Ultralight in Bolivia: sandals, wool layers, felt bowler hat, and a frameless pack.
Nine months into our Latin American journey, our friend Brady flew to Bolivia to join Danny and me on a trek in the Andes. We were thrilled to have new conversation material and a showcase of the latest lightweight gear from the US. On top of all that, it was, for me, the successful pinnacle of an inescapable venture.
Several years ago, I was apprehensive about introducing my outdoors-loving group of friends (which included Brady) to my new boyfriend, Danny. Although their personal interests were greatly aligned, they had different ways of manifesting their enthusiasm. Danny recited backpacking gear weights as if he spent nights awake, memorizing outdoor company catalogues. And, although my friends and I had explored Northern California, from Point Reyes to the Sierras, I suspected that on some of our backpacking trips the weight of our liquor exceeded Danny’s base pack weight.
Fast forward several years to the Cordillera Real in Bolivia, where my husband, Danny, my old friend, Brady, and I backpacked together for four days. The boys spent much time discussing Brady’s new lightweight gear and the latest advancements in ultralight material technology, while I tried to watch my footing despite frequently rolling my eyes.
I suppose there is no greater form of flattery than a close friend bonding with your significant other, but, as I crawled into the tent each evening, I longed for the nights when my eyes closed more quickly after a few sips of port. But, maybe it was not only alcohol which brought on my drowsiness. Perhaps carrying an eight pound pack on this trip did not drain my energy as much as carrying a 22 pound pack, like in my pre-Danny days.
After six hours on various modes of transportation to get from La Paz to the mountains, we finally began our backpacking adventure. Our trek started in the afternoon, after the clouds rolled in, at an altitude of about 3,500 meters (11,283 feet).
On the second day we were all smiles as the sky opened up and revealed stunning views in every direction.
We hiked up this valley to a saddle at 4,738 meters (15,643 feet). Photo courtesy of Brady McDaniel.
The trail in this valley was well-defined because it led to an active mine. We heard several blasts throughout the day, so we decided to turn around and find a quieter valley in which to set-up camp.
Danny and Brady chatted incessantly about sil-nylon, tyvek, spinn cloth and cuben fiber.
Kristin was excited to find someone to talk to.
Are these clouds rolling in or out? We continuously monitored the sky for signs of inclement weather. We lucked out with no rain or wind, just fog.
The afternoon traffic jam.
Every so often, the clouds teased us by exposing the beauty of the 6,000+ meter (19,685 feet) peaks towering above.
These two photos, taken less than an hour apart, demonstrate how quickly the weather changed.
An abandoned mine. We passed several more open mines, many of which were unmapped and likely illegal.
We couldn’t see the massive peaks surrounding us, but we thoroughly enjoyed the quiet stillness of this small lake.
On the last night, we pitched our tents in the dark on this plush, grassy plateau at 3,500 meters (11,483 feet). We awoke the next morning to this amazing sunrise and expansive view, while the clouds settled into the valley below. Pictured here are Brady’s Golite Xanadu 1 (1340 grams/47 ounces) and our TarpTent Double Rainbow (1134 grams/40 ounces).
We followed the trail/dirt road as it dropped below the clouds and through an enclave of houses and a region prime for vegetative growth. It was warmer here than in the higher altitudes and received more precipitation and ground water than in the lower elevations.
Something breathtaking is always blooming in the Andes, regardless of season.
A landslide had taken away this section of the trail, leaving a steep, loose hillside to scramble along.
As we neared the end of our trek, we looked back and finally saw the full grandeur of the mountain range. Mt. Illampú, on the left, is the fourth highest peak in Bolivia at 6,368m (20,892 ft).
Sorata – the beginning and end point of our adventure. It was an oasis in an otherwise dry, steep, and desolate landscape.