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Gimpilator
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PostMon Jan 31, 2011 8:17 pm 
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Introduction

Wait a minute!  Greg Slayden, the creator of PeakBagger.com, was inviting me to join an expedition to South America?  No way!  It would be a climb of Aconcagua and Ojos del Salado, the world's highest volcano.  I was just excited to meet Greg for the first time, but now he was posing this question and it was a bit of a shock.  They were leaving in two months.  I was later told that of all the people they had considered, I had been selected for two reasons, my experience with travel in third-world countries, and also the fact that I had been to high altitude before and done well with it.

The other members of the expedition would include several very accomplished peakbaggers.  Adam Helman the trip organizer is the host and creator of CoHP.org, the main website for US county high-pointers.  Petter Bjørstad from Norway is currently the world leader in climbing ultras (peaks with more than 5000 feet of prominence), he had also climbed a staggering 34 country high points and done a number of first ascents in Greenland.  Duane Gilliland was one of the first to complete all the county highpoints in Washingon State and also one of the first to climb all the ultras in the US outside of Alaska and Hawaii.  Rob Woodall from the UK had experience as a trail runner and was known for being fast.  He had climbed all the Munros and Corbetts of Scotland and had done 58 of the 62 United Kingdom Island Highpoints.

These guys wanted me to join their group?  The plan was to spend several weeks acclimatizing in Bolivia successively climbing higher peaks before moving on to the really big ones.  Then all 6 of us would climb Ojos del Salado.  After that Adam, Petter, and Duane would fly home since they had already climbed Aconcagua.  That would leave Rob, Greg, and I to face the huge task.  I told Greg I would need to think about it for a few days.  I knew it would be a huge financial commitment and there was the matter of breaking off my own plans to go to Aconcagua with a friend the following year.  I spent several days stressing-out about the choice but everyone I mentioned it to said the same thing, oddly enough even my parents, "You have to go with them!"  I sent an email to the group saying I was in.

Bolivia

La Paz, Highest Capitol In The World
La Paz, Highest Capitol In The World
Bolivian Women In Traditional Dress
Bolivian Women In Traditional Dress

After landing in La Paz, the capitol of Bolivia, Duane and Greg and I drove to the Topas Travel office to pay for our Land Rover and the driver named German (pronounced Ayermon).  It would be a couple of days until we met up with Adam and Rob and Petter in Potosi.  We sat down at the main office prepared to hand over several thousand dollars in cash.  Topas looked at us gravely and said "you have come to Bolivia at a difficult time".  (What the hell?)  He went on to explain that the government had just doubled the price of gas a few days prior and that the people of Bolivia were really pissed-off.  He explained that we might have trouble buying gas in certain places if the strikes continued.  "Well that's just great" I thought, but we'll have to make the best of it.  Leaving La Paz, our driver did something interesting.  He stopped to buy some pure alcohol and coca leaves at a roadside stand.  Apparently the coca leaves were for him but the alcohol was some kind of offering.  He poured some on the side of the road and said a few prayers.  He did this several times during the trip.

Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca
A Reed Boat
A Reed Boat

After paying our dues we drove to Huatajata on Lake Titicaca where I bought a nice brown llama hair hat.  We saw some boats made out of reeds and then met the son of the man who helped Dominique Gorlitz build the reed boat which attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  Near the banks of the lake I noticed three young girls trimming the grass around their house.  They were down on their hands and knees using small sheers.  So far Bolivia had a very old world feel to it.  Many of the indigenous women wore stylized skirts called Polleras and oddly enough small bowler hats, an idea which was adopted from the British.

Cerro Anacasi (14,419 feet / 4395 meters)

The following day the three of us set out for our first acclimatization hike.  Now in actuality, we had already began acclimatization because La Paz is the highest capitol city in the world.  The airport itself is located at an impressive 13,325 feet.  We drove northwest from the town of Oruro to the base of unofficially named Cerro Anacasi.  We would start our hike in the very small village of Anacasi at 12,000 feet and work up to the summit at 14,419 feet, just shy of the height of Mount Rainier back home.  Unsure of the local laws and regulations, we hoped to be well on our way up the slopes before anyone could ask us what we were doing.

