Elevation: 6542 m (21463 ft)
Location: Bolivia, Oruro province, 18 6′ S; 68 53′ W

Distinction: Highest point of Bolivia.

Nevado Sajama (Image from Wikipedia Commons Library)

Photo album of Nevado Sajama

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Wikipedia Page on Nevado Sajama

Nevado Sajama is an extinct volcano about 250km SW of La Paz near the border of Bolivia and Chile, not far South from the 3-country border-point with Peru. It is situated in the National Park of the same name, above a village of the same name. Most tours to Sajama are offered from La Paz, thanks to the good road Sajama is reached in about 3 hours from there.


From Friday to Sunday (May 14-16) I joined a small expedition to Nevado Sajama round-trip from La Paz. We had all we needed, except we encountered horrible weather conditions with very high winds, cold and snow, as well as the upper regions of the mountains constantly in clouds. We proceeded to base camp (4600m) on Day 1, then to high camp (5500m) on Day 2, where I felt great. Unfortunately I ate something bad that evening which didn’t sit well in my stomach; later I needed to throw up several times and felt very weak, effectively eliminating my chances at a summit. Disappointed and weak I descended with my guide, while the other client made a summit bid with her guide (turned around later due to high winds, cold and zero visibility). I recovered later that day and we all returned safely to La Paz late Sunday evening.

Detailed Notes:

Friday, May 14

La Paz to Sajama to Base Camp

I get picked up by Marcelo (driver), Anne (the other client), Sergio
and Lucio (the two guides) at 7:30am at the Hotel Sajama (sic) in La
Paz. We drive up to El Alto, picking up some more gear along the way.
Then we drive to Patacamaya, where we stop for 10 min. Here I pick up my sleeping bag from my bike trailer bag and deposit the second
pannier which I had carried to La Paz at the bike. Then we continue
towards Sajama. Unfortunately it’s getting more and more cloudy, and
Nevado Sajama and the other nearby volcanoes are getting engulfed in clouds. We pick up a woman with an infant – I think it’s Marcelo’s
wife – and continue towards Sajama. The last 11km to the village are
on sand / gravel road. Once we arrive at Sajama, we are treated to a
nice, 3-course lunch at Marcelo’s restaurant / Hostal Oasis.
After registrating at the National Park we drive a little futher to
the trail head where we load our gear onto mules. We start the hike
around 2pm with the mules following shortly thereafter. The approach
to base camp is an easy 2 hr walk without much weight on our back. We climb from 4220m to 4600m, gaining some 400m along the way. Then we reach the base camp area and set up the tents. The cook
Andrew goes to work while we have a moment to relax (and type these notes).
Around 5:30pm we gather in the mess tent for tea and cookies; in that tent it’s nice and warm without wind. We stay in there and are soon
treated to cheese soup and then a freeze-dried meal for dinner.
Several coca teas later I think I also have enough fluid for the
evening. Brushing teeth and then into the tent and sleeping bag by
8:15pm. Tonight we hope to sleep well and long; tomorrow will be a
different story, 1000m higher and colder, plus we want to start the
climb very early (2am). So we need to sleep for the next two nights 😉

Saturday, May 15

Campo Base (4600m) to Campo Alto (5500m)

We get up around 7:30 – after having to get out of the tent before
midnight to pee (pee-bottle is missed dearly!). The weather is
unchanged: windy, with clouds engulfing the high peaks. I have little
hope for good weather on tomorrow’s summit day.
Good breakfast, bread, tea, coffee, butter, marmelade, cereal… We
pack away our stuff and break down the tents, except the large mess
tent which will remain here at base camp. We start hiking at 9:15am.
Legs and lungs feel great today, so my spirits run high, despite the
poor weather.
After 1hr we have a little rest stop up on a ridge with a more and
more sweeping view of the scenery to the West of the mountain. The
porters have caught up to us and forge ahead. Unfortunately the fresh
NW-wind makes it uncomfortably cold and there is no time to linger at
a rest stop. So we continue. The ridge gets a little steeper so we
gain altitude. We climb up through lose spree and rocks, always
careful as we still walk in our light trail shoes. We reach a large
rock band, maybe 200m tall, where we traverse to the left and then
gain it through a steep canaleta. Lucio has set a slightly higher
tempo, so we actually catch up to and pass two porters again! We’re
also far ahead of Anne with guide Sergio when we reach the top of this gully, which is our spot for high camp, about 5500m. Its only 12:00pm
noon, so we made good time. Not a lot of room here, so it’s good we’re the only climbers on this route on the mountain. We set up our tents
in the cold wind and after a few snacks we disappear into tent and
sleeping bag for siesta (and to warm up again).
At 5pm tea and dinner is ready; it’s uncomfortably cold outside and
unfortunately we don’t have a mess tent at this camp. I eat two bowls of soup and a freeze-dried ham pure. Only one cup of tea – I wish
there was more tea!
I don’t get out of my tent anymore except to pee. We’ll see how
this night goes at 5500m altitude.

Sunday, May 16

High Camp (5500m) down to Village Sajama (4100m)

The night was horrible: No sleep due to the strong wind rattling the
tent; moderately cold (-5C), at 11:30pm I need to pee – how I miss my peebottle. At 2am in the morning I don’t feel well and at 2:30am I
need to throw up into a plastic bag! The same issue I had last week,
probably caused by something in the local water. At 5am I throw up
some more – my chances at the summit are gone! I feel very weak and
can only sleep on my back; when I roll to the side I feel like throwing
up right away. What a pity – yesterday I felt so strong with the
altitude… That said, the weather is really bad as well. Anne and
Sergio are getting up at 3am and leave for the summit at 4am. Later we learn they turn around after 5hrs due to extreme wind, cold and snow in zero visibility. Vale la pena?
Even though I don’t feel like going anywhere I know I need to get
myself ready for the descent. At 8am Lucio and I start our way down. I need to walk very carefully with my trail shoes due to the icy blocks
on the way down. I also realize how weak a condition I’m in as I need
to rest frequently even though it’s all just going down. We get below
the rocky slope and the trail improves. That said, anytime we stop it
gets cold quickly due to the wind and light snowfall.
After about 2.5 hrs we reach base camp and rest a bit. However, I urge to continue all the way down as it is simply too cold to just sit here for several hours and wait for Anne and Sergio to come down from their summit bid. So we walk another hour to the trail head and from here yet another hour all the way to the Sajama village. I would have
stopped any passing car on the road to cover the last couple of km;
unfortunately there just was no car coming by…
Once in Sajama village we went to the Hostal Oasis owned by our driver Marcelo. He offered me a room to relax and so I slept there for about 3hrs or so until Anne and Sergio arrived; they had braved the elements for about 5hrs before turning around due to extreme wind and cold. We all prepared for our drive back to La Paz, where we also stopped for late lunch as well as to pick up my bike from Patacamaya (where I had left it last week). I was glad when that drive into the night was over and I was dropped off at the hostel in La Paz. Next time I will look at the weather forecast again…