Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

A Return to Boliva

“Life is not measure by the breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away”. – unknown

I have this quote next to my computer in my office. It happens to be one of my favorite quotes as it reminds me what life is all about: Beauty, love, gratitude, joy, adventure, and peace. The day I walked down the aisle with my dad on one side and my grandfather on the other to greet the love of my life. The first time my child looked into my eyes. My son’s first steps. My daughter’s first words. Crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles. Reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro. Climbing to the top of the Bolivian Andes with my dad. Capturing the sunset beneath my favorite urban lake after another glorious day. Those moments that forever will be instilled within my heart.

With the good of course also comes the bad. Those difficult challenges, the times that are painful, and hurt. The dark times that despite how insurmountable the challenge may be, it somehow ends up making you stronger.

Two years ago, in lieu of a Thanksgiving dinner I was climbing up to the top of the sky in Bolivia with my father. It was a very special journey for us as a year before my father was battling cancer, a dark memory that we try to forget. Yet with the bad came the good. The closeness of our family. The resilience and strength to overcome the hardship and heal. The immense love. The realization that you have one precious life so make the best of it all.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

My dad and I climbing to the peak in the Bolivian Andes. November 2014

For all these moments that make up the long and winding journey of life, I am grateful. The holiday season reminds me to never stop being grateful for the wonderful things that make me complete and bring me joy. My love for my family, for the earth, for being outside and being alive. Despite all the heartbreak in the world, I must never forget to be grateful.

No photos demonstrate my utter gratitude better than the ones from this magical trip to Bolivia two years ago. The photos remind me that despite the darkness of the world there lies beauty and hope and love.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude”.- Denis Waitley

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Condoriri trailhead Bolivia

The ABC’s of Hiking South America

“Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” – Anatoli Boukreev

While North America has the Rockies, South America is blessed with the spectacular Andes Mountain Range. The Andes are an incredible mountain range passing from north to south through seven countries making it the longest continental mountain range in the world. There is something about the Andes that is simply magical. The grandeur, scale and scope of the Andes is mind-boggling. Over 4,300 miles long (7,000 km) and at points up to 430 miles wide (700 km), the Andes are immense and are blessed with some of the highest volcanoes in the world and largest ice fields.

I have been lucky to have set foot on the Andes in Peru, Chile, Argentina and most recently, Bolivia. There is no way I can pick favorites as each place has been unique and special in its own way. Here are the A,B, C’s of the best hikes in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, some of my most favorite places on earth to hike.

Argentina

Located at the end of the world, in the tiny Patagonian outpost El Chatlen lies Los Glaciares National Park, one of the finest in Argentina. The landscape is serene and the raw beauty of remote Patagonia is sure to inspire. There are several day hikes in the park and instead of camping, you can spend the nights at a local inn indulging in delicious local food and wine. You are also a bus ride away from the famous Perito Moreno Glacier, definitely worth a visit.

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Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Breathless in Bolivia

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. – Helen Keller

Almost a year ago today I was climbing up high into the Bolivian Andes in Condoriri Valley with my dad. It was an unforgettable trip in many regards. First and foremost, it was only six months after my father completed chemotherapy. To climb two mountains over 16,000 feet in two days is quite a remarkable recovery to say the least. I am so grateful that we were able to go on another amazing hike together. I don’t seem to have any other hiking partner as adventurous and fit as my dad. Second, for me it was proof that I could mentally and physically climb at high altitude. Landing in La Paz at one of the highest international airports in the world and then promptly driving to our base camp at 15,000 feet proved that my body could adjust and handle the thin air. It was the determining factor in my decision to climb Kilimanjaro this past July.

While I don’t have any climbing trips planned at the moment I still enjoy remembering and reflecting on my trips to the mountains. I have recently decided to revamp my Instagram account and slowly add new photos to my gallery. I feel these two pictures from my trip last November to Bolivia are right up there among my personal best. They inspire me to chase my dreams and never give up. I hope to be climbing again soon somewhere in the world.

If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride – and never quit, you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high but so are the rewards. – Paul Bryant

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

This photo was taken as we were leaving our base camp in Condoriri Valley. In high season there can be hundreds of tents and climbers however we were the only ones there. It was quite cold in November dropping down to 15 degrees farenheit at night. But we had the entire place to ourselves. How lucky!

