This is the second post describing our Condoriri trekking. The first one, about preparations, can be found here. Now, when I am writing this and thinking back to the hike, it appears as one of the highlights of our trip to Bolivia. Fear not, it’s not as complex as it might look like when you think about. And I can guarantee that if you go there, you won’t regret.
Our trekking lasted 4 days. We spent half of the first day on getting to the trailhead. We landed at Laguna Tuni around 1:30 pm. It is an artificial lake at around 4500m asl. This means that we were roughly at the same altitude as the top of Matterhorn and 700m higher than last night. Now, the altitude could be felt easily. With the not-so-light backpacks mounted on our backs we were moving slowly towards the first pass, but the worst was yet to come. Our first waypoint, an unnamed pass, was at 4800m asl (top of Mont Blanc). There was no trail and we were just going up the slope on the grass, following some lamas paths here and there. This was a warm-up day and we really took our time. We reached the pass around 1.5h and had our first picnic at the top. We enjoyed the panorama of Altiplano on one side and a view of Huayna Potosi on the other. The next waypoint was a nearby pass at 4900. By getting there I beat my altitude record, which was Mont Blanc 4810m until then. In the following days I did it again a couple of times. Our last waypoint on the first day was our camp. We planned to sleep at the southern tip of Laguna Khota at 4700m. We found there two or three adobe cottages, but they weren’t nice to sleep at. We put the tent 30m from the lake and were about to start cooking…
And then, out of the sudden, altitude sickness stroke. I had very strong headache, possibly strongest ever, and I had to crash into the tent, without even taking my clothes off. I was exhausted and needed a rest. I didn’t feel like eating anything and I only had a cup of tea (I remember very well its taste, because I “tasted” it twice) (note: we used the water from the lake to cook – we didn’t find other sources of water nearby). Ania didn’t suffer at all. The sun was still above the horizon and she was left alone in our camp. While I was dying in the tent, she had her pasta and enjoyed reading a book on her kindle.
This night I had to wake up a couple of times to pie and vomit…
Protip: If you plan to do the same trekking, make sure to spend at least a couple of days in La Paz or at comparable altitude beforehand.
I was devastated. I hadn’t practically drunk nor eaten anything for the last 24 hours. My head was better, but I couldn’t even think about having the breakfast. I could compare the way I felt to the worst hangover you can imagine. I did my best to eat a couple of spoons of oatmeal Ania prepared. We slowly packed our camp and set off for the Paso Austria (5136m asl – the highest point of on our way) with an option of climbing Pico Austria (5360m asl). With my state, going to the summit was purely theoretical. I had never imagined I would be so slow going uphill.
From our camp we followed a path on the west bank of the lake. In about an hour we made it to a small lake at the foot of a glacier where we had the first stop.
From there we went through a short scrambling section with some delicate moves. At some points it felt quite exposed – with the fatigue and backpacks we had to stay focused all the time. It wasn’t very difficult, but with some rain or snow it might get unpleasant. Orientation was easy, because all the time there were cairns and at least a faint path.
The rest of the ascent was a mild rocky slope. At some point my stomach said “no” and I had to stop for a moment and say “goodbye” to the oatmeal I had 3 hours before. At that point I felt really really bad, but I knew that from the pass it would only get better.
By the time we made it to the saddle we’d already forgotten about Pico Austria. Ania was very tired and I was struggling to make every step. The other side of the pass welcomed us with the view of Laguna Ch’iyar Kota. We followed the path and some 200m below we decided to make a break. Or, I should say, or bodies decided to stop there. We layed on the grass and had a nap. This helped us a little bit and we felt better (not much better, but still). In 2h we were staying at the lake looking for a place to put our tent. In the end we decided to place it behind a stone wall (there are plenty of them to choose from). But before we put the tent we had.. another nap! Yes, we were that tired. On that day we made only 460m of positive denivelation, but it wasn’t the workout that we suffered from. It was the altitude and the pace we gained it at. At some point we woke up at finally placed the tent, inflated our sleeping mats, unpacked the sleeping bags and – guess what – had a nap.
We woke up after sunset and cooked our pasta. This time there were no surprises and I ate it normally. After almost 48h I had my first meal which I managed to digest. This was a good forecast for the days to come.
Tip: for cooking we used the water from the lake. We didn’t see any other source of water in proximity of the camp.
Still being jetlagged, we woke up early. Sun was shining at full blast and there were no clouds at all. Andean blue sky was above us and 5500m peaks were all around. Apart from some lamas and donkeys, we were in this beautiful place absolutely alone! And, finally, I was not suffering! This was amazing. I felt like magically healed.
We cooked our breakfast and slowly started going towards Paso Mirador at an impressive altitude of 5000m asl. First, we walked along the east shore of the lake until we reached some adobe buildings. From there we followed a faint path going uphill towards the pass, which became less and less visible as we were getting higher. On that day we were doing better, much better, and we climbed the pass really quickly.
At the very top we made a break and enjoyed the view of majestic Huayna Potosi. This moment was remarkable – we were sitting at 5100m, looking at Hauyna Potosi, profiting from blazing sun, completely alone and with no signs of altitude sickness nor fatigue.
Still, we had a couple of hours of walk in front of us. We first went down the valley, which was beautiful and deserted. We reached Lago Tuni and pass it by to the left (east). Close to the lake we stopped by and cooked some meals. This was a strategic decision which allowed us to survive this day and get to the camp late in the evening.
The rest of the day was rather monotonic. We decided to follow a gravel road from the lake towards east. Probably it wasn’t the most interesting track we could take, but it was close enough to the one from the description we were following. Plus, we still had more than 10km of walk and we wanted to reach the camp before sunset.
Hint: between Lago Tuni and Campo Maria Lloco we didn’t find any source of drinking water.
The very last part of the day we struggled in a moss-covered swampy terrain. We didn’t know where the camp was and tried to follow our GPS track. This was a mistake. Instead we should follow the gravel road as long as we could and turn towards the camp in the vert last moment. The camp is a group of adobe buildings. We met there two Swedish trekkers and their Bolivian guide. There is a kitchen building and a sleeping building with some mattresses. However, we anyway decided to sleep in our cozy tent with a glorious view towards Huayna Potosi. The camping offered a source of potable water (a pipe inserted into a swamp) and some very basic toilet sheltered from the wind.
When we woke up, our tent and the valley was covered with a thin layer of snow, which just rendered the view from our camp more charming. It was snowing at night, but the snow was gone 3h after the sunrise. We had a lazy morning, since we didn’t feel like being in rush. The view on Huayna Potosi was just stunning. The mountain looked like rising from the end of the very flat valley we were sleeping in.
At some point a local Aymara lady came to collect money for our stay. We had to pay 20 bolivianos for using the facilities. Around 9am, when we were still enjoying out breakfast, the Swedes and their guide were setting off. We saw them slowly climbing the hill and we decided to follow their traces, as they were going in the same direction. Finally after 10am we packed our stuff for the last time and headed towards un unnamed pass at 5090m above sea level. There was no path and the traces left by the group in front of us were very vague. At some the only solution was to follow the GPS track we had. The weather was getting stormy and we had to accelerate – we didn’t want to get caught by the storm. At the pass there was no vegetation whatsoever. It looked like a stone desert and resembled an Icelandic landscape rather than the green valley we stayed at last night.
Our GPS track
We carried a GPS device to record our track. You can download it in .gpx format.
Total distance: 42225 m
Max elevation: 5145 m
Min elevation: 4461 m
Total climbing: 2921 m
Here are the scans of IGM maps we used. They are not great, but you won’t find better maps in Bolivia. We marked our approximate itinerary with a blue line.