Apr 122012

La Paz, Bolivia.

With a big sigh I sit down. My back-pack slides off of my back, hits the floor with a loud clap. Too busy to get my breath to really care, I stare at it dumb-folded. Hands are cold, feet are freezing. Heart is racing in my throat, lungs are in agony to get enough oxygen to my body. Made it to high camp. And this was just the first part…

Huayna Potosi, 6.088 meters above sea level. Just about the highest you can do without oxygen flasks or really serious training. A nice 3 day trip out of La Paz. Cool!

Base camp was at a nice 4.800 meters. Only a single kilometer above La Paz. A bit of training on the nearby glacier, trying to scale a 12 meter vertical wall, using cramp-ons and ice-axes. Beautiful but incredibly heavy!

A night of sleep at base camp. No heating. 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of pants, shirt, long-sleeve, sweater, thick sleeping bag. Waking up every 20 minutes, either because I was cold or because I couldn’t breath. A hot cup of tea in the morning never felt so good!

In the morning, 2 hour trek up to high camp, at 5.200 meters. Some 12 kilos of backpack on my back, coca leaves stuffed in the side of my mouth (The Netherlands isn’t the only country with legal drugs!). Step by step up.

I love to go hiking, see different landscapes, talk a bit with my fellow hikers. It’s fun!

This wasn’t!

Every step up a struggle. Legs giving out. Pain. No breath! Why the hell am I doing this? And this is just up the first part. From high camp to the top will be another 6 hours. With even less oxygen.

After two hours we reached high camp. Dead! Again thinking, why am I doing this? And my intuition gives a very clear answer: For fun!

But what if it isn’t fun?

Should I push on to reach the summit, slightly less than a kilometer up? Will that make me a better person? I know I’ll be hating myself for all of the 6 hours up (and then another 2-3 hours down). Is that worth reaching some goal which in the end is pretty arbitrary? Of course it’s nice to be able to say that I climbed to a height of 6k. So will I do it so I can brag about it to other people? Or not to disappoint the other people in my group (they can go very well without me)? Do I need to do this to show I’ve got willpower?

In the end I decided that this wasn’t what my trip was about. Reaching goals, showing willpower, achieving something are all very nice, but it does have to be something I believe in. So, I stayed, nice and comfy (ok, cold and miserable) at high camp, whilst the rest set out for the top.

I’m still struggling with myself. Does it show more strength to push on and reach a hard, but ultimately useless goal, or is it better to listen to your intuition and decide not to do it?

Everybody got back dead on their feet, without having reached the top. Snow and wind forced everybody to stop some 50 meters lower than the highest point. Still very impressive!