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.

Climbing Machu Picchu

It’s 3.30am. The walls are still reverberating with the same beat that’s been belting out of the street party conveniently being held right outside you’re window since 10pm. Your alarm is joining the musical fray. It was time. After 5 days of hiking, a few sleepless nights and one mighty hangover (stay AWAY from inka tequila), we were here at the bottom of Machu Picchu, the final destination for our Salkantay team.

My legs were on their last…well legs. Shaking out the stiffness of around 1ookms clocked, doing a final check of vitals in the day pack (snacks, raincoat, water) and yawning away the delirium left by lack of sleep, out I stepped into the darkness, following the torch lights of my trekking team to try be first in line for the Machu Picchu gates.

The entire journey our guides had reassured (see – fibbed to us) by letting us know when approached said “hardest part” of the trek. Each time we passed this most difficult leg we were met by an even greater, lung gasping, muscle roaring, bitch of a hike to get through. Machu Picchu was no exception. As the sky lightened and the gates opened, there was not even a second of reprieve before that familiar sensation of straining out tight, fatigued muscles set in. 40-50 minutes of straight up, stair climbing to the top. Talk about total zone out. After 20 minutes all that was left was the single thought, un poco un poco. A bit after a bit. Left foot, right foot.

I arrived at the top sweaty and stoked. Scowling judgmentally at the first arrivals by bus to the top, we hopped into the line and were some of the firsts to enter El Ciudad de Incas on this day. I tell you what. Nothing i can say will prepare you for the impact those first few steps into an empty, mist covered ancient city will have on you. To me the whole thing felt vaguely surreal, an air of reverence settles in our awe and then suddenly Llamas are running towards you with their gangly, dorky gaits and laughter ripples out across the cool, sacred air.

The wonders of the Andean civilisations, their traditions, technologies and culture can be felt in the workmanship of every aspect of the ruins. So marvellously maintained despite the heavy traffic of tourist to this spectacular wonder of the world.

Still, it was not time to rest them weary legs. The Machu Picchu mountain, whose summit was not visible from our vantage point in the ruins towered unconquered above us. While my body screamed no, i had bought the additional entrance ticket…ain’t nothing getting wasted on my watch. Besides, wasn’t i like totally a real live mountain climber now?

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I won’t lie. It was kind of like torture, scaling that monstrous mountain particularly in the wake of 5 days of solid walking. Several times i could have turned back. Around each corner lay another staircase. Impossibly steep, narrow and typically unsafe (south america, seriously).

But after an hour of some heavy breathing, hand crawling, shaky legged steps, the top flattened out and for the third time on my trek that familiar celebratory high boosted me to my feet. I have just found myself on top of the world, i think.  From up here, Machu Picchu City is a thumbnail on a map.20161024_0941351

It was plain crazy.

It would also be plain crazy to have missed it.

Conquer, savour, gather your strength. You will need it for the hellishly steep descent.

As for the throngs of tourists that coming back down to earth in the late morning will throw you into… try not to let that blur the unspoiled vision of the ancient city at first light roamed only by her Llamas, her misty clouds and her keepers.

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The Magic Of Salkantay

Standing at the top of Mount Salkantay had me considering whether to toss up every single (sensible?) life decision I have stacked up in front of me, in favour of chasing glacial lakes and mountains for the rest of my life.

Trekking the Salkantay path is one of the most popular alternatives to the wallet wrenching Inca trail and is notoriously challenging. The trek spans 5 days of hiking over Salkantay mountain (at 4600m), into the jungle and onwards up to the City of the Incas, Machu Picchu. Through freezing temperatures and snowy peaks into the humid mosquito laden heat of the jungle (in the space of no more then an hour!), along sun baked and dusty roads, inching across foot wide cliff edges or moving along jungle covered tracks until the final destination, Machu Picchu. The diverse terrain offers a sensory assault of delightful smells from the surrounding flora and fauna, and the most magnificent views of Peru’s stretch of the Andean Mountains. It’s hard to not fall in love with her magnificence. Not to mention this trek is like the double orgasm of adventure tours. First, Mount Salkantay, then Machu Picchu. How could you not?

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Horses in the clouds

Mount Salkantay is the highest peak of the Vilcabamba mountain ranges in Peru and it is damn sweet to find yourself on top of. A condor flies over head, unexpected snowflakes swirl to the tide of your panting breath, the other trekkers fade to distance and time just stops. For a moment your mind might drift to the countless times you doubted yourself, not just over the hike but over the dreams and ambitions you deemed to good for you. As you descend from the clouds, invigorated for the next leg ahead, the warm acknowledgement of your own strength emanates from yourself and the rest of the squad. Turns out climbing a mountain can be a great reminder that you are more than you think you are. That is the magic of Salkantay.

