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Mountaineering in Bolivia's Cordillera



Jason Spellberg, Planet Fear  |  Редактирана на 19/02/2007


[img:8fe261df46]http://www.planetfear.com/includes/images/uploaded/50200652574649Photo-10.jpg[/img:8fe261df46]


[b:8fe261df46]1: INTRODUCTION[/b:8fe261df46]

One of the world’s most dramatic mountain playgrounds is Bolivia’s 160-km long Cordillera Real, or “Royal Range.” Early Spanish explorers supposedly named this white-capped sierra after its “majestic” appearance, as seen from the Altiplano. The view of jagged, gleaming peaks from this desolate plateau on a crisp winter day would inspire any modern sportsman, as well.

In fact, the Cordillera Real forms one of the most impressive mountain backdrops these authors have ever seen. From Illimani in the south to Illampu in the north, it’s an essentially uninterrupted chain of glaciated towers, spires, walls, and massifs rising up to 2,800 meters over the Altiplano. The range contains six summits over 6,000 meters in height, and an estimated 600 peaks over 5,000 meters. Literally hundreds of mountaineering routes await, with difficulties ranging from easy glacier strolls to moderate-angled snow ridges to desperate, fluted ice walls. There’s something for everyone in the Real! Indeed, the hardest part about climbing here isn’t access, logistics, or red tape, but deciding which specific areas to visit given limited time.

What follows is a detailed account of our July 2004 visit to the Real’s three most popular climbing areas: Condoriri, Illimani, and Huayna Potosí. This trip report likely provides the most thorough and up-to-date information available on the prevalent mountaineering routes in these regions. We hope it inspires other sportsmen to safely experience all that this sensational mountain range has to offer!


[img:8fe261df46]http://www.planetfear.com/includes/images/uploaded/71200652575127Photo-11.jpg[/img:8fe261df46]


[b:8fe261df46]Trip Planning[/b:8fe261df46]

Situated at about 16 degrees south latitude, the Cordillera Real straddles the muted line between tropical and sub-tropical. The combined effects of very high insolation with very high elevation conspire to produce snow and ice features here that exist nowhere else on earth. Beautiful ice flutings, for example, are a common sight on the Real’s steeper mountain faces, and are a unique characteristic of the high Andes in both Bolivia and Perú. Furthermore, the intense tropical sun can make for highly varied snow conditions on more moderate-angled terrain. It’s possible, for example, to find water in nearly every frozen form imaginable - from sugar to néve to blue-ice - on a single slope! Powder snow, however, is rather rare. All of this is in stark contrast to more temperate mountain regions, where snow conditions tend to be more uniform, and where powder can last for days or weeks before consolidating.

There are effectively two seasons in the Real: wet and dry. The region receives most of its copious snowfall during the relatively warm wet season, from October through April. May through September tends to bring cooler, drier, and more stable weather; storms are less frequent, and the colder, sunnier conditions help consolidate snow features. While avalanches are extremely common during the wet season, they are rare during the dry season, even on the steepest faces. Many 4x4 access roads are passable only during the dry season. For all of these reasons, May through September is the most practical period for climbing in the Real.

Ever since the first mountaineering routes were established in the region, the Real’s dry season has earned itself a reputation for serving up weeks and weeks of continuously stellar climbing weather. But most experts agree that the area’s climate has been changing since the 1990s. In addition to widespread deglaciation, warmer temperatures have been creating unstable weather patterns, and climbing conditions are now more unpredictable as a result. In the past, mountaineers could count on fuller, less consolidated snow-cover during May and June; more névé, hard snow, and glacial ice in July; and more water-ice and dry rock during August and September.


