About our Climb holidays

Highlights

  • Climb North Africa's highest peak, Toubkal in winter conditions
  • Stok Kangri - an excellent introduction to Himalayan climbing
  • Stand on top of the world's highest active volcano - Cotopaxi
  • Climb Aconcagua - One of the worlds 7 summits
  • Mount Khuiten - an ascent of the world's most remote peak

KE Adventure Travel has an outstanding collection of climbing holidays that will take you to the world's most spectacular mountain ranges. Our climbing trips usually involve the ascent of snow-covered peaks where climbing ropes, ice axes and other items of mountaineering equipment may be used. Our range comprises of big peaks in the Himalayas, like Mera Peak, Aconcagua - the highest peak in the Southern Hemisphere and Mount Khuiten rising above the Mongolian Steppe. There are also unusual peaks such as the volcanoes of Ecuador, Guatemala or Iceland as well as a number of Alpine classics, including Mont Blanc.

Each of our climbing holidays provides you with something unique, and all benefit from absolutely stunning views across the natural wonders of the world. As you look down from above the cloud line you can't help but be awed by the magnificence, scale and scope before you. When your holiday is over, you'll have achieved something amazing and leave with memories that will last you a lifetime.

Our climbing holidays can involve multi-day approaches on foot to a basecamp below the objective mountain. On this stage of the trip (which is effectively trekking) there will usually be the support of a trek crew to carry personal belongings, along with any tents, group climbing equipment, food and cooking equipment. The climbing is generally above the snow-line and can be at high altitude. Most of our climbing holidays have an experienced Western leader and in the case of our Alpine trips, the leader is always IFMGA qualified. None of our climbing trips requires more than a single mountaineering ice-axe, together with crampons and a climbing harness. Ropes may be used to safeguard steep or exposed sections or crevassed sections of the route. With long days, high altitudes, glacier camping and the possibility of encountering poor weather, these trips can be challenging. It is important that you read and understand our grading system and also refer to the specific trip notes for more detailed information. It is essential that you are fit and experienced enough for the trip that you have chosen before booking.

Latest Climb traveller reviews

View more
On the summit of Mera Peak
Mera Peak   John (Hawick)

This was simply one of the greatest experiences of my "mountaineering" life. From the moment I realised our leader was "THE" Sherpa Pemba I realised we were heading for something very special. To spend 3 weeks
Read more
in this environment with such a unique individual is something I will never forget. Another bonus was the new route for this expedition. I cannot recommend this highly enough. The first week was magnificent with almost total seclusion on amazing trails through lush flower strewn forest leading to wonderful quirky lodges. I am sure this trail also greatly aided acclimatisation. The mountain experience has been well documented previously. Summit day is a considerable undertaking and the times suggested in the brochure are I think unrealistic so be prepared for a 16 hour day. That being said this was a day to end all days and the sunrise over the Himalayan chain including Everest and Makalu will be with me for ever. I simply loved this trip....exemplary leadership, close knit well bonded small group, stunning environment and lots of laughs. One piece of advice...well worth considering taking a supply of multi vitamins and electrolytic tablets for drinking water...there is essentially no fruit or veg for 2.5 weeks. Never thought I would see the day when I craved a tomato salad rather than a glass of red wine!!
Read less

ACO - Aconcagua Climb
Aconcagua Climb   Pawel (LONDON)

First of all from the administration side the trip was as other KE trips we did - great. Sometimes things were late or on 'Argentinian' time, which is expected, especially in South America, but... ... climbing
Read more
a whimsical mountain, such as Aconcagua, requires more than good organization and blindly following the plan: it also requires a good group and committed guides - guides who make the best to help us realize our dream and I'm sorry to say, we were let down in this respect. If you are fit and lucky i.e. the weather window overlap with the trip plan, you will make it, but we were challenged by the weather - we spent a few days in Plaza de Mulas in perfect weather, we did an acclimatization walk and passed medical examinations when we found out that according to the weather forecast in 4 days time the weather changes. What do you do? According to the guides: you follow the plan, as 'the weather forecast might be wrong', so... they were completely ignored. And the weather did change and we didn't even have a shot at the summit... Another area where our guides let us know is safety. Due to weather conditions we had to come down from camp II - at this point three people were feeling bad - and we were going down with just one guide who had serious problem with eyesight - we made it helping each other. Other hints: * Think ahead about breakfasts, as above Plaza de Mulas the choice is very poor - most people had just a few biscuits for breakfast... * Take some money for porters. We didn't fancy carrying 4kg of food each, so we sent it straight to camp II. * Do not take GBP!
Read less

