Huayna Potosi is a mountain and National Park in the La Paz Department of Bolivia. It's located about 30 km north of La Paz and the mountain reaches 6088 metres above sea level. About 1000 climbers make it to the summit every year, and it is said to be an "easy" peak. Base Camp and the obvious entry point for treks in the park is at Zongo Pass 4700 m, on the way to Zongo. Rock Camp at 5130 m offers great views and is the place from where climbers make their ascent of the peak.
The mountain was first climbed in 1919 by Germans Rudolf Dienst and Adolf Schulze.
Snow covered "nevados" contrast a crisp blue sky in front of the sea of clouds hiding The Yungas in the east, while the the outskirts of El Alto on the Altiplano stretch towards Chile to the west. Glaciers have made the ground on the mountains rocky and the beautiful green dammed lakes in the Zongo Valley add color to the landscape.
Flora and fauna
Domestic llamas, sheep and alpacas digest what little plants survive at this altitude. Birds of all sizes are abundant and condors make spectacular moves in the wind. A surprising colony of mice thrive among the rocks in Rock Camp.
Winters are sunny and dry, summers wet and more cloudy, although snow can fall at any time and season. Winter is the main climbing season.
Buses to Zongo Pass depart from Plaza Ballivian in El Alto daily. A minibus leaves at 5AM and a supposedly larger bus departs at 6AM. Green micros cruise central La Paz and terminates at Plaza Ballivian. Jump off either at "base camp" before Lake Zongo, or at the Refugio Huayna Potosi 2 km further on at the end of the lake.
Bring copies of passport or remember your document's number, as there is a police check at the turnoff to Chacaltaya. Police ask for Bs. 2. Another checkpoint is 5 km before Zongo Pass. Drivers are held for five minutes by police and are sometimes charged Bs. 5. If you are not keen on organizing the trip yourself, go to an authorized operator. Ex. Topas Bolivia (http://www.topas.bo/climbing/clhp02-uk.htm)
There are two starting points for ascending to Rock Camp.
The views of neighbouring mountains from Rock Camp is great, and it's a nice place for relaxing, especially between 11AM and 4PM. when the sun is up and heats the rocks. At about 4PM the sun dissapears behind the mountain and it turns bitterly cold.
It's easy to find a tour agency in La Paz that offers organized trips to Huayna Potosi. Tours are all similar, either in 2 day trip or 3 day trip. 3 day trip is highly recommended for those without significant mountaineering experience.
Climbing South America and High Camp Lodge have favorable reviews on TripAdvisor, but guides can be hit or miss as they work as freelancers for tour operators. Some guides are highly experienced or officially certified. (My guide summited Huayna Potosi 1000+ times and also climbed Aconguaca, the highest mountain in South America)
Prices range from 900 bols to 1200 bols for group 3 day tour. (November 2016) Some tour operators add few more dollars for renting sleeping bags or backpack, but some rent them for free. Check the condition of gear before starting the hike.
It's advertised as the easiest 6000m hike, but the hike isn't for complete novices. Especially the last lag to the summit from High Camp(or Rock Camp) would be a serious challenge for beginners, so get yourself ready and be safe.
The refugio Huayna Potosi, +591 2 74 00 45, at the end of Lake Zongo offers accommodation, meals. Cost of lodging is Bs. 80 per person. The Altamirano family, +591 71 55 77 37, who runs "base camp" is currently building a competing refugio, completion and pricing of which is unclear.
Warning (Sep 2009): some tents and gear have been stolen while their owners were ascending the summit.
Bring a warm sleeping bag and a good tent. Night temperatures in winter drops to -15ºC or even lower. Good boots are necessary for the descent from Rock Camp. Try to remember exactly which way you took and which turns you made going up, as it's harder to find your way going down and you might end up with a couple of metres of rock climbing ahead of you if taking the wrong path (not a desirable prospect with a heavy backpack). In Base Camp, make sure your food is kept sheep proof. In Rock Camp, make sure your food is kept mice proof.
Catching a bus from Zongo Pass will not be a problem. remember: Buses who enter the Zongo valley in the morning should return in the afternoon, there is no other exit. They might be full of passengers and goods, but will take you. Try to ask at the refugio or at Base Camp for schedule.
Hitchhiking is often your only budget choice when getting back to La Paz/El Alto, but there is little traffic. Llama shepherds say it is easier to walk 4 km to the police checkpoint, and hitch from there. Drivers ask for about Bs. 15 per person for the ride. Be sure to have camping equipment if stranded.
Both the Altamirano family at Base Camp and the refugio Huayna Potosí can call a taxi for you. The cost is Bs. 150 to 180.