[img:8fe261df46]http://www.planetfear.com/includes/images/uploaded/8420065258030Photo-14.jpg[/img:8fe261df46]


No longer is the picture so predictable. In 2004, many of the high peaks were actually bone-dry during May, but almost completely snow-covered in July (see the Condoriri section below). Furthermore, of the 12 days we spent approaching and/or climbing in the Real, we had only six that were “splitter” (i.e., perfect weather from dawn till dusk). The other days were either quite windy (sometimes very windy), partially cloudy with intermittent snow flurries, or both. Also, three of our summit days presented unstable weather during the very early morning, which then stabilized in the late morning and afternoon - the exact opposite of the way weather typically develops in the high country. Owing to all this, visitors to the Real are advised to add a few extra days to their itinerary as a contingency for foul weather, and to bring extra gear in anticipation of unpredictable route conditions.


[b:8fe261df46]La Paz[/b:8fe261df46]

The highest national capital in the world, La Paz occupies a huge basin just south of the Altiplano. Due to basin’s dramatic slope, the city’s elevation actually ranges from 3,000 to 4,100 meters above sea level. From the rim of the basin, at the highest elevation, the view looking south is spectacular. The entire city swoops down into a vast bowl, occupying seemingly every available hectare. Far to the south, the great white mass of Illimani looms like a sentinel.

La Paz is reversed from most other Latin American metropolitan areas in that its wealthy residents live in the warm, lower suburbs, while poorer neighborhoods occupy the chilly heights of El Alto. Downtown La Paz, heart of the city’s cultural, political, and financial attractions, is in the middle at about 3,600 meters. This central area makes an ideal base for sightseeing and acclimatization.

Given that it’s in one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries, La Paz offers a surprising variety of dining, lodging, and shopping choices. There are restaurants of almost every genre, and hotels ranging from basic to luxurious. Shopping options include the fashionable and high-tech items sold at modern department stores, as well as the traditional Andean crafts available at colorful outdoor bazaars. But the best part is that Bolivia is a fantastic value, not only by North American and European standards, but by South American ones, as well!


[img:8fe261df46]http://www.planetfear.com/includes/images/uploaded/80200652581359LaPaz.jpg[/img:8fe261df46]


Unless you live at high altitude, it’s a good idea to spend your first few days in Bolivia just exploring La Paz. Trust us, even visitors from Colorado’s Front Range (elevation 1,600 meters) will find hill walking to be noticeably more challenging in the rarified air of La Paz! Walking facilitates acclimatization, and is the best way to see La Paz’s cultural sights, as well. The markets, museums (particularly the Coca Museum), and cobble-stoned streets of the Plaza San Francisco area are captivating, with their peculiar mix of modern and traditional Andean themes. Although quite touristy, this is probably the best area in which to buy Native American crafts. Another engaging area is El Prado, the city’s fashion district, home to more upscale shopping, dining, entertainment, and people-watching. Finally, the federal plaza, home of the presidential and congressional palaces, preserves the city’s last remnant of colonial architecture, and should not be missed. All of these sights are within walking distance of the city center.

You can also finalize your climbing logistics while acclimatizing in La Paz. All of the Real’s popular mountaineering areas are readily accessible via 4x4 transport from the city. The closest areas, such as Huayna Potosí and Condoriri, are about 90-minutes away, while the far northern trailheads around Sorata can be reached within about seven hours. Many Bolivian tour agencies offer transportation, equipment rental, porters, cooks, and guides, but none combines all of these services as efficiently as Bolivian Journeys. The company’s owner, Marco Soria, is a highly accomplished guide and andinista (mountaineer of the Andes), and has the most up-to-date information available on route conditions all over the country. Also, unlike many of Bolivia’s tour operators, Marco organizes and customizes trips specifically for climbers. Furthermore, he speaks fluent English and is attentive to phone and email communication - in other words, he’s responsible and will always get back to you!


[img:8fe261df46]http://www.planetfear.com/includes/images/uploaded/99200652581723Photo-8.jpg[/img:8fe261df46]

[i:8fe261df46]Author Jason Spellberg with páramo and the Cordillera Real in the background, as seen from the road to Tuni[/i:8fe261df46]

--------------------------------------------------
[i:8fe261df46]Co-written by David Wolf and Norie Kizaki, Boulder, Colorado, USA[/i:8fe261df46]


[color=red:8fe261df46][b:8fe261df46]2. CONDORIRI[/b:8fe261df46][/color:8fe261df46]


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