Cattle in Anacasi
Cattle in Anacasi

The mountain's side was scattered with cactus.  It reminded me of the state of Arizona.  The terrain was rocky but not exceptionally difficult to cross.  The only real struggle was the altitude, which manifested itself in our shortness of breath.  I knew it would take several more days until I could feel comfortable above 13,000 feet.  We ascended in a northern direction crossing over numerous walls constructed of meticulously balanced rocks.  Having seen similar division on some of the Greek Islands I suggested that perhaps an ancient civilization had been much more prevalent than the current one.  We reaching the southwest ridge at just over 14,000 feet and then followed the crest up the last several hundred feet to the south summit.  There were two distinct highpoints about 300 yards apart but fairly close in height.  I was impressed when Duane pulled a leveling sight out of his pocket and began to size up the northern summit.  "These guys know their stuff" I thought to myself.   Duane said he thought the northern summit was higher so we dropped our packs and went over to it.  From there we could see down the east side of the mountain to a flat plain where some rainwater had accumulated.

Duane And The Leveling Sight
Duane And The Leveling Sight
Cerro Anacasi Summit
Cerro Anacasi Summit

After some food and a rest we began our descent.  About half way down we discovered a trail which was far superior to our route of ascent.  A couple of local men appeared in sandals who were apparently hiking up to switch their cattle from one rock pen to another.  That answered the question about the rock fences.  They were not ancient.  The men made it clear to us that we should not be on the mountain without permission from the local police department.  We feigned tourist stupidity and were as friendly and cordial as possible.  For the rest of the descent I thought about the prospect of hiking in this rough rocky landscape covered with cactus, wearing nothing but a pair of sandals.

The Trail Down
The Trail Down

Driving back through Oruro, we heard on the radio that in the police had discovered a dynamite bomb in the same public square we had been in the night before.  This was more evidence of the civil unrest over the rise in gas prices.  Apparently demonstrations were being held all over Bolivia.  I had noticed a couple of strange stuffed figures hanging in effigy from lamp posts in Oruro.  We also had received news that Adam and Rob in the other vehicle were forced to change their plans when they couldn't buy gasoline.  I asked Greg how many days it would be until we could safely cross the border in Chile.  He replied that fairly soon we would be entering a remote area away from the cities and towns.

We drove to Potosi to join forces with the other vehicle.  Potosi is a scenic mining town with narrow winding streets.  Cerro Rico stands tall over this development and is the reason for the towns existence.  The still active mines of Cerro Rico provided the silver of the 16th century Spanish Empire and at one time Cerro Rico had provided 75% of all the world's silver.  In town I met Rob, Adam and Petter and we all discussed the plans for the rest of the trip.  The following morning we would drive to nearby Cerro Cunurana and do our first acclimatization hike together as a group.

Cerro Rico Seen From Potosi
Cerro Rico Seen From Potosi

Cerro Cunurana (16,637 feet / 5071 meters)

The Lower Lake
The Lower Lake
The Lower Lake
The Lower Lake
Cerro Cunurana
Cerro Cunurana

Driving up to Cunurana we passed several small farms and one small mining operation which had a gate across the road but thankfully it was open.  Higher up we passed an incredibly beautiful lake with water that was green from the mineral content.  The highly eroded and barren rock formations on the surrounding peaks reminded me of the desolation of the San Juan Range in Colorado.  We parked at 14,900 feet and walked up an old mining road towards the saddle at the base of the north ridge on Cunurana.  We passed another small lake and then some old ruined buildings constructed out of rocks.  At the saddle we turned south and followed the crest until we came to what looked like an impassable drop off at 15,970 feet.  It was a 20 foot cliff with no way around.  This would require some down-climbing.  In fact, it was not as hard as it looked and soon enough we were all past the obstacle.


The Upper Lake
The Upper Lake
Cunurana, North Ridge
Cunurana, North Ridge
Adam Helman
Adam Helman
Following The Crest
Following The Crest

Now the summit was clearly visible and not that far off either.  Petter and Rob rushed ahead displaying their strength.  This was a pattern that the rest of us soon got used to.  Some climbers are just naturally stronger than others.  No hard feelings.  The final slope was a mixture of scree and loose rocks becoming more solid around the summit.  I was surprised to see that there was a summit marker, very similar to the ones we find at home.  The views from the top overlooking the lakes and smaller peaks were exceptionally good.  Once again it reminded me of Colorado.

