Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Crissy VS. Mount Huayna Potosi, Summit Day

                                                  Read part 1 and 2 of the story before this one. 

After a freezing night tossing and turning in my sleeping bag, we were awoken at the blackness of midnight. During a quick breakfast, I managed to stomach some coca tea and half a piece of bread. My stomach was doing summersaults of nervousness and excitedness. Did I have what it takes to get to the top of Mount Huayna Potosi? Only time would tell. Already, we had lost another climber. Nikolas, who had convinced me to climb this mountain, was not feeling well and opted to stay at High Camp rather than attempt the summit climb.

We donned our snow gear and mountaineering boots, packed our backpacks full of water and snacks and were off. The first part was tricky...trying to make our way down the rocky mountain side in the pitch black, with only a weak headlamp to light the way. Once we were down the rocks, we came to the snowy peak that would be our stairway to the top of the world. Crampons on, ice pick in hand, harnessed to my guide, I started to make my way up.

Right away, I could feel the effects of the altitude. I was dizzy, my head spinning, and my breath was coming in gasps that did nothing to satisfy my lungs. One step at a time, I continued to climb. I knew this was going to be one of the biggest physical stuggles of my life. My vision blurred and I had to shake my head, which sent me into a wave of dizziness that nearly knocked me off my feet. I stood still for a few minutes, hoping it would pass. My guide urged me on. He wanted me to finish this almost as much as I did myself. A few more steps and the dizziness would not go away. Now I was fighting vomit back down my throat. A wave of nasuea over took me, and I had to turn my head and let my breakfast go on the mountain.

Nearly hyperventilating and vommiting at the same time is not an easy task...especially when you are half way up a mountain. As soon as the wave of sickness passed, I climbed up further. I would will myself to take 5 big steps followed by 10 little steps and then take a break. I managed to do this a few times before the nausea took over again. Now I could only manage a few steps before I was bent over gagging and wretching. My guide asked me if I was ok, and if I wanted to quit. When I heard him use the word "quit" I knew I had to suck it up and keep going. There is nothing worse than being called a quitter, and I could still put one foot in front of the other, although wretching the whole time.

It became a slow, slow process. A few steps followed by uncontolled gagging. At this point, there was nothing left in my stomach and I was choking on the thin air around me. The guide asked me again if I wanted to go back. I thought about it this time. At this point, it would have taken me forever to get to the summit. But, while dry heaving, I tested my will and put one foot in front of the other to take another step. I could keep going.

Up somewhere around 5600 meters, less than 500 meters from the summit, I had an uncontrollable vommit attack. I dropped to my knees and was racked with gags and dry heaves for nearly 20 minutes straight. My head was spinning so much I barely knew which way was up and down. At this point, the guide stopped asking if I was ok, and if I could go any further. This time he told me it was unsafe for me to go up any higher. My head was foggy, and I didn´t even have the breath to argue. I simply hung my head, and between vomit spells, let him lead me back down the mountain.

Back at High Camp, the vomit spells had passed. I crawled back into my sleeping bag, although sleep would not come. All I could think about were the others, who were now probably very close to the summit. Today, I would not look down at the world from 6088 meters. Today, I had failed what I had set out to do. I was not happy. In my sleeping bag, I began to second guess myself. Could I have pushed a little bit harder? A little bit further? Just taken one more step? I fell into a fitful sleep wondering if I really had given it all I had.

I awoke when the others returned. Seven of us had started this journey, and only 4 had finished. When I asked, they all agreed that climbing Mount Huayna Potosi was one of the most physically challenging things they had ever done. They also said that the last 200 meters were EXTREMELY difficult. I finally began to accept that at the state I was in, still 500 meters from the top, I would not have been able to make it. One little thing made me feel a bit better. It was extremely cloudy at the summit, so the views were nearly non exsistent.

We headed back down toward base camp, and the hike down was SOOOO much easier than the climb up. I thought about what I had attempted, and how I had failed, and realized that it is not always about the destination, but about the journey. So many times during the climb, I doubted I could go any further. But for as long as I possibly could, I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I climbed higher than I ever though possible, and pushed my body until it would be pushed no more. No, I didn´t make it, but I gave it my all trying. This was not a failure. I had succeeding in going further than I thought I could. I had tried something I didn´t think I could do. The quote "nothing ventured, nothing gained" popped into my head. I had tried, and although I didn´t make it to the summit, I had gained a sense of respect for the limits of my body and the powers of nature. I had also gained some confidence in myself and my ability to keep going even when giving up would have been easier.

