Even after descending 17,454-foot Pico Tarija in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real range, I still felt on top of the world. Looking back, seeing the porters, mules, gear, and guides from Elma Tours in La Paz—not to mention the impossibly steep glacier I had climbed—it all felt surreal. Running on fumes, I was the most spent I’ve ever been. But it was pure elation knowing I had just successfully completed my first foray into mountaineering—five days of Andean climbing and two summits.
As soon as I found out I’d be visiting La Paz, climbing 19,974-foot Huayna Potosí shot to the top of my must-do list. I signed on with a six-person group of international travelers from Austria, the Netherlands, and the U.S., none of whom had any alpine experience. Then, I agreed to climb Tarija with my wife on no rest following the three days on Potosí, stupidly thinking a 17-er would be easy by then.
Beating the odds, everyone in my group of six summited Potosí, and my wife and I managed to reach the peak of Tarija. It’s hard to say which was tougher since I was increasingly exhausted on Tarija, though conditions were more challenging on that peak—along the way, we experienced a white-out, Kate and our guide fell through crevasses, and we constantly heard the unnerving sound of rushing water beneath the ice we walked upon.
In hindsight, I would have done things differently, having learned that most newbies should space out their climbing trips.