If you choose to do the Salkantay trek (on a budget), or you think this kind of adventure might be for you, here’s a few things to prepare for:

Early starts. We were up and getting breakfast in us before 6am every day. Some days earlier. On the bright side, being woken up by our friendly Peruvian team with fresh hot cocoa tea delivered straight though our tent zips became kind of delightful. “Cocoa tea amigo? Cocoa tea?”. Alternatively, you may be woken up by an arrogant cock who thinks 3.30am is the crack of dawn…

Cocoa leaves. Whether it’s brewed in hot water or being held in your cheek, these cocoa leaves are a bit of a lifesaver. As a natural remedy against altitude sickness, and a warming drink for the chilly days and nights, you will grow to appreciate this humble leaf. Watch out though as eating them or biting vigourosly can have a laxative affect. I mean, thats what they say anyway…

The Party Bus. Blasting the best techno and r&b hits circa 2008, the loud banging beats serve primarily as a distraction from the fact that the bus driver is scaling cliff edges, sometimes at full pelt, on a barely one way sized track ( i refuse to call it a road). [insert snap chat]. If you are thinking about or are already travelling South America, chances are you know all about what to expect on a South American bus. Of course before we even took our first steps on the trek our bus had a minor breakdown. Never have I ever seen such a precariously magnificent hill start attempted in such a shunky bus. The road to St Theresa Hot springs will have you questioning whether or not you value your life enough to jump out before the whole bus plummets over the edge. Oh and just wait until you get to the teeny, nailed together wooden bridge across a water fall that looks like it could barely hold a Llama, let alone a packed bus. Good times.

Snow. Shit gets real 4000+ metres above sea level folks. On our trek in early October we had a night of below 0 degrees and it snowed on us once we reached the peak of Salkantay. Gloves, beanies and extra thermals will make things a lot more comfortable. A good sleeping bag as well. On the mountain on night one i slept in everything i owned, snugged up next to my travel buddy so tight I am luck she did not punch me in the face.

Heat. Just when you think you could not be more frozen, as you struggle against viciously icy winds to get back to the bottom of Mount Salkantay, BOOM, Welcome to the Jungle. Give it an hour and you will be ripping off layers, desperate for water and slathering mosquito repellent across your exposed skin. It’s perplexing, the sudden and extreme change in climate. Leave room amongst the thermals for cooler clothing. From end of day 2 forward, there will be sweat.

Sore muscles. Stretching saved my life. 5 minutes, in the tent every night before bed. You cover some pretty heavy mileage and climb up some considerably steep inclines across the 5 day journey, the last thing you want to deal with is muscle stiffness. It’s also a great way to warm the sleeping bag up.

Highlights (besides reaching the top of Salkantay)

Humantay Glacial lake. Day 1. The climb to this location at 4100m above sea level was without a doubt the most challenging part of the entire 5 days – no exaggeration! Your climb becomes a metal battle To turn back or to continue? Zat is ze question. Please continue, there is magic ahead.

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The guides. Humorous, supportive, knowledgeable, patient and always up for a chat. They’re everything a good guide should be and more. They’re pride in the culture and history of the Inca and Quechua culture is the icing on a perfect cake.

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Other tips

  • Hiking boots that are waterproof will be much appreciated!
  • Rain pants. Quite possibly the most sexy attire on the mountain.
  • Tips. It is expected that the guides, cooks and horseman are tipped towards the end of the trek. Trust me, they deserve it! Our group aimed for a bench mark of 10-2o soles per person.
  • Booking a tour. Don’t be afraid to shop around! There are plenty of tour operators all around Cusco. We saved about 30USD by taking the time. Shop around.
  • If you do shop around…Definitely check that your tents are put up for you, that your transport to Salkantay and return to Cusco is included, and what the meal situation is. Oh and hire a sleeping bag!
  • Ear plugs. The last night you usually get put up in a hostel (again, good to check this!) – don’t expect anything luxe. Do expect lack of sound proofing. The night we had to get up at 3.30am to catch the sunrise at Machu Picchu, there was a street party outside our hostel until 4am. It may as well have been happening in our room. I mean, you get so tired these things just have to be laughable but ear plugs could be handy.

And that’s my two cents on the Salkantay trek. Adios! M.

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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.