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Huayna Potosí Climb - Climbing Cordillera Real - Bolivia

Due to its accessibility – just 25 kilometers north of La Paz
– and its gorgeous glacial pyramid shape, Huayna Potosi (“Young Mountain”) is the most popular and well-traversed peak in the Cordillera Real. Perched at 6,088 meters (19,974 feet), this peak also entices climbers itching to reach the 6,000 meter mark. Although it requires technical equipment and a good guide, Huayna Potosi is still considered an easy ascent. That being said, mountain climbing is never “easy” – climbers should still be fit and fully acclimatized before attempting this, or any, peak.

Note: Huayna Potosi should not be attempted in one day. It's a steady 2,500 meter rise from La Paz; rushing could result in fatal cerebral edema. The best time to summit Huayna Potosi is between June and September, when the weather is more stable.

Getting to the Refuge

It's best to first get to the trailhead at Zongo Pass (4,700m, 15,419 ft), head up to base camp the next day (5200 m), then start the summit that night. There are two refugios at Zongo Pass. Huayna Potosi Refugio is the better of the two, offering comfortable and heating rooms, hot water, climbing advice and acclimatizing routes nearby. The refuge can accommodate 20 climbers. It's also a mountaineering travel agency ( Refugio San Calixto is a more basic, but friendly, alternative. Guides, rations and porters can all be arranged at this refuge, and camping is available.

You can get to Zongo Pass by 4WD or taxi ($20 or less, up to five people). There's also a daily bus at 6am ($2, 2.5 hours) from El Alto from Plaza Balivian (you can get here from La Paz for about 7 bucks in 30 minutes). Take the bus going to Yungas and mention you want to be dropped off at Paso Zongo.
Base Camp

From the refuge, cross the dam and continue along the aqueduct. Take the third left along this path, then follow the signposts once you reach a glacial stream. You'll pass through rocks and eventually reach the moraine ridge. Toward the end of this ridge start descending to the right and then ascend gullies. At the top, head left and follow the cairns that guide you to the glacier. Here you'll find the first base camp, Campemento Rocas (5,200m). You can rest here in the huts, camp for a bit, or head onward to Campamento Argentino (5500 - 5700m).

Normal Route

From Campo Argentino, head up the glacier
toward the East Face (there's a path on the right). Once you reach the ridge, turn left and go past a flat area to reach the Polish Ridge. From here you'll cross various slopes and crevasses to reach just below the summit. From here you can either go straight up the face (250m, 800ft), or keep going along the path on the right until it reaches the ridge, then go left and follow that ridge to the summit. Either path takes anywhere between 1 and two hours. The face route is typically safer, as it protects you from the wind. While offering impressive views and not as steep, the ridge route can become dangerously thin toward the end of the season.

Note: This is an overview of the climb and is not meant to be the sole reference or source. For detailed instructions on how to summit Huayna Potosi, please refer to the following professional resrouces:

  • Bolivia: A Climbing Guide (Yossi Brain, 1999)

Cordillera Real, Bolivia


Here are other activities in and around Cordillera Real that may be of interest: Condoriri Massif Climb, Ancohuma Climb, Cordillera Real Climbing and Illimani .

By Rachel Anderson
I'm a twentysomething dandelion floating across the field of youth. I have an unquenchable thirst for writing, exploring and cheap wine. A cross...
18 Aug 2011

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