind. I told my adventure man of a boyfriend I don’t think I can do this.

He just smiled reassuringly.
Mandy the bad ass bitch was no where in sight.

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Made it…Just

Day 2
I woke up to the news that two of our 5 person group were going back to La Paz because of a stomach bug. The third guy,  the suave German with great chat, was considering catching a lift with them because the altitude was fucking with him too much. That would have left Ollie and I. His mountaineering experience, Mount Killimanjaro (5900m) circa 5 years ago. My mountaineering experience, trekking Salkantay (4600m) one month ago. It struck me that I was currently eating breakfast at low camp standing at 4700m above sea level. I was already on top of Salkantay. I could not breathe. My bad ass bitch ego was shrinking to nothing faster then cotton in a hot wash.
It gets better. The German decided to commit to a try (the kiwi charm).

Day 2 was supposed to be easy. Just a two hour walk to high camp they said. Then we relax they said.
They missed the part about clamboring up 500m of straight high altitude, following pathways carved out of what looked suspiciously like rock slides that happen on the regular.
Now, I struggle with my backpack on the flat. I’m like a fucking turtle whose eyes were too big for its head and over grew it’s home shell. As usual I over packed. So this 500m up to high camp was pure, back aching, leg straining undignified torture on my part. Suckling throat lozenges desperate for any kind of comfort (perfect timing for a head cold and throat infection to dig it’s viral little hands into me) i decided this certainly wasn’t easy. But I was soon to learn that the words “easy” and “not technical” translated completely differently from Boliviano to gringo. At least the views were pretty.

Blissfully content to be done with it and lazing on the warm rocks waiting for lunch lead to an almost false sense of security. Yet the peak was nowhere to be seen. Tomorrow D-day meant 1000m of steady upwards climbing through ice to get to Huayna Potosi summit.
The nausea set in. Fear or altitude? you take a stab. I slept and ate for the rest of the day trying to conserve every ounce of energy I could.
Badass me, little but a figment of the imagination.

Day 3
If they tell you it’s not technical imma tell you what they mean. You will be tied to a guide for at least 5 hours. Why? Because at any fucking second you could slip on that ice and be a goddam goner (maybe i exaggerate but thats how i felt at the time so…). You better hope to hell that guide has got your back because between yawning ice cravaces, slippery inclines, and rocky valleys it is not a box of teddies that meets a fall.

It’s not technical
but you will need ice boots and crampons for 95% of the climb. Again to stick you to the ice, insurance against the high risk of fall.

It’s easy,
but be prepared to use/cling to a rope and rely on the sharpness of your crampons to haul yourself up almost vertical icy slopes. If I’d had known I would have done some bloody pressups to get some arm strength happening.

You don’t have to have any experience mountaineering
but you better have a strong head for heights. Because the last 200m will have you scaling the side of a 6000m high mountain. At some point you might find yourself hanging on with the edge of a crampon and the ice pick as you swung yourself through the air to the next landing point.

I gave that mountain everything I had. Or rather she took everything I had to give. But Huayna is like one of those sublime woman who walk around breaking hearts and stealing boyfriends but never receive any hate because they’re so ethereally beautiful. Even after being totally rolled, broken and tested by her, at the top i was still so in love and  grateful to just have been able to experience her.

5 and a half hours of gruelingly slow upwards slog, are already such a blur. I remember; barely noticing my breathlessness from trying to control the empty vomit from spilling out of me…Pacha mama would not appreciate; all the moments that made me burst into tears out of fear of failure and fear for my life – which I really didn’t want to lose on a fricken  “easy” mountain; falling asleep and dreaming of walking to remember i was…ON ICE (that will wake you up); When the sky began to lighten and I collapsed exhausted against the ice , done, and Ollie comes up, his big brown eyes peeking out at me harping on about how epic this is and how we were gonna make it while I’m looking back like fuck this shit; our guides singing the last 300ms; the words, chicos, we have 30m left to go, YOU CAN DO IT; laughing and crying at the same time st the summit causing a great hiccup at the top.
These memories at least will stick, little treasures clear as day.
It was an emotional time getting to that final peak. For the third time I bawled. This time not because I was sure I was fucking dying but because I was so jubilantly shocked that there was no more left to climb. That I was actually up Huayna Potisi. That I had made it. THAT BAD ASS MANDY DID EXIST. The view was more then I could have ever imagined and that I could ever describe.