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Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Leaving the Andes

Saying goodbye to a trip is always hard. Over four months later I am still writing about Bolivia and today is the very last post. Life has been so busy that it all feels sometimes like a blur. That is what has been so rewarding about having this blog. It has been a way to remember special moments in time and relive that experience through pictures and words.

As we left the Condoriri Valley after two wonderful successful hikes, I felt a sense of pride. I made it and wasn’t so sure I would given a hip injury that had kept me from running. But I did make it and I felt great, physically and mentally. Even more important is I made it with my dad.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Packing up our gear

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Cerro Austria Bolivia

The Descent from Cerro Austria

Author’s note: This post is a continuation of “The Grand Finale: Climbing Austria Peak“.

It took only three hours to climb up from our base camp at 15,500 to the summit of Cerro Austria at 17,698 feet (5,396 meters). Thankfully we had left early because a storm was moving in. If we didn’t get down soon we would be trapped.

Cerro Austria BoliviaI had never heard the eerie sound of thunder in the high mountains before. It is a sound you don’t want to hear. Every rumble and boom bounces off the mountains, echoing in a loud, frightening way. It wasn’t too close yet but it was moving in.

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Cerro Austria Bolivia

The Grand Finale: Climbing Austria Peak

Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realize it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it. -Sai Baba

After a hard night’s sleep at base camp, we rose early for our second and last hike in Condoriri Valley. I was relieved that physical exhaustion had finally gotten the best of me and I was finally able to sleep in my iceberg tent at the foot of the glacier. It wasn’t as bitterly cold as the night before and I had finally acclimatized to our base camp elevation of 15,500 feet.

Cerro Austria, Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

The sun was rising and the only sounds we heard were of the wind and of our cook Eugenia, preparing our morning meal. Today’s hike was going to be a big one. We would climb about three to four hours up to the top of Cerro Austria also known as “Cerro Negro” to an altitude of 17,698 feet/5,396 meters. It would take us another 3 hours or so to descend depending on our speed.

I was a little bit weary of the hike because once again our guide Javier called it an “easy trekking peak that can be reached via moraines and rock slopes with no technical difficulty” in our itinerary. After a day of trekking with Javier, a serious mountaineer, I realized that “easy” for him meant something entirely different for my dad and me. But of course I was determined to make it.

The only concern for the day was the weather. A storm was coming in so we had to leave as soon as possible so we wouldn’t get caught in it. The thought of being caught in an electrical storm made me uneasy but I trusted Javier’s experience and knowledge of the high Andes. He had been climbing for over 30 years. If he didn’t know these mountains, no one did.

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Condoriri Vally, Bolivia

Climbing Jaillaico

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rising up from the Pacific coast, the Andes mountain range is the longest and the youngest mountain range on the planet. After the Himalayas, it is the second highest range and is still growing. The Condoriri Valley lies within the 100 kilometer-long Cordillera Real mountain range northeast of La Paz, that separates the lowlands of the Amazon River basin to the east from the high plateaus of the Altiplano (highlands) to the west. The Cordillera Real is the most accessible and spectacular mountain range in the entire country and I could hardly wait to experience it on foot.

Our first big climb in Condoriri Valley was to Mount Jaillaico at 16,899 feet (5,152 m). Known as the “Mirador”, our trekking guide called it a relatively “easy” trekking peak that can be reached through grassy hills, glacial moraines and rocky slopes with no technical ability. Basically it is a warm-up climb for those serious mountaineers who are hoping to climb some of the bigger beasts in the area like the mighty Huayna Potosí (at 19,974 feet/6,088 m) or Illimani the highest mountain in the Cordillera Real at 21,122 feet/6,438 meters.

I wasn’t sure what Javier meant by “easy”  but starting out from our base camp at 15,500 feet on only a few hours of restless sleep did not make this a walk in the park. In fact, the first hour into our trek I wasn’t exactly sure that I would be able to make it, I felt so light-headed and fatigued. Every step was an effort and I felt out of breath. But thankfully, as I focused more and more on my breathing I felt better.

Condoriri Vally, Bolivia

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Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Morning has broken in Condoriri Valley

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”. – Winston Churchill

Sleeping in a tent at 15,500 feet is not for everyone. In fact, after the first night I had the unfortunate realization that it was not for me. After a restless, freezing cold, tossing and turning night of sleep I rose to the sound of a barking farm dog feeling completely exhausted. How on earth was I going to make the first big hike? I felt like hell.