WBO - Bernese Oberland Haute Route
Bernese Oberland Haute Route - West   Peter (GUILDFORD)

Six days, six peaks. A hike across the Western Bernese Oberland Haute Route, Switzerland. The train journey Geneva to Aigle was straightforward enough but how to get to the small halt that was Plan
Read more
Morier? However, having met Howard and Cliff at Aigle station, identifiable to each other by our bright red KE kit bags, we worked out the dilemma together. Listening to their trekking tales, I knew our trip across the Bernese Oberland was going to be extraordinary. As the team assembled at the Mon Séjour Guesthouse I realised I’d brought the wrong boots, but our guide Kathy solved the problem by plucking a pair of crampons that would fit from her big bag of spare kit for wallies. The pizza was exceptional and most of us enjoyed our first and last shower of the week. Under Kathy’s keen eye, we edited down our kit to portable proportions, and saw for the first time Simon’s dark blue underpants as he packed and re-packed his bag. From the top cable car station on the Sex Rouge (2,940m) we embarked on our first test on the glacier, which we failed spectacularly, tumbling down a snow slope in disarray, with Simon and Kathy anchoring the rope at the top and me, nearly dragged over trying to photograph the mostly prone trekkers below. But with Kathy’s instruction, we mastered a safe and steady routine and were soon abreast our first summit, Diablerets at 3,209m, gaping at the expansive view of the Matterhorn all the way round to Mont Blanc. Our world contracted however when we saw the sleeping accommodation at the Cabane de Prarochet, where we would lie shoulder-to-shoulder on a large shelf. But as mountain huts go it wasn’t bad, and copious amounts of soup, cooked ham, rice and courgettes made up for first impressions, until we discovered the price of a bottle of water at 11 Euros. The second summit was Arpelistock at 3,035m, reached by plodding slowly up a steep and slippery shale ridge, eating our sandwiches at the top as the reward. What was more difficult was the rocky and long descent into the Furggetali Valley, made bearable by the beautiful waterfalls and, once in sight, the inviting red umbrellas of the Gelten Hut. Cold beer and hot water, in that order. Simon and I sunbathed feet up in deckchairs on the terrace, the only minor disturbance to this alpine paradise being an enthusiastic Swiss builder, pipe in mouth, digging foundations for an extension by driving a mechanical jump hammer. ‘Poles away, ice axes out, harness and crampons on,’ Kathy announced as we reached the edge of the Gelten Glacier after a long climb back up the valley to a point above the large waterfall. Roped up in a single line, we set off at an unrelenting pace up and across the deeply rippled surface of the ice. It was an effort to maintain our footing as well as keep the rope between us at the right tension; not so loose that we trod on it but not so tight that we dragged each other along. As the slope steepened, Kathy cut steps with her axe and we made our way up to a rocky ridge and eventually onto the exposed summit of Geltenhorn at 3,065m. While we huddled together for safety, Kathy nimbly pirouetted on the narrow ridge, photographing us, ignoring the steep drops on both sides. It was a long way across the glacier past the Col du Brochet and then a further descent of a rock-strewn slope into the Grand Gouilles Valley. Contemplating Kathy’s suggestion to call in a second guide to help us with the following day’s challenge, Sarah centred in on the key criterion; ‘Will he be good looking?’ Such frivolity was soon forgotten though as we zig-zagged our way slowly up the steep mountainside to the Col des Audannes. Sapped by the climb we arrived at the fixed (a relative term) ropes and ladders. When you think ‘Swiss’, what comes to mind are precision watches, efficient knifes, and trains that run exactly to time. So to clamber up a frayed rope (all of us heaving on it with Judith swinging like a pendulum at the end), then traverse a cliff face gripping wire that was definitely not firmly fixed to the rock was a scary surprise. After a series of ladders, the col behind us, it was long hike over the honey-brown dolomites, Judith explaining the complex geology on the way, to the shiny new Cabane des Audannes. The sleeping accommodation here was arranged as cosy compartments, which were peacefully quiet once Kathy had