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DECIDINGto climb Huayna Potosi, a6088m mountain, whilst I wasliving in Bolivia has proven to beone of the riskiest but yet most rewarding decisions I have taken to date. Having had noprevious climbing experience and no prior training, it was an expedition of sizeableundertaking. I was soon to find out that climbing a mountain was all about challenge andperseverance, that it was full of danger and drama. Not only did it require physical and mentalstrength and technical skill, but you needed to be prepared for any eventuality. Here are someof the key lessons I learnt on our expedition.
Tr u s t – Jose, our lead mountain guide, was an experienced climber and led mountainexpeditions on a weekly basis. He was a barmy Bolivian who spoke little English and sworethe key to climbing mountains was lemon tea full of sugar. Jose and his two helpers wereresponsible for getting six novice mountain climbers up to the top safely andquickly. Although Huyana Potosi is not a difficult climb relativelyspeaking, it gets more technical the higher you climb. Just as the airis getting thinner and your energy levels are depleting. Withoutputting our trust in Jose, in his knowledge of the mountain andthe surrounding weather, in his ability to lead a group and toteach us the necessary skills. We would be sure to fail.
TEAMWORK – Like withP R E PA R AT I O N – many things, mountaineering requires a team effort, but it also involves personal challenge. Integrating the two on a mountain can be difficult and can lead to arguments and mistakes. Working in unison is vital for a successful climb. Before scaling the glacier On our we were put into groups of three with the first day up guide at the front. We were then tied in the mountains together at 8m intervals for security it was time for some purposes. The weakest climber was put in training. Throughout the middle and set the pace for the group. our ascent we would need By working together to use our crampons and pick each group was able axes so it was Imperative we were to ascend the comfortable with them. Across the mountain safely. glacier were steep crevices making the risk of placing a wrong foot and falling relatively high. We would also be faced with two ice walls during our climb. Without being prepared to take on these challenges we would have been putting ourselves in great danger.
ENTHUSIASM – On day twowe trekked up to our to high camp, a rocky CONVICTION –shelf to the side of the glacier. This was no easy the ascent uptask as we had to carry all of our tents and to the peakequipment with us whilst wearing the crossed vastequivalent of ski boots up a rocky glacier crossingsmountainside. The next day my enthusiasm ran and incredibleout even further when I soon found myself ice formations.standing at the bottom of the glacier at 1am in Trudging alongthe freezing cold, all kitted up, having had little at a snails pace,sleep. The prospect of escalating over 2000m my mind couldn’tin the pitch black was an exceptionally help but wander.daunting one. At any point of the ascent I could have turned around and climbed back down – a thought that became more and more appealing the more exhausted I got. However my stubbornness and commitment to the task in hand allowed me push past this fact and concentrate on only climbing upwards.
LEADERSHIP -the most technical part of the climbwas the summit wall – around 150m withabout 70-80 degrees incline in places. Our guideWent first setting safety screws and steaks into thesnow. Then we followed, still tied up together, with ourIce picks and crampons hooking and kicking into the snow.Tiredness had completely taken over by this point so it was downto our guide to focus our attention and keep us motivated to the very end.
D E T E R M I N AT I O N – I will never forgetthose last 50m. My body had nothing left give and I couldhave quite easily fallen asleep on the side of the ice wall. All that was left was my thoughts vs. the mountain. I knew I just had to dig deep and push on. Step. By. step.
R E S U LT S – After aneight hour climb we finallysummited at 10am on 9th June2002. Having crawled onto the12ft ridge that was the top Icould finally take in the vastnessof my surroundings - views ofthe mountains to the East andthe arid plain to the West,Lake Titicacca and Peru in thedistance. I truly felt on top ofthe world.
SUCCESS - Above all I learned that if youput your mind to anything, anything can beachievable. As long as you are prepared to pushyourself, there are no such thingsas boundaries. Just a lot ofhard-work, sweat andtears. And hopefullyan almightysmileat theend.