ACROSS THE ALTIPLANO

…and I eventually called it a day beneath the volcanoes of Parinacota and Pomerape on a dried-out lake bed.  It was quite windy still so I retreated to the shelter of my tent…

Sunset that evening was pretty special though…

It’s funny how these things work – you can camp at 4700m and be toasty warm and then camp the next night at 4000m and be freezing.  This spot, at 4400m, was a chilly one so there was a fair amount of condensate/ice to dry out the next morning…

The sun was up on schedule to dry things out though…

And that morning, as I neared the Bolivian border, had some pretty special views…

5km from the Chilean border checkpoint, however, the lines of stationary trucks began.  It transpired that the Chilean border staff were striking and were therefore letting hardly any lorries through.  You can understand Bolivia’s frustrations when one of their main freight arteries can be disrupted so easily – it’s paralysing for the economy.

Before long, I was passing the border and heading downhill into Bolivia…

However, my border luck had not yet turned and it wasn’t until I arrived at the post at Tambo Quemado in Bolivia that I discovered that I was meant to get my Chile exit stamp back up top where the trucks had been queuing!  The website (AndesByBike) from where I had got the route had said that both stamps were done in Tambo Quemado and I had failed to read the subsequent user comment that said that this had changed!  With a large queue in both directions at the Chilean border, I wasn’t able to hitch a ride back up with a lorry and instead had to find a willing taxi driver to take me back up there (there was no way I was going to cycle it)!  Needless to say, about an hour later, I had all the necessary stamps in my passport and was free to go on my way, lesson truly learnt.

The timing had worked out well and I caught up with Thomas, Tina and English cyclist, Rob (who had joined them a few days earlier), a few kms down the road towards the Acotango basecamp.  After a punishing ride only a few 100m up but into a severe headwind, and having bumped into Neil, Vicky and Mike (who were on their way down from the mountain), we eventually found a modicum of shelter and set up camp.

Shortly after sunrise the next morning, we set off for the summit…

It was hard work, not only because of the altitude but also because our walking/climbing fitness was pretty poor – it’s a totally different set of muscles from cycling.  It’s not a particularly technical climb – probably one of the easiest 6000ers – but there’s quite a bit of loose rock and scree to negotiate, followed by the last remaining bit of ice to scramble over along the ridge at the top.

On the way down, Rob and I decided to take a ‘shortcut’ down the scree, which turned into quite a fun sliding/skiing escapade…

We were lucky with the weather, which held out until we were a few hundred metres down from the summit…

Unfortunately, the climb had taken its toll on my left knee which, by this point, was pretty painful.  I don’t think it was anything too serious (although it’s still a bit sore two weeks later) – just a strain, having not done much walking prior.  It’s not sore when cycling, just when walking or pushing the bike and probably just needs a few weeks rest.  I’ve scheduled in some time off the bike next April… 😉

It made for a slow walk down and the clouds gathered behind us…

6 Comments

  1. Incredible pictures – can’t wait to see them on a big screen. And the nights on the Salar must have been extraordinary. Hope the few days’ rest has helped your knee Xxx

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