Huayna Potosi West Face - the biggest face in Bolivia

by Olof Dallner & Michael Whlin

 

The American Route on Huayna Potosi West Face, 6088m.
The American Route on Huayna Potosi West Face, 6088m (click for high-resolution image).

We left La Paz on the 12 of July 2001 for an attempt on the West Face of Huayna Potosi, 6088m high. With 1000 altitude meters of snow and ice it's the biggest face in Bolivia.
We went with a mini-bus from Andean Summits, one of the best guide-companies in La Paz.
 

Huayna Potosi West Face seen from the road to lake Titicaca.

Two of their guides had climbed the face a couple of weeks ago, and gave us some info. We followed an old pipeline and then walked over the glacier to a bivouac site just below the face.

Olof Dallner on the pipeline on the approach to the West Face of Huayna Potosi.

Dinner consisted of Hungarian goulash, soup and chocolate mousse (that was a lot compared to what we used to get in Apolobamba...). we were going lightweight, so we didn't bring a tent. We crawled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep.

Michael Whlin and Olof Dallner in the biouvac under the West Face of Huayna Potosi.
Michael Whlin & Olof Dallner in the bivouac under the West Face of Huayna Potosi.

At 9 PM there is a loud noise and Michael wakes up. An ice avalanche goes down the West Face. Olof has to see this! Mike shakes Olof back to life,
and he gets a pretty brutal awakening...
We are in a reasonably well protected place, and the avalanche passes by us with a 100m. But we can feel the windblast and we get covered with powder snow. Micke turns back to sleep, but Olof finds it a bit difficult to fall asleep after that kind of a wake-up, and he spends an hour counting falling stars...

At midnight the clock rings, but we don't get up until 12.30. It takes time to melt ice with the MSR stove, but at 4 AM we are ready to leave, and we start moving up the glacier. And by now we realize that its Friday the 13th...
 
Michael Whlin on the West Face of Huayna Potosi, Bolivia.
Michael Whlin on the West Face of Huayna Potosi.
 
Olof Dallner on the traverse above the hanging glacier, Huayna Potosi West Face.
Olof Dallner on the traverse above the hanging glacier, Huayna Potosi West Face.

At first the angle is easy, but then it gets steeper. We pass over a couple of small crevasses and reach the bergschrund. When Olof tries to pass he falls into the crevasse to his waist, but gets up and over.
Then we climb up to the Hanging Glacier, and traverse to the right high over it to reach a gully leading to the summit.
Olof Dallner high up on the West Face.
Olof Dallner high up on Huayna Potosi West Face.
 
Michael Whlin high above the Hanging Glacier, Huayna Potosi West Face.
Michael Whlin high above the Hanging Glacier on Huayna Potosi West Face.

Up here the snow conditions got worse and it was impossible to put any reasonable protection. Mike's time in La Paz had made that he wasn't properly acclimatized for this altitude, and the altitude cough was getting really bad. We started to loose speed. But Olof was strong after climbing Sajama (6500m) and kept leading. Because of stomach-problems none of us had any real food to eat. We only took two Maxim Energy Gels each...

We tried to find some better snow and we got a bit too far to the right. Under the summit we had to traverse left . Olof climbed without protection over a small ridge with deep loose snow, and then we were on the route again.
Mike led the final pitch up to the big cornice, and found a place to climb through. We were up!
Olof Dallner below the cornice on the West Face, Huayna Potosi. Photo Michael Whlin
Olof Dallner below the cornice on the West Face of Huayna Potosi.
 
Olof Dallner reaching the summit ridge on top of the West Face.
Olof Dallner reaching the summit ridge on top of the West Face Huayna Potosi.

The climb had taken us 13 hours, and it was late, 5.30 PM. The normal route down the east side isn't difficult, but its steep near the summit. We decided to down climb unroped to be able to move faster. In one and a half hour we descended to Campo Argentino (5500m) where we made our second bivy.
There was only one tent there. Inside were some Germans who didn't greet us, they just shouted "keep quiet, we wanz zoo zleep".. It wasn't that late, so we didn't care much, just started the MSR stove and fixed something to drink.
 
Michael Whlin in the bivouac after climbing Huayna Potosi West Face.
Michael Whlin in the bivouac after climbing Huayna Potosi West Face.
 
Olof Dallner in the bivouac after climbing Huayna Potosi West Face.
Olof Dallner in the bivouac after climbing Huayna Potosi West Face.

During the night several teams passed our bivy site on their way up. They stop and stare at the two persons laying in the snow without a tent!
The next morning we didn't get up until 11 o'clock.
Then we moved down to the Refugio Huayna Potosi (the hut) below the mountain. On the way we met a singing Hugo, the owner of the hut.
He recognized us from before,  and asked What The F* are you doing here??? When he heard that we did the west face he got very excited and kissed us! The west face is obviously not climbed that often...
Refugio Huayna Potosi.
Refugio Huayna Potosi.

Down at the hut we managed to get lift with a taxi. But because of old blockades there were a lot of rocks on the road, and soon we got a flat tire. The spare tire wasn't that good, and soon that broke as well...
Far from any garage we had to drive on the broken tire for hours, and it fell to pieces.
Flat tire.
The flat tire.

In El Alto we switched to another taxi and went to our hotel.
Later that night we celebrated at the classic Mongos bar in La Paz.
 
Photos & Text Copyright Olof Dallner & Michael Whlin

Swedish Apolobamba Expedition 2001, Bolivia.


Index  |
Article in Brant Magazine (pdf)  |  Detailed route description (pdf)