The Altiplano Traverse is a 600 km (372 mi) backcountry route across Bolivia’s Altiplano region. A singular landscape of salt flats, volcanoes, fantastical rock formations and coloured lakes, I completed the journey over 16 days in August, 2017. Click here for photos and a trip report from the first stage of the journey.
At a Glance
Start: Coipasa Village (3657 m / 11,998 ft)
Finish: Volcan Licancabur summit (5920 m / 19,423 ft)
Season: Winter. Temperatures during the route ranged from a high of 15°C (59°F) to a low of -18°C (-0.4F).
- The traverse was a combination cross country, 4WD tracks and volcano scrambles.
- Terrain-wise it varied from the rock hard salt flats to “two-step forward / one-step back” volcanic scree. The entire region is above 12,000 ft (3658 m), strong winds are common, and due to the fact that it is treeless, finding sheltered areas to camp at day’s end was sometimes a challenge.
1. Water: There was a dearth of beta in regards to viable water sources. This meant I usually had to err on the side of caution in regards to how much water I was carrying. There were multiple segments where I had to carry enough H2O for two full hiking days. I had a total carrying capacity of 8 liters, and I needed all of it.
2. Food: I purchased food along the way in the villages. The offerings were slim, but I’ve never been picky when it comes to food out in the boonies. Irrespective of where I’ve hiked over the decades, I’ll always eat what the locals are having. The most I carried at any one time was four days worth of food.
3. Layers – During the day conditions were generally windy with temps in the mid single digits celsius. More often than not I’d wear a combo of my merino base layer, R1 Hoody and Anorak Windshirt. For my legs, I’d just wear shorts underneath wind pants. At night temps dropped down to between -8C (17.6°F) and -18C (0°F), and on the colder nights I’d wear my most of layers inside the Sawatch quilt and Bristlecone Bivy. I can’t say I was ever cold during the trip, and overall I was happy with my clothing selections.
4. Navigation – The Altiplano would have to be one of the easiest places in the world for backcountry travel. Wide open spaces, plenty of prominent landmarks and clear skies. I had Gaia GPS on my phone, but 95% of the time I just used my old Suunto M-2 and overview maps I had printed out.
5. Backpack – I went with a framed backpack, rather than frameless model because of the big water carries. As on previous trips in 2016 (SW Tasmania Traverse, Badlands Traverse, Sangre de Cristo Traverse), the HMG Southwest 2400 carried the 11 to 15 kg (24 to 33 lb) loads without issue.
6. Shelter – Due to the winds and exposed nature of the landscape, campsite selection was key. The SoloMid XL performed superbly (I used MSR Groundhog stakes). When I was fortunate enough to find a sheltered nook, I generally just laid out the bivy and cowboy camped. The clear night skies of the Altiplano rivalled those of Mongolia and central Australia for the most beautiful I have seen.
Things I would Change?
I made a last minute decision to take an umbrella on the hike due to the combination of the shadeless environment, and the long waterless stretches. I used it periodically over the first six days when the winds weren’t blowing, but then I left it with an elderly lady in the village of Chuvica. If I was to do the trip again, I wouldn’t take the umbrella. That said, I think it may have been worth it just to see the old girl’s toothless grin upon receiving the gift.
|ITEM||WT. (OZ)||SUB (oz)||SUB (kg)||COMMENTS|
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 2400||28.6||Due to the heavy water carries, I went with an internal frame over a frameless model / The Southwest has good load distribution and has proven to be very durable since I first started using it in early 2016 / Click here for review.|
|Pack Liner (Trash Compactor Bag)||2||Cheap & effective|
|MLD SoloMid XL||12||Simple design, quick pitch, holds up well in strong winds / Click here for review.|
|Guylines – Kelty Triptease||1||Guyline of choice for many years.|
|Stakes (7) – Mostly MSR Groundhogs, with a couple of Shepherds hooks.||3.2||Groundhogs are great; in addition to their durability, the red colour makes me less likely to lose them than the generic silver.|
|Pad – Thermarest NeoAir XTherm (Regular)||15||Upsized from the NeoAir XLite due to extreme temps / / The most comfortable (and warmest) mat I have used / 5.7 R-Value / Click here for review.|
|Quilt – Katabatic Sawatch 15||24||Combined with bivy and clothes kept me warm down -18°C (0°F) / Negligible loss in performance after 8 years and hundreds of nights in the field / Click here for review.|
|Bivy – Katabatic Bristlecone Bivy||8||The extra 6 – 8° of warmth/wind resistance was key when the temps dropped below -10C.|
|LokSak 20×12 (Food Bag)||1.2||With the exception of the dehydrated beans I was carrying, I resupplied along the way. Never had to carry more than 4 days food at any one time.|
