RAFMA Bolivian Venture 1992
Mel's Personal Log

(My 12 summits higher than Mont Blanc are high-lighted in red)

Wednesday 6th May. I was one of a 2-man reconnaissance party leaving well before the main group, with Mike Parsons and I flying from Gatwick via Miami to La Paz. Here is a later photo identifying the two of us:

Mike & Mel

Thursday 7th May. We landed before dawn at La Paz international airport, which is on the Altiplano at an altitude of over 4,000 metres, leading to an instantaneous mild headache on landing. We were met by Col Van de Nort, the UK Defence Attaché, who, alarmed that we had no hotel reservation, had booked us into the 5-star Plaza Hotel, were he took us. On our drive, the mountains Illimani and Huayna Potosi were identified on the skyline in the dawn light, and the humidity was very low which was quite pleasant. The Defence Attaché picked us up a couple of hours later to take us to the embassy, where we met Armando Monasterio of the Club Aldino Boliviano, who, through an embassy interpreter, agreed to arrange transport from the airport for the main party, arriving 14th May, plus transport and porters to meet all of our requirements. Afterwards we searched the city centre and chose and made reservations at Residencia Rosario, at 3,635 metres amsl. We then walked around La Paz looking at shops and prices, and also cooking equipment.

Additional notes about La Paz and its population. Although only Bolivia’s third largest city, La Paz is its state capital, and there are obviously two quite separate populations, the original indigenous native Bolivians, and the descendants of the Spanish. La Paz is situated in a deep physical depression in the ground, with those Bolivians of Spanish descent taking up the lower area, with an excellent city centre, and the indigenous Bolivians taking the higher ground which enjoyed a much better view. This was presumably because the indigenous Bolivians had evolved to cope better with the high altitude of their country.

Friday 8th May. After a continental breakfast we checked out of the Plaza Hotel and took a taxi to Residencia Rosario, checking in to a twin room with en-suite. We explored the town area for food sources.

Saturday 9th May. We located the government map store and identified the maps we would all need. We explored the street markets, taking note of what was available where.

Sunday 10th May. We took buses via Calacota (Plaza Humboldt) to Barrio Arunjuez, walked to the golf course, and then via Mallasa Village through the Valley of the Moon back to Barrio Arunjuez, and then a bus back to Plaza San Francisco.

Monday 11th May. We took a taxi to the foot of Chacaltaya, 5,421m, and climbed to its summit to photograph Huayna Potosi and the surrounding area. It is obviously a technically easy walk, but it is significantly higher than Mont Blanc (4,807m), so was a bit breath-taking. Chacaltaya was once the top of the world’s highest ski resort, and there was some snow around, but you can see in the recent photograph immediately below the effect that global warming has had. We took a taxi back to La Paz, both of us with headaches due to the altitude.

Chacaltaya, 614m higher than Mont Blanc

Tuesday 12th May. We woke with headaches after climbing Chacaltaya the previous day, so we took it easy.

Wednesday 13th May. We went up to El Alto (the area surrounding the city) to look around and to take photographs of the city and its surroundings.

La Paz
La Paz, with Illimani (6440m) on the distant skyline

Thursday 14th May. We welcomed the main body of our RAFMA party, now totalling 18, and took them on tours of the city.

Friday 15th May. Tim and I reconnoitred the area around (and to the North-East of) La Muela del Diablo, but without reaching the summit.

Saturday 16th May. The whole team ascended La Muela del Diablo (3,825m). We then crossed a stream (in bare feet) to Mallaisa and then took a bus right back to Calle Illampu.

Muella del Diablo
Muella del Diablo

Sunday 17th May was another strenuous acclimatization day.

Monday 18th May was spent shopping for food etc.

Tuesday 19th May. We split into two parties, each with different objectives, each travelling by road to as near to our objectives as possible.

loading up
Loading up outside Residencia Rosario

Our party then trekked to our chosen Base Camp shown in the photo below, accompanied by pre-organised locals transporting our kit.

Base Camp up
Our first Base Camp

Additional Note on the climate. The Bolivian Andes lie around 17 degrees south of the equator, so there are around 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. We rarely saw a cloud and we detected no wind during our expedition, i.e. there was no weather! This meant that when the sun drops below the horizon, the temperature promptly drops to around minus 20 centigrade. The stream of water flowing past our tents froze swiftly at nightfall. We were each using sleeping bags designed for this, drawn from the RAFMA stores.

Wednesday 20th May. Mel, Dave and Mike traversed Cerro Wilja Llojeta, 5244m, East to West. Rod, Paul and Liam traversed Cerro Culin Thoje. 5368m, SE to NW. Pete and Neal explored the glacier to the West of Mina Naturidad to 5000m. Murray and Russ had a rest day.

Wilja Llojeta
Cerro Wilja Llojeta

Thursday 21st May. Rod, Paul, Pete and Ross traversed Cerro Wila Llojeta, 5244m, East to West. Mike and Mel traversed Cerro Jankho Huyo, 5512m, East to South-West. Dave and Liam explored the corrie to the West of our Base Camp.

