Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Nevado Sajama, 6542m - A sandy and tiring adventure on Bolivia’s highest mountain

Sometimes, very seldom, I ask my self in the middle of an adventure - what am I doing here? Walking up Nevado Sajama, the highest peak in Bolivia, in a sandstorm I once again asked myself that question. 

Nevado Sajama
After two full days and nights on bus from Huaraz via Lima we arrived in La Paz in the evening of the 18th. We where really tired, but according to the forecast we only had a three day weather window on Sajama before a big low pressure system would come in so we figured we had to go for it while we had the chance. 
We stashed our gear in our room at Loki hostel and then jumped in to a cab to go to a supermarket before they would close. We did a quick tour around the market and bought four days worth of food before we continued for dinner. After we had eaten we went back to the hostel to pack together our stuff and to get a couple of hours sleep. Already extremely deprived on sleep from the bus ride we woke up four hours later to catch the early bus towards Chile that would pass by the mountain. 
We slept the whole bus ride and got woken up when we arrived at the, hrmm, spot on the road next to Nevado Sajama. There where nothing there except a few old houses and a dirt road leading towards the mountain. A few old men where sitting in the entrance of one of the houses and I asked them how to get to the village of Sajama. They pointed to a young woman who said she had a taxi. We followed her to her house and would in a few minutes be sitting in her family’s jeep together with her husband on our way to Sajama. 
Arriving in the sleepy village some half hour later we went to pay the park fees, then found a woman to cook us some food and another “taxi” that could drive us closer to base camp. 
In the early afternoon that same day we started walking in from the trailhead to base camp. I have never been this tired in the start of an adventure in my entire life and after about one hour of walking I told Bjarne I couldn’t take it any more, I needed some sleep. So we lied down on the side of the trail and slept for two hours in the sun. The power-nap did good and after just another hour and a half of walking we arrived in base camp at 4800 m. 
It felt crazy to intend to climb a relatively high mountain in this state, but I figured that this dive in to the unknown would be the gift this adventure would bring. It was with curiosity that I went to bed for the first full nights sleep in a while. 
We slept a 14 hour night and had a long breakfast before we left for high camp. In a normal well rested state we would not even have thought about sleeping at high camp at 5700 m, but in our current condition we needed to sway all favors we could in our direction. We also ditched everything we could, including the tent, in base camp to save all the energy we could for the summit bid. 
The walk up from base camp to high camp is a 900 m sand climb that took us about four hours. The wind got stronger and stronger and in the last couple of hundred meters we where practically walking in the midst of a sand storm. We couldn’t keep our eyes open, and we had sand everywhere; in our mouths, ears, eyes, inside our clothes, in our shoes and for every two steps we gained we slided one step back. 
This was probably the most absurd moment I have had on my way up to ski a mountain. And I won’t say I can recommend it really to anyone, there are so many other much more worth while mountains on this planet that are leaving this one shy behind. But on the other hand, it’s pretty cool skiing in the middle of the desert. 
We connected our sleeping bags and had a fairly good nights sleep before we continued upwards four in the morning the next day. After two hundred meters of sand walking we finally reached the snow and a couple of easy rock steps. The snow though was transformed to an ocean of penitentes (see wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penitentes), the infamous south american snow formations, formed like small pyramids makes walking difficult and skiing impossible. 
On 6050 m Bjarne made a new altitude record and had enough and went down. I kept on going towards the summit. 
As always it’s a wonderful feeling arriving at ones goal after hours and days of fears of failure and pain. I took a few pictures and then clicked in to my skis and took of back down. The snow was chalky and easy to ski and for a few moments I forgot all the pain it had taken to get to the top. I found a small ridge that was even but really exposed and all in all got about 450 vertical meters of fun skiing. Still, with about 2400 vertical meters of “climbing” it’s the worst climbing/skiing ratio i have had in my whole life. 
Arriving again in high camp we ate some ramen noodles that Bjarne had prepared before we continued down to BC. The sandy trail that had been hell on the way up was actually pretty easy sliding on the way down. We slept that night in BC before we continued down to the village of Sajama where we got fed and then driven to the hot springs out side of town. 
After a refreshing bath we took a cab to a town close to the border of Chile where we where promised there was a bus to La Paz the same day. But arriving there we found out we where to late. But after half an hour of search we got a ride with a truck driver back to the Bolivian capital. 
It was a good experience to climb a 6000 m peak on low energy, but I’m not looking forward to repeating it. I found my real low point on energy on the walk back and I have been lying in bed resting for two days and two nights, so far. It was good to see how deep the reserve goes and wonderful to get a different kind of ski experience, but now I’m looking forward for some energy and some real skiing. 

Bjarne on his way to La Paz bus station at 4 o'clock in the morning

Early breakfast at the station

Leaving for Sajama village

Nevado Sajama, Bolivias highest mountain, seen from the road

Peluche working the filming

LLamas are as normal here as reindeers back home

Senorita Anna is feeding us in her shack 

Bjarne on the walk in to BC


Dinner time

The scree slopes on the path to high camp

Our bivouac 

Bjarne in the early morning

Shitty skiing huh? Luckily i found a smooth ridge that was good skiing further skiers left

Sajama from a skiers point of view

Walking down to BC

Myself and Bjarne in the famous Sajama hot-springs 

This is where all the old swedish Volvo trucks end up!

Old Volvos and Sajama on the Chilean border

Our ride, of course a Volvo

Bjarne chilling out in the truck! He said daddy Kurt would have loved to see this! 

Our driver Louis

Arriving in La Paz

Myself recovering from the adventure

For more info on Nevado Sajama: 

Our hostel Loki, the n1 hang out spot for backpackers, travelers and adventurers in La Paz:

And like always, check Bjarne's video blog at:

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