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From La Paz to Pomerape: Kyle Miller takes on Bolivian volcanoes for Sweetgrass Productions film
Posted on July 27, 2011

First Ascent snowboarder Kyle Miller is traveling some of South America’s harshest terrains with Sweetgrass Productions as part of its upcoming film, Solitaire, due for release this September. After recovering in La Paz, Bolivia, from a tooth infection, Kyle is on the mend and reporting from beyond the frontier.

By Kyle Miller

The next morning in La Paz, Bolivia, was a rude awakening. We stuffed all of our gear into a mid-sized sedan at the “late” hour of 5 a.m. and spoke a few brief words to the driver about our four-hour drive to the small village of Sajama on the Chilean/Bolivian border before retreating to the solitude of our iPods, resting our tired heads against the constantly rattling windows of the car.

The morning’s sunrise had a special significance to me as it was the winter solstice—my second one of the year. I thought of my experience of the solstice during a long day on Mt. Rainier’s abandoned north side via snowmobiles and, while it was a contrast, here I was going for an Andean volcano—same idea, different hemisphere.

What was first a concrete road became a sand-covered one as we drove the final 15 miles to Sajama. The village was exactly what I needed: a dusty, desert town surrounded by beautiful glacier-covered volcanoes and peaks, with a strong culture of both young and old balancing on the ways of tradition and becoming a tourist destination. There were no hotels to be found, only a few small hostels where the wives cooked the food and the husbands guided the occasional climber while the kids ran around the empty streets playing with whatever they could find to keep themselves entertained.

Once the group assembled, we looked upon our options and made a group decision to go for Pomerape, a volcano shattered by previous eruptions that would give us unlimited options of skiing potential. We went about the plans in detail and decided we would do five days up in the highlands at the snowline so we would be able to melt the snow down for water.

The next morning we were driving through the deserts towards Pomerape, noticing that the distance of what looked like five miles was, in all actuality, 25 miles driving though knee-deep streams before arriving at the base of the volcano. Our starting point was around 15,000 feet, as we slowly climbed through sand pumice and volcanic rock, reaching our base camp in the early afternoon hours.

Snow melting was of the utmost importance in preparation for the long day ahead. That night we entertained ourselves with the rustling of wind across our tents and one of many breathtaking sunsets before calling it good night.

The winds were high but our ambitions were fierce, as Jim, Kim Allen, and I left in the early morning alpenglow, heading up Pomerape and still frozen from a bitterly cold night. The volcano was similar in nature to the Cascadian counterparts but different in the fact that it was so high. What looked like an opposing ridge turned out to be numerous ridges.

It wasn’t the terrain that was so challenging but the lack of oxygen, as we crested the false summit in the early afternoon and looked down upon the stark contrast of beautiful alpine lake fed by snow-covered peaks on one side and an isolated desert on the other side.

Before long, we were skiing/riding back to camp and filling our bodies with yet another meal of pasta and more pasta. That night, what was calm and clear became a freak snowstorm, and we huddled in our tents as everything was pelted with sand and ice. 
Sleep that night was a rare and much desired necessity, with a total of about two hours for me while the others were in the same boat. The storm raged on until the early afternoon the next day, when one by one we all slowly walked out of our shelters. We decided to get in a few hours of filming on the slightly warmed slopes basking in the afternoon sun before heading back to camp—in which the dinner of choice was pasta.

The final day of filming was another strenuous hike through the high elevations of Pomerape, tagging both scenic and secluded lines. It was the final day of skiing/riding in Bolivia, and we were happy to find the best conditions of the trip. It had been well over three weeks of highs and lows, but I was proud to be surrounded by such a great team. Just like that, we were back down in Sajama for a final night of eating anything but pasta and sleeping in warm beds not surrounded by and covered in dirt.

Before long Sajama was in the rearview mirror, and we were back in La Paz for two more days, collecting our things, buying gifts for friends and loved ones, and enjoying food that wasn’t cooked in an MSR Reactor. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to people I had grown to know and respect, but it was time for all of us to go on our different paths. While a few of us were heading back to the States, some of us were splitting up into the surrounding areas of South America.

Author: - Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

  1. Greg Stafford

    Bolivia sounds like quite an adventure!! Ive been down to Patagonia before but Bolivia and the central Andes escaped me. I love the contrast between the Andes and the Cascades. Good stuff, can’t wait to check out the film!

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