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Sajama – 6,542 m!

After a few days rest in Uyuni and a 3-day ride to Potosí, I and Jenny took the bus to La Paz with the intent to climb Bolivias highest mountain Sajama. This mountain is an old volcano with the impressive height of 6,542 m, and it is located in a national park with the same name, near the border to Chile and Peru.

Sajama

Through SummitPost, I got in touch with the renowned mountain guide Eduardo Mamani Quispe from Bolivian Mountain Guides in La Paz, (+59171957404, eduardo@bolivianmountainguides.com). He is a certified IFMGA guide, and after getting an introduction of what he could offer us, we didn’t hesitate for a second, but agreed upon leaving two days later! Their office in La Paz provided us with all the necessary equipment like plastic boots, crampons, ice axe and gaiters.

It takes 4 hours by car to reach the village of Sajama from La Paz. The radiator broke on the way but was fixed by a local welder in Patacamaya, so we got there a bit late. After a quick lunch we then started hiking up towards the base camp at 4,800 m. Two mules helped us with the food, fuel and common equipment. This first day’s 1.5 hour trek went through a small valley and we had the mountain’s vertical west face in front of us all the time. On the way, we saw the famous polylepis trees that on this particular place constitute the highest forest in the world. The base camp is situated just in front of the base of the mountain, and we had natural springs that provided us with water. I didn’t sleep very well this night because of the sudden altitude gain, but also because I was so excited about the whole thing :-) I went out for a pee at night and suddenly an avalanche roared down from the mountain. At the same time, I saw a falling star, and deeply wished that we would be able to summit this beast!

Trekking up to base camp

Mules

The second day took us along the west slopes up to the northwest ridge, which is the normal route nowadays. This steep ridge is filled with loose volcanic rocks, making it quite hard to walk considering the altitude and heavy backpack. Finally, we arrived to the high camp at 5,700 m and felt very exhausted, wondering how we should be able to climb another 850 m the following day! We put up the tent and enjoyed the breathtaking views while Eduardo started the time-consuming task to melt snow for dinner, breakfast and our water bottles.

Sajama high camp - 5,700 m

Posing with a tent pole

Day three – summit day (July 2nd)! We woke up at 2 am, had breakfast and got dressed as warm as we could. However, it was not very cold outside, only around -8 degrees! We set off in the dark at 3.30 am and continued on the rocky ridge up to where the ice/snow started. Here, we put on the crampons, connected each other with a rope and then started climbing up a steep ice wall. When we got to a rather horizontal ridge at 6,000 m, we were suddenly doing rock climbing with our hands. After that, a huge field of penitentes appeared, continuing as far as we could see! Fortunately, these were low (20-60 cm), but Eduardo who walked first still had to break many off with the ice axe to make them passable.

While struggling with the altitude and the tedious walking on the penitentes, the 7 am sunrise created a pyramid like shadow of Sajama in the other horizon – absolutely amazing! This gave me more energy at the same time as making me feel very emotional, and I continued to push with a smile on my face. Jenny got very tired and cold on this part, so we had something to eat and warmed up each other and then kept on going, however very slowly. When we reached a “fake” top, we could finally see the real one but we still had about 150-200 m of steep glacier to ascend. We zigzagged to make it less tiring for the legs, but it felt like it would take us ages to get there.

Shadow of Sajama

The summit is near!

9.30 am, six hours after the start at high camp, we found ourselves standing at 6,542 m above sea level and on the top of Sajama! WE DID IT, WE REACHED THE SUMMIT! It’s hard to describe all the feelings that ran through your head at that moment. We hugged each other, lied down on the glacier and just laughed and the same time as gasping for breath! We both sensed a slight headache and were already late on the top, so we started to descend after having taken photos and realizing (or not?) that we were standing on the top of Bolivias highest mountain! A funny side note is that a football match has been played up here in 2001 (!)

SAJAMA'S SUMMIT

Happy to be on the summit!

Penitentes

I am so glad that we made it! To summit a 6,000 m+ peak was one of my many goals with this trip, and it’s very interesting to see how your body and mind react on this altitude and after such a big effort. This is without a doubt the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done – but I’m so glad that I did it!

“Es la vida de la montaña, una vida dura!”
– Eduardo

PS. Eduardo might publish a video from our climb on YouTube. In that case, I will update this entry and embed the video here!

UPDATE: Here is the video!

…and here is a map of Sajama and the route we took: