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  Cerro Charkini, Parinacota, & Sajama

Mountain Madness Sajama 2004 Expedition - Dispatch 3

Hello again.  This is Mark Ryman in Bolivia´s Cordillera Occidental.  This mountain range has a very different look and feel than the Cordillera Real, which is much closer to La Paz.  We traveled a main highway which serves as a transport route for goods between La Paz, Bolivia and Arica, Chile. Along the road we stopped to take in some amazing views of the peaks that make up the Cordillera Occidental, including Parinacota and Sajama.  We turned off the main road and drove into Sajama National Park on a dirt road. Sajama village lies just within the park boundary and is a very quaint little place.  The local economy is supported primarily through tourism and a little bit of farming.  There are many options for trekking and some nice hotsprings to soak in.  The park is full of llama, alpaca, and a few vicuna. We settled into a alojamiento owned by the captain of the local porters, Mario.  Alojamientos are small guest houses with bunks and a place to cook and eat.  Not exactly on par with our hotel in La Paz, but all of the essentials are there for a rag-tag group of climbers. 

After settling in for a day, we loaded the jeeps and drove to the end of a vague dirt road to approach base camp for Parinacota.  Our camp was at about 15,900 feet and we had a good look at Sajama and both of the twins (Pomerata and Parinacota). At 6330 meters, Parinacota is slightly higher than its twin brother.  It looks a lot like Ecuador´s Cotopaxi, though more broad and about a thousand feet higher.  We chose not to use porters and mules to establish a high camp because we were able to get so far in by jeep.  Unfortunately, we still had a long, taxing approach to get onto the glacier. After a 2:00 a.m. start,  several hours of hiking through soft sand  and very steep scree slopes eventually led to the snow line at about 19,000 feet.  Three members of our team opted to turn back before we got to the point where we needed to rope up.  Dennis, Bob and Jim all felt pretty exhausted from the long approach and they were also still getting used to the altitude.   Some stomach problems were also a factor for a couple of them.  They decided to save their strength for the final climb on Sajama.  Since it was full daylight when they turned back at around 18,000 feet, the trail back to camp was clearly visible.   I pushed ahead as quickly as possible to catch Gaspar, Steve and Dan.  One of our drivers, Victor, climbed with me. 

Victor is from El Alto and since he is used to life at 13,000 feet, he didn´t seem to be affected at all by the thin air that had my chest burning.   Each time I looked up at him, he was just standing there laughing while I struggled to catch my breath.   We managed to catch the others shortly after they got onto the glacier.  At about 1:00 p.m. on June 12, I stood on the high point of Parinacota´s crater rim, along with Gaspar Navarrete, Danny Driggs and Steve Voss.  Victor and Mario waited just below us at the edge of the rim.  The crater is very impressive, with a very steep drop of several hundred feet into the mountain.   The summit of this peak pretty much straddles the Bolivia-Chile border on most maps so you could say that we stood with one foot in each country for a short time.  Looking southwest, we had nice views of several other high peaks that lie inside of Chile.  The closest of these is Guallatire which is a very active volcano and gave us a nice display of smoke and ash plumes throughout the day.  Our weather conditions were perfect.  It is often extremely windy here, but we just had a slight breeze and perfect snow conditions.  There was good neve all the way up the glacier and only a few small penitentes.  Since I had dropped some gear from my pack to make better time in trying to catch the others, I had to retrace the climbing route on the way down. The others were able to take a shortcut at the bottom of the glacier and descend steep sand slopes to arrive back in camp over an hour before me.  Claudio, our cook for the trip, made us a nice dinner in the basecamp mess tent and we all slept quite well.  Today we drove back into the village to resupply and rest up for our main objective: the Northwest Ridge of Sajama.  A quick soak in the hot springs was just what we needed to rejuvenate us for the next push.  I´ll write again after the final climb.  Ciao.

Mountain Madness Sajama Expedition 2004 - Dispatch 4 - June 18

On June 14, following breakfast at Mario´s Alojamiento, we loaded up our team of burros and headed for the Sajama basecamp.  The hike took a little over four hours and the weather was calm and sunny.  The closer we got to Sajama, the bigger it looked.  At 6542 meters, it is Bolivia´s highest peak and also a very broad mountain.  It is sometimes  compared to Ecuador´s highest peak, Chimborazo.  The overall shape and the nature of the standard routes are very similar, though the summit is about 200 meters higher than Chimbo.  Our basecamp was again situated at approximately 15,900 feet, in a high valley.  As soon as the sun dropped behind the ridges, the temperature went way down and we were quickly going for our down jackets.  Everyone in the group seemed to have recovered well from fatigue and various stomach ailments.  Morale was good and everyone was excited for the big climb.  After another great dinner prepared by Claudio, we all got a good night´s rest. 

The following morning we ate breakfast and loaded our packs for the climb to high camp, which is situated at a little over 18,000 feet.  This hike involved four to six hours of climbing up steep scree and rocks, with occasional snow patches, but not as much of the soft sand that makes the Parinacota approach so difficult and time consuming.  We were assisted by porters to high camp and everyone was amazed at the speed and ease with which these guys can move on steep ground with huge loads on their backs.  Mario organized the porters and divvied up the loads and I don´t think he stopped laughing once during the whole trip.  He is the happiest person I have ever met. 

 High camp is not the most hospitable place. The tent sites were narrow and rocky and were situated in a notch on the ridge which acts as a bit of a wind tunnel.  As we prepped our gear for the summit push, the wind picked up and gained strength through the night.  We woke at 1:00 a.m. again to prep and leave for the summit.  After a quick hot drink and small snack, we headed up a scree slope for about 30 minutes to get to the snow.  The wind was howling pretty hard, but the sky was clear for the most part.  The first snow slopes on the ridge were quite good and led to a steep and somewhat icy gully.  At the top of the gully we got a slight reprieve from the wind as we traversed around some rock formations.  Once on the other side of the rocks, I led out on a traverse above some steep slopes and cliff bands, using pickets in the firm neve for running belays, and eventually gained another rock platform.  At this point the wind was really howling and made communication and progress quite difficult. 

I spoke with Gaspar on the radio and he said that Bob was having difficulty on the steep terrain and had decided to turn back after the steep ice gully.  I offered to come down and tie in with Dennis to bring him up to the others at our rock platform, but Gaspar decided it would be quicker to bring him up to me.  He left Bob temporarily in a safe spot on the rocks and made the traverse to us with Dennis.  The sun hit us at this point, but it didn't seem to offer any warmth.  The ambient temperature was around 15 deg F, but the wind was gusting 60-70 mph.  I started up the Northwest Ridge, but was forced to trend North on my switchbacks to get some relief from the wind.  I can't remember any other climb on a 6000 meter peak when I needed to keep my down parka on the entire time, even after the sun was up.  Our traverses to the North got our faces out of the wind, but put us into very difficult penitente fields on fairly steep slopes.  Looking up toward the summit plateau, there was no end in sight for the penitentes.  Most of them were between 18 and 30 inches in height and were too solid to give way under our boots and crampons.  At 10:30 a.m. we took a break and discussed our options.  Steve, Dan, Jim and Dennis all agreed that it would take us another three hours or more to finish the 1200+ vertical feet to the summit.  This would put us way past our turn around time and force us to down climb some rather sketchy terrain in the dark.  The group decision was unanimous to call it a day and turn back at about 20,400 feet. 

We spoke with Gaspar again on the radio and he began climbing back up to meet us and assist with getting down the traverse with a fixed rope and belays down the gully.  When we arrived back at high camp in late afternoon, Jim took a wind speed reading with his Brunton Sherpa weather device.  We had sustained 45 mph winds at the high camp, and much stronger gusts on the ridges.  Breaking down camp in the wind was no easy task.  The wind continued for most of our hike down to base camp and we all collapsed after dinner feeling pretty wasted from the day.  It was a bit disappointing to turn back with only 1200 feet to go, but everyone agreed that we put forth a strong effort and had no other choice.  It was a great experience for everyone regardless.  After another night at basecamp to recover, we awoke to the sounds of the mule team.   Following a quick breakfast we loaded our gear and hiked out to Sajama village where our jeeps were waiting for the trip back to La Paz.   After getting cleaned up at the hotel, we all went to Le Comedie for an excellent celebration dinner. I know I speak for the group when I say that this was a great adventure that was a successful trip on many levels even though we weren’t able to reach the summit of Sajama. Ciao.

Mark Gunlogson/ Mountain Madness


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