Dig Baton Rouge

On Top of the World

By Nick BeJeaux

Local realtor, philanthropist and mountaineer Adam Pitts recently returned from a trip to Bolivia, where he climbed not one or two, but three mountains – Tarija, Huayna Potosi, and Illimani – over the course of 17 days. Pitts returned to the U.S. Aug. 12 and when we sat down with him for an interview over coffee, we learned that his latest adventures in Bolivia are last on a very long list of his globetrotting escapades.

DIG: You’ve climbed in Nepal, Tibet – places known for mountains. What brought you to Bolivia?

Adam Pitts: Well, as a kid I spent three and a half years living in Bolivia, and one of the mountains I climbed – Mt. Illimani – just towers over the La Paz skyline. It’s very imposing because it kind of stands apart from the others. As a kid, when I would go into the city I would see that mountain and think, ‘Oh my God, this mountain is amazing.’ I decided to make the climb in 2011 when I returned to Bolivia. By this time I had many other life experiences with mountains and I just knew I had to climb it.

DIG: How many summits have you made?

AP: Honestly, this is my first glacial mountain summit. But besides this I’ve been on some summits in the Himalayas, but they probably wouldn’t call them summits there – they were only about 18,000 feet. They weren’t ice-axe, clamp-ons, fall-to-your-death climbs. It was a walk in the park compared to Everest. I guess that’s what led me to Bolivia. It was a natural progression from all my other trips.

DIG: How do you prepare to climb a mountain? Illimani reaches to 21,122 feet above sea level – that’s no Everest, but still that seems very difficult. And cold.

AP: I hate running. Most people think you need to do a lot of running, But I just did my usual routine and bumped up the intensity a lot. I would a lot of full body exercises with very little rest in between. But the problem with preparing for a climb from sea level is that you just can’t prepare for high altitude. You can try to have good cardio, but ultimately how you acclimate is maybe (I’m making this up) 30 percent of your physical condition. You have to slowly acclimate yourself. On summit day for Illimani, we left at 2 a.m. and hit the top around nine, then back to high camp, then down to base camp – that’s was about 16 hours of climbing. Our knees were jelly by the time we got back to the car! [Laughs].

DIG: What was it like to look down from over 20,000 feet?

AP: Well, Illimani’s summit was very cloudy and to be honest it was a bit of a blur. But it’s a highly emotional experience for anyone that summits a mountain. It’s one of those things that’s so physically exhausting and the summit symbolizes achievement. You experience this rush of relief because you’re just so exhausted and then there’s the view. Huayna Potosi was smaller than Illimani, but it was clearer and you could see all of the landmarks. They look so tiny in the distance. And the sky was blackish blue because we were so much higher.

It’s hard to describe how it feels because it’s a combination of the view and your own internal feelings. I don’t want to sound like a weirdo, but it really is a spiritual experience. The guy who went with me, Collin, he said it was the most physically challenging but rewarding thing he had ever done. It’s a test of your endurance but also a mental one.

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