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Great Peaks of Bolivia

Great Peaks of Bolivia Overview

The Cordillera Real (Royal Range), is Bolivia’s foremost climbing region, with eight peaks rising above 6,000 m. The goal of our 15-day expedition is an ascent of Huayna Potosi (19,974 ft/6,088 m) and Pequeño Alpamayo (17,618 ft/5,370m), which stand in bold relief above the altiplano (high plateau). The panoramic views from their summits are exquisite and their dramatic peaks are considered by many to be the most stunning mountains in the Cordillera Real.

Bolivia, in the heart of South America, is the most Indian of the Andean countries; about 50 percent of its inhabitants are descendants of the Aymara and Quechua cultures. It is still an unspoiled country and its natural beauty and abundance of mountains, most of them easily accessible, is overwhelming.

The first day of the expedition is spent in La Paz, the world’s highest capital city, which sits at 12,008 ft/3,660m in a spectacular setting. As we acclimatize, we’ll enjoy the day shopping at the famous Witches’ Market. On our way to Lake Titicaca the next day, we will explore the great ceremonial center of Tiwanaku, a UNESCO world heritage site and Bolivia’s most important archaeological site. Finally we reach Lake Titicaca, one of the highest navigable lakes in the world and the second-largest lake in South America. We spend the night at the bright town of Copacabana and visit the Island of the Sun (Isla del Sol) the next day. We combine our acclimatization hike from the northern to the southern end of the island with a visit to some interesting Inca ruins.

Upon leaving Lake Titicaca, we begin our expedition to three beautiful mountains. These easy-to-moderately difficult ascents constitute an ideal trip for Mountaineering School graduates and experienced climbers alike. We will warm up on the pyramidal Pico Austria (16,400 ft/5000m), which offers us a marvelous view of the Condoriri Group.

After having completed a basic skills review and practiced some ice climbing, we proceed to the impressive and beautiful Pequeño Alpamayo (17,618 ft/5,370m. The steep fluted faces and knife-edge ridges of this pyramid-shaped peak allow us to enjoy unique and spectacular climbing.

Our final objective is Huayna Potosi (19,974 ft/6,088m), Bolivia’s most popular major peak because of its imposing beauty. With moderately steep terrain of snow and ice and wonderful exposure from the narrow airy summit (looking over the 3,000 ft. west face), it is a memorable and challenging climb for even the most seasoned alpinist.

“The expedition was great. Very well organized. I would highly recommend this climb to anyone wanting to gain experience and take the next step to climbing over 6000 meters. Jose Luis is absolutely the best. This was my second climb with him. Just a great person with the heart of a teacher and a true class act. The support guides were also very good. Eduardo was great. Jose Luis is a great leader with immense knowledge. He is always in control and exudes and quiet confidence that lets you know that he makes the final and best decisions regarding the climb. Jose Luis is the consummate climbers guide. Well respected by everyone, very easy going, always in control, and shares his knowledge and skills with anyone wanting to take it to heart. He is just a pleasure to climb with. The strength was the acclimatization schedule and the sightseeing prior to the climb. The archaeological areas were a great way to gain knowledge of Bolivia’s history and people. I did not think there was a weakness to this trip in my opinion. It was very well done.”

Land and People of Tiwanaku

The ancient land of Tiwanaku, located just south of Lake Titicaca (12,500′), was the center of Bolivia’s most important pre-Colombian civilization. Fifty percent of Bolivia’s descendants are of Amyara and Quecha (pre-Colombian) cultures. You will often hear Aymara and Quecha city residents referred to as “cholos.” Today, the Aymara, descendants of the Tiwanaku, raise alpaca and llama while living off potatoes, barley and quinoa, which are grown in the altiplano.