traumatised the children next door to silence. The carnivores amongst us enjoyed the big chunks of meat for dinner, whilst Judith had to make do with an egg on a pile of palanta, and four bowls of soup. 5am. It was tense at breakfast as we contemplated the big day ahead, at the same time trying to digest bread and jam, and drink copious amounts of tea when all you really wanted to do was go back to sleep. Hard work followed: a steep ascent to the Col des Eaux Froides (2,640m). An hour of scrambling across limestone slabs like giant paving stones. The steady plod up the glacier, Kathy maintaining the same pace whatever the gradient. This was all quite taxing but what really pushed up the heart rate was the traverse across the rocky ridge to the Wildhorn summit at 3,247m. The reward was the most amazing panorama – we just sat for a few moments to take it in, munching on Simon’s elderflower flavoured chocolate. ‘We’ll go down a different way,’ Kathy said, pointing along the ridge. Simon and I exchanged worried glances, unable to see any descent that looked humanly possible in that direction. Heart rate up again. But Kathy expertly guided our descent, anchoring the rope at the top, and we were soon stomping through the ‘Valley of the Rocks’, across snow patches and a boulder-strewn landscape. At the foot of the valley was Lake Tenchet, where Simon’s dark blue underpants reappeared as he led a swimming party in the glacial waters. Unsurprisingly, it was insanely cold but oddly invigorating, or perhaps that was just the effect of the underpants. After a pleasant hike along the Plan des Roses valley, the big day ended with a big ascent; a 400m climb up to the Wildstrubel Hut, tantalisingly perched on a promontory just below the secret but blindingly obvious Swiss Army camp. Simon charged up the final, steepest section in a record 26 minutes. Nick, with his long stride and strong pedal-pushing legs, wasn’t far behind. But most memorable was the strong finish by Howard, drawn almost to sprint the last few metres by a half litre of cold beer. We cleaned out the hut of cake so that they had to bake more. Then Sarah cleaned us out playing cards. That night on the 4 up/4 down shelf-beds, no one cared about the not-quite synchronised snoring; totally knackered, everyone slept deeply. Distances on the Glacier de la Plaine Morte (Plain of Death) are deceptive and it took over an hour at a constant pace to cross the vast 4km expanse of ice. At times it literally felt like ‘walking on thin ice’. As Nick and I conversed about cycling tours, I fell knee deep into a crevasse, for once glad I was safely clipped onto the rope. It was the first but not the last time I fell that day. Two summits followed: a steep climb up to the Wildstrubel at 3,242m, where Simon and I staged a video shoot, followed by a stomp down, across and up the Wildstrubel Glacier (which turned out to be more difficult than it looked) to the Mittlerer Gipfel, also at 3,242m. This, our sixth and last summit, was made memorable by a half-naked German appearing in all our team photos. Descending the far side of the Wildstrubel Glacier was at the same time exhilarating and frightening, with Judith bravely picking out the way, closely followed by Clive whose confident tread showed us he’d done this before. When we reached the moraine, I summersaulted out of sheer joy – in reality, I’d lost my footing and rolled to avoid spraining an ankle, Howard mistaking it for an SAS manoeuvre – if only! The red shutters of the Lammeren Hut were a much needed psychological boost that helped us finish the journey. Simon and I swam in the snow-encrusted lake and had to don fleeces and woolly hats to warm up again afterwards. Howard apparently spotted a marmot popping out of its hole playing a flute, but he had been drinking beers since we’d arrived. Double helpings of potatoes for dinner completed a perfect day. Without any summits left to conquer, the last day’s challenge as we descended from the mountain heights became one of eating: apricot tart at Schwarenbach, ice cream at Sunnbüel, and rösti (roast potatoes and bacon) in pretty Kandersteg, with the promise of more at dinner to replenish all those calories burnt on the way. And to enjoy the friendships forged as we slogged and sweated together crossing the glaciers and climbing the peaks of the Swiss Oberland. Peter Curran. July, 2013
Read less

A steep ascent
Bolivia Climber   Peter (GUILDFORD)

