Just a short drive from La Paz is Huayna Potosí, whose 6,088-meter peak is Bolivia’s most climbed mountain. It’s known as one of the world’s easiest 6,000m peaks due to the high altitude of the trailhead and the lack of technical skills required. Not anyone can reach the peak, but if you are in hiking shape and take the time to acclimate, you’ll have a good chance.
In my group 14 of 15 climbers reached the summit despite only 4 having previous mountaineering experience. The experience of reaching the summit for the sunrise was an incredible feeling and definitely something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
When to Climb
You can climb Huayna Potosí year-round, but during the wetter months of December to March it’s significantly more challenging to reach the summit. May to August is the peak climbing season.
What Gear Do I Need?
I went with Jiwaki Tours and they provided all the essential gear. The climbing equipment they provided included crampons, an ice axe, a helmet, a headlamp, boot gaiters, and a harness. You will also receive 2 jackets, 2 pairs of pants, a hat, gloves, a neck gaiter, and boots. Items like a sleeping bag and a 50L backpack are available for rent.
How Much Does it Cost?
Including equipment rental, park entrance, and tip, the 3-day tour only costs 1300 BOB ($189 US). This is one of the cheapest mountaineering excursions out there.
Day 1: You leave La Paz around 9 AM and drive 2 hours to the base camp (4,700m). In the afternoon, you go to a nearby glacier to learn the technique for using crampons and the ice axe.
Day 2: You’ll spend the morning at the base camp and eat an early lunch before hiking for 2 hours to the high camp at 5,100m. Everyone goes to sleep around 8 PM to prepare for the summit attempt.
Day 3: The final day starts very early with a 12 AM wake up to put all the gear on and pack your backpack for the summit attempt. After breakfast, you leave the high camp at 1 AM to reach the summit for sunrise. The pace of the hike is fairly slow to reduce the risk of altitude sickness and you take breaks every 100m increase in altitude. The most difficult part of the ascent is a 25m ice wall you climb using the axe. At the summit, you get about 20 minutes to enjoy the views and take pictures before descending. You’ll arrive at the base camp around 11 AM-12 PM before returning to La Paz.
If you have previous mountain climbing experience, you can skip the first day and make it a 2-day tour.
Tips for the Climb
Hydrate as much as you can – The guides offer tea 4-5 times a day and this will help avoid altitude headaches.
Bring coca leaves – Chewing these will not only give you energy but also help you acclimate.
Go big on the boot sizing – At the equipment fitting, go a size big for the boots because you’ll be wearing 2-3 pairs of socks when attempting to summit.
Bring a deck of cards or a book – On days 1 and 2 there is a lot of downtime in the camps with no internet signal.
Overall, this was a fantastic experience and something I highly recommend if you like a challenge. I’ll never forget the time I summited Huayna Potosí and it was a unique experience compared to the typical South American backpacking trail activities. I had a fantastic experience with Jiwaki Tours and their seasoned guides are bilingual.
Where to Next
La Paz – This unique and chaotic city has lively markets, cable cars, and adventure activities.
Copacabana (4 hours by bus) – On the shores of Lake Titicaca this town has hiking, fantastic landscapes, and the chance to spend a night on one of the lake’s islands.
Uyuni Salt Flats (9 hours) – These 12,000 square kilometer salt flats are undoubtedly one of the top attractions in South America.
Rurrenabaque (14 hours) – Swim with pink dolphins and spot monkeys, capybaras, and caimans in the Amazon.