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Toby Westcott (Lower Sixth) shares his thoughts on the PES Summit 12 expedition to Bolivia.

Our tour began in Bogotá, with our layover allowing us to explore the rich culture of Colombia through the medium of wall murals and graffiti in the favelas.

Landing in La Paz and making a swift journey to the Hostel Copacabana, we later explored the markets. Having outfitted ourselves with various items of clothing and enriched ourselves in Bolivian culture, the capital city would have to be left behind for now.

Journeying to Santiago de Okola, our community homestay location, the group gazed upwards in awe at the Sleeping Dragon, a challenge to face in the coming days.

Whilst staying with local people, we found a peaceful way of life in this quaint village. We were welcomed with open arms, happy faces and plates of delicious locally-grown food.

A quick journey to Turtle Island in the morning was followed by a trek up the Sleeping Dragon’s head helped greatly with the acclimatisation to 3,800 metres above sea level.

Journeying the following day to the back of the Sleeping Dragon, we climbed well over 4,000 metres and had an amazing view of Lake Titicaca.

Having conquered the Sleeping Dragon, an Andean feast awaited us, made of food grown and prepared by the locals, providing full bellies and smiling faces all around. A particular highlight for everyone was the quinoa soup.

Bidding farewell to Santiago de Okola and the stunning views of Lake Titicaca, we headed for the trek phase. The weather, helpful as ever, came crashing down as a mix of hail and snow, not what we were expecting in the dry season!

After conquering two passes in a whiteout, more soup came as a reward for our hard work, followed by a day of rest, music and yet more soup.

A river crossing came as the next challenge. Going barefoot, we braved the freezing cold river and continued the arduous journey over another pass to a second campsite. More soup was relished and devoured by all. Squeezing everyone around the table brought the group a whole lot closer, giving everyone a nice warm feeling after a long day of trekking.

After a third restful night of sleep in a tent, the group set out on a final day of trekking before Tarija. An easier hour’s ascent followed by flat terrain and downhill led us around a lake and to the breath-taking sight of Tarija.

The group embarked on a short skills day before attempting Tarija, allowing us to familiarise ourselves with the skills of crampons and ice axes once more, and to get a sense of the walk to Tarija we would be taking in the dark the following morning.

Dulce de leche and bread in our bellies, we set off for Tarija in the very smallest hours of the morning, before being roped to a guide and setting off up the mountain. A long and hard climb filled with exhaustion from all, the views proved a worthy reward with our feeling like we were on top of the world.

A swift bus journey to Huayna Potosi base camp left all in need of some soup and sleep, before heading off to high camp the following day, where everyone scrambled over rocks towards a glacier.

Tied together in a line, the team moved as the close and solid unit we had become, summiting after a difficult but rewarding five hours.

The views atop Huayna were breath-taking, everyone feeling exhausted but pleased. We all gained valuable skills as well as countless memories with a truly wonderful group.

We are all extremely grateful to the amazing and dedicated outdoor pursuits department who mentored us through the struggles, leaving us all with a little bit more resilience. This truly was the trip of a lifetime.


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