Downclimbing The Cliff Section
Downclimbing The Cliff Section
Downclimbing The Cliff Section
Downclimbing The Cliff Section
Downclimbing The Cliff Section
Downclimbing The Cliff Section

Back at the cars, Adam expressed some frustration and said that he had really been struggling throughout the day.  He said that he didn't feel good at altitude and was worried about his acclimatization.  After throwing our bags in the back of the two vehicles, we drove down to the mining operation where we found that the gate was now closed.  Our drivers German and Louise got out and began speaking to some of the men around the gate.  This is where having two Bolivian drivers comes in handy.  They explained that we were "alpinistas" and not hunters or mining prospectors.  After a few minutes of discussion the gate was opened and we were allowed on our way.  We drove south towards Tupiza crossing one long section of gravel road that was still under construction.  We had heard that parts of Bolivia were similar in some ways to what the United States was like, one or two hundred years ago, before extensive development.  Greg told us about a French movie he had seen called The Wages Of Fear in which some desperate men stuck in South America are forced to take a job transporting nitroglycerin in trucks cross-country on rough roads.  I wondered what would happen to our giant gasoline tanks on the roof if the land cruiser was to tip over on one of these roads.  I decided it was better not to think of such things.

Summit Views
Summit Views
Summit Views
Summit Views
Bolivian Benchmark
Bolivian Benchmark
Cunurana Summit
Cunurana Summit
The Return
The Return

The area around Tupiza had some amazing geological features.  In fact I think it's fair to say that it's the most amazing landscape I've ever seen.  We're talking mind blowing here.  I've been to Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, The Badlands South Dakota, Golden Canyon in Death Valley, Monument Valley and many of the other stunners.  This place was more impressive than all that.  It had features that mimicked each of those places and the colors and formations in the rock were so varied it was really unbelievable.  Every bend in the road revealed new mysteries.  I wished I could have a whole month to explore the area.  Now I could imagine why Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had been so fond of this area.  They had been killed not far from here.  Unfortunately the evening light did not allow me to take any decent photographs.  We made our camp on the side of the road, being careful to pick a spot above 13,000 feet.  We would have to be careful from now on, keeping proper acclimatization schedules in mind.

A Woman In Tupiza
A Woman In Tupiza
Happy Bolivians
Happy Bolivians
Roadside Camp
Roadside Camp

Cerro Chorolque - (18,110 feet / 5520 meters)

Cerro Chorolque
Cerro Chorolque
Cerro Chorolque
Cerro Chorolque
Cerro Chorolque
Cerro Chorolque
Cerro Chorolque
Cerro Chorolque

It was new years eve, and what a way to end the year, by climbing the highest peak of 2010!  Rising over 18,000 feet, Chorolque would be my second highest peak to date.  We packed up our roadside campsite and continued the drive northwest.  The landscape changed and we found that we were now up on top of a high wind-swept plateau.  Llamas roamed freely here and I wondered if any of them were wild or if they had just been allowed to graze these dry scrub-lands.  Chorolque came into view and what a sight!  This was a real peak we were looking at, much more impressive than the first two.  It stood extremely high and pyramid shaped above the surrounding land.  There were no other peaks around to challenge it's dominating prominence.  In fact, this old eroded volcano had 5059 feet of prominence and thus would be our first ultra.  We followed a long winding road up to the mining town of Santa Barbara, high on the western slopes.  Located at 15,600 feet, Santa Barbara, home to about 5000 people, is the highest town in Bolivia and one of the highest mining camps in the world.

Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara

Formally, we were supposed to stop and ask permission to climb the mountain.  Once again our drivers attempted to gain permission with local relations but this time they were not successful.  At this point Adam Helman stepped out of the car.  I don't know what he said to them but it worked.  We then drove higher than ever before in a motorized vehicle.  Very few roads outside Asia dare to reach this altitude.  We parked at 16,400 feet where the road appeared to become untrustworthy.  I could feel the altitude as soon as I stepped out of the Land Rover.  This one was not going to be easy.  It was only my fourth day in Bolivia and already we were pushing the 18,000 foot mark.  If Duane and I had caught our original flight, not getting delayed in Miami for a day, then this would be a lot easier (it's a long story about bad spark plugs on a plane and staying in a smoky casino overnight, don't ask).  Adam told us that he would be staying behind today.  After his experience on Cunurana, he felt that his body needed a rest day and that sitting above 16,000 feet was probably helping him anyhow.

