Exercise Bolivian Venture was a Defence Medical Services Expedition with combined AT and research goals held in June 2012. Two Tri Service teams of 25 ranging from experienced mountaineer to complete novice were selected from trial weekends throughout 2011-2012. Training in essential mountaineering skills took place in Scotland, Snowdonia and Chilwell prior to departure.
The two teams left the UK staggered two weeks apart with the goal of conducting research into acute mountain sickness and conquering several Bolivian peaks in the Cordillera Real region. The two TA medical services members of the expedition were supported with grants from the Ulysses Trust and Oxfordshire Cadets and Reserves Association.
On arrival in La Paz the teams spent three days acclimatizing to the new altitude and sightseeing before heading to the hills. After the shock of becoming breathless on a single flight of stairs many members new to altitude took things easy on the first walk by Lake Titicaca and the Inca Temple on Isla de Sol giving themselves much needed time to adjust. After successfully completing the first part of research at Copacobana and after a further prep day in La Paz the long journey to the Road Head camp at 4200m began where the local porters and lamas awaited us.
The teams spent a further two days at the Road Head camp, conducting research and acclimatizing with treks to unnamed peaks at 5000m and a walk along the beautiful isolated valley up to Base Camp (4700m). Local support was crucial to the expedition as this valley had never before been visited by foreigners and their permission and mules were vital to our success.
A total of 11 days were spent on the hill under canvas with successful research at High Camp (5200m) and successful summits of Patapatami (5500m) via the previous unclimbed north ridge and Chachacomani (6040m). Unfortunately several individuals on Team One were unable to complete both objectives as the cold conditions during their main ascent meant some turned back to prevent cold injuries to hands and feet.
Teams then split into small groups of mixed experience after the main goals were checked off and made rocky first ascents of Mount Jubilee 5750m and lower unnamed peaks at 5300m to 5500m. The west ridge of Jackoscire was also climbed but unfortunately the main summit remained unclaimed due to unfavourable snow conditions near the top. Members of the groups also explored and rock climbed several unclimbed crags and ice climbed a local frozen waterfall route.
The trip then was cut slightly short as a local festival meant the team of porters would be spending several days over enjoying the local beer and therefore camp needed to be moved out early. The trip finished with a few days rest and recuperation at lower altitude in Coroico including Downhill Mountain biking down the world’s most dangerous road from La Paz, a 1.5km zip wire ride and a local Saints festival complete with street level fireworks.
The expedition was a real success bagging several new summits and little climbed peaks, and mixing teams with a wide variety of mountaineering experience with everyone benefitting from the variety of skills present. It also contributed to the body of research into acute mountain sickness and research results are awaited later this year. Successfully mounting such a trip in a previously little explored region of Bolivia was a credit to the expedition organisers and in country support team, and opened up these mountains to future expeditions for those interested in little climbed peaks in remote locations.
Captain Andrew Lumley, 202 (Midlands) Field Hospital (V)