But at the same time, there are still nagging doubts in my head. Could I have gone just a little bit further? What if I had acclimatized for a longer period of time...then could I have made it? Was that really EVERYTHING I had?

In the end, Mount Huanya Potosi must be declared the winner, but due to altitude sickness, and not for lack of trying.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Crissy VS. Mount Huayna Potosi, Day 2

                                       Read part 1 of the story here.

We awoke early in the morning after I had endured a restless sleep. At base camp, we slept on the top floor of a small house type building. It was much warmer than camping would have been, but you are sleeping on a very thin and dirty matress, side by side with all of the other climbers. A high altitude can often make sleep difficult, never mind having to listen to others as they restlessly toss and turn. And the dreams. I had read quite a bit about the effects of altitude before I left, but I didn´t read anything about how it effects your dreams. Strange dreams, so vivid, accompanied with the inability to tell what is dream and what is reality and heaps of sleep talking. So trying to sleep on a thin matress on the floor while others right beside you are talking in their sleep, tossing and turning, and thrashing out randomly, makes a good night sleep difficult.

Neverless, at 7 am we were on our way to High Camp. Today was a 2 - 4 hour hike through rocky terrain. We would not need our cold gear today. I had a much better idea what today was going to be like, so I started off the hike with vigor. It did not last long. My pack was probably 25 pounds, carrying all the water, warm clothes and hiking gear I would need for the next two days. After 10 minutes I was huffing and puffing and generally wondering how I was going to make it through the day. My guide had a couple of friends who were accompanying us for a few hundred meters of the trek. One offered to take my bag. I thanked him a million times, and gratefully handed over my pack.

Slowly we climbed. I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other, and trying to keep control of my breathing. It is a terrible feeling to not be able to catch your breath when you are just standing still, and it is even more terrible trying to physically exert yourself when you constantly feel like the wind has been knocked out of you. Off in the distance, I could see this rock mountain, with a little house on top. I had a terrible feeling that this was High Camp. I looked at the path of this nearly vertical ascent and wondered if I should go back. Earlier in the morning, the skinny Brazilian kid headed back to Base Camp, unable to hack the altitude and the physically challenging climb. Before we ascended, we took a break and reasembled as a group. I was glad to know that everyone was struggling, and it was just not me. At this point, 2 other climbers had given up their packs to the helpers. We were lucky enough to have them climb all the way to High Camp with us.

Up the rocky mountain we went!! It was extremely steep, with loose and slippery rocks everywhere. Sometimes the path disapeared and I had to do my best to figure out the safest route. At anytime, a rock slide could have swept me away. At anytime, one false step could have me tumbling hundreds of meters to the rocks below. Soon, everyone had passes me. Even my guide wasn´t waiting. He would climb quickly and them wait for me, 20 or 30 minutes ahead. Quite often, with no one in sight I felt like the only person on the mountain. I started thinking, "what was I doing here? I am not a mountain climber. I am a fat, out of shape, city girl, who likes to pretend to be able to do outdoorsy, athletic, adventerous things. I did not belong here." The more I thought about it, and the more I looked up at this never ending steep, steep climb, I knew I was in over my head. But I am never one to just give up. I had made it this far, and I could still take one more step, so up the mountain I went. And even if I am pretending to be athletic, outdoorsy and adventerous, I had better keep on pretendind and keep climbing.

When I thought that just over the next rock face will be sweet,sweet flat ground, I picked up my pace. When I climbed over that rock face and saw an even more steep incline, I felt all of the life drain out of me. It was not a far distance, but it was so steep. I sat down on a rock and stared up the mountain for a few minutes. I was so close, but felt so far. That last 100 meters took longer than any other 100 meters in life, and when I got to the top I could barely stand on my feet. But, I was happy to have made it. After all those doubts creeping in and out of my mind and the memory of the view of high camp from the bottom, I was thrilled to actually be here. Hello High Camp!!

