We had a few days downtime in La Paz between finishing one tour and starting another. Perfect! It’s a luxury to be in one place so we planned to make the most of it with late nights, lie-ins, reading, eating, and just generally doing not a lot.
However. Within an hour of arriving we were trawling the nearby tour agencies discussing mountain biking and hiking.
We decided on a day hike out to the nearby mountains – I was seduced as soon as I saw the agent’s screensaver of icy lagoons. We were also probably feeling slightly cocky after sailing through the Inca Trail and barely noticing the high altitude of La Paz itself. I glossed over the fact we’d be climbing 700m in four hours.
“How tough is it?” We enquired as we signed a disclaimer.
“Oh it’s fine, easy; it’s all gravel paths like this, see. My parents did it last week and loved it!”
Well, easy is not the word.
The 2 hour drive out was adventure enough. We wound out of La Paz avoiding the many roads that had turned to rubble, and bounced the last hour down a dirt track through fields of llamas and mud huts. Soon the mountains were looming up ahead, looking big and…. Snowy.
“Wow, erm, there’s a lot of snow there!” Our guide David mumbled. “It’s not usually covered in snow!”
Stef looked down at his distinctly non-waterproof shoes.
The starting height of the trek up Mt. Pico Austria is 4600m, a full 400m higher than the highest pass of the Inca Trail. Instantly aware of the lack of oxygen we trundled off, avoiding fleeing alpacas, and soon turned a corner to be face to face with this gorgeous lagoon:
Getting to the first pass was tough and once over, at 5100m we seriously debated turning back. The wind was biting, we were cold, tired, feeling the altitude and faced with this still to climb:
But a quick Snickers break and a pep talk and we plodded on.
The trek to the peak was slow, sliding down shingle and snow and pausing every 3 steps to breathe and swear profusely. But as always on reaching the top the pain was forgotten as we took in the incredible views, reaching as far as Peru and Lake Titicaca with the white mountains and lagoons glistening in the blazing sunshine.
We now have a new record, 5380m, and some gorgeous photographs to prove it.