The journey back down (with the exception of having to reverse-climb some of the sketchy edges on slippery melting ice) was glorious. Ploughing down the glaciar in the early morning light we could finally see the magnificent mountain we’d conquered.  Massive ice walls, the peaks of neighboring mountains, cloud animals and shapes – Clouds look way better at eye level I promise you that! (I saw a cloud Shrek,  a giant penis and the best cloud  rabbit I’ve ever seen).

Credit has to be given to my fantastic little guide who whispered encouragement in my ear everytime I fell. And my adventure loving boyfriend who knew I was going to make it and would never have let me turn around.

If you feel like taking on the challenge I’ve included an info links from our mates Lonely Planet (because an overly dramatic personal recount of an amateur doesn’t count) and a link to the company we went with who did a supremely great job of looking after us all.

Huayna Potosi – Lonely Planet

Climbing South America – Huayna Potosi 

If you choose to tackle her I swear the pain and challenge makes the reward so much sweeter. It’s a law of the Quest really.
If you’ve already been up Huayna Potosi would love to hear about it as well.

Until then il just be kicking around South America, being a mother fucking baddass – though I might give climbing Mountains a break.

[Ps please forgive lack of photos, currently struggling with jungle Internet HA! Coming soon… ]
M.

Walking on the Moon – Valle de Luna

Bolivia – La Paz

La Paz is a weird fucking place man. Where taxi drivers sell cocaine, people pay to live in a prison, people are paid to dress as zebras to encourage cars to actually STOP at the pedestrian crossings (an interesting persuasive  tactic to make cars actually stop, and people actually cross, at pedestrian safe zones) and you can drive 10 minutes out of the city centre to experience a landscape quite literally out-of-this-world.

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Here’s an urban legend for ya…

Not sure if you’ve heard but some giant Bolivian monster took on the moon one day and bit a chunk right out of her spitting it out in disgust to land just 10kms out of the La Paz city center.
They’ll tell you it was actually a geographical phenomenon, something to do with erosion from wind and rains (heard that before) and colours formed by the varying mineral content of the valley mountains (yawn).

But nah mate. Totally some alien voodoo happening over here.

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Though missing the zero gravity the Valle de la Lune is a quirky little attraction giving you a small escape from the hectic traffic blocked streets of the Centre. A 40 bolivianao taxi each way split between a few of us was no hassle. It is after all, only one small step for mankind.

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A step off the Gringo trail

Chinchero to Urquillos – In Cusco, Peru

The Gringo trail, the typically tread path throughout the South American continent. Worn in by soul searching travellers, adventure yearning backpackers, exploring couples and letsbehonest…ravers. When someone or something has a name, it is because it deserves to be known. The Gringo Trail is no exception. Hitting up on the wonders and highlights from the tip of Columbia, to the tip of Argentina, across the great massive that is Brazil, daring a venture into Venezuela, bouncing between Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, wondering into Uruguay and Paraguay and tasting the best that Argentina has to offer. There is something for everyone, for any budget, for any adventure. For these reasons, I am not one to shy away from the Gringo trail, even when the tourist mob forces me to make tracks out of there faster than you can say “selfie”.

A very basic lacklustre fact of the Gringo Trail is that you’re most likely never going to be the first, or only one on one of the most iconic wonders that South America has to offer. For this reason, it is when you step off the gringo trail, that the frustrations of being part of the tourist mob become easier to swallow and In my humble opinion, your appreciation for both the tourist popular sites and the lesser walked areas becomes that much better.

While in Peru, I had the fantastic opportunity to spend the day with a local woman (who had hosted us for a week before) and go on a surprise hike. I had no idea that it would be a highlight of our stay in the Cusco area.

Starting off behind the ruins of Chinchero, we found ourselves on a little known track towards Urquillos (a small local village, where the women where top hats and the chickens are fat AF, and everyone looks almost taken aback at the gringos strolling through). In an almost entirely downhill direction we passed into a valley surrounded by lush greenery, towered over by grand mountains on all sides, followed by rivers below. Four hours we spent trekking down rocky passes, stopping to enjoy choclo (giant corn) and sandwiches in a shady glade and finishing off by sipping on Cerveza in a small Peruvian township.

I have topped Mount Salkantay, reached Machu Picchu, hiked Rainbow Mountain, walked the ancient ruins, and cobbled streets that Cusco had to offer, but nothing has made me feel more connected with the nature and the beauty of this part of Peru until this point. It could be the simple element of being the only ones out there (oh yeah, WE OUT HERE), but you can really feel the heart, soul and power of the Pacha Mama, Mother Nature. Taking a moment with an offering of cocoa leaves , I felt connected, I felt humbled and I felt hopeful – which was an unexpected sensation. Our friend and guide told us that sometimes, when you are connected enough, the mountains can have a voice and they can speak to you. It sounds crazy, but I have unwavering faith that there is a spiritual truth here.

