THE WAKANA, THE MOST UNKNOWN 6000 OF BOLIVIA
Beginning of May, we went to explore the beautiful massif of Wakana. It is a wonderful summit culminating at 6200 meters a.s.l, neighbor of the Ancohuma mountain. The latter is really distinct from its neighbor. I don’t know why the Wakana wasn’t recognized as part of the «6000» of Bolivia. Anyway, for many years I wished to come and explore this beautiful valley of the San Francisco Lagoon and I wasn’t disappointed. Beginning of May, the weather was still a little unpredictable. We had a mixed day for the ascent. A real white day. The weather wasn’t bad, but, thick hazes were going up from the Yungas and were covering the massif. As a result, we nearly couldn’t see anything. By moments, the weather would clear up by magic, letting appear a wonderful glacial valley. There we discovered a magical and exquisite place, we felt under this glacial valley’s spell. Several sumptuous peaks were presenting themselves to us. We were ascending on the North-West edge before realizing the ice slopes were too exposed. So we went back down in the valley before climbing back up again on the North-East edge. A 100 meters down the summit, an electrical storm was close to electrocute us … and we had to rush back down. More scared than hurt … It wasn’t a big deal, we will come back in June.
So we found the path of the normal way. But we still had to confirm the possibility to propose this circuit to customers. Starting from the base camp at 5000 meters above sea level, wasn’t reasonable, too long and physical.
We had to walk 13 hours with a elevation of 1500 meters and a distance of 12 kilometers. We had to find another solution. We must consider a camp upon the glacier and to do so, we had to go back in order to confirm the practicability. We had to find carriers from the village able to walk on a glacier, train them to ice walking, find them some equipment, find a camp halfway to the summit. We needed a guinea pig as well, someone playing a lambda customer. For this time, it will be Elena. Elena likes mountain walking, she is not faint-hearted, she already done glacial races before. She’s obviously very well acclimatized, but never trained, so she doesn’t have much resistance. She will be the ideal guinea pig to confirm if my plan is correct to suggest this summit to clients !
EXPLORATION OF THE WAKANA TO OPEN A NEW ASCENT
We left the 28th of June, still under the spell and the tiredness of our challenge on the West side of the Huayna Potosi, ascended 3 days earlier.
This time , the weather was constantly sunny. After we paid the entrance fee to the Malku village, we could reach the first camp. The valley is still so beautiful and we would climb up to the foot of the glacier without problem. This time, we were ascending with a lot of equipment, crampons, shoes for each carrier, food and Valeriano as a chef. The atmosphere was good. Even if Elena showed some signs of fatigue and wasn’t so hungry. Sleeping at 5000 meters a.s.l isn’t so easy when you are not used to.
The next day, we left to install the camp on the glacier. Everybody was motivated and excited, almost a little overexcited.
Once we arrived at the edge of the glacier, things were now getting serious. Hugo and Cecilio took the necessary time to train our array of carriers. Such a great time ! They were really focused and assiduous … no joke upon the glacier ! They had to climb alone, without any rope … they had to be attentive and not make any mistake. Basic techniques, safety rules … And here is our great team starting to walk upon the glacier, some were clumsy at the beginning, unsure of how to walk with their ice picks or how using the ice axe … but finally, everybody got in step … they even were racing each other on the glacier, that was a great laugh and they loved the experience. Our chef Valeriano already saw himself as a mountain guide … everyone was progressing in single file … Elena was walking in a slow rhythm, but wouldn’t lose sight of the rest of the group … we found a sloping hedge at 5560 meters a.s.l. We were considering climbing up 100 meters more, but carriers started to be tired as well. And we were actually good over here … we realized the day after that the higher plateau was full of crevasses … a real “gruyere”.
THE DIFFICULTIES OF THE ALTITUDE TO OVERCOME
However, Elena arrived exhausted and really affected. I believe altitude had knocked her down. She couldn’t eat anything and was very weak. We started to quickly assemble the camp in order to let her having some rest. I did the same.
Meanwhile, Cecilio took Victor, our young carrier, the most interested in a glacial experience. They did an initiatory process in order to discover the mountain guide job. I think that Cecilio went a little hard, Victor was dead at his return and above all, he wasn’t motivated at all to do the ascent with us anymore !!! He did not expect so much difficulties. After a nap, I was worried not to have heard about Elena. She is rather the type of person that likes to chat. And for a reason, she wasn’t feeling good, she had vomited, felt really weak, had a bad headache … all the signs of altitude sickness. I gave her a diamox and she forced herself to eat some soup. We were all unanimous, if she didn’t get better the day after, she couldn’t do the ascent.
After a cold and non-relaxing night, the alarm rang … miraculously, I heard Elena speaking and laughing. Even if she hasn’t sleep, she was getting much better … I was so happy … we would do the ascent all four of us, and Elena would have her revenge on the Chachacomani that she had to give up just under the summit !
Here we go ! Elena took her cruising speed, slow but regular. It was good enough for me cause I didn’t recover after the 15 hours on the West side wall of the Huayna Potosi… I was following calmly, settling myself on Elena’s rythm. I believe I never suffered so much from the coldness. It was seriously stingily and I felt a vast tiredness engulfing me. I had a lot of difficulties to endure the coldness ! That’s when I realized we should have anticipated more recovering time … here we were, we had to go till the end. Then, the day started to raise, we arrived under the summit slope from where we had to escape in emergency. I was very happy about feeling the sun heat. That was already 6 hours walking and we were about to go on summit wall ascent. We were at 6100 meters a.s.l and we passed Elena and Cecilio’s rope party. We were going to open up the path upon the slope. It wasn’t a very high one, around 80 meters but the more the slope was rising, the more I was telling myself Elena maybe wouldn’t be able to climb up. That was really steep for her.
We were progressing calmly. I felt my legs ran out of strengths, my whole body in fact and I was asking Hugo to place an ice pin. Of course, we were pretty close, but between the icy passages and my lack of energy, it was more serious. Here we were … one more false flat and 15 minutes walking and we will reach the real summit. It was a really beautiful summit. I felt emotional by so much beauty. We overhang Sorata’s valley, the impressive Ancohuma dominate us by several hundreds meters. We could observe the whole Royal Cordillera row until the Huayna and its famous West side !
After enjoying the place, we had to start going back down thinking Elena was still at the foot of the slope, when suddenly, I saw them arriving. Such an emotional moment ! I was so happy for Elena. She found the strength to continue until the end, she went beyong her limits to ascent the slope and reach the summit plateau. Hats off to Elena and well done to the whole team for the expedition success !
The Wakana is a wonderful summit which deserves to be discovered! It presents splendid views, offers a short but technical part, a high camp on the amazing glacier, which is a real incredible experience … and you can even end up in the thermal waters of the San Francisco Lagoon. It is possible to climb up some other peaks, surrounding this beautiful glacial valley as well … for sure, you won’t get bored!