Huayna Potosí Mountain, a Cold-Hearted Beauty

Huayna Potosí descent
Please Help Support us!

You can support No Strings Travel by using this link when shopping on Amazon! A small portion of the sale will go to us at no extra cost to you! Bookmark it :)

No Strings Travel is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

I first heard of Huayna Potosí from some fellow travelers I met in Cusco who had come from Bolivia to Peru. Supposedly one of the easiest 6,000 meter peaks in the world, it sounded like a great introduction to true mountaineering.
My second day in La Paz, Bolivia after a day at Valle de la Luna, an alien-like landscape that used to encompass the entire city, I headed to a few tour agencies to see what I could find out about the massive mountain that overlooks the capital of Bolivia. The agencies all reassured me that their weekend trips would definitely make the summit, the weather forecast being ideal. For around $140, I could book the three-day trip and proudly stand 6,088 meters about sea-level. Unfortunately, that was not quite reality.
After arriving at base camp the first day, our group that began as one guide (Romiro), myself and three 60-65 year-old seasoned French alpine pros that live in the Alps hiked an hour to a nearby glacier at the foot of the behemoth mountain that was to take everything out of us for the following two days. As far as having fun goes, day one was a blast, and not in the masochistic way that the rest of the expedition would be. At the glacier, we first learned basic techniques on how to use crampons (spikes attached to your boots for traction on the ice) and ice axes. After the basics came one of my favorite parts of the trip, some vertical and even slightly overhung ice climbing practice. Our guide first drilled two screws into the glacial face and then set up the top rope for us to give it our best shot.
It's gettin' coooold
It’s gettin’ coooold
The Frenchies pushed me to hit the face first, interested to see how the rock climber would do on ice after our guide had given me a boost by saying that climbing ice is a piece of cake if you rock climb. To their dismay, I must say that I kicked some ass. My rock climbing skills, for better or worse, root mainly from the fact that I can do pull-ups in my sleep, which bodes very well when the objective is to sink sharp, lightweight axes a few centimeters into ice that is slightly steeper than 90 degrees, heave your weight upwards toward the fancy tools, sink your crampons into the ice below, and repeat.
After the Frenchies gave the face their shot, I could tell that their expertise lay more in mountaineering than actual ice climbing, or at least in their more advanced age. Nonetheless I kept my mouth shut, knowing it was very likely that they’d whoop my ass on the actual mountain.
The next day we got a late start to the busy high camp where we ate dinner and went to bed at 6 in anticipation for waking up at midnight to start working towards the summit at 1:30. The general consensus in our very basic “campo alto” was that most people averaged about two hours of very below average sleep.
Headlamps, crampons, axes and plenty of layers of clothing ready, we headed out into the dark after a night of little more than rest and lots of heavy snowfall, a bad sign for the summit to come. Right away, the guide that I was assigned to the night before was very pessimistic about reaching “la cumbre,” citing possible avalanches and hard-going with the snow-depth. I sensed a slight bit of fear in his voice, and at the same time  his attitude was as if he had somewhere better to be. I shook it off and attempted to keep the team morale optimal.
With snowfall during the entire 5 hours we spent working towards the summit, visibility was at a minimum.  We cruised past the other teams, witnessing people collapse forwards and backwards, spraying the white powder at their spiked boots with the last night’s meal. Altitude can be a horrible bitch.  We quickly became the front group and thus were forced to blaze the trail. This job required walking for hours in knee-deep snow and a few points where we almost walked straight to our end into hundred-foot deep crevasses. My guide was becoming increasingly nervous and exhausted and I knew it was up to me to keep him going if we were to make the peak.
It may not have been the best or smartest approach, but I began to downplay the weather and his tiredness, asking him over and over things like, “are you sure you’re alright?” and “why don’t we just take it slow?” My attitude changed though, after we began climbing along the spine of a very loose, steep face with thousands of feet to fall on either side. The terrain varied between ice so hard that it was almost impossible to sink our crampons into and snow so loose that it was very easy to start accelerating backwards into the abyss. It was truly terrifying. With nothing more than ten feet of rope tied between my guide and I, one mistake would’ve turned both of us into the catalysts of a tremendous avalanche.
After an hour on this adrenaline-pumped spine, we reached its peak and from there had nothing more than weather and exhaustion to keep us from “la cumbre,” or so I thought.
Huayna Potosí descent
