Sunday, July 13, 2014

P.S. Post-Sajama Report

The wind violently shook our tent hour after unrelenting hour since the time of our last post at High Camp. In fact it had intensified with gusts over 70MPH, making a summit attempt foolish and unrealistic. Around 7pm on Thursday evening we discussed with our guide Eloy that if the winds do not die down by 1:00am we would not go up. This was yet again a difficult decision because although we had extra contingency days built into our schedule, we learned Eloy had another climb booked and wouldn't be able to wait out the weather, so we would have to go back.

With this weighing on our minds (and that fact that Eloy told us about tents being blown off Sajama just last week) we hoped that our own tent would remain tied down, and attempted to get a few hours of sleep.

A few minutes before the 1:00am alarm was set to go off, we awoke and listened for the familiar thunderous noise of the nylon walls of our tent being thrashed by the wind. Much to our pleasant surprise, the sound was not there! With great excitement (and a bit of dread for the long ordeal of a summit day) we began the process of emerging from our sleeping bags and putting on all of our climbing gear. At 2:33am with ice axes in hand and headlamps lighting our way, we left our tents at High Camp at ~19,000 feet and followed Eloy up the mountain.
The wind remained with us but at a more manageable rate, and we wore every layer of clothing we had to keep warm. The climb was steeper and more challenging that we thought with one section in particular at ~45 degrees for several hundred vertical feet with rock solid glass-like ice that deflected the sharp end of our ice axes like it was Kevlar.

Next was about 20 minutes of rock climbing (always interesting while wearing crampons) and then into the penitentes. 

Around 6:00am and nearing 21,000 feet the dark began to turn to dawn and the climb became much easier (notwithstanding the thin air at this altitude of course!) But there were no more technical obstacles to overcome, just a steady climb, albeit with significantly labored breathing considering the last time we were at this altitude was on Everest four years ago.

The sun finally began showing its rays and cast an amazing pyramid-shaped shadow of Nevado Sajama across the valley below and projecting the image adjacent to the neighboring volcano Parinacota straddling the Chilean border. 

By 8:40am, just over six hours after leaving High Camp, we were relieved that the winds did not stop us, and we were able to reach our goal! We stood atop the highest mountain in Bolivia at 21,463 feet, and proudly raised the Challenged Athletes Foundation letters in honor of our mission. 

The rounded top and large flat area was unlike any other summit we had experienced. An interesting first-ever event took place here in August of 2001, and given the Argentina vs Germany World Cup Finals taking place today, we figured it was worth mentioning. A football (soccer) match as actually played here on the summit by two teams of Sajama villagers and Bolivian mountain guides in an effort to protest against the FIFA decision to discontinue the use of La Paz as a location to hold international football matches because of its high elevation. Adios, for now, time to watch FOOTBALL!!

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