Illimani Extension

Already acclimatized from Huayna Potosi, those interested can remain in this stunning region to attempt Illimani, the 21,125 ft/6,439m giant overlooking La Paz’s southeastern skyline. Illimani is the highest mountain in the Cordillera Real and the second-highest peak in Bolivia. Our climb will consist of two camps, climbing the West Ridge of Pico Sur, the highest peak of the massif. It is a challenging, steep climb that includes a heavily crevassed glacier. The ascent itself is spectacular, as the entire massif spans more than 8 km/5 mi and contains more than five summits over 20,000 feet (6100m)! This wonderful climb will give you the chance to stand over 21,000 feet. See our day-to-day itinerary.

Bolivia Frequently Asked Questions

What is the skill level of this climb?

Climbers should have successfully completed our 6-Day Training course or have equivalent skills and experience. They must have basic knowledge of progression on snow and ice, self arrest, crevasse rescue and glacier travel. Snow and ice slopes to be dealt with are moderate (up to 45-55 degrees for 800 feet on Pequeño Alpamayo and up to 40-50 degrees on Huayna Potosi). Before attempting Pequeño Alpamayo we will review glacier skills on the Pirámide Blanca glacier. For the Illimani Extension, climbers additionally must feel comfortable walking along airy rocky and snowy ridges. The requirements are also based on our desire to have similarly skilled team members.

What is the physical conditioning level needed for this climb?

Climbers must be in very good to excellent physical condition. Summit day can be 10-12 hours long on Huayna Potosi (starting from Campo Argentino camp to the summit and then all the way down to base camp), 12-14 hours long on Illimani (starting from Nido de Condores camp to the summit and then all the way down to base camp).

Any tips on how a climber can maximize their chances of success?

Along with the required crampon skills, review cardio training on the training page of our web site. Our itinerary provides a fair amount of time to acclimatize before attempting Pequeño Alpamayo, Huayna Potosi and Illimani . We strongly recommend following the advice of our guides to acclimatize properly. Try to improve your cramponing skills to comfortably climb hard-snow slopes of up to 40-55 degrees.

Who is the guiding team composed of (How many guides? Climber to guide ratio?)

Your expedition leader will be one of our International Mountain Guides. They will have along as many assistant guides as necessary to ensure a low climber to guide ratio.

What is the best season to climb / which dates will have the most chance for success?

Bolivia has one climbing season: May through September. During May and June the snow conditions are better. June has the best and most stable weather. Some routes can become icy after June making climbing harder and more demanding.

How many climbers are on this expedition?

Generally, our maximum for this climb is 12 climbers plus guides.

Will I be sharing a tent or lodging with other climbers?

Yes, you will be sharing a tent (two climbers per tent) along the expedition. Besides, there will be a couple big tents at base camp for dining and cooking.

How much will my pack weigh?

During the approach to base camps and on summit day climbers carry approximately 20 pounds. Climbers must be prepared to carry 40-50 pounds moving from base camps up to high camps on Huayna Potosi and Illimani .

What gear will I need?

Please review the gear list.

How does your gear rental system work?

Those requesting rental gear must submit an expedition rental form with payment by fax or mail. All rental gear will be mailed to the climber prior to the climb. Climbers are expected to clean all rental gear and return it to us by mail following the expedition.

Any further advice on gear and using your gear list?

We recommend that you get a pair of anti-balling plates for your crampons. These useful devices made of a special type of rubber prevent crampons from balling up in soft snow conditions. There are different types depending on the model of crampons and brand. Please, make sure you get the right ones for the crampons you have.

While all items are required there may be times when some of the items on the gear list may not be used (such as warm weather or changing conditions). The gear lists are created by the guides to assist in having climbers be prepared to summit in any conditions.

While it is impossible for us to list all brands for certain gear, we do offer a wide variety of equipment in our Gear Shop, that has been hand-picked by our staff of mountaineering experts. Please feel free to call our offices with any gear questions or substitutes. Plastic boots are required for this climb.

How is drinking water treated?

There will be bottled water available while staying in our hotel in La Paz and for the one-day-long approaches to the different base camps on this expedition. All water will be boiled while the group is in the mountains. Doing so for several minutes will kill anything that can live at the altitude the camps are located.

What will the meals on the expedition be like?