The spine on the way back down
Arriving at 5,900 meters, the air was ever thin, the clouds below were abundant and the sun was slowly creeping above the valley below. My guide quite literally put his foot down in the snow and said that we would not be making the peak today. With the peak now looking like no more than a large hill right in front of my face, mentally, I was utterly disappointed although physically I sighed a bit of relief. My legs were burnt out and I knew making the peak would take every last bit that I had. As long as nobody would be standing atop the mountain, I thought, I guess I’ll let possible avalanche keep me, too from the peak.
After some photos and a nice albeit freezing rest, we started heading back to high camp, now finally with the sun shining the way. Seeing everything that we had climbed and were now to descend in the sunlight was the most magnificent sight I’ve ever taken in. Glaciers, crevasses, razor-edge peaks, voluptuous clouds and infinitely snow-covered valleys below were among the highlights.
Huayna Potosí at 5,900 meters
The view from 5,900 meters
As we made our descent, the 60-year-old French ultra-trekker, Francis, and his guide continued up towards our point of regression. My guide assured me over and over that they, nor anyone else, would be making the peak that day.
After a very fast descent that made the ascent seem turtle-paced, we were finally back at high camp where tea and snacks were waiting. We were the first non-sick team to make it back. All of the altitude-sickness crew asked us if we had made the peak. I sighed a “no” of disappointment, but raved still at the unbelievable views that we got to experience.
As more teams began to get back, not having reached the peak either I realized that my guide was nowhere to be found. Finally, our original guide, Romiro, came back with his crew, two of the Frenchies that did not make it too far due to altitude sickness. He proclaimed that Francis and his guide had made the summit! Enraged, I pull him aside and told him about my experience and how my guide had not only robbed me from the summit, but also has convinced other guides not to go up.
Romiro, too, got angry and started looking for my guide, who had already retreated the rest of the way down the mountain. Romiro admitted that his coworker, my guide, did seem very uninterested in climbing that day, and that no matter what was said, he would back me up knowing that I should have made the peak.
When we got back to La Paz, the agency first offered me another shot at the peak, 3 more days that I did not want to spend suffering just to ascend barely more than 300 feet higher than where I stood that morning, and then they tried to offer me a few tours in which I really didn’t have any interest. Finally, I convinced them to give me a hefty discount on a bus ticket and then left the office sorely disappointed.
Regardless of not making “la cumbre” yet seeing it so close and so attainable in front of me, I still had an amazing time climbing Huayna Potosí. The views were unbelievable and I learned some very cool mountaineering and ice climbing techniques that I definitely plan to use in the future. As for “the easiest 6,000 meter climb in the world,” what I found out online soon after I got back to my CouchSurfing apartment is something that the tour agency conveniently failed to mention; October is often the hardest month of the year to do the climb due to the unpredictability of the weather. Huayna Potosí is only “the easiest 6,000 meter peak in the world” in the months of January, February, June, July and August.
So obviously I’m a little sore from the whole experience, it is rather bittersweet looking back. But do I regret it? Hell no, it was incredible. Will I go back and do it again? Right now I’m going to say probably not, but as my friends love to remind me, in hindsight I’m very good at turning unpleasant experiences into the greatest thing “since sliced bread,” so I wouldn’t be that surprised! It’s definitely an amazing thing to do once in your life, but for most people I would say that is enough!

Interested in traveling with us?

Take the first step in completing your travel dreams by signing up for our email list! You’ll be the first to get trip updates on our authentic and affordable small group adventures! 

Share this post with your friends!

Please Help Support us!

You can support No Strings Travel by using this link when shopping on Amazon! A small portion of the sale will go to us at no extra cost to you! Bookmark it :)

No Strings Travel is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

2 responses to “Huayna Potosí Mountain, a Cold-Hearted Beauty”

  1. Carl Nissen says:

    Wow Nate, great story! Love the pics too!

  2. Wes Adamson says:

    I'm catching up on all your posts and this one caught me off guard as I didn't realize this was on your tour bucket list...but knowing you as you said in your post looking back and how did you put all these adventures " the greatest thing since sliced bread"...ha!
    That climb is a great one to add to you life achievement list, peak or no peak! Again Awesome Pictures with a great story!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *