BD athlete Callum Pettit reports on a ski mountaineering mission to Bolivia with Sherpas Cinema
BD athlete Callum Pettit headed down to Bolivia in October with a crew of skiers, including BD athlete Johnny Collinson, and a film team from Sherpas Cinema, to take on a ski descent of Huayna Potosi. Below is the email Callum sent us shortly before his return Stateside.
From: callum pettit
Date: October 18, 2012 1:28:13 PM MDT
I’m checking in from La Paz, Bolivia. I’m down here with Kris Erickson, Kye Petersen and Johnny Collinson, as well as two filmers, Eric Crossland and Anjin Herndon. Juan is our guide here and helping organize logistics. He has climbed the mountains around here hundreds of times. The first day we arrived it was pedestrian day in La Paz so the streets were full of people and no cars, which changed drastically the next morning. The next day we went two hours out of the city to the massive Lake Titticaca and learned some history. The locals there make boats out of reeds—very impressive stuff. We took a boat ride across the lake to an island to look at the beautiful Cordillera Real range. We also walked around at some higher altitudes to acclimatize. We are about to depart the city and head to basecamp at 4750m. Our first objective was to ski the French Route face on Huayna Potosi that tops out at 6000m.
The drive up to basecamp at Huayna Potosi was a spectacular one—once we got out of the city's outskirts. We bumped along in our 4x4 Toyota van that was fully loaded, our gear strapped to the roof. We traveled through the llama-filled, shrubby desert hills with Huayna prominently towering above the surroundings. We pulled up to the refugio basecamp and unloaded, had some dinner and hit the sleeping bags. The sleeping part was harder than I imagined. Trying to sleep at 4750m gave me a splitting headache for most of the night. One comment written on the wall I noticed read, " It's like there are trolls in my head playing drums."
In the morning we had some breakfast of bread and cream cheese, scrambled eggs and mate tea, which would be a staple for the trip. We also had these tasty Nescafe single cappuccino packets that were a hot commodity even with the porters.
We loaded up our packs with all our personal gear, including skis and boots. The porters took all the food. We also had a cook so that was quite nice. Our packs, however, were in no sense light. We left to the upper Refugio Roca at 5100m. Huayna is a popular mountain to climb but not many people go to climb the route we planned on and certainly not many at all bring skis with them to descend.
I was not the only one feeling the affects of the altitude. Kye seemed to be affected hard with bad headaches and Johnny was fighting stomach pains for the few nights at high camp and could barley eat at times, but we were all hanging in there. We geared up for our first day on snow and decided we would use the day to not go for the French Face but get on some smaller faces a bit lower to let us acclimatize that much more (we had been on a pretty rapid acclimatization). Crampons on feet and skis on back, we marched up the glacier on a beaten-in trail. Roped up in two groups: the cameramen and Juan, and then us young’ns with Kris (who is certified guide and our group leader) in front.
After about four hours we were on top of a nice face nestled at the top of the glacier, which is on the standard climbing route alongside some big seracs. The snow was very sugary and questionable—quite steep as well at just over 50 degrees.
Kris set up an anchor and Johnny clipped in and tested the slope. After feeling it out and giving it the ok he unclipped and ripped a nice run with millions of snow crystals glistening and bouncing behind him. Kye and I then followed.
We all met up and had a long ski down the Refugio Roca. The stars were very bright up there and you could see a bright glow in the distance that was the light from La Paz. Every night the cook would concoct a splendidly hearty vegetable soup that was absolutely delicious followed by some sort or rice and meat dish. We would jam music on our x-mini speakers, which were sweet to have. My sleep was improving, but was still hardly a sleep. Every night we usually had to get up and take a pee cause we were drinking so much water, which was not what you wanted to do but you can only hold it for so long. Some of the longest pees of my life.
We got up at 3:30am the next day to boot to Huayna Potosi summit. It is actually nice starting early because we were not walking in the heat of the Death Star, as we call the sun. We witnessed one of the most spectacular sunrises I have seen that morning and stopped to take it in before we got out the ice axes and proceeded to ascend the French Face, which is 300-meters long.
The snow was firm and rough—not ideal conditions in the slightest. Thoughts went through my head, asking myself if it was worth it. I tried to ignore the thoughts and climb on. As soon as I got to the top the two ahead of me, Kris and Johnny, greeted me. It soon dawned on me that YES this is WORTH IT! High fives were tossed up and I took in the view on the other side of the mountain. It was cool because it was a knifeedge ridge and not much room to sit. The summit was at 6000m—a personal highest point on earth.
Kye and Anjin arrived at the top and we got ready to ski down the damn thing. I was ready to go first and started the only way one can, shifting those ski tips downward. I started off steady and as controlled as I could be given the chatter icy conditions. Then a quarter of the way down I had a sketchy moment chattering down a spiney feature engulfed in the icy pebbles falling down the slope. I regained composure and was going slower at the bottom, catching my breath every few turns. Quite a leg burner. Finally made it over the ‘shrund and to where Crossland was filming from. Everyone got down the face after some huffing n' puffin and some difficult survival skiing. It would have been nice to give it more time to let the face soften up more but we were going back to La Paz that night—it was time for a good nights sleep in a lower-elevation hotel room.