Casting aside imposing summits, these women are scaling Bolivia's peaks in their traditional 'cholita' clothing

An Aymara indigenous woman practices climbing on the Huayna Potosi mountain, Bolivia April 2016.

An Aymara indigenous woman practices climbing on the Huayna Potosi mountain, Bolivia April 2016.

David Mercado/Reuters

For years, Lydia Huayllas, 48, has worked as a cook at base camps and mountain-climbing refuges on the steep, glacial slopes of Huayna Potosi, a 19,974-foot Andean peak outside of La Paz, Bolivia.

But two years ago, she and 10 other Aymara indigenous women, ages 42 to 50, who also worked as porters and cooks for mountaineers, put on crampons — spikes fixed to a boot for climbing — under their wide traditional skirts and started to do their own climbing.

An Aymara indigenous woman walks on the Huayna Potosi mountain.

An Aymara indigenous woman walks on the Huayna Potosi mountain.

Credit:

David Mercado

These women have now scaled five peaks — Acotango, Parinacota, Pomarapi and Huayna Potosi as well as Illimani, the highest of all — in Bolivia's Cordillera Real range. All are higher than 19,500 feet above sea level.

Aymara indigenous women walk toward Huayna Potosi mountain.

Aymara indigenous women walk toward Huayna Potosi mountain.

Credit:

David Mercado

"What do you do up there, how does it feel?" Huayllas said she asked her husband, mountain guide Eulalio Gonzales, two years ago. That was when he proposed that she climb the peak to find out for herself.

Aymara indigenous women practice descending on a glacier at the Huayna Potosi mountain.

Aymara indigenous women practice descending on a glacier at the Huayna Potosi mountain.

Credit:

David Mercado/Reuters

Last weekend, the women climbed the imposing Illimani, which has a five-mile long series of four peaks. It is the highest mountain in the Cordillera Real with a peak at 21,122 feet.

It looms above the Bolivian highlands, the country's largest city La Paz and Lake Titicaca to the west, and the valleys of the Amazon to the east. Eight of the 11 managed to reach the summit, braving a snowstorm and heavy winds.

Aymara indigenous women descend after practicing on a glacier at the Huayna Potosi.

Aymara indigenous women descend after practicing on a glacier at the Huayna Potosi.

Credit:

David Mercado/Reuters

The women climb in their traditional "cholita" garb, but trade in their bowler hats for helmets, and use modern equipment including ropes, harnesses, crampons and boots.

One advantage the women have to outsiders who come to the Andes to climb is that highland Bolivians are already well acclimated to the thin air at high altitudes.

Aymara indigenous women fix their hair at their camp at Illimani mountain.

Aymara indigenous women fix their hair at their camp at Illimani mountain.

Credit:

David Mercado/Reuters

The short-term goal for the group is to climb eight mountains higher than 19,700 feet.

"The first experience was the Huayna Potosi. I cried with emotion. And I'm strong, I'm going to continue and get to the top of eight mountains," said Dora Magueno, 50.

The group's ultimate dream is to plant a Bolivian flag on the summit of Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of Asia at 22,841 feet, located in the Argentine Andes near the border with Chile.

Aymara indigenous women Lidia Huayllas, 48, (L) and Dora Magueno, 50, stand near Milluni lake, with the Huayna Potosi mountain in the background, Bolivia.

Aymara indigenous women Lidia Huayllas, 48, (L) and Dora Magueno, 50, stand near Milluni lake, with the Huayna Potosi mountain in the background, Bolivia.

Credit:

David Mercado/Reuters

Milluni cemetery is seen near the Huayna Potos mountain.

Milluni cemetery is seen near the Huayna Potos mountain.

Credit:

David Mercado/Reuters

Bertha Vedia (L), Dora Magueno (C) and Lidia Huayllas sit in a car in El Alto.

Bertha Vedia (L), Dora Magueno (C) and Lidia Huayllas sit in a car in El Alto.

Credit:

David Mercado/Reuters