Ascent of Huayna Potosí on 2015-12-13

Climber: Seán Caulfield

Date:Sunday, December 13, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Huayna Potosí
    Elevation:19974 ft / 6088 m

Ascent Trip Report

Wanted to do this without a guide, but couldn't find anyone else with the gear or experience to rope up to, so ended up doing a 3day/2night trip with High Camp Lodge from La Paz. Cost for the trip (including all food & gear hire, even though I didn't need any of their gear) was 900Bs. I booked with a girl from my hostel in La Paz, we shared a guide. A 2day/1night hike was 700Bs, but the 3day trip gave us an extra day acclimatisation above 4,800m, a night's accommodation, food, practice with crampons(!) & we got to climb an approximately 10m-high ice wall.

The first day we left La Paz in a minivan with 5 2day/1night climbers & 3 other 3day/2night climbers (only 1 of the 5 2day/1night people made the summit the following day, though this may have had more to do with fitness than acclimatisation - but acclimatisation certainly played a part in some of the failures. My inexperienced climbing partner was certainly glad of the extra day to get comfortable in her rented gear & to acclimatise properly.

After arriving at the hut just off the side of the road to Zongo Pass (4,800m) we were served lunch, while the 2day/1night hikers headed off up to high camp at 5,130m. With lunch finished we had a nice easy hike up to a very icy glacier where cramponing & ice axe techniques were practiced before we had a go at a 10m high ice wall while one of the guides belayed us. The crampon & ice axe instruction would hardly be of any use to anyone who has used them before, but the ice wall was good fun & difficult at that altitude (probably about 4,900m).

We retreated down to the 4,800m hut, ate dinner, then convinced our guides to change the program slightly & hike up to high camp after breakfast the following morning, rather than hang around the hut til after lunch. Luckily our guides agreed to our request - they would have to carry more food up the mountain, but there was surely no benefit to us to stay at the 4,800m camp for half a day.

The hike up to high camp took just over 2hours, we took it nice & easy. It was only a gentle incline until we reached the registration station where we had to pay Bs.20 & sign the book - the last part after this was very steep switchbacks.

Just before reaching the high camp we met some other climbers on their way down - the success rate seemed to be about 50%. Upon reaching the hut we claimed our bunk beds & were served lunch. We were the first group to the hut that day, all the companies seem to have a program where they arrive later, when the weather is generally worse, for some reason (guides don't need to carry food up the mountain?). Four of the five of us decided to do a short acclimatisation hike of about 150m elevation gain to a higher camp of orange yurt-like buildings (it seemed closed). On the way we passed an open shelter about 50m higher than ours, hidden behind the rocks. Two French Canadians, a 22yo guy and his 50yo father, took the normal route up the glacier without their crampons, while we did the easy scramble up the rocks (there was a rope on the steeper section). We both descended by the rocks.

Our guides were not very happy with our afternoon's activity, particularly unhappy that the Canadians had went on the glacier with crampons. They had preferred that we just stay at the high camp & rest, but eventually they calmed down. We had dinner at 5:30pm & after watching most of the sunset we were in bed by 7:30pm with bags packed for the big day ahead.

We woke up at midnight, got into our gear, had breakfast, & were on the glacier at about 1:15am. We found the hike up to be easy going until the final steep summit push, we passed out several groups on the way up. Route-finding was very easy, just one trail in the snow. Our acclimatisation was excellent, I was much more comfortable on Huayna than I had been on Pico de Orizaba. There were only a couple of very obvious crevasses less than a metre wide that we had to jump over, but some of path was very narrow with a steep dropoff, so I guess the harness was useful (although it would have been possible to self-arrest with an ixe axe should you slip off the trail). There is also the danger of new crevasses opening up & avalanches after 8am if you are not off the glacier before the sun starts to heat it up

After our final summit push we summited at 6am, the second group up. Not my favourite summit, tiny & crowded, but the views were great. We had checked the weather before booking & were lucky that it was exactly as forecast - blue skies with very little wind. We spent about 15mins on the top, took some photos & drank a summit beer.

The descent was not an enjoyable experience, it was tough going being roped together - normally I like to run & slide down a mountain as quickly as possible, but we couldn't do this. My climbing partner had crampons that kept clogging with snow, so was constantly slipping on the steeper sections. We were exhausted arriving back at high camp at about 9am. After a 45minute rest & some breakfast we continued down to the 4,800m camp & got our transport back to La Paz. Four out of our company's five hikers made the summit, myself, my climbing partner, the 22yo French Canadian & a 38yo Japanese man, but the 50yo French Canadian turned back at about 5,850m (just before the last steep section to the summit). This is where many people who do not make it turn back.

I had hopes of hiking either Sajama or Parinacota (independently) after Huayna, but developed a bit of a head cold & was a bit unsure of mountain conditions so decided against it. A couple of agencies offered me packages to hike both - Parinacota in 2days from La Paz & Sajama in 4. This is contrary to information I found online which said Sajama was closed to climbers after September. From driving past Parinacota en route to La Paz from Iquique in Chile, the glacier seemed to be non-existent on the northern side, which I think is the normal route up.


Huayna was a good hike, my first mountain roped up & first over 6,000m. Our guides were fine (even spoke a little English, although our Spanish was much better) & the equipment was fine. High Camp Lodge were half the price of some other agencies, so we shouldn't complain. Highly recommend it if you find yourself in La Paz with a few days to spare!

Notes for anyone wishing to hike Huayna:
-there is at least one daily bus from Plaza Ballivian in El Alto towards Zongo Pass which can drop you off at either of the base camp lodges. I think it leaves very early (5:30am). Unsure of return time. Hitching should be possible on this road, but might be difficult. A regular car should have no problems making it here, although the road is gravel it was newly graded so not that bumpy for the most part
-it is possible to rent equipment in La Paz, one couple we met had done this, but most agencies just want to sell you a tour package
-La Paz is also a great place to buy cheap outdoor equipment, there are lots of stores along Calle Illampu
-the cost we were quoted for 2day/1night hikes varied from Bs700 to Bs1,400. 3day/2night hikes were typically Bs200-300 more expensive. Not sure what you get extra for paying double what we did, all the groups seemed to use the same shelter & get similar food. Maybe slightly newer equipment & English-speaking guides?
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4173 ft / 1271 m
    Round-Trip Distance:6.8 mi / 11 km
    Trailhead:Base Camp Refugio  15801 ft / 4816 m
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Guide, Hut Camp
    Weather:Cold, Clear
Clear, beautiful weather
Ascent Statistics
    Time:6 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 30 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Seán Caulfield
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