Friday 22nd May. Pete, Russ and Dave traversed Cerro Janko Huyo, 5512m East to South-West. Liam, Neal and Murray traversed Cerro Wila Llojeta, 5244m, East to West.

Saturday 23rd May. Neal, Mike and Mel ascended Cerro Nigruni, 5468m,. The remainder had a rest day.

Sunday 24th May. Neal, Pete and Russ climbed Cerro Mullo Apacuta, 5368m. Mike and Mel climbed Cerro Culin Thojo, 5266m, . Dave, Rod, Liam and Murray climbed Cerro Negruni, 5468m.

Monday 25th May. Mike and Mel traversed Cerro Jiskha Pata, 5508m, and Cerro Jachcha Pata, 5424m. Murray and Dave traversed Cerro Wilja Llojeta.

Tuesday 26th May. Pete, Russ and Neal climbed Cerro Culin Thojo, everyone else enjoyed a rest day.

Wednesday 27th May. Mike and Mel climbed Cerro Mullu Apacuta, 5368m.. Pete and Neal explored the Mina Santa Rosa valley. Dave, Rod, Liam and Paul climbed to set up a bivouac below the north face of Cerro Wilja Llojeta.

Thursday 28th May. Rod and Paul climbed the north face of Cerro Wilja Llojeta, the remainder enjoyed a rest day.

Friday 29th May. A pre-arranged team of locals and their backpacking lamas, transported our equipment back to the road and hence by pre-arranged transport to La Paz.

Saturday 30th May was spent shopping for food.

Sunday 31st May. Mel, Rod and Murray explored Lago Titicaca.

Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca

Monday 1st June. We were taken by road to camp along side it at Mina Candelabria, where their was a long-abandoned horizontal tunnel to what used to be a silver mine.

Tuesday 2nd June. Locals with backpacking lamas took us and our equipment to our next base camp.


Domesticated Lama, used for meat, milk and as a pack animal

Wednesday 3rd June. This was our only bad weather day of the expedition, with wind and now-fall. We did nothing.

Thursday 4th June. Mike and Mel climbed Viluyo Jankhouma, 5540m

Friday 5th June. This was spent at base camp, planning higher advanced camps necessary for next objectives.

Saturday 6th June. We climbed to a higher camp at 5182m near to a small lake.

High Camps: Below are photos of 3 of our high camps, but I regret I have no record of which mountains they refer to:

High Camp

High Camp

High Camp

Sunday 7th June. We climbed Jankhopiti, 5875m and descended to base camp.

Monday 8th June was a rest day.

Tuesday 9th June. We climbed to Camp 1.

Wednesday 10th June. We climbed to Camp 2 at 5800m.

Thursday 11th June. Mike and Mel set off to climb Jankhouma, 6427m, my first 21,000 footer. Mike broke a crampon part way up and returned to Camp 2 to try and fix it. Mel continued and soloed it, Near the top this meant ascending and descending around 250m of (Scottish) Grade 3 ice. On Mel’s return he met Mike, who had fixed his crampon and continued up to solo the summit himself. Both returned to base camp that afternoon. Note: Advanced camps were used on consecutive nights by different pairs of climbers.


Friday 12th June was a rest day.

Saturday 13th June was also a rest day.

Sunday 14th June. Locals with lamas took us from base camp back to the road at Mina Candelabria for the night.

Note: referring to them as roads might be misleading. The only surfaced roads we encountered in Bolivia were in down-town La Paz and the road to its airport. All other roads we used were really dirt-tracks.

Monday 15th June. We were collected and driven back to La Paz.

Monday 16th June was spent in La Paz.

Thereafter. In my 30-year old handwritten notes that I filed away, I cannot find any record of my final mountaineering trip, but I do remember that it entailed, in order, a road journey followed by a trek supported by porters to Base Camp, and that there was a succession of 2 higher camps before we could climb our final objective. Only the summit day was recorded accurately.

Friday 20th June. Mike and Mel climbed Illimani, 6440m. This was our second 21,000 footer, and still the highest mountain I have ever climbed.


Thereafter. I have no records of the end of our expedition, but I do remember spending some time in La Paz before all 18 of us flew home via Miami to Gatwick.

Postscript on Climate Change: Here are some observations:

  1. All glaciers had receded from the position shown on the maps;
  2. The glaciers were bare of snow at 18,000 feet;
  3. These high bare glaciers were well-adorned with twisted upwards-pointing fingers of ice, around a centimetre thick and as much as 5 inches high:
  4. There was very little meltwater from the glacial snouts, but we came across several levadas (horizontal channels) that had originally been constructed to carry water from glacial snouts to villages; all of them had long dried up and been allowed to fall into disrepair.

This might suggest too-low precipitation and evaporative loss under a hot sun, rather than simply melting to form streams, but I’m only guessing.

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This webpage was prepared and uploaded 4th September 2022.