Keeping it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real: Global Test Photo Essay

Lightweight backpacking in Bolivia's northern Andes.

Print Jump to Reader Comments

by Danny Milks & Kristin Tennessen | 2011-05-03 00:00:00-06

Editor's Note: click here to see all the articles (and a brief synopsis of each) in this excellent series.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 1
Ultralight in Bolivia: sandals, wool layers, felt bowler hat, and a frameless pack.

Nine months into our Latin American journey, our friend Brady flew to Bolivia to join Danny and me on a trek in the Andes. We were thrilled to have new conversation material and a showcase of the latest lightweight gear from the US. On top of all that, it was, for me, the successful pinnacle of an inescapable venture.

Several years ago, I was apprehensive about introducing my outdoors-loving group of friends (which included Brady) to my new boyfriend, Danny. Although their personal interests were greatly aligned, they had different ways of manifesting their enthusiasm. Danny recited backpacking gear weights as if he spent nights awake, memorizing outdoor company catalogues. And, although my friends and I had explored Northern California, from Point Reyes to the Sierras, I suspected that on some of our backpacking trips the weight of our liquor exceeded Danny’s base pack weight.

Fast forward several years to the Cordillera Real in Bolivia, where my husband, Danny, my old friend, Brady, and I backpacked together for four days. The boys spent much time discussing Brady’s new lightweight gear and the latest advancements in ultralight material technology, while I tried to watch my footing despite frequently rolling my eyes.

I suppose there is no greater form of flattery than a close friend bonding with your significant other, but, as I crawled into the tent each evening, I longed for the nights when my eyes closed more quickly after a few sips of port. But, maybe it was not only alcohol which brought on my drowsiness. Perhaps carrying an eight pound pack on this trip did not drain my energy as much as carrying a 22 pound pack, like in my pre-Danny days.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 2
After six hours on various modes of transportation to get from La Paz to the mountains, we finally began our backpacking adventure. Our trek started in the afternoon, after the clouds rolled in, at an altitude of about 3,500 meters (11,283 feet).

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 3
On the second day we were all smiles as the sky opened up and revealed stunning views in every direction.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 4
We hiked up this valley to a saddle at 4,738 meters (15,643 feet). Photo courtesy of Brady McDaniel.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 5
The trail in this valley was well-defined because it led to an active mine. We heard several blasts throughout the day, so we decided to turn around and find a quieter valley in which to set-up camp.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 6
Danny and Brady chatted incessantly about sil-nylon, tyvek, spinn cloth and cuben fiber.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 7
Kristin was excited to find someone to talk to.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 8
Are these clouds rolling in or out? We continuously monitored the sky for signs of inclement weather. We lucked out with no rain or wind, just fog.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 9
The afternoon traffic jam.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 10
Every so often, the clouds teased us by exposing the beauty of the 6,000+ meter (19,685 feet) peaks towering above.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 11
These two photos, taken less than an hour apart, demonstrate how quickly the weather changed.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 12
An abandoned mine. We passed several more open mines, many of which were unmapped and likely illegal.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 13
We couldn’t see the massive peaks surrounding us, but we thoroughly enjoyed the quiet stillness of this small lake.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 14
On the last night, we pitched our tents in the dark on this plush, grassy plateau at 3,500 meters (11,483 feet). We awoke the next morning to this amazing sunrise and expansive view, while the clouds settled into the valley below. Pictured here are Brady’s Golite Xanadu 1 (1340 grams/47 ounces) and our TarpTent Double Rainbow (1134 grams/40 ounces).

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 15
We followed the trail/dirt road as it dropped below the clouds and through an enclave of houses and a region prime for vegetative growth. It was warmer here than in the higher altitudes and received more precipitation and ground water than in the lower elevations.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 16
Something breathtaking is always blooming in the Andes, regardless of season.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 17
A landslide had taken away this section of the trail, leaving a steep, loose hillside to scramble along.

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 18
As we neared the end of our trek, we looked back and finally saw the full grandeur of the mountain range. Mt. Illampú, on the left, is the fourth highest peak in Bolivia at 6,368m (20,892 ft).

Global Test Photo Essay: Keepting it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real - 19
Sorata - the beginning and end point of our adventure. It was an oasis in an otherwise dry, steep, and desolate landscape.


Citation

"Keeping it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real: Global Test Photo Essay," by Danny Milks & Kristin Tennessen. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/global_test_bolivia_cordillera_real.html, 2011-05-03 00:00:00-06.

Print

Reader Comments

You must login to post comments.

New Visitors: Create a new account
Username:
Password:
Remember my login info.

Keeping it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real: Global Test Photo Essay
Display Avatars
Sort By:
Daniel Paladino
(dtpaladino) - F - MLife

Locale: Northern Rockies
Keeping it Real in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real: Global Test Photo Essay on 05/03/2011 12:59:30 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Keeping it Real in Bolivia's Cordillera Real: Global Test Photo Essay

Edited by dtpaladino on 05/03/2011 14:07:25 MDT.

Andrew Wilson
(andreww) - MLife

Locale: Vosges
Illegal Mining on 05/04/2011 02:06:03 MDT Print View

I envy your adventures. Nicely done.

Just a note about the "illegal" mines. Mining has been vocation for individuals and families throughout the Andes since pre-columbian times. These Indian family operations are preyed upon by multinationals and government cronies for their local mineral knowledge. Their traditional activity is then made "illegal" for environmental or safety reasons, only to have it taken over on a grand scale. There are reasons these small-stakes mines are unmapped: the natives are wary to give up the source of their income, nor are other interested parties keen on inviting others to explore.

Thanks again for continuing to share your trip with us.

Paul Osborn
(bcoutdoors) - F
When were you there? on 05/04/2011 08:16:30 MDT Print View

I've currently based out of Bolivia and was in Sorata last month. I'd love to know what trails you were hiking and much time you were out for.

It is certainly beautiful out here!

Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Chatting up a llama on 05/04/2011 13:04:45 MDT Print View

I love the photo of Kristin finding someone to talk to... because that would absolutely be me. I kept greeting the small lizards that lived near the doorway of our rental in Hawaii last month. Rob thought I was crazy, but I'm confident that they now miss me!

Scott Ireland
(WinterWarlock) - MLife

Locale: Western NY
Excellent on 05/05/2011 06:03:22 MDT Print View

Once again, an excellent tale with awesome pics...wish I had taken time when younger to do something like this.

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Re: Illegal Mining on 05/05/2011 07:03:46 MDT Print View

Hi Andrew,

Thank you for shining light onto some of the underlying issues of these smaller mines. The line between legal and illegal was murky in some of the places we traveled to.

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Timing, llamas and thanks! on 05/05/2011 07:14:09 MDT Print View

Paul - we were in Bolivia in June of last year. This trek took place in the early part of the month.

We don't have great internet connection right now, so I'll have to look up our route next week. I can say that we hired a taxi to take us to one of the mountain villages below Illampu. We spent 1.5 days hiking up one valley to the pass, only to realize that the driver had taken us to a different village. Should we have continued, we would have been on the loop that goes around the whole range. Unfortunately, we did not have time for that. So, we backtracked and traversed around the mountain edge to continue hiking below the peaks. I'll post more info when I can. Enjoy Bolivia. How long are you there and what are you doing?

Addie - too true!

Scott - thanks for the comment. However, you CAN still travel and trek around these great destinations.

Hubert Blanchard
(bertmail)

Locale: Southeast
Lightweight lessons from Bolivia on 05/06/2011 14:37:57 MDT Print View

Great article and photos! I have visited the Altiplano of Bolivia twice (with a Church group) and love the beauty and extremes you experience there. The ubiquitous wool "poncho" is used as a backpack, baby carrier, sweater, and sleeping quilt. I am amazed at how fast and far the native Quechua can hike in a day, carrying the family provisions up and down the mountain. Can't wait to go back in October.Bolivian Backpack