The pass is actually a UNESCO heritage site as of not so long ago, so I don’t expect that word of it will always be a little known thing. Perhaps one day it will find itself as one of the spots to hit on our famously well stomped Gringo trail. Whether that happens or not, my god am I grateful for having the opportunity to be one of the only gringos in sight on this track on this day.

The gringo trail is a good thing, but don’t forget how much it pays to sometimes take a step off, even if for a moment, even for a second, you might just hear the mountains speak.

The #unemploymentclub

As the boats of the Sydney upper classes blur by while my train zips along to Milsons Point, that old familiar elative sensation starts to trickle down my neck. This will be the last time I catch a train to North Sydney for work. The last time i catch any train to any form of work for the foreseeable future. This weekend marks my return to the unemployment club.

this is a cool kids club. Where your only roles and responsibilities revolve around chasing dreams, running on your own schedule, beating to your own drum.

It’s baffling, considering the high levels of fun and freedom, to think our club is the minority.

Yet, understood. Letting go of financial security and a healthy looking resume is a little bit like letting go of the edge of a cliff when you’re dangling from it’s face. There’s raging choppy rivers below my friend and it sure as hell won’t be smooth as but… does it beat waking up everyday and doing something that makes you feel a little bit empty inside?

I will let you answer that for yourself.

Some people love their jobs (you might actually be a smaller club then the unemployment squad).

A lot of people don’t. They don’t love their jobs and they don’t jump off the cliffs to swim against the current either. This I can understand. It is really, really hard to stand against a wall of societal norms with your own cheap little spray can and start to write your own rules. NOt only do you face the disbelief, disrespect or disdain of others ( these i call the #headstuckuptheirarseclub), you also have to deal with your own creepy-crawly doubts…

Is there something wrong with you? Are you not smart enough? why can’t you get your shit together like everybody else? Do several half degrees make one whole degree? What will you do when your bank balance reaches 0 again? 

Shut it off!

Straight on the table – I do not advocate that everyone needs to quit their jobs to travel. You don’t and a lot of my friends do fantastically at alternating work with worldly adventures. I am sure almost everyone has days where they do not want to go to work. Even the #lovemyjob club. You wouldn’t drop everything just for a bad day. All I am gonna say is, if you wake up for days on end, look at yourself in the mirror, and think continuously, “get me the fuck out of here“, then sweets, you’re probably ready to jump. You might not even hate your job. you could just be denying yourself a natural urge to explore. Unhealthy, suffocating. Yuck.

The unemployment club, come and join us. We’re not scary, or bossy, or crazy or mean. Actually we’re all just doing our own thing. Ticking off the never-ending bucket lists, winging it, doing what we love regardless of monetary reward, drinking beers with strangers on a school night BECAUSE WE CAN…until the right job comes along worth climbing back out the river for.

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#unemploymentclub. It’s good to be back.

 

The Countdown

One week left in Sydney. One week left in Sydney. oneweekoneweekoneweekoneweeksydneysydneysydneysydney

I could repeat this to myself a million times more right now and it still would appear to be immune to the powers of gravity, a dream of an idea hovering just outside of my day to day life.

Yet, this shit is real. The Sydney chapter is ending and armed with a week of Duolingo spanish training, “all” of my Sydney pennies, a sketch of a plan and a bag full of active wear, I’m hightailing it on out of here to the enigmatic, awesome landscapes of South America.

The countdown truly has begun, and as the days disappear, a few things you wish you thought about earlier come to play:

I really wish i’d learnt more then how to say my name in Spanish. Was quitting my job really such a good idea. Probably should have saved a bit more coin (Definitely). Yep I really should have learnt more Spanish. Have I got enough Gastro-stop? Which part of South America is Argentina again? Holy shit, Brazil is THAT big…Have I got too many pairs of tights? Not enough Jumpers? Wait, what’s the plan if i get robbed?!

It’s those pre-travel jitters. The backpacking butterflies. Your mind kicks into overdrive. The emptiness in the pit of your gut grows as the clock ticks down. That little belly dropper before you start to feel really damn high. It’s nauseating. It’s arousing.

I fucking love it.

There’s no better feeling then knowing nothing much more then  that what lies ahead is one hell of an adventure. Where you can turn left, right, upside down, at any time and all that really matters is that you’ve got life by it’s balls and you’re working it your way.

7 days to go.

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