PEQUEÑO ALPAMAYO AND BEYOND Trekking and climbing in Bolivia´s high Cordillera Real Copacabana on Lake Titicaca By the shore of Lake Titicaca, we questioned KE´s terminology of the trekking and climbing
Read more
ordeal we were about to put ourselves through as a ´holiday`; Gordon, a Scot from Fife, suggested that adventure-sadism might be a more accurate description. Pedro, an economist from Madrid had trekked Peru and the Pyrenees; Gavin and Ellen had hiked in the Alps and India; George from the Lake District had summited Mt Tukbul in Morocco; Andrew from Winchester had trekked in Bhutan and Madagascar; and Stuart had already climbed several Bolivian peaks. Most of us had trekked or climbed in the Himalayas. Yet here we were again, ready for more, able somehow to deselect from the memory bank those painful hours of physical and mental exertion and only recall the few moments of glory on the top. But those first few days did feel like a holiday, since from La Paz we went straight to Lake Titicaca for some acclimatisation hikes, it being at an oxygen-sapping 3,800m. We took the boat to the enchanting Isla del Sol, where we stayed in delightful round-houses, hiked across the island to visit the Palacio del Inca (a labyrinth), an Inca sacrificial site (the Mesa Ceremónica – Ceremonial Table), and the Titi Khar’ka (the rock of the Puma – you needed a good imagination to pick out). We climbed the Inca steps (Escalera del Inca) and tasted the fresh spring water from the Fuente del Inca at its top, then at Pilko Kaina by some other Inca ruins, enjoyed a fried trout lunch. Back in Copacabana, we were spoilt in the Rosario Hotel´s lake-view rooms and frequented Café London for good coffee. Copacabana is a picturesque lakeside town filled with a strange mix of people: Bolivian holiday makers, Peruvian pilgrims (the border is close and there´s an important cathedral and shrine in the town), money-less backpackers, hairy hippies selling trinkets and strumming guitars, and grizzled trekkers like us. We managed to climb three tops at around 4,000m (which sounds impressive but actually they were not far up from the lake) including Cerra Calvario (Calvary Hill) with its 14 stations of the cross, and Niño Calvario (Little Calvary) with its strangely deformed rock formations and the Horca del Inca, an ancient rock gateway that served as an astronomical observatory. Particular highlights were eating llama steak (really tender meat somewhere between beef and lamb), visiting the Kon-Tiki museum and meeting one of the Bolivians who helped Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl build the reed boats, and for some of the team, having a swim (well, quick dip) in the cold lake just to say they´d done it. The road to Pequeño Alpamaya From the attractive rooms and clean sheets of a pleasant hotel, it was into the mountains to the dusty discomfort of tents, warm during the day but freezing once the sun had set. We started at Khotia Lake (4,420m) and trekked for three days amidst the amazing scenery of the Cordillera Real, a huge mountain range with multiple peaks above 5,000 and 6,000m. As llamas, alpacas and sheep grazed on the grassy slopes, we made our way over a pass at 4,780m, found an old tin mine shaft (a sole miner with a pick axe over his shoulder waved ‘Buenos días’) and stayed at a partly constructed refugio (mountain hut) on Ajwani Lake, where we slept on the floor in empty rooms, although the electricity (powered by hydro from a nearby stream) did come on in the evening. Our first real ascent was to a so-called viewpoint near Milluni Peak, but to my mind it was our first summit – you had to climb hard to get on top of it, and it was over 4,900m (almost as high as Mount Kenya), so to all intents and purposes, a peak, named by me ´Pico La Vista´. We crossed the Janchallani Pass (4,943m) and then Gordon led us in a charge down a 200m scree slope that took us to Jurikhota Lake, where we camped outside the refugio. The views across the water towards Conderiri were picture perfect. It was a steady climb up towards the Apacheta Pass at 5,150m, with some scrambling on the way. Another peak beckoned, that of Apacheta (also called Pico Austria) above the pass at 5,324m. Not yet fully acclimatised at this altitude, it was a breathless plod as Ellen led us up onto the rocky summit that yielded splendid views of the Condoriri peaks and much of the Cordillera Real, including one of our targets, Huayna Potosi. We took lunch down from the pass (out of the wind) in a clearing with some standing stones reminiscent of the sacrificial site we´d seen on Isla del Sol. A campsite by Chairkhota Lake would be home for the next three nights, and our base for the attempt on Pequeño Alpamayo. ´Where´s Pedro?