To climb Licancabur volcano was a dream for me since the first time i laid my eyes on it in jan 2007 when I was backpacking across South America. The perfectly symmetric volcano caught my attention big time. So I had to try the climb at least one time in my life. That of course means money, and things can get quite expansive in the atacama desert, the driest desert in the world. All I had to do was plan for my next visit the climb, the thing is, I didn’t know back then when that would be. But it was okay, at the time, just looking at it was a fantastic experience.
It was a cold and windy day, around 10am the sun was strong but even so, the wind turn the day into a freezing mud so to speak. The chill was around 0°C. I took several photos of the volcano and got back to the 4x4 I was in, at the first day of the Salar de Uyuni tour, 3 days crossing the highlands of Bolivia.
Anyway, in 2008 I never went to the atacama. As my second year in mountaineering I had to increase my experience at my own country so I could go out for some expedition at higher altitudes, even tough I was in higher places before as you guys read at my article “The first day of the rest of my life”, when I did my unplanned first Andean summit (4.496m – 14.750ft), also in jan 2007. That year i also walked quite a bit at several altitude touristic spots such as Laguna Colorada, Arbol de Piedra and the highest so far: Geysers Sol de Mañana. So I stick to my plan that year, home and nothing else more outside Brazil.
Next year that would change again. At april 2009 I did my first project named “33 days, 33 thousand meters”. As I had 33 days of vacation, I had to climb as much summits I need to make the total of 33.000 meters, and I did it in just 17 days. No big deal at all, it was only easy mountains but for me, a practically inexperienced brazilian mountaineer, was great. At the time, I was really short of money as usual. The climbing of Licancabur is a easy climbing, hardly called climb, more like a altitude hike. From its base, people usually take 6 to 8 hours to get to the summit. Local guides can do it in just 3 to 4 hours. Anyway, as I was very “fresh meat” on mountaineering I had to search for a partner to share the cost for a guide, since the hike involves to dodge mine fields. I had to feel safe. That year I was in San Pedro de Atacama for 8 days and nobody was looking for the climb. To pay for that alone would be too much money, no luck for me.
2010 came and my hunger for the climb was even bigger. But i 2009 I did so much hikes, I had a much bigger experience. I was gonna risk some more, take it to the next level no matter what. That would be accomplished by the project “work less, live more”, the one I had to wear a tie at every summit I stepped on. That would be the ultimate project for me so far, when I did two first ascents for Brazil, when I did some great solo hikes/ climbs, when I got close to frostbite my fingers, when I was invited to write for altamontanha.com, and when I summited this fantastic volcano. Also when I summited several brazilian gorgeous mountains…Well, 2010 was a great year for me I can’t deny. Also the year i summited Mont Blanc.
Breaks and more breaks for them
Suck it up people!
Now we're talking...
That's what i'm talking about baby!
Funny summit shot
Inka ruins 40ft bellow the summit crater
At this expedition, again counting only on my own resources, when I got to San Pedro I said to myself “no more waiting!”. I had to climb Licancabur, that was a dream for me and we are supposed to pursue our dreams, with a bigger budget I could even pay for the guide just myself. But, at the time, I had changed. My experience was way bigger, so my will to climb was to climb solo, bigger and harder summits. Even tough, if I could save some money doing that, perfect! What happened was that I went to my friend’s office (Christian Fernandez – volcano expeditions) and expressed my mission to climb Licancabur. He said to me “Paulo don’t worrie, I think I have partners for you to share the cost”. And he actually had! The next day he found a english couple willing to climb the volcano with me. Perfect. After so many hikes and climbs after something like 50 days already traveling, I could use some company for that one. Sometimes people need people to share experiences or just company.
So I got a sweet deal for the climb. Next morning we got on the car and crossed the border into Bolivia. More stamps on my passport (for Bolivia only I have 12!) and we reached in a few hours the refuge at the foot of Laguna Blanca and Juriques volcano, another objective for a future trip. There we left our bags and went for a walk for the couple to acclimatize. I was already acclimatized from previous climbs. So we walk quite a bit. From the hut we walked 8kms to Licancabur base at around 4.450m high. No altitude gain at all (just 100m I guess) but far away I must say. Hours later we ended talking on the radio with the local guide a few kms away from the hut, everybody was lazy to finish the walk hehehe…
Dinner and bed really early. Around 17:00h. After a couple hours I fell asleep and woke up around 2:00am with my wrist watch alarm. We all got ready and went out. The local guide (even when you pay for some agency to climb on the atacama region, it is a law there, you have to be with a local guide as well) drove us to the starting point. Somewhere around 4.450 m high (14.600ft). We got off the 4x4 and start walking right away. From the beginning the local guide was leading the climb and the English couple felt the altitude instantly. No problem, let’s keep moving!