Meals in the mountains consist of a diet rich in carbohydrates because our bodies do not process fat and protein efficiently at higher elevations and to compensate the increase in caloric need that high altitude climbing involves. We try to make meals and breakfast varied and as normal as possible. The selection of meals is wide in the restaurants of hotels and haciendas we will stay on this trip.

Can I bring some food from home?

You may bring power bars, Gu, Power Gel, cereal bars or similar high energy foods, powder Gatorade is also recommended to fight dehydration.
All meals will be provided on this expedition.

Are there any innoculation requirements?

Yes, currently a yellow fever vaccination is required for entry. (CDC webiste on Boliva please see above website for up to date travel health info and recommendations).

What is the best air route to my destination?

Most routes from the States to La Paz are via Miami . Most climbers arrive on the American Airlines flight. LACSA also known as TACA is another option. It flies to La Paz with a connection in Lima-Peru. Climbers that arrive early or depart late will incur in an additional airport pick up fee.

When should I book my flight? Do I need to use your Travel Agent?

Fares are generally less expensive when booked early. You may use our Travel Agent (Charles Mulvehill 1-800-727-2157) or book flights yourself. Please note that flights booked online are often difficult to change. Please send us a copy of your flight schedule as early as possible as this allows us to book pick ups and hotels.

Will I have to pay any airport tax at my arrival or departure?

You will have to pay an international exit tax from La Paz airport of $20.00 U.S. Dollars or its equivalent in Bolivianos (the Bolivian currency).

What time should I arrive and leave and where do I meet the guides?

Your guide or an Alpine Ascents representative will meet you at the airport. Look for a large Alpine Ascents sign.

What if I arrive early or depart late? Can you arrange extra night lodging? Is there a single room option for this expedition?

We are happy to make arrangements such as personalized tours, extra hotels rooms, airport pick ups and arrange for private rooms. Please indicate that you would like a private room on your application and we will contact you with information on single room supplement costs (for hotels only).

Are there any entry or Visa requirements?

Yes currently you do need a visa to enter the country, please contact the office or the Bolivian Consulate with questions.

Is there any communication while we are on the mountain?

In La Paz telephones are readily available. Our guides will carry cellular phones in the mountains. The quality of the reception varies from mountain to mountain.

Where can I get more information on history, books, and additional activities in the region?

Check the reading list on the Ecuador page of the web site.

Can I contact the others on the climb? How about the guide?

You can always call our offices and we will have our Bolivia lead guide contact you. 30 days prior to departure, we will mail a list of the other team members to you.

How much should I budget for this expedition? How much cash should I plan to bring?

$500 should easily cover any extra expenses and tips. Most climbers prefer to bring about $1000 and have credit cards.

How much should I tip my guide and staff?

$150 total is the suggested tips for all Ecuadorian guides and you may have some perfunctory tips at hotels and at time of transport. Tipping is not required but a common practice. Climbers may also opt to tip the Lead guide ( $100+ is an average tip)

How do I register for this expedition?

You may call our offices with a credit card or mail/fax an application with a check or credit card number.

What paperwork do I need to send in?

Each climber should submit an application and flight information.

When is the money due for this expedition? What kind of payment do you except?

We accept MasterCard, Visa, American Express, personal checks and Alpine Ascents gift certificates. To reserve a space the deposit is $700.00 and balances are due 120 days prior to departure. Unpaid balances can result in forfeiture of trip.

What is your cancellation policy? What is your refund policy?
What happens if I need to leave the expedition early?

Communication is sometimes difficult in the Bolivian mountains. However our guides and local staff will make the necessary efforts to obtain the necessary transportation and reservations to get you home as quickly as possible if for any reason you need to depart early.

Reading List

This is a highly recommended shortlist and we would be happy to pass on a longer reading list for those interested. These links will bounce to with reviews.

Bolivia : A Climbers Guide
by Yossi Brain, Mountaineers Books
The Ancient Kingdoms of Peru
by Nigel Davies, Penguin USA (paper)

It was well-organized, seamlessly integrated. Best guide I have had on any guided trip.


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