The walls of High Camp were signed and drawn all over of people who had made the trek before us. I did not find their words encouraging. Some of the writting said ¨"made it. satisfied. would never do it again." and "nearly killed me, and I didn´t even make it" and "next time moutntain, I will defeat you". Some of the writing had a more positive tone, but I could still see through to the darker undertones. For example, "if mount potosi doesn"t kill you, it will make you stronger". But still many were celebrations about summitting the 6088 meters. At High Camp we relaxed, played cards, ate an early dinner and went to bed in the early evening. We would be waking up at midnight for the 5 - 8 hour climb to the summit.

I had made it this far, and only a few hours of climbing seperated me from the summit. Could I actually do this??

Up next, Summit Day....who wins, Crissy or Mount Huayna Potosi?
Join me, as I TRAVEL MY LIFE AWAY!!!!

*please excuse any spelling errors...I don´t know how to turn the spell checker into english!! Any corrections can be emailed to be at crissy.godwin@mts.net. Thank you!!*

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Crissy VS. Mount Huayna Potosi, Day 1

            "THE EASIEST WAY TO SUMMIT A 6000 M PEAK!!", read the travel agent´s brochure. That was enough for me, it said easy!! I´d climbed a mountain before...and by climbed I mean walked up... to an altitude of 3128 meters in South Africa. Someone should have told me that "easiest way to climb a 6000m peak" and "easy" were not even close to the same thing.

A Sweedish boy named Nikolas convinced me to do it. We bonded over the survival of Death Road, and he told me about his plans to climb Mount Huayna Potosi over lunch. He asked me what I was doing for the next few days, and I told him I had some Spanish lessons planned, but that was it. He invited me to join him, and with my lack of fondness for the Spanish lessons, I gave it a thought. But I wasn´t sure...could I climb a 6088 meter mountain?? Then he said that line that gets me everytime, ¨well what have you got to lose?¨". I signed up at the travel desk after giving the brochure just a quick glance. Tomorrow I was off to conqure a mountain.

Of course from the begining, I had my doubts. I had arrived in La Paz, Bolivia just a few days before and was not entirely acclimatized to the 3700 m altitude. The travel desk reccomments that you should be in Bolivia for about 7 - 10 days before making the climb. I asked if it was hard, and of course the travel agent slash sales person said no, it was easy and it is the cold that gets most people. Well, being Canadian, and a Winnipegger at that, I told her that -15 C is not really that cold. She said I should have no problem then. I wish I had gotten those words on paper. I guess it also slipped my mind at the time, that I am pretty fat and out of shape right now. Even the hills in the city of La Paz were making me huff and puff. Well, too late, I was off to climb a mountain!!

We drove a rugged, twisty path up to base camp. The altitude here was 4700m. Already, I could feel my breath bcome heavier, just standing still. We ate some lunch, met the other climbers, a German girl, a skinny Brazillian boy, an annoyingly talkative Swiss boy, a couple of Belguim guys who looked like mountaineers, and then Nikolas, the Swede who had convinced me to be here, and me, a fat Canadian girl who hadn´t even seen a mountain until a few years ago. We certainly made an eccentric bunch!

We were shuffled into a little garage area. The guide began to unload his bag, pulling out snow suits, facemasks and elbow length mittens. Next he started pulling out the hard core mountaineering gear. Ropes, harnesses, headlamps, crash helmets, crampons and ice axes. This was my first clue I was in a little over my head. What was I going to need an ice axe for?? I still thought we were just going to be walking up a mountain and that it might be cold.

I was fitted with ski pants, a heavy jacket, a full body harness, a ski mask, plastic mountain boots and had my ice axe in hand. My crampons (metal foot spike things, like cleats on steroids), helment, rope and water were in my backpack, and we were off for some "practice".

Right from the get go, I didn´t know if I was going to make it. The thin, less oxegenated air and  my body loaded with gear, I was gasping for air after just a few steps. On the first gentle incline, my breath was taken away like I had just gotten hit in the stomach with a soccer ball. The huge, snowcapped peak of Huayna Potosi loomed in the background, taunting me. Over loose rocky paths, through streams of fresh mountain water and up steep inclines, we made our way to the glacier part where we were going to learn how to use all of this mountain gear. The whole way there, I was gasping for breath and moving at a snails pace. And this was just practice!! It crossed my mind to quit right there. If I was struggling this much on a practice 1 hour hike, how was I ever going to do the 5 - 8 hours on summit day? But, I am not a quitter. The best things in life are not achieved without a struggle. As long as I could keep putting one foot in front of the other, I was going to keep going.

