Here begins the adventure: Ascending the Parinacota and Pomerape volcanoes
Waking up at around 1am, I get equipped. Like a ritual, I check and re-check, one layer, two layers, even three layers of clothing, boots, harness, helmet on the head, ice axe on the bag and crampons inside. I leave the base campwhere we slept, at 5,150 meters, between the two volcanoes. "Slept" is perhaps a strong word, as our rest is always a bit disturbed by the high altitude.
Here begins the adventure: climbing the "Payachatas" twins, the Parinacota and Pomerape volcanoes, in one weekend. I take a moment to stop in front of the starry sky, take it in - then here we go, guided by our headlights.
I’ve seen them since the day before, from the village of Sajama: these two cones, side by side. The excitement rises. They impress me, scare me a little (which didn’t help me to sleep either), attract me.
Objective 6 330 meters
Today the objective is 6 330 meters, the Parinacota, the perfect cone. Looking at it, it almost seems like we just have to walk on its flank to reach its crater. We attack our ascent in the stones and the sand, as thehe glacier won’t appear before 5 800 meters of altitude. This first part is slow and long - our steps slide under weight on the moving ground. It’s always this way, as , it takes time to find the rhythm and it is in these moments that we begin to ask ourselves why did I want to do this climb again?
Elevation: +1200m / - 1200m
We arrive on the glacier, finally! I put on the crampons and take the opportunity to have a little break for food... The breakfast at the base camp feels far away. I take my place in the ropeway with my expedition partners. We resume our slow ascent, which we share silently with one another. I measure my steps, concentrate on my breathing, and let myself be carried along by my thoughts. After a few hours, my thoughts wander.
A new spectacle is offered to us. The day breaks andwe begin to see the shapes of the neighboring volcanoes. The Sajama in front, majestic and imposing. The sun rises over the course of our ascent. This is why I am here, for this spectacle that only this effort can offer you. The sunrise also allows me to realize that we have not yet arrived. This beautiful cone, so perfect, so smooth from the bottom, reveals itself. I see the crater, its mixed colours of mineral, ochre and yellow; but before that I see the penitents. I had been told about them, stalagmites formed by the wind and the cold.
I can feel the altitude more and more, and the effort intensifies. We progress slowly through this labyrinth of ice obstacles. Finally, when I think I will never see the end, here it is, the summit, the edge of the crater. Here we are!
It is hot - or at least it feels that way at around 6300 meters of altitude! We take off our gloves to have a snack and enjoy the view. On one side sits the Sajama, and on the other, Chile. It is said that on a clear day you can see the Pacific, though I have my doubts The twin, Pomerape, is just next door and makes you want to fly to its summit, so you can say “it’s done!"
We begin the descent by the same path, past the same penitents, the same stones and the same sand... until we arrive back at the base camp in the afternoon.
Should I continue or not?
My climbing partner decides not to do the second ascent. She was sick during the first climb and needs to recover and sleep. Do I continue without her? It was a challenge we set together, achallenge for our thirties:, the Parinacota for her, the Pomerape for me. I’m halfway there; I have never been so close, and am well acclimatized now. I'm a little apprehensive, more than a little tired, but I feel like doing it, trying it. After all, it’s mind over matter, isn't it?
Ignacio is okay to take me. Our adventure guide, trained and qualified as a mountain guide by the UIAGM school of Bolivia. We cook noodlesoups, as hydration is key, and I go to sleep at 6pm.
The winning duo
I wake up at 1am, and the story starts again: I get equipped, I repeat the ritual, I add a layer of clothes. We are going to climb the north face, in the shade and with a lot of wind, says Ignacio. When we leave the refuge, this time it's to the right, in the direction of the Pomerape, at 6 240 meters of altitude.
I feel as if I never stopped walking since yesterday, picking up my slow but constant rhythm in the same conditions as before. The beginning is a long crossing, so to avoid ruminating I count my steps from 1 to 10, ameditative work that takes me through 3 good hours climbing, into the night.
