Mountain for the adventure: Chacaltaya Peak
After three successful climbs in San Pedro de Atacama, back in april 2009, I manage a bus from the city to Arica, the northernmost city of the country. From Arica, city I already knew, another five hours if I recall correctly, and I was at La Paz. Once in town, found a taxi and asked him to let me anywhere I could find a hostel, so he drove me to a small street that goes from Sagarnaga av, and there I found a shitty hostel I called home for a week more. With the same taxi driver, after a small conversation, I arranged the ride to Cerro Chacaltaya, the highest tourist spot in a huge city such La Paz in the Andes. In fact, I don’t know if there is any touristic spot as high as Chacaltaya.
So, he came at the right time and picked me up at the hostel at eight in the morning, and we agreed that he would drive me up to 4.900 meters, much lower than normally taxi drivers take tourists, which is usually at the Club Andino de La Paz, the impressive altitude of 5.300 meters driving. All you have to do there is to hike up only ninety-five meters of elevation. He agreed with me with no questions asked, and like that I would go the rest alone, hiking up, and he agreed to wait for me in the car.
The curious thing is, even where we intended to go, there was plenty of snow and the car skidded on a curve facing the Hidden Lagunas. Three or four ponds beside the road, small, but emerald green. There we were at 4.750 meters of altitude. Well, it turned out I was looking at a considerable altitude gain now, nearly seven hundred and fifty meters of elevation. Good! Way better than the usual 95 people do, and most of them get sick of course, driving so high…
When we got there, and he had nothing to do, and perhaps in order to minimize my poor effort and loneliness as a mountaineer, he walked with me to the Andean Club, really? Yes, he did. Okay, what can I do? He was a native, accustomed to the altitude, for him it was a walk in the park. Even so, before a possible snowstorm, he never thought about going up to the summit. No way for him in his 50’s, and in overweight.
After an hour or so hiking up we reached the Andean Club with a heavy load of fresh snow on the mountain! Much more than I expected to see, of course. But no ice that used to be like love, eternal. I could see with my own eyes that the mountain glacier was gone completely, this was in 2009, and by what I heard, that happened in 2007 or 2008. Ironic, since the melt formed below absolutely beautiful lagoons, blue, like natural jacuzzis.
Well, despite my thoughts about my fitness, if I had what it takes to hike such high mountain, never really thought about it much, I could not complain. After three peaks above 5.500 meters only a couple days ago, one of them a possible 6000m+, I arrived in La Paz and the next morning I was in great hurry over a mountain of great altitude, again.
Okay, a touristic mountain, easy as hell, but this is a high mountain, deserves not only respect, but by the very fact of being a mountain and a high one. Plus, Chacaltaya covered by a white mantle is indeed an encouraging sight, this must be said.
After the club Andean, only twenty minutes and another ninety-five meters of altitude gain separated me from the summit. Amazingly easy. There, 5.395 meters above sea level, the view should be totally gorgeous, but it wasn’t because a blizzard was approaching, so the weather was not very good and the pictures proved this. In a few moments a little hole opened and I could see through the cloud layer, and this has
earned me photos that I consider worthy of my personal files.
I even met a brazilian in the mountain, who had never climbed a mountain before. But, although it was new to me know him, it was not new to him to know me, since he was a member of the community "Backpackers in South America" on the old social network called “orkut”, where I was moderator and left many tips for people. He already knew me.
In return, we were just as children. We got a blizzard, a beautiful snowfall by the way, with no winds at all! Was relatively a weak cold, only one -1°C, on the other hand, it had a particular memory on it, I really don’t know how to put it in words.
On the same day, back to La Paz, I talked with the two Israelis which I ended up making friends with, and they were excited to climb the mountain and reach its summit, plus a french couple. It was a comedy, less than twenty hours later I was back on the mountain, down in the same place 4.750 meters of altitude, hiking Chacaltaya again.
It was great to go again, the weather was clear and earned me more photos, this time I took some pretty decent shots with tons of blue sky to contrast with the snow on the mountain. Everyone was happy, and the day was pretty funny.
One of the Israeli dudes took off his clothes and posed as Adam like in creation of adam by michelangelo buonarroti in the sistine chapel. Boy that was a lot of fun. Well, it was cold of course, but not deadly cold, I d say -5ºC, and after like five minutes of shots and plenty of laughter, he was shivering of cold, but cracking it up…
So, if you wanna make an easy mountain into a good fun challenge, all you have to do is:
>Start the hike/ climb way lower than the usual, like hundreds of meters
>Find some people that encourage you to do it again in less than one day
>Find some crazy taxi driver willing to take his chances with the car in a partially frozen road
>Find some Israeli crazy dude to be naked atop the mountain
>Work on a mountain page in summit post to make it worth the trouble!
I assure you, you’ll laugh big time!