Finally, we made it to the glacier. It was actually kind of fun to use the cramptons and the ice axe. We got to scale an almost 180 slope, digging our feet in the snow, and hacking into the glacier with the axe. I actually liked to use the ice axe, hacking into the snow and pulling my body upwards. Coming down was hard, and involved a set of muscles that are not commonly used in every day life. My legs and core burned, and one false step or one not so great grip, and you would go sliding down the glacier. I was glad when practice was over, and the hike back to base camp was not as hard as the hike up there. Only 2 hours, and I was exhausted!! That night we slept at base camp. Often throughout the night, I awoke in a panic, gasping for breath. I had to sit up and take a few deep breaths before falling back into a restless sleep. My lungs had still not adapted to the lack of oxygen in the air. The next day, we were climbing to high camp, at 5300 m. It was going to be a 5 hour hike. I needed a good sleep!

Up next, day 2 of Crissy VS. Mount Huayna Potosi; the climb to high camp

Monday, January 17, 2011

I SURVIVED....The World´s Most Dangerous Road

                                You can check out the details of Death Road here.
                               You can check out some pics of the road here. I will post some of my own pics very soon!!

The famous Death Road is a pretty big tourist attraction here in Bolivia. The road was a lot more dangerous before 2007, when a new road was built because between 200 and 300 people died on the road every year. Vehicles use the new road, leaving the deadly road just for cyclists. After doing the ride, I cannot even imagine how much scarier it must have been to have semi trucks coming at you around blind corners on a road that is barely 3 meters wide.

After my bike accident in Colombia, (read about it here), I was a little apprehensive about getting back on a bike, especially on The World´s Most Dangerous Road. But of course, a little fear has never stopped me.

After the hour journey to 4700 meters above sea level where we were begining the ride, I was a bit scared. It was cold, snow was falling from the sky and staying on the road, making it more slippery than ever. I was telling an English girl about my Colombian bike adventure, and I guess she could hear the apprehension in my voice. She was very sweet and told me not to worry about it, everything would be fine.

So, off we went! The first hour was on a paved 2 lane road. No need to pedal, gravity did the work as we made our way down the steep and slippery road, riding the brakes the whole way. It was snowing and sleeting and raining directly in my face, which made it difficult to see the scenery all around. The one thing you couldn´t miss though, was the steep vertical drop off the side of the road. What I could see all around me were snow covered mountain peaks above and lush green vegetaion below. The road was dotted with crosses, memorials and flowers for those who had fallen over the edge. It was scary to see just how many memorials there were. The first hour was easy and a lot of fun once my confidence level went up. Little did I know, this was not really Death Road. We had been biking the new part of the road, the safe part.

When I got a look at the REAL Death Road, a lump of fear welled up in my throat. Only 2 meters wide in some parts, 90 degree turns, blind corners, loose gravel, rediciously steep, holes in the road, giant rocks to avoid, and a steep, steep drop off with no gaurd rails if you fall prey to any of the above. One mistake, one second of lost concentration, one rock you can´t avoid or too much or too little pressure on the brakes, and you die. But the scenery was beautiful. Lush, green tropical jungle forrest surrounded but cliffs and dotted with waterfalls all along the way. You could only glance for a millisecond, or you risked going right off the side. I started off slowly, sqeezing the brakes hard the whole time. My arms vibrated from the uneven ground and the death grip I had on the handle bars. The wind in my ears sounded like someone had the windows open in a car on the highway. I gained more and more confidence and went faster and faster. Often I had to slow down and remind myself that being cocky is how accidents happen.