´ Ellen asked. It was past 3.30am and we were breakfasted and ready in our warm clothes, harnesses and mountain boots. Pedro soon appeared, having expected to be roused with Ricardo´s wake-up tea; not that morning, not the day we would climb Pequeño Alpamayo. The atmosphere was tense, part excitement as we were about to climb one of the three big peaks of the trip, part worry about the task: the effort it would involve, the technical challenges, the cold. We set off in the dark, the way lit by bobbing head torches. The glacier seemed to have retreated further since our training session on it the day before. On arrival at the glacier´s toe, we strapped on our crampons, and Gavin and I checked each other’s kit. Roped together in threes and fours, we set off. I´d been dreading the first part, a steep section up and across rugged ´penitentes´, wind-blown ice structures like sharp frozen waves that are awkward to clamber over. But this soon done we moved on to a smoother glacial surface and with two hours of puffing, arrived at the pass. Whilst most of us were now acclimatising reasonably well, it´s different once you are on snow and ice because you are wearing more layers of clothing to keep warm, and have the added weight of mountain boots and crampons, harness and climbing attachments, and ice axe. Stuart, having shown us his skills on the glacier the day before, was still suffering from nausea and headaches, and decided to return to camp (he later returned La Paz, and then reduced his altitude significantly by touring Bolivia’s Amazon rain forest instead). We continued up the snow dome to the first peak of the day, Tarija at 5,360m. There was a narrow exposed ridge onto the peak itself that I stepped gingerly up and across, then worried for the rest of the morning about having to descend it later. Our lead guide, Juan asked each person in turn how they were feeling to decide who would go on to attempt Pequeño Alpamayo (5,435m), now in full view from where we sat guzzling water and eating snacks. Ellen and George, tired and cold, decided to make Tarija their summit for the day. I´d glanced across at Pequeño, with its impossibly steep snow slopes and exposed ridges and wondered how I´d get up there, but when Juan said, ´And you, Peter?´ I responded, ´I´m good´, then ate a KitKat to avoid looking at the next challenge. The first part of this particular challenge was to descend 130m of Tarija´s rocky north face to the saddle in between the two peaks, in crampons. I was just glad Juan and Andrew were above me anchoring the rope as I slid and scraped and scrambled my way down. The good news was that there was enough hard snow to step our way up the steep face of Pequeño (when it´s all ice it´s a matter of putting in ice screws, fixing ropes, and toe-pointing with your crampons and ice axe up each section, as we´d practised on the glacier – it´s exhausting). The bad news was that the ascent was at 40 degrees, steepening to 50 degrees in places. It was gut-busting work, all the while trying not to look down the exposed slope to the right. On finally arriving at the summit, Andrew said, ´That´s the most difficult thing I´ve ever done.´ I said, ´It was tough,´ too breathless to comment further. We joined the others to eat sandwiches, take photos, and celebrate our success. The journey down aided by gravity was easier, except having to climb back up to the top of Tarija and then negotiate the narrow ridge, but all went well and we were soon stepping off the glacier and making our way back to the campsite, tired by happy. I said, ´It´s surprising what you can put your body through in a morning.´ (It was not yet one o´clock). Gordon responded, ´I may go for a wee walk around the lake this afternoon.´ But that day he didn´t. We devoured lunch (prepared by Nemesio, who amazingly had provided us breakfast, accompanied us to the glacier, returned to camp with Stuart, caught us up, and climbed both peaks) then sorted kit, washed socks and slept. At dinner, after first helpings Ricardo asked George, ´Do you want some more?´ which by this stage of the expedition was a completely rhetorical question. Ricardo then went on to skillfully deliver the next installment of Bolivia´s turbulent and tortuous political history. My guide book (published in 2007) said there had been 192 governments since independence in 1825 (that´s more than one a year). The Presidential Palace is called the ´Burned Palace´ (Palacio Quemado) because it was fired in 1875, and at least two presidents have been strung up outside it in Plaza Murillo (were independence champion Murillo himself was also hanged). So being President is not a role to aspire to if you want job security or the enjoyment of old age. But despite Bolivia´s political woes, its deep regret over losing its access to the sea during a war with Chile, and the loss of other territory due to the predatory actions of surrounding states, it is a country with amazing natural resources and lots of opportunities. With people like Juan and Ricardo using their skills and unleashing the potential of others, it can have a bright future. The next morning Ricardo made his usual round with the wake-up tea. Pedro asked, ´Quando es el desayuno?’ (‘When´s breakfast?’). ´7.30´ answered Ricardo. Pedro looked at his watch; ´But it´s 7.27 now,´ he said. ´Well 7.30 ish,´ Ricardo responded. We breakfasted at 8.30, in keeping with Bolivian flexible time. Huayna Potosi or bust Following the euphoria of conquering Pequeño Alpamayo, it was straight on to the base camp for Huayna Potosi, an imposing 6,088m peak only 17km from La Paz. Seeing it up close was somewhat daunting and I wondered whether I had the legs for it. Here we stayed in refugios at the base camp (4,800m) and then at the high camp (5,270m). At base camp, we shared the warm attic room with another group, laying our sleeping bags on top of mattresses on the floor. The main danger was having to navigate the steep steps that emerged from a hole in the floor and trying not to bang your head on a low beam just above them. The following day it was a steep couple of hours of ascent on rock to the high camp, hauling ourselves up on fixed ropes across one section. The refugio there had a transparent plastic roof and went from sauna when the sun was out to freezer when it set, so that night we had to wrap up warm in the bunk beds. But sleep didn’t last long since wake up time was 1.30am and, breakfast over and kitted up, we were on the glacier by 3.15am. Five of us set off (Gavin had succumbed to a fever and stayed at base camp and Ellen had returned to join him). The route comprised some gently sloping, well-trod paths, several very steep sections, an icy wall (the foot of a crevasse, where with the help of a fixed rope and ice axe we heaved our way up), and a ridge onto the summit. At around 5,800m George, suffering from breathlessness and lightheadedness, decided to descend with guide Pango. The lights of El Alto and La Paz twinkled far below. It was very cold so the burgeoning sunrise at around 6am, spreading its blue-orange warmth was welcome, as was our first view of the top, now just a steep zig and then zag away – despite the strenuousness of the climb, I now knew we would make it. Earlier climbers were descending, making way for us as we plodded slowly but steadily, guide Uve in the lead, nearer the goal. There were breathtaking drops down both sides of a short ridge leading to the summit. Gordon and Pedro had arrived at the top 15 minutes earlier with guide Iri. Andrew and I stood with them for a team photo, all of us trying not stumble off the edge, and suddenly all the hard work on the way up seemed worth it as we gawped at the amazing views of the Cordillera and wallowed just for a few moments in our achievement. On the way down we avoided the icy wall by detouring over a long whale-back ridge with a steep drop down one side and were back at high camp by 9.30am, tired, hungry and dehydrated. But it´s surprising what hot tea and a bite of lunch can do and we were soon striding down to base camp, knowing that a well-earned day off with clean sheets and a shower awaited us in La Paz. Illimani and the battle against the elements While Gavin and Ellen returned to Huayna Potosi, four of us (Pedro, Gordon, Andrew and I) set off for Illimani. The road to the village of Pinaya (where the road stops) was like a theme park ride of ups and downs and sheer drops except instead of three minutes it lasted for three hours. In our 4x4 we descended into valleys and rose over passes, crossed rivers and negotiated multiple switch-backs, and of course the Bolivians don’t believe in crash barriers so you live on the edge, quite literally. Panaya reminded me of the place that Paul Newman and Robert Redford turned up in the film ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’: nearly deserted except for a few pigs and a tame lamb, a football pitch that someone had built a house in the middle of, poor looking adobe brick cottages with straw roofs, and a tiny crumbling church with a single bell. However, its people were friendly and, as we were to find out, strong and resilient - a family of porters (father, wife, son and daughter) carried our kit up and down the mountain in wellington boots (the men) and open-toed sandals (the women). It took a couple of hours to hike up to the base camp at 4,500m, where the loo was a hole in the ground surrounded on three sides by waist-high walls made of peat turfs. The weather was good as the next day we moved up the mountain, following a rocky ridge higher and higher for five hours to high camp at 5, 500m. The views of the heavily glaciated mountain were stunning and the route up to the summit (1,000m higher) clear but scary (steep and exposed), made worse by the warning collection of crosses at the foot of the glacier. But the four of us were in good physical shape and cautiously optimistic about the forthcoming climb, albeit a little concerned about the technical challenges. The sun went down and we huddled in our tents, ready for the 2.30am start. But then everything changed. The wind battered the