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.



  1. Bravo Crissy. You did really great!!! That mountain is really high, higher than any we know here in western Canada. The tallest one in BC is 4660 meters but you need almost go to Alaska to get there.Not something most of us have even seen. You were brave to keep going and really push yourself. So here is a big pat on the back for you WonderWoman!!

  2. Great accomplishment Crissy !!! you are to be commended for getting as far up the mountain as you did. It is alot further then I am sure I would have gotten !!!

  3. I'm so proud that you even tried:) love your quote "nothing ventured, nothing gained" so true!!

  4. Wow that is amazing, good for you for giving it your all :)

  5. I climbed to the that summit 2 weeks ago and I must say I admire what you have learned from the mountain. We have a saying in Hebrew: "Better a glorious fail than a dream in the drawer". Although I think you haven't failed at all - you learned a once in a lifetime lesson - and this is a true summit! Assaf