I came around one corner and noticed two bikers in my group stopped in the middle of the road. As I got closer I saw the English girl, who had reassured me that everything was going to be fine, her face covered in blood. She was in shock and bleeding profusely from the mouth. The other person who was riding near her only spoke spanish, and I was the next one on the scene. She had no idea what happened to her, she just knew it was bad. For a second I was in shock too, as I looked at all the blood and her broken front teeth. I had to calm her down and explain to her that she was ok, and had just cracked a tooth but there was a lot of blood. Others had gathered by this time and she was determinded to find her piece of broken tooth. As everyone searched for the tooth, I took a look at the road where she had fallen. Luckily, she was on a wide curve and had managed to stay in the middle of the road. Who knows what would have happened if it was on the turn before or after. She was lucky to have escaped with only a busted up face.

As she went to the hosptital, the rest of us continued on down Death Road. I was a bit shaken up after the girl´s fall, and took it very slowly. After 2 hours, we had made it through the most dangerous part of Death Road. The next part was still dangerous, but we didn´t have to be as careful. The road was a little wider, had less 90 degree turns and was a little less steep. This was the fun part for me!! I had all the confidence in the world as I ripped down the road, powered through S turns and splashed through waterfalls, only touching the brakes to turn.

Finally, we were at the end. I had survived the World´s Most Dangerous Road. No one in any of the groups died that day, but there were a few people who had to be taken to the hospital, and many others nursing wounds at the bottom. We had ridden from an altitude of 4700m to 1200m in 65 km. We had started in the freezng cold and snow, and now were sweating in our shorts and tank tops. We celebrated life and survival with a few beers, and called it a day!

Side note - Although Death Road is now largely a tourist attraction, it is important to remember that just a few years ago many Bolivians had no choice but to use that road to sustain life. They, and all the ones who have passed must be remembered and respect paid to the road where so many lost their lives.

On a cheerier note, the English girl was brave and went to a Bolivian dentist, who fixed up her tooth good as new. A few stitches and a few days for the swelling to go down and she will have a great story to tell others about the World´s Most Dangerous Road!!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Busted up in Bogota

                    Things like this only happen to me...............

I took a bike tour of the city of Bogota in Colombia. I heard about the tour from a couple of Australian girls staying in my hostel. They had nothing but wonderful things to say. So, on the tour I went. It seemed like a well run tour company, and although the bikes sure weren´t up to North American standards, whatever I was in South America!!! I just made sure there were two tires, a chain and that the breaks worked. Good enough for me.

The tour started off beautifully. Bogota is a great city, full of life and vibrance. Our tour guide was great and thankfully spoke english very well. We had just finished having lunch and a beer in a beautiful park and were on our way again. I was biking along, full speed ahead, when it felt like I hit a wall. I flew off my bike, at top speed on the downward slope of a hill. I hit the pavement at full force right into on coming traffic.

Luckily, I had managed to avoid my face hitting the pavement, but my knees and elbow were not so lucky. Traffic slowed down and went around me until I managed to get up. I was not badly hurt, just a little shocked. I went back to check out what had made me fall. There were no bumps or rocks in the road. I turned my attention to the bike and realized that the front rim had basically expoloded. The rim had stopped the front tire instantly and I flew right over the handle bars and landed nearly 4 feet from the bike. I was lucky, it could have been much worse.

The bike was done for. The tour guide called the office and had a guy come a bring me another bike so I could continue the tour. When the tour was over, the guys in the shop were very nice and cleaned up my wounds very well. I was still worried about contracting some sort of Colombian pavement virus, but what can you do!!!!

Over a week has gone by now, and after a few days of oozing green scabs, the worst seems to be over and the scrapes are healing nicely. I certainly will have some scars as memories though!!!

Join me as I TRAVEL MY LIFE AWAY!!!!!!!!

What are you so scared of?

                        "Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown"
                                                     - Author Unknown

Whenever I told anyone I was starting my South American journey in Colombia, they told me that it wasn´t safe and I really had to be careful. When I told them I was going to be alone, after they erased the look of disbelief from their face, they asked "aren´t you scared?" I always said no... I understand that people may not realize how safe Colombia is now or what an up and coming tourist destination it is, but their fears are unfounded and uneducated. The truth is, I was scared...but not of Colombia, or that something terrible would happen to me. I was scared of travelling by myself.

I would consider myself a pretty avid traveller, and I am not scared of any particular destination. What is scary to me is to not have that travel partner to share everything with. Being somewhere unfamiliar is always a little easier with someone else who is unfamiliar with it too. When you don´t know where to go or what you are supposed to do, two brains are always better than one. It is also nice to have someone to share your day to day experiences, and to always be able to talk to. In South America, my lack of spanish skills is a huge set back and just having a conversation is near impossible.

