The 24 hours that took me to the top of Licancabur I remember like it was yesterday. I left from San Pedro de Atacama on one of the tours leading up to Uyuni. After only an hour’s drive we arrived at the Bolivian border, where I immediately had a mate of coca. With the formalities done, after a few more minutes I arrived at the shelter where I would spend the night, or rather the few hours of sleep.
After having something to eat, I met the guide (jokingly called El Alto, due to the fact that he is about 5’6″ tall) and the two fellow adventurers (two decidedly well-acclimated 18/19-year-old Germans, unlike me). The guide asked me three questions to ascertain my physical state: have you been drinking these days, have you been eating red meat, and are you used to the high altitude. After ‘brilliantly’ answering yes/yes/no, amazingly the Serafin guide still took me along. Around 2:30 a.m. several trekkers arrived: one group was returning from Licancabur, another group would go up the next day.
After dinner we agreed on the time: breakfast at 2:30, departure at 3:00.
At 2:30 Serafin said to me ‘let’s go let’s go quickly!’ (also because the other group was in the process of leaving) but I pressed on to have breakfast. After a short jeep ride, we were ready to start climbing Licancabur.
We started at 4600 meters, and after a few minutes a couple of trekkers in the group ahead of us dropped out because of altitude problems. After about an hour or so, around 5,000 meters, the 19-year-old girl in our group also started to suffer a lot from the altitude. I, on the other hand, kept climbing just fine: but, after passing the other group, around 5600 meters my light went out. From there on it was really a struggle to climb to the top, but one step at a time I made it to 5916 meters. We stayed at the top really briefly, but the view was amazing: the Green Lagoon, the 6,000-meter volcanoes, the crater with another lagoon-all incredible!
By the time they had eaten two cookies, everyone had already started to descend. My pace was outrageously low even on the descent, and I lost sight of both groups. At one point I found myself at a fork in the road, totally randomly jumping to the right. After 5 minutes I heard a ‘Holaaaa’ , which forced me to turn back: with the last of my strength, I got back on the right track. Through it all, the faithful Garmin told me that I had crossed the Bolivian/Cilenian border by mistake….
Having finally arrived at the starting point (at 11:30 a.m., three hours ahead of the previous day’s group, proving that the pace of the climb was insane) I was able to catch the bus to Atacama with fatigue and happiness going hand in hand at an all-time high!