Exercise CONDOR EMU saw nine Officer Cadets from EMUOTC summit four Andean mountains, with the aid of Maj Tolan (Alpine Mountain Leader) and Tte Saavedra (Bolivian Mountain Infantry). During the month long expedition the team completed an acclimatisation phase at Illimani base camp (4500m), summited an acclimatisation peak (Janco Laya 5550m) and three further peaks, all of which were over 6000m. Based in La Paz, the team attempted both alpine peaks in the Cordillera Real to the north and volcanic peaks to the south representing a diverse range of terrain and challenges.
Shortly after arriving in country the team moved to Illimani base camp for a planned four day trek. However, when the mules failed to arrive on the second day the team adapted and instead conducted daily hikes from the base camp and turned to sport in the form of volleyball. Regardless of the activity, the time spent in the base camp allowed the team to acclimatise well and aided the later success of the expedition.
The first big success of the trip came with Janco Laya, an alpine mountain sitting at ~5500m. The limited mountaineering experience within the group meant that for many, this was their first big peak. Awakening to fresh snow the team ascended over moraine until daylight began making the day’s challenges increasingly visible. Despite the initial move from moraine to glacier involving the first rope team breaking track almost waist deep in snow, movement across the glacier proved relatively easy allowing expedition members a chance to become reacquainted with their previous winter mountaineering training. After a morning’s climb the whole team reached the summit and morale was high as the first team photos were taken.
Upon the back of their early success the team attempted Huayna Potosi (6088m); a popular peak frequently climbed by both mountaineers and tourists. Although often done across three days the team elected to attempt it in two with a high camp in insulated huts at 5300m. This peak was more mentally, physically and technically challenging than the previous one with numerous crevasses to cross and more steeper sections. The going was much harder but between significant mental toughness and the encouragement of other team members, 7 officer cadets made it to the summit shortly after sunrise.
Due to weather conditions, the fitness of the team, and recommendations from the local guiding companies and Maj Tolan the team travelled to Sajama village to attempt two 6000m+ volcanic peaks, Parinacota (6348m) and Acotango (6050m). The nature of these peaks provided the teams with different mountaineering challenges from the previous alpine peaks: ash covered approaches and, upon reaching the snowline, penitents. When the time came to attempt Parinacota the team’s fitness was at a low point as the impacts of spending extended time in a South American country, at altitude, were beginning to put strain on individual health. The third peak provided just as much a lesson in when to call it a day as it did in pushing yourself to your limits. With only half the team summiting morale hit an expedition low but the Officer Cadets came out fighting showing strong personal determination and team spirit as they made a bid to summit their final mountain as a team.
Acotango was a challenge. Not everyone had an enjoyable time, you could say it was fun now that it’s just a memory, but the encouragement of the stronger members of the team kept everyone going one step at a time. Once again the whole team summited, this time signing a logbook to celebrate making it to no man’s land on a peak shared between Bolivia, Peru and Chile. The summit view was, as they all are, stunning and the lack of snow at the very peak allowed the team to relax and take it all in.
This expedition was a resounding success with the whole team reaching the summit of two peaks. Three peaks were first summits for EMUOTC (Janco Laya, Parinocota and Acotango) and all were firsts for the Officer Cadets that took part. For some these peaks were the first they had attempted outside of the UK while for others they represented new challenges. This expedition would not have been possible without the financial aid of The Ulysses Trust for which the unit is exceedingly grateful.
Report written by Officer Cadet Rebecca Sheehan (Expedition Leader)