The Mine Shaft
The Mine Shaft
Icicles
Icicles

The rest of the prominence buffs (everybody but me) were in a hurry to go and we were soon walking up the remainder of the road which seemed to peter out the higher we went.  The road gave way to rough trails leading up to some mines.  I looked inside the mouth of one mine and was surprised to see icicles hanging down from the roof.  Above the mining opps there was nothing and we were forced to make our way over loose shifting talus.  I felt an altitude headache building.  The headache refused to be ignored and increased its need for urgent attention the higher we went.  Unfortunately, I knew that there was only one thing that would help and I wasn't willing to go down until I reached the top.  Periodically, lack of oxygen forced me stop and just breathe.  A couple times I closed my eyes to rest for a second and then something strange happened.  Like a dream, I was at home with friends, somewhere comfortable and happy.  I opened my eyes and I was still on Chorolque.  Weird!  And a little bit disconcerting.  It happened a few times.  When I closed my eyes I almost immediately forgot where I was and what I was doing and imagined I was somewhere peaceful and nice.  I didn't like it.  Too creepy.  Eventually we worked our way over to the southwest ridge which had a drop-off on the right side.  Overlooking the drop-off we could see the summit area up above.  The southwest ridge converged with the northwest ridge and we knew we were close.


On the broad summit we looked around on a landscape that appeared deceptively flat.  Many of the features below were dwarfed from this perspective.  Petter pulled his oximeter out of his pocket and had us each insert our finger, one at a time, to measure our heart rate and blood oxygen levels.  He talked about the unusually low levels of oxygen we experience at altitude and said that if a doctor ever recorded levels that low, he would pronounce the patient "functionally dead".  This made me think of my weird experience on the way up.  I didn't know it at the time but this oxygen measuring would become a regular ritual for our group.  Petter liked to keep track of how we were adjusting to altitude by taking readings on summits and also the first thing in the morning.  He would record his findings each day in a little black book.  My oxygen levels were fairly good most of the time but my heart rate was always faster than the rest of the group and he explained that younger hearts beat faster at altitude.  We spent nearly an hour on the summit soaking up the thin air.  We needed to shock our bodies into the idea that this sort of strain was going to become a regular occurrence.  I was very tired on the descent.  The elevation gain for the day was not overpowering, but the altitude certainly was.  Stubbornly, the headache increased in intensity on the way down, nearing migraine proportions.  I was glad to get back to the car.

The Summit Above
The Summit Above
Petter, Chorolque Summit
Petter, Chorolque Summit

I was hungry that night when we got to the town of Uyuni.  I ordered a llama steak, quinoa, and a chorizo omelet.  Adam helped me with the translation.  We were lucky to have two people proficient in Spanish because nearly no one in Bolivia speaks English.  Greg was our interpreter on the road and Adam took care of the guys in the other vehicle.  Our peakbagging schedule allowed very little time for touristy sight-seeing but we did make a few allowances throughout the journey.  The first one was the following morning.  We went to the edge of the Salar de Uyuni which is the largest salt flat on earth and also the flattest place on earth.  In fact, it's so flat, that it's what the satellites use for calibration.  If it was good enough for the satellites then it was good enough for us.  Everybody placed their GPS units on the ground and left them there to check for accuracy.  Then Adam broke out his ice axe and used it to chip off a sample of the salt to take home.  We noticed rows of piles of salt that the local people had set up to dry.  They make bricks out of the salt and use if for building walls and fences.  We had even passed one famous hotel nearby that was made almost entirely out salt.

Llamas
Llamas
A Last Look At Chorolque
A Last Look At Chorolque
The Salar de Uyuni
The Salar de Uyuni
Salt
Salt
Harvesting Piles
Harvesting Piles

Peakbagging South America / Part 2

--------------
http://www.summitpost.org/user_page.php?user_id=25744
http://www.peakbagger.com/climber/ClimbListC.aspx?cid=2650&sort=elevft&u=ft&j=-1&y=9999

Keep climbing mountains and don't slip!
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EastKing
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Joined: 28 Mar 2007
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EastKing
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PostMon Jan 31, 2011 8:28 pm 
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Awesome TR! Wow, 18000 and no glaciers. That is probably due to the lack of moisture in that region I am guessing.  Nice first story!

--------------
I am addicted to summits! I can't eat, drink or breath without them. Life without mountains would really suck.

http://www.myspace.com/climbandsurfmackg | http://www.summitpost.org/user_page.php?user_id=894
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Matt Lemke
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Matt Lemke
High on the Outdoors
PostMon Jan 31, 2011 9:47 pm 
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EastKing wrote:
Awesome TR! Wow, 18000 and no glaciers. That is probably due to the lack of moisture in that region I am guessing.  Nice first story!

Thats right Eastking. Thats why I really want to climb there SO BAD!!!
No snow to worry about!

Nice TR

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The Pacific coast to the Great Plains = my playground!!!
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http://www.lemkeclimbs.com
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RichP
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Joined: 13 Jul 2006
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RichP
sin rumbo
PostMon Jan 31, 2011 10:00 pm 
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You did amazingly well considering a start at over 13,000 ft in La Paz with no acclimatization beforehand. I've heard of people getting off the plane there and becoming violently ill right away.
It looks like you went with the right group for sure. Awesome stuff.
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Redwic
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Redwic
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PostMon Jan 31, 2011 10:53 pm 
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Awesome! I cannot wait for Part II!