Although I was afriad, fear always presents you with two opportunities. The first is to let it hold you back. You won´t be scared, but you won´t have much else either. The second opportunity is to challenge yourself, expand your experiences and see exactly what you are made of.  I had always wondered if I could keep up this life style if, god forbid, Larry falls in love or suddenly lusts for real life. Now was my chance to see if I could really do it.

Surprisingly, it has been easier than I thought. Even with a language barrier, and vast amounts of uncertainty, I am getting around and meeting people along the way. It is liberating to know that I can do this!!

5 years ago, if you had asked me what I thought I would be doing in 5 years time, I can gaurantee that I never would have said travelling alone in South America. It has been a series of scary descions that have brought me here, but there is no place I would rather be right now!!

So, in the end, I have conqureded my fear of solo travel..................but............. i don´t like it. I can do it, but if it is up to me, I will always have a travel partner by my side. Although, when all else fails, I will travel alone instead of leading a most ordinary life.

What are you scared of?
What is holding you back?
Where could you be if you weren´t held back by your fears?


Wawa Where???

                   Ok here we go!! It´s travel time again....finally!!!!!

In order to save a few hundred bucks, I made the brilliant descion to fly out of Newark, New Jersey. The price of my ticket was less than half if I had flown out of middle of nowhere Winnipeg. Plus, as an added bonus, I could spend a couple of days in New York City!!!! I got a bus ticket for $109 and although the 40 hours on the bus wasn´t going to be pleasant, the extra $400 bucks in my pocket was worth it!!

Or so I thought.................

I left at 10 pm and the first night on the bus flew by.  I managed to sleep all night and well into the afternoon. Then the snow started...and kept on. There was talk of highway closures. But our bus just kept on going. We arrived in the tiny town of Wawa, Ontario at about 3 pm. The highway was closed and we could go no further. We waited on the bus for a few hours in hopes that the highway would open up soon. Still no deal. We drove to the local pub for something to eat and killed a couple more hours. Alas, at 9 pm, after 6 hours of waiting, we were told that the highways would not re open until the next morning. The bus driver drove us to a local motel and told us we could get a room, or stay on the bus for the night. Already the bus had that dirty, too many people stench to it, so another night was going to be hell. I had travel insurance, so I figured that would cover the cost of the hotel room. Sixty seven dollars later, after a shower and stretched out on the bed, I settled in with a Friends marathon and laughed at all those suckers stuck on the bus!

I woke up early the next morning, paranoid the bus was going to leave without me. Nope...the desk clerk informed me that we might be there til 3 pm.............. ugh!!!!!!!!! I was supposed to be in Toronto hours ago!!! Luckily at 10 am the highways opened up again, and we were finally back on the road!.

I arrived in Toronto at 11pm, when I should have been there at 5 am!! Luck was on my side this time, and there was a 1130 bus to New York City. Another 12 hours, and finally I was there!!!!!!!

Hello New York City!!!!! With the 40 hour bus ride turning into 65 hours, I only had 1 day in the Big Apple. I didn´t get to do everything I wanted, but there will be time when I return in May.
I took the subway to Time Square and wandered around with all the other tourists. I went to Rockerfeller Center, but missed the Christmas tree for a few days. Then I wandered around Central Park for hours. I can´t wait to go back in May when the trees are green and I can get to the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and see a Broadway play. New York, New York I will be back!!!!!!

Pictures coming soon!

Join me as I TRAVEL MY LIFE AWAY!!!!!!!!!

Monday, January 10, 2011

To be continued.............

                    Sorry guys, but it is way too hard to keep this blog updated without my laptop, which I chose to leave at home. Larry is arriving here on Jan. 26th and is bringing hers, so stay tuned for a mega update then!!!!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New York, New York!!

           After a 40 hour bus ride turned into 60+ hours, I have finally arrived in New York!! After just one afternoon, I know that I love this city!! Tomorrow I leave to fly to Bogota, Colombia and I can't wait!!!!
But this internet is costing me $1 for every 7 minutes, so I will fill you in on the bus ride from hell later!!!
More from me soon!!