A group of middle-aged Cholitas reached the 6,438 m summit of Mount Illimani last week, creating a storm on social media and attracting international interest. Most of the Aymara indigenous women, aged in their 40’s and 50’s, work as cooks for their mountaineer guide husbands.
Two years ago, they decided to climb eight of Bolivia’s highest peaks after one of them asked her husband how it felt to reach the top of Illimani to which he replied, “Why don’t you find out for yourself?” Since then, the group has scaled five Bolivian peaks over 6000m; Acotango, Parinacota, Pomarapi, Huayna Potosí and now Illimani.
They began their mountaineering career with the relatively easy 6,088 m Huayna Potosi. This is Bolivia’s most climbed mountain due to its accessibility – it’s considered by many to be the easiest 6000 m peak in the world. Easy being a relative term of course. Reaching the summit of Huayna Potosi is an accomplishment in itself.
However, last weeks successful summit of Illimani really took things to the next level. The 6,438 m mountain, which overshadows the cities of La Paz and El Alto, is the highest in the Cordillera Real. Many who make it within sight of the peak are turned away by blistering snow storms or the threat of deadly avalanches.
But that didn’t deter this group of hardy women. To symbolize their ethnic pride, they scaled Illimani wearing their traditional dress, albeit replacing the typical bowler hat with a helmet and headlamp and donning crampons underneath their polleras.
Their final goal is to plant the Bolivian flag upon the summit of the 6,961 m Mount Aconcagua. America’s highest mountain on the Argentinian and Chilean border is no walk in the park. The notoriously dangerous peak has claimed the lives of countless experienced mountaineers.
Ain’t no mountain high enough for these Cholitas.