FLORA, A DIFFERENT «CHOLITA ESCALADORA»
In October 2019, I decided to climb a new glacier, and explore the Calzada mountains. It is a beautiful mountain that we had spotted with Hugo from the northern edge of the Cheraoco last year. An impressive mountain with nice shapes. However, that would be a big piece of work ! I suggested to Flora to join me as I wanted to live a great mountain experience with another woman from a different culture, who shared the same passion and values as me. Flora is a young Bolivian woman who started climbing a year ago, doing a series of summits, and following my steps. She is a young woman of 30 years old passionate about mountains.
She lately embarked herself on the ascent of the Huayna Potosi western side, just a week after my second ascent, and then she crossed the Illimani last august. She is energetic and determined. Her particularity is that she claims to be a Cholita while opposing herself to the «climbing cholitas», a brand new phenomenon in Bolivia. When she starts climbing a mountain, Flora leaves her traditional cholita clothing and puts on her mountaineering equipment. She is totally aware that mountain is a serious topic and that is important to have the appropriate equipment for her safety and the one of her roped party partner. She is not looking to create any buzz, quite the contrary, her objective is to correct what was recently over-broadcasted, and put back mountaineering in its right place, which is a passion to be practiced in a responsible way.
LOOKING FOR THE CALZADA SUMMIT, BETWEEN ICE WALL AND CREVASSE
So, Flora and I left La Paz to go explore this beautiful massif. We passed by this beautiful valley almost idyllic that I really enjoyed last year. We walked along 2 wonderful green emerald colored lakes. Then we established our camp at the bottom of the valley, at the foot of the mountain, and at the edge of the river, at 4777 meters a.s.l.
After analyzing the field, it seemed harder and dangerous to climb by the north-west side. Huge serac were threatening the way and even more on the west, a rocky line seemed to be difficult to cross. We decided to start on the right, by the South-east side. This would be longer, but it seemed easier. However crossing that rocky chaos will be longer and arduous.
We left around 1:30 AM. It was indeed a never-ending climb in the rocks. Some impassable rocky walls made us make detours, Flora was walking like a young goat and I was gritting my teeth waiting to reach the glacier. It took us 4 hours to reach the edge of the glacier at about 5300 meters a.s.l.
I was relieved to arrive on the ice, so I could take my cruising speed on the glacier. I was on a more favorable ground and the day was soon going to rise. After several more or less steep slopes, we reached a plateau just under the summit. We could have thought that we arrived at the top hill, but unfortunately, I knew this one was still far away. It really was a nice track from the base camp. The real summit was finally in sight. We decided to head on the right to climb up the summit. I started to be tired. After a last steep slope, we arrived under an ice wall just under the summit, that was very close to us. Unfortunately, a huge opened crevasse was shutting off the access to the summit.
What a shame, we should have turned left. We must accept, while exploring, that there is a part of hazard and setback that we cannot avoid. Sometimes we have to try twice before reaching the real summit. So we decided to celebrate our ascent under the ice wall which was concealing the summit. Flora as always put her Cholita clothes she was carrying in her backpack. She placed two or three skirts on top of her pant, slipped a blue tee-shirt on and here she is unrecognizable! We start a photo shooting session, is in a joyous and relaxed atmosphere… the ones who know me, know that I do not really enjoy mockeries, but in that case, I was really comfortable with Flora, because I know she feels a real passion and a great respect for the mountains, and expressing her Cholita’s identity is important to her, she proudly wants to take it up with her to the summit.
THE CALZADA DESCENT, ANOTHER DIFFICULTY
After a good laugh, we had to start going down and this would be exhausting. To avoid the traumatic rocky chaos, we would have to do a detour by the glacier heading back far to the east. It was indeed better, but never-ending. We seriously started to be exhausted Flora and myself. We had to rappel down two steep slopes before reaching the bottom of the valley … I fell in a crevasse during the descent, more fear than pain, even if my knee turned violet from this adventure.
At the base camp, our carrier friends and Lisa were waiting for us with anxiety. They were thinking about coming to look for us as they started to get worried. It was more than 12 hours that we were gone and we had not succeeded in contacting them by radio. It is clear that while exploring the Andes, you can only rely on yourself. Mountain rescue do not really exist in Bolivia.
Here, we still live real adventures, where the concept of danger really exist.
We can still dream about exploration, discover virgin summits, open our own path, retrace your steps and find the right route, analyze the field and make our way through, be scared and feel alone, feel the real loneliness, here no helicopter will find you and that changes a lot the perspective.
After regaining some strength at the base camp, we still had to get back down the valley to the car. We spent a wonderful day sharing our common passion about mountains and I was really happy to have met another woman passionate about the Andes as much as I am, to live strong moments together, that only a real mountain enthusiast could understand.
Text written by Anne Bialek.