Guest Writer: The Farja Climbs Mt Tunari

It looks like Magnum P.I. has opened the floodgates! Another guest Tale, this time from Dad, obviously reciprocating after many gracious, positive mentions on the site…

Mount Tunari looms in the distance...

For those who have never had the pleasure of climbing the famous Mt Tunari, at the end of the Cochabamba valley in Bolivia, I thought I would pen a few words to tell of our expedition some years back. The occasion of the adventure was a visit by our eldest son, aka the MK Taler, and friends from Australia. We were joined also by two fit, young missionaries of North American origins—one, Jim, acting as guide and one, John, a hanger-on. One thing I should say at the outset is that Tunari’s height has long been thought to be around 17,250 ft (or 5257.8 metres . . . in real money). This estimate was made, presumably, by an observer standing on the highest point on the road from Cochabamba to Morochata, in the middle of the Cordillera Central mountain range, and what he meant was that he thought the summit was probably about that height above where he was standing. Either that or it was made by a NASA expert who didn’t know the difference between feet and metres. It can happen. Either way, it is much higher than that! I know. I have climbed it! Before we set out from the city I asked Jim if we could walk all the way from Coch to the top. He said that it wouldn’t be a good idea as there were women and children in the group, and he had to work next week but as he turned to get into his jeep he muttered that as far as he was concerned I could walk to La Paz if I wanted to. I was really touched by this . . . our ministry coordinator saying I could have 2 or 3 days off to walk to the capital.

Our little convoy made its way along the valley in the early morning sunshine: Jim’s camouflage-brown jeep, John’s Rolls Royce of four wheel drives, and me driving Wick’s Toyota which had once been a red colour. Now it was completely white, covered with enough bird guano to start another war with Chile. With Jim in the lead we could not get lost winding our way towards the mountain, through the back streets of Cochabamba then Quillacollo, though I did try on several occasions. Finally we made our vehicular ascent of the mountain—or at least to what appeared to be the base of the mountain.  We parked the cars on a slope near a dam that was said to have been built by the Incas many years before. As we looked down from where the cars were parked to the condors circling way below, one had to wonder at the intelligence of that grand race of people and if they were so set on building dams in places like this then no wonder their civilisation fell over. We emptied our gear from the cars and decided on the spot that the amount of stuff we had brought was excessive in the extreme and so left most of it with the cars with our 2 Aussie friends who had the sense to stay in the relative comfort of the cars as they slowly became covered in frost as the day progressed. (I speak of the cars of course. Our friends were only a blue, shivering mess when we got back and not covered in frost that we could see.) I was the first ready with my gear and so set off up the trail at a sharp pace. Indeed, I was walking so quickly that after about 10 minutes I could still see our youngest, Eloise, and the small group of her young friends in the distance, ahead of me. After what seemed like an eternity, and feeling thoroughly exhausted, I finally rounded the last bend at the end of the lake formed by the dam and could see away to the front the looming summit of what must be the world’s highest mountain. It was the dry season, of course, and so we did not have to traverse vast tracts of swampy ground in the driving rain and snow. What a blessing that was, I thought, though my sweat was leaving the ground behind me decidedly damp. Two hours later when I reached a small flat area so far above the tree line one couldn’t even see the trees below any more, I found the others already there, waiting. I don’t know if they were waiting for me or just till their lungs stopped hurting a bit because as soon as I arrived they all left. Not daunted by this move, that could have been taken by some to be a snub, I called some friendly remarks towards their departing backpacks and with great determination continued on. Any respite a rest might give from the pain that was racking my body was unlikely to be of much use and besides, I figured that it would only be a short time before I was completely numb from the cold and it wouldn’t matter any more. If I lived that long. The next obstacle on the climb to be overcome was a scree slope. Jim had told us about this before we set off. I had been given to understand that once this was overcome the rest would be relatively easy. I stood on a large rock and looked up towards the group that was slowly making its way half way up, slipping and sliding as they went. You could certainly see where the concept of shale oil came from. These rocks appeared to be very well lubricated. I was just wondering how I could possibly get to the others when they apparently decided that they would come to me. A mess of shale and flailing limbs accompanied by hideous screams came sliding all the way back down the slope and landed in a moaning pile at the base of the rock on which I was standing.  A cursory glance told me that there probably weren’t many broken limbs and I immediately set off up the path they had gouged in the shale. It was a much easier path to take than walking on flakes of slippery rock and I made good time lurching along, bent well over so that my backpack didn’t flip me backwards down the 70 degree slope. I was grateful for the backpack though as it meant that many of the rocks thrown in jest at me by the rest of the party as they came up behind me, left fewer bruises on my person than might have been expected. Eventually the others passed me and I looked up to see that they had stopped on a ledge in the snow above to look at the view, or to take a breather, or to wonder why they hadn’t died already, or to wonder if they already had. I determined that at all costs I had to reach that ledge and decided that I would pace myself by setting a goal of 1000 steps, hoping that by the time I had reached that target, the ledge would be within psychologically reach. It was hard to keep my mind on the numbers with all that the environment was pitching at me but I eventually reached the 5 metre mark that the 1000 steps had taken me and was within a metre of the ledge. I decided that that was far enough and turned to look at the view. I had no interest in the view at this stage of exhaustion and little interest in anything else but it seemed like the thing to do. My chest was heaving uncontrollably—and so was my stomach—but I had made it this far…

Part 2 coming soon!

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