It quickly dawned on me why we were the only ones stupid enough to be at the campsite. Instead of the usual 100 tents or so during high season, there were only three and they all belonged to us.  Sleeping with rough winds, thunder and a deep burning freeze of 15 degrees farenheit on frozen solid ground was not my ideal way of spending my vacation. Apparently the others who were not there figured that out way before us.

But again, every negative has its positive. We had the entire, beautifully serene place to ourselves. And perhaps it was worth the temperamental weather. Obviously camping and hiking with hordes of people was no where near as special and amazing as being completely, utterly alone.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

The first night, I did learn a few important things about sleeping so suddenly at altitude. First of all, you simply don’t sleep on the first night. It is impossible. Your body tosses and turns and you wake up a million times throughout the night while you struggle to acclimatize to the lower amounts of oxygen. At one point, my heart was beating so fast I was scared. But then I remembered the test for altitude sickness. Nausea, severe headache, dizziness and an inability to sleep. I had only one symptom but my worry about getting altitude sickness when I was hours on foot away from civilization unfortunately kept me up more.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

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Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Sleeping at the Foot of a Bolivian Glacier

Author’s note: This is a continuation of my post series The Drive to Condoriri Valley. To read post click on link. 

“I think it’s my adventure, my trip, my journey, and I guess my attitude is, let the chips fall where they may”. – Leonard Nimoy

Within an hour our entire campsite was set up and our home for the next few days was ready. It had been awhile since I had camped outdoors, and I had never camped at 15,500 feet before. Although it was nearing summer, I knew that it would get cold once the sun went down and the winds picked up speed, sweeping cold air off the ice of the glacier.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

A view from the dining tent. My tent is the small white one in the background with the glacial tongue shortly behind it.

Since we had an hour or two before dinner, we decided to explore our surroundings by taking a short hike to the mouth of the glacier. The rain had stopped but the wind was fierce. We had heard that this time of year can be rather temperamental in the Andes which explained why we were the only ones there at the camp site. In another month or two, it would be filled with tents and trekkers. Yet despite the questionable weather I felt lucky to have the entire view to ourselves.

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Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Base Camp: Condoriri Valley

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open”. – Jawaharlal Nehru

Author’s note: This is a continuation of my post The Drive to Condoriri Valley. To read post click on link. 

We had reached our first test of adventure getting to the base camp at Condoriri Valley when we arrived at a collapsed bridge. Heavy rains that are common during the early summer season of November had washed it away and Javier, our guide, informed us that in rural Bolivia, infrastructure like roads and bridges are the responsibility of the village. Therefore, everyone in the neighboring community was required to spend the day repairing the bridge.  No one in the community was excluded from helping out, even the women and children had a role.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Thankfully we had a land rover that enabled us to drive off road otherwise we would have been stuck. The bridge is essential for the community as is the gravel road that is a five-hour walk from the base of Condoriri Valley to the main highway. For those without cars, it is a long commute to civilization either on foot or bicycle. I learned that rural Bolivians are hardy people.

As we drove further and further away from the main road, the dramatic scenery became even more breathtaking. We passed traditional rural homes made of mud bricks layered tightly one on top of the other, covered with thatched roofs, and the brownish-green rolling hills of the glacier moraine that rest below the mighty Andes.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Back on the gravel road headed toward Base Camp

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Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

The Drive to Condoriri Valley, the foot of the Bolivan Andes

“Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” – Anatoli Boukreev

There is something about leaving a big city and heading out to the countryside that truly shows the meaning of a place. Whenever I travel, I try my best to see both urban and rural parts of a country. While I enjoy the adventure and activity of a big urban city, for me getting out of it is the best part of all. I love the mountains, hills, and countryside. For it is within nature that I often feel the most alive.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Clouds thicken with rain at the foot of the Condoriri Valley in Bolivia.

Back in November, my father and I spent three days in La Paz, Bolivia acclimatizing to the high altitude and gearing up for our base camp at the foot of the Bolivian Andes in the Condoriri Valley at 15,500 feet. Landing in El Alto, the highest international airport in the world at a dizzying altitude of 13,323 feet (4,061 m), is not for the lighthearted nor is spending three days exploring the hilly, high altitude urban jungle of La Paz (which happens to be only slightly lower in elevation than her neighbor El Alto).

By the third morning, I was ready to leave the craziness of La Paz behind for a few days and go find myself in the beloved mountains. I’ve always loved the mountains as it is the one place in the world that I can truly find peace and reflection. Furthermore, I truly enjoy a good physical and mental challenge and that was just was I was about to get over the next few days hiking in Condoriri Valley.

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