Elevation: +1150m / - 1150m
We then reach the ridge, which we won't leave until the last wall before the summit. I see the crescent moon, which lights up a bit and gives me hope, a motivation rather. I feel tired, physically. Not especially because of the altitude, but because of the effort and the little sleep I’ve had in the last two nights.
The day rises, and I see the crest evolve: rays of sun come from both sides and warm me gently. After a break with hot tea, dried fruits, and chocolate, I regain my strength. Mentally, I feel recharged as well. Here we go again.
We hit the last leg of the journey, . the more technical part of the climb. A first crossing, ice axe in hand, crampons in the ice, leads us to the last wall - the famous one, in the shade and the wind. Ignacio had not lied; the wind is icy, and it whips my face. I am literally frozen.
Why am I here again?
Why am I here? What makes me decide, every time, to do this again? What attracts me? Is it the challenge of facing more and more peaks? I haven't yet managed to explain it. I love the effort it takes, and I hate it at the same time. I like the mental challenge it requires, a real exercise on myself. I like, I think above all, this feeling of exclusivity. We are there, alone, roped up, in front of an extraordinary spectacle. These great sceneries, these snowy summits, these infinite views, accessible only by making an immense effort, and for those who really want it, give me energy, leave me speechless. I just want to stay there, contemplative and admittedly with a bit of pride,to have succeeded in getting there. It is here, on each summit, that we dream of the next one.
The last wall is ice climbing. I follow Ignacio methodically. I concentrate on my gestures, and on my steps, work not to make a mistake with my crampons. The small dose of adrenaline makes me forget my frozen fingers that struggle to grip my ice axe. Then, we arrive at the top. It’s cold so, we don’t linger too much, no more than 10 minutes. We just take the time to absorb the energy of the place, of the view.
I always feel a bit bored about the descent. The advantage of the last wall and its slope is that with a little bit of abseiling, in a few moments we are at the bottom. Then there is the side of the volcano left, with its black earth, which brings us back to reality little by little.
About ten hours later, we are back at the base camp. I realize that Ignacio and I have not spoken much. However this is also the energy of Andeanism: we move as a group, as a team, in symbiosis step by step, without needing to speak.
The Royal Cordillera is like a string of "6000" mountains
The Royal Cordillera is like a 150 km long barrier stretching from Sorata to La Paz, separating the desolate expanse of the Altiplano and Lake Titicaca from the Amazon, into which the waters of the melting glaciers flow.
Bolivia has 13 peaks of more than 6000 m on its territory, spread out between the south and the north and distributed on 2 cordilleras. A real playground.
- Chaupi Orco: 6044 m, in the north of the Lake Titicaca in the eastern cordillera, dubbed " Apolobamba ".
- Illampu: 6368 m, in the north of the Lake Titicaca in the eastern cordillera.
- Ancohuma: 6427 m, located not far from Illampu.
- Chearoco: 6127 m, neighboring and a bit north of the Chachacomani in the eastern cordillera.
- Chachacomani: 6074 m, not far from La Paz in the eastern cordillera.
- Huayna Potosi: 6088 m, east of the Titicaca Lake in the eastern cordillera and sitting above the city of El Alto. This summit is one of the most popular, as it does not present great technical difficulty.
- Illimani: 6480 m, the highest summit of the eastern cordillera. It overlooks the city of La Paz.
- Sajama or Nevada Sajama: 6542 m, an ancient volcano and Bolivia’s highest summit,located in the western cordillera not far from the Chilean border.
- Pomerape: 6.240 m, an ancient volcano in the western cordillera at the border with Chile. Twin of Parinacota and very close to Sajama.
- Parinacota: 6330 m, ancient volcano. Twin of Pomerape and very close to Sajama.
- Acotango: 6052 m, ancient volcano, in the western cordillera at the border with Chile.
- Uturuncu: 6008 m, ancient volcano. It is said to be the easiest 6000m in the world (a passable trail reaches 5750m).
- Toroni or Sillajguay: 5995 m, ancient volcano, considered a 6000 meters summit, located at the border with Chile.