After a while, not long, we reached 5.000m high (16.400ft). Easily, I couldn’t stop, I was okay and strong. Kept going. After some more time we were at 5.250m (17.225ft) again fast and easy for me. But constantly we had to make small breaks so they could get some rest, as they weren't acclimatized and I was, so it doesn’t matter to me. When we got to 5.500m (18.045ft) it got harder for them of course. I was still strong and willing to go for the summit fast, but I respected again. That happened again at 5.550m (18.210ft), 5.600m (18.370ft) and around 5.750m (18.865ft) Christian’s employee said to me he was thinking about go back down with them. They had to stop every ten steps and had a serious headache. I said to him that was my feeling as well, so we got separated. The local guide went all the way up alone, Christian’s guide was with the couple talking about his decision and I was alone going up with one radio.
I still couldn’t believe it was happening so easy for me the climb, I actually was just a couple hundred vertical meters from my dream, the lagoon inside the crater. Excitement is a perfect word to describe my feeling. Anyway, I kept going up as fast as I could but at some poit around 5.840 m (19.160ft) I heard some noise inside of me, there was an alien from 1977 moving around my belly, it was alive!!!
Man that was crazy. It was unpredicted. A fun, smelly and new experience for me. I couldn’t move! I had to take a shit right there!!! Ahahahahah…What can I say? I did it! The highest shit of my life at 5.850m high. And I got to tell ya, boy, that was smelly!!!
So…(hehehe), after that unfortunate incident I was moving again and equally fast. At the last 40 ft I started a video as usual, I always make a video when I am close to the summit. At the video it’s possible to see the local guide already bored sitting on a rock by the summit cairn. I never stoped, walked straight to the lake and when I got there I cried, again! When i was just a few steps away from the lagoon you can actually hear the guide calling for me on the radio, but i answered him just after i stoped crying hehehe...
These are the videos I did.
Crater lake panorama.
After I stop my wet business looking at the crater and the summit lake I heard the radio, it was Christian’s guide, and I sayd “Paulo desde la cumbre de Lica chico!”. That means “Paulo speaking from the summit of Lica dude!”. He laughed big time and said to me the English couple didn’t quit, they were coming too!
Great news, they suffered too much to quit and apparently the headache wasn't so bad as i thought. After like 45 minutes they made it to the top, speechless, exausted, but they did it.
We did some photos together, I was walking around like a crazy cat shooting everything, I was electric! Happy, I don’t know enough words in English to translate that hehehe…
After around 40 minutes up there we started our descent by a different route, a little bit on the side on a trail made of debris, sandy, sliperry, that means fun for me! Means a fast descent using boots like sky boards hehehe. The fact is they didn’t like that, every five minutes or so they hit the ground and cursed a lot. “Fuck this” and “Fuck that” and for me that made it even more fun ahahahaha…
It was fantastically fun to hear every five minutes some “bloody hell” or some “fucking' 'el”, typical for british people. Boy I had a great time hehehe…The thing is, even the funniest situation can turn into a pain in the ass and this one wasn’t different, after three hours on a endless descent that got really annoying. But I tought “well, they’re really tired, full of bruises from so many falls, they’re not used to the situation and climbing, I could be in their position a few years ago”. So I kept my mouth shut the whole time.
Finally we got to the car and I got on my knees and thanked to the volcano for the perfect climb. I’m not a religious man, I am skeptical at all costs, so I don’t really know why I did that, the truth is I was truly happy for that glorious day. That was it.
As Conan would probably say: "Croooom!"
The local guide start the 4x4 engine and drove us back to the hut, where we got a fantastic lunch with llama ribs…boy that was pretty good i must say! We chat for some time and they apologized to me afterwords about their behaviour. “No problem, i just climbed Licancabur, i don’t give a rat’s ass!!!” i said ahahahaha.....
Once i got back to San Pedro i was literally radiating happiness, went to Christian’s office and i was congratulated as i climbed Licancabur in just 5 hours. The elevation gain was a total of 1.467m (4.813ft). For this altitude and for a foreign, was good. Finally i could come back home and say to my friends and family i did it, i climbed the cone shaped volcano, i climbed Licancabur! The celebration was that very night, a big juicy bloody stake inside one of the best restaurants in town, and it was a great deal of money, the whole meal cost me like 35 US dollars. Hell yeah, i don’t care baby! Ahahahahahah...
For the record, i don’t keep any of the bad comments from the english couple from that climb. Mountain and altitude can do that with people. Afterwords they were funny and nice again and i completly understand what they’ve been through. So, no hard feelings at all! After Licancabur I would still climb some other mountains such as Aucanquilcha volcano and San Pedro volcano. Only later I d be on my way home. 75 days after I left.
San Pedro de Atacama website: www.sanpedroatacama.com (spanish)
Volcano Expeditions - Professional guides. I used their services for Toco, Sairecabur and Licancabur climb, if you contact them talk to Christian (we became friends ever since) and you can say that PAROFES (or Paulo) from Brazil pointed you to them: www.vulcanochile.com