|Gatorade Powder Container||1.8||Rehydrating vessel of choice for many years.|
|Toaks Titanium Spork||0.3||Top end wrapped in orange tape so I won’t lose it.|
|Reconstituted sports drink bottles (2)||2.6|
|Platypus Hydration Bladder (2 LT) (3)||3.6||I carried a total water capacity of around 8 litres / Given the altitude, terrain, and temperatures, this was what I knew I’d need for a two day dry stretch.|
|FIRST AID / HYGIENE|
|Sunscreen (repackaged in tiny btle.)||I always keep sunscreen, lip balm and hand sanitizer in either a shoulder or hip belt pocket.|
|Hand Sanitizer (repackaged in dropper btle.)|
|Aquamira (repackaged in dropper btles.)|
|Toothpaste (mini tube)|
|Dental Floss||Doubles as sewing thread|
|Antiseptic Wipes (2)||Clean cuts / wounds|
|Triple Antibiotic Cream (tiny tube)|
|3M Micropore Medical Tape||Breathable, paper tape / Adheres well.|
|Ibuprofen (8)||Vitamin “I”|
|Sewing Needle||One armed blind folks can sew better than me.|
|Duct Tape, Mini Tube Super Glue (repairs)||To compensate for lack of sewing skills|
|Nivea Lip Balm SPF 30|
|Rain Pants – Montbell Versalites||3.6||Lightweight, quick drying, and a surprising amount of warmth for something that weighs less than 4oz / Not super durable.|
|Rain Jacket – Montbell Peak Shell (No longer made)||9.1||I was a big fan of this jacket. Unfortunately Montbell no longer make it. I’ve switched to the Storm Cruiser for inclement environments, and the lighter Torrent Flier for everything else.|
|Windshirt – Montbell Tachyon Anorak (Older model)||1.9||This is my third model / Each has lasted around 8 to 10,000 miles / Surprisingly durable and warm for something so featherweight.|
|Base layer – Montbell Merino Wool L.W. Tights||4.8||Not too thick, not too thin. Thumbs up.|
|Insulation – Montbell Superior Down Parka||8.6||Very warm for the weight / Snug hood / I’ve used this and it’s predecessor, the UL Down Jacket, since 2009.|
|Extra Socks – Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew||2.6||Two years old and still going strong.|
|Extra Socks – Smartwool Expedition Trekking socks||3.0||Warmer pair for sleeping.|
|Dirty Girl Gaiters||1.3||Perfect for scree slopes, and desert terrain.|
|Bandana (1)||0.7||Towel, neck/face protection, condensation wipe.|
|Outdoor Research PL Sensor 400 Mittens||2.9||Combined with the Montbell Chameece gloves, hands were fine down to -10 to -12°C|
|Montbell Chameece Gloves||0.9||All-time favourite liner gloves.|
|Warm Hat – Montbell Chameece Beanie||1.2||Excellent beanie / Not too thick / Stretchy enough to fit my big noggin / Don’t think it’s available in the US at the moment.|
|Phone – Samsung Galaxy S7 (Unlocked)||5.4||Decent photos & Video / Have used an unlocked phone in recent years, to avoid heavy roaming charges when overseas. Just pick up a different SIM in each country and pay local rates.|
|Stuff sacks – HMG Cuben Fiber (3)||2.5|
|Montbell Power Head Lamp||2||This headlamp has grown on me / Lightweight, double-click, four settings, good battery life, 160 Lumens max.|
|Wallet/Credit Cards/Passport||0.7||Used thin plastic card holder as Wallet|
|Swiss Army Classic||1.3|
|Montbell UL Trekking Umbrella||4.5||Left it with a toothless old lady in the village of Chuvica.|
|Suunto M-2D||1.2||Lightweight, adjustable declination; compass of choice for years | (Note: No longer made. Will likely upgrade to Suunto M3 Global in future).|
|Wall charger, phone cover, cord||3|
|Small LokSaks for Valuables (2)||1||Protection for phone, charger, wallet|
|BASE WEIGHT||TOTAL||10.6 lb||4.8 kg|
|Shorts – Patagonia Baggies 7″||8||Big fan of the baggies. I have a pair of both the 5″ and the 7″.|
|Patagonia R1 Hoodie||10.9||Average temps were single digits celsius. I ended up wearing the Hoodie 90% of the time.|
|Base layer – Montbell Merino Long Sleeve Zip Neck||7.4||Great baselayer / Not too thin, not too thick.|
|Montbell Chameece Inner Gloves||0.9||First trip with these gloves – double thumbs up. Most durable liners I’ve used; and I’ve used a lot over the years.|
|Smartwool PhD UL Min Socks||1.6||These were a freebie from Winter OR, 2015 / Previously I’d never had much luck with thinner Smartwool models, but I have to say this pair has been very durable.|
|Hat – Adapt-a-cap||2.5||Back from the dead. Had it repaired and sewed up. Not as good as new, but still functional / From what I’ve seen, the latest models have a different design, and aren’t in the same league as the old ones.|
|Shoes – Merrell Moab Ventilator||30|
|Fizan Compact – Hiking Pole (1)||5.6||Tent setup, handy during volcano climbs / Fencing practice during breaks……Tokyo 2020 here I come.|
|Timex Ironman Watch||1.5||Light, cheap, durable, reliable.|
|Sunglasses||2||Polarized lenses / 100% UV Protection / Picked them up at the train station near Machu Picchu / $5 / Bargain.|
|TOTAL WEIGHT||14.4 lb||6.5 kg|
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