Mountains of the condor

The “head” of the condor is the snowy peak to the left of the shadowy one

In preparation for our attempt to climb a 20,000′ Bolivian peak, we had acclimatized for six days at elevations around 12,000 feet. The next step was a two-day trek in the Condoriri, a mountain range located not far from La Paz. The name comes from the resemblance of the central peaks to the head and shoulders of a condor—a likeness you have to squint quite a bit to see in the photo above.

We would camp at Lake Chiarkota, elev. 15,252′, and climb over a pass at around 16,000′ beside a peak called the Mirador. The trek was organized by La Paz-based guide Hugo Berrios. Tents and gear were carried by donkeys that would ferry these items back out the second morning, while Hugo continued on with us.

We started at Lago Tuni, a lake at 13,775′. The area seemed bleak and monochromatic, but snowy peaks beckoned on the horizon. Steve, Bob, and I kept a close eye on our altimeters, looking out for the point at which we would climb higher than our previous lifetime high point, the summit of Mt. Whitney (14,505′). We passed this momentous point at an inconspicuous stretch along the valley. The llamas and alpacas watched us curiously.

Llamas and alpacas were the only features of interest in the foreground.

Two alpacas stand proudly in front of the mountains

Our pack burros at the campsite

We arrived at Lake Chiarkota in the late afternoon. Already a chill had touched the air, and we were glad to have plenty of warm layers for this July trek. The lake was a beautiful glacier-tinted shade of blue.

Lake Chiarkota

Jenny and Bob at campsite

The next morning we climbed a steep grassy slope above the lake.

Climbing above the lake

I was pleased to find that the altitude wasn’t bothering me. We crossed some steep scree fields.

That is Hugo’s dog you see next to me. In the background, Bob is seated on the scree slope.

Hugo was a great guy to have with us, very friendly and helpful. He’s done a lot of technical climbing in the Condoriri.

Hugo Berrios, our guide

The scenery was almost beyond description.

Ho, hum!

As we returned toward Lago Tuni, we encountered some small farms. Life in this cold, severe world of the Altiplano can’t be easy.

I liked the third face popping up behind the wall!

Bob poses beside two piglets.

Life here looks hard.

Coming soon: Posts about the 20,000-footer we failed to climb and about the famous “Death Road” to Coroico.

65 responses

  1. Gorgeous photography! I’m an avid hiker myself and have done some trekking in S. America but haven’t made it to Bolivia which is high on my list. Thanks for sharing your lovely photos and congrats on the FP! Get ready for all the emails!🙂

  2. The lake is so beautiful! it seems so unreal, like some sort of painting or something that come out straight from my magical fantasy land. awesome place to be and incredible sight to hold. Thanks for the share.🙂

      • It’s all relative isn’t it I guess. The thing that always stands out to me in photos of this kind of area is the children playing, smiling and laughing. I wonder if in the western world we could learn from that again…

    • Interesting point about what humans adapt to. It would be pretty hard for most of us to go to a life at 14,000 feet on the Altiplano, scratching out an existence herding llamas and tending to a few pigs and chickens. No electricity, no plumbing.

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