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"Revolutions are not overnight. The heightist mindset has minimally a 100 year head start. Eventually the climbing community will embrace geocaching." -Paul Michelson
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Josh Lewis
Up up and away!



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Josh Lewis
Up up and away!
PostMon Jan 31, 2011 10:55 pm 
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Redwic it's already here!
http://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=7989152

By the way it looks like a great report, I currently need to get to bed, but plan on reading it soon!  biggrin.gif
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Eric
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Eric
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PostMon Jan 31, 2011 11:48 pm 
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Great stuff. I like the cities and people and mines and all that stuff so I am ecstatic that you are including that as well as the mtn stories.
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Go Jo
of the lykkens



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Go Jo
of the lykkens
PostTue Feb 01, 2011 12:51 am 
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I really enjoyed both your photography and your description of this unique experience.
This type of a trip is such a departure from anything I can imagine, your ability to relate it so well is much appreciated.
Do you journal while traveling to help recall such great detail later when trip reporting?
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Gimpilator
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Gimpilator
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PostTue Feb 01, 2011 9:56 pm 
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Thanks everyone for leaving their thoughts about this trip.  It makes it more fun to share the story when I get feedback.

Go Jo -
Good question about the journaling.  Yes I do keep a daily log but it's usually just a few sentences and not very detailed.  The rest is from memory.

RichP -
I knew we were pushing the limit a little bit with our aggressive altitude schedule.  I think we were just lucky that it worked out.

As far as Part 3 goes, I plan to start it in the morning.

--------------
http://www.summitpost.org/user_page.php?user_id=25744
http://www.peakbagger.com/climber/ClimbListC.aspx?cid=2650&sort=elevft&u=ft&j=-1&y=9999

Keep climbing mountains and don't slip!
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Scrooge
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Scrooge
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PostWed Feb 02, 2011 5:38 am 
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Thanks, Gimpilator. An extraordinary trip and extraordinary report.       humpy.gif


nwhikers has moved far beyond just Northwest hikes, and is just that much the better for it.


Fortunately, the addition of world-ranging expeditions takes nothing away from our many trips to Boulder River and
the Ancient Lakes or our ongoing discussion of land management practices in Sultan Basin.
       smile.gif

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Something lost behind the ranges. Lost and waiting for you....... Go and find it. Go!
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ree
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ree
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PostWed Feb 02, 2011 12:38 pm 
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Wow!  So beautiful and amazing.  Gorgeous and fun pics.
You mention Badlands and Death Valley, and if you put this right up there with those places, then this gets added to my destination list.

Thanks.

RichP mentioned the elevation... yeah that is a little bit of a concern for me too.  What do you do if it happens?  Can you drink water and make it go away?  Take pills?  Or do you have to pack up and leave?

Thanks for posting, great trip report.  Such a wonderful adventure! cool.gif
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mike
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PostWed Feb 02, 2011 1:02 pm 
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Quote:
RichP mentioned the elevation... yeah that is a little bit of a concern for me too.  What do you do if it happens?  Can you drink water and make it go away?  Take pills?  Or do you have to pack up and leave?

If you are talking about any one of the different forms of altitude sickness there is only one cure, get lower. Fast! if one of the dangerous types like cerebral edema. Otherwise just slowly acclimatize ideally over a period of weeks without returning to low elevation. Forget the pills, chewing coca leaves is about the only thing that works. Don't overeat and DON'T DRINK ALCHOHOL!
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belowfellow
Transplant



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belowfellow
Transplant
PostWed Feb 02, 2011 6:20 pm 
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up.gif I can't believe this was the warm-up.

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"Wilderness is bliss"
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Magellan
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Magellan
Brutally Handsome
PostSat Feb 05, 2011 4:38 pm 
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I finally had enough time to start reading these.  What a great start Gimpy.  Gorgeous photos and really great story telling.  up.gif  up.gif
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Michael Lewis
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Michael Lewis
Taking a nap
PostThu Feb 10, 2011 12:11 pm 
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bawl.gif I could only skim it cuz I gotta go to class. bawl.gif  hungry.gif But I AM SO HUNGRY FOR A FULL MEAL OF THIS hungry.gif

Modesty and graciousness are good, but surely you must recognize that you've earned this achievement every step of the way.
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