Bolivia A Climbing Guide

Review by planetFear
Wednesday 1st September 1999

I guess there will always be a slight twinge of regret on seeing a climbing guidebook published to an ostensibly remote mountain region of the world. It seems to signify popularity, development and the fact that the area is no longer ‘unexplored’. But most of the Bolivian and Peruvian Andes are Alpine in scale, quite easy of access due, in relative terms, to the increasing availability of cheaper airflights, have none of the bureaucratic problems and financial burden associated with Himalayan countries, and provided sufficient time is spent on acclimatization (pleasantly achieved in the cafes of La Paz), can be visited with the same flexibility that climbers enjoy when going to the Alps. When viewed in this context a climbing guide has been long overdue and who better to take on the task than a former political reporter for a Coventry evening newspaper and now a full-time guide (and regular correspondent for Mountain INFO) running an adventure travel agency out of La Paz. True, there is Alain Mesili’s recently reprinted, inspirational but rather confusing guide to the Cordillera Real, which was first published (in Spanish) in 1984 but Brain has written the first and only comprehensive English-language climbing guide to the whole country. And as for the popularity of the peaks, over 90% of visiting mountaineers each year climb the same five mountains. It would easily be possible to cater for their needs with a simple eight-page book detailing five ‘via normales’.

Firstly, let me say this guide is very good indeed, especially on the more popular venues such as Illimani, Huayna Potosi, the Condoriri Group and Ancohuma, peaks that Brain knows well. Mountaineering in Bolivia has been very poorly documented and the author has spent a staggering amount of time and effort in research, both at home and abroad. There are interesting historical notes, detailed information on many practical considerations particularly access by public transport or otherwise, numerous superbly reproduced black and white photodiagrams and a collection of clearly drawn sketch maps. All four main Cordillera; Apolobamba, Real, Quimsa Cruz and Occidental are covered, with selected routes described on a total of 37 peaks. There are climbs at all standards from the TD couloirs on Ala Derecha and Wyoming to the gently-angled yet heavily penetented ‘Facile’ slopes of the southern volcanoes. Finally, there are some useful appendices, particularly one giving a sample work contract for local helpers (muleteers, porters etc) in both Spanish and English.

If the book has any failings they are probably due much less to the author than to the way in which it has been edited to a required format in a little over 200 pages. The result is something practical rather than inspirational. Other than that I have only a few small gripes. To state in the historical notes that Charles Wiener’s ascent in 1877 of the 6,130m Pico de Paris on Illimani was ‘the highest point reached anywhere in the world at the time’. ignores the proven evidence of Atacama Indians reaching the top of 6,700m+ peaks many centuries before. Later in the introductory section the author makes one or two rather bizarre statements concerning medical conditions and omits probably the two most well-known operators in La Paz from a list of mountaineering agencies. Restrictions on space have resulted in certain illogicalities. For instance, no mention of, say, Tiquimani nor even Mururata with its popular normal route, yet the inclusion of half a dozen routes on the West Face of Huayna Potosi with the excuse that most ascensionists claim a variation. There are a number of glowing references throughout the early part of the book to the superb granite rock-climbing in the northern part of the Quimsa Cruz but when you turn to that particular section the only routes offered are on snow and ice. I am also reliably informed that there are several peaks covered in the guide e.g. Chaupi Orco, Jachacunocollo and Pomerata, where the easiest route is not even mentioned. Elsewhere there is some definite overgrading.

Despite this, any mountaineer with a grasp of the English language and planning to visit Bolivia for standard or exploratory mountaineering, would be very well-advised to buy what is still an invaluable guide. If it does sell well then the potential for a more comprehensive yet still commercially viable second edition will be that much greater.

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