tents for hours so we didn´t sleep (30km/hr where we were which meant probably 60km/hr on the summit). It began to snow. By 1.30am the guides informed us the weather was too bad to go up. At 4.30am there was the slim hope of ascent as the wind had dropped, so we donned our gear. But by 6.30am, as the wind and snow intensified, we crowded into the mess tent to hear Uve’s decision that it was too dangerous. So the dream of summiting Illimani was over. But we still had to get down. The weather was now so bad that we could no longer see far up or down the mountain. The snow had made the ridge we´d climbed the previous day treacherous so that what should have taken us two hours to descend took five hours, in one place the guides having to fix ropes for us to abseil down because it was too steep and slippery to climb. Eventually reaching the village we set up camp intending leave early the next morning. But the snow had followed us. Our 4x4 from La Paz couldn´t make it through due the slippery, snow-mud on the road and a landslide on route. So we took a local Toyota van/taxi with poor steering without 4 wheel drive and set off on another route to rendezvous with our own vehicles at the village of Tawapalka. The van was fully loaded inside and on top with all our gear and tents plus 11 people. It was an hour and a half of white knuckle ride as the van slid and ground its way up and down mountain roads with 1000m+ drops on one side or the other. I told our cook Nemesio, ´Tengo miedo´ (I´m afraid). He responded with a broad grin, ´No problema.´ We stopped several hundred metres above the village, ostensibly to take photos and stretch our legs, but for us Westerners, it was less a comfort break and more a fear break. Once in the village, we followed the Rio La Paz along its gentle well cultivated valley back to the Rey Palace Hotel in the city, where the staff had become accustomed to the return, like bad pennies, of their dirty, weather-beaten, and unshaven guests seeking some home comforts after yet another mountain experience. Hot showers and good food in La Paz La Paz is nestled within a deep valley at around 3,660m with steep, rocky canyon-like sides, where the deeper you go, the better the housing. The smart main street, El Prado, with its statues, colourful shops, office blocks, restaurants and coffee shops (including our favourite, Café Urbano) stretches from Plaza del Estudante (near our hotel) to the sixteenth century Iglesia San Francisco (church of San Francisco) at its northern end. It’s busy with traffic which makes way for youth bands from churches or schools with their drums, trumpets and bell lyres. Nearby is the Presidential Palace on Plaza Pedro D Murillo (Murillo Square), next to the tomb of one of its early presidents, and the cathedral, all currently heavily guarded by well-padded police due to demonstrating miners. The best views of the city (including mountainous backdrops of Huayna Potosi and Illimani) are on the slick, modern Teleférico (cable car) that links La Paz to El Alto, the city that starts on the top rim of the valley at 4,150m and sprawls across the Altiplano (high plain), and is host to the airport. El Alto is a grim, poor, red brick, place with many of its buildings only half built (to avoid paying tax), punctuated by white church spires built by a German priest. Many areas are not adequately policed, so there are dummies strung up by the neck on lamp posts as a warning to would-be thieves of the local vigilante justice. We photographed the llama fetuses (which are buried under houses for good luck) for sale in the Marcado de Hechicería (Witches’ Market) on Calle Linares, joking about what would happen if you attempted to take one through US immigration and customs in Miami. We had hoped to cycle the Death Road, renown as ‘The world’s most dangerous road’, some 40 miles of winding, downhill only 3m wide with 600m drops, from Coroico, to La Paz. With many vehicles having gone over the edge, it’s now reserved for cyclists, with a route the other side of the valley for vehicles. However, the deterioration in weather meant we visited the quaint and interesting (but less adventurous) museums on the well preserved colonial Calle Jaén instead. The soup, beef and llama steaks were great in the Pronto and Rendezvous restaurants, the latter being the venue for our final team meal, at which Juan and Ricardo were our honoured guests. So was it all worth it? In a word, yes, if you love the mountains and are up for a tough physical and mental challenge in the company of a great team and expert guides. Descending Huayna Potosi, we had passed a fellow climber being helped by a guide whose legs were all but gone – Gordon later said ´He´d given it his all.´ Which just about sums up the spirit of high altitude mountaineering; whatever height we had achieved on the mountain, we had given it our all in the high Cordillera Real of Bolivia. Peter Curran 14th August 2015
Read less