Tahoe/Chamonix resident Dave Rosenbarger recently returned from what sounds like an epic ski mountaineering expedition to Bolivia. Check out is partner Giulia Monego’s blog athttp://giuliamonego.com/ or keep on reading below for the third of 4 reports from their trip. Photo’s courtesy of Christian Pondella.
One of the main objective of this trip, beside the having fun and spend a good time climbing mountains with friends, was to ski some steep lines, one of which was the Huayna Potosi S/E face.
This beautiful mountain is visible from the outskirt of La Paz and is a very popular climb for tourists that want to be guided up some significant Bolivian mountain. Its west ridge in fact is a simple hike up the glaciated mountain and doesn’t require much climbing experience. A lot of “adventure travel companies” use guides to bring people up in 2/3 days from la Paz, and beside those tourists, there aren’t many other independent climbers going up on their own like us. We arte a even greater exception since we climb up with skis and boots on our backpacks! On Wednesday morning we got randomly picked up by the same taxi (between millions!)we had our second day in La Paz, and he drove us up to the Zongo pass, where the trail starts. From there to the higher hut, at the base of the glacier there are more or less 400 vertical meters to climb and it doesn’t take very long. The elevation for us wasn’t a problem anymore since we can consider ourselves acclimatized, but the heavy packs slowed us down quite a bit. Dave suffered a little “chest infection” and I still had my wound on my left ankle, we didn’t look like the best champions team up there! But between all the random tourist sitting confused in the hut, we looked like we knew what we were doing, at least! The next morning all the climbing parties left the hut between 1 and 2 in the AM!!! So we overslept few more ours in the quietest hut ever! and left for our different route at 5AM. The sun rises around 6:30, so we planned to have early light for the last part of the approach to the face, where we would have left the beaten track and had to navigate through the crevasses. The timing was perfect and we arrived at the base of the face with perfect sun/snow conditions.
We climbed the steep face in 1 hour and half more or less, but honestly nobody looked at the watch! When we approached the knife-sharp summit ridge I knew we close to 6000m but we realized that the peak we had just on our right it wasn’t the Huayna Potosi main peak 6088m, but it was the south summit, few meters lower. To be able to claim the real summit we would have to go down a steep section in order to reach the main col between the summits and then climb the higher summit. All this would have to be done twice, since we wanted to ski from where we were standing, on the ridge. It would have been possible if we would have more time, but as we were getting ready on the top, the clouds were fast coming in from the west, covering already part of the bottom part of the glacier. A summit is always a summit, but the claim of Huayna Potosi it wasn’t our main goal. We were there to ski the French Direct route on the S/E face that we just climbed and we didn’t want the clouds to ruin our dream. In a silent preparation we got ready, skis on the feet and poles in our hands, ready to drop in. Christian stood at the top to shoot the first turns, Dave went in first. The snow looked allright and the impressive face beneath us suddenly looked less intimidating with somebody skiing in it.
I went in second, from more skiers-left. I couldn’t really trust the snow for the first few meters, so I traversed a short section to have a better feeling under my cold feet. Then it was ok, I found my sweet spot, I did my first turn! I find always pretty hard to commit to the first turn. It has to be done in the right spot, and it’s usually the most difficult moment of all the descent. Here in the S/E face it was also the steeper section, so it required maximum concentration. No mistakes are allowed. I wanted to make sure I was at 100% , so I didn’t stress myself and only when I felt it, I turned and controlled my speed. After that moment, it was pure pleasure!
We shoot and ski the face together taking turns on who was going first, and where. The snow was pretty consistent the whole way down, not icy and giving a good grip on the edges the all time. Some spots were even deep of crumbling flakes of refrozen old snow. A good feeling under the skis! At the bottom, we were stocked! We finally got our descent, and it was pretty much perfect for the Bolivian snow standards!
Without wasting time we skied out left of the face, in the clouds that now had just came in, to reach the easier and safer terrain where the main track goes up and down the west ridge. Once reached that we could say we had safely skied the Huayna Potosi face! WOW.
Hiking back to the taxi I took a slow pace and put my legs in auto-mode to be able to free my mind to the millions of thoughts that come to my head when I spend some great days in the mountains. I love to take some time alone to really capture all the emotions that comes through my body and mind, and have a bigger picture of I was actually doing there. It’s true that in the mountains it’s safer and nicer to share the adventures with partners and friends, but in a strange way, I love also to feel myself alone up there, and have time to dig into my mind and bring out some deep meaning in my life. In those moments, off course, some of my thoughts goes to the people I loved and the friends I lost, that I missed so much in this last year. I dedicate this descent to them, because I know how much they would have loved it. We are still ripping here!!!! Giulia