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Kai Fitchen Kape to Atacama

Kai Fitchen Kape to Atacama

Mar 2015

Kai Fitchen Kape to Atacama

In a nutshell: A peak-bagging expedition to the Bolivian and Peruvian Andes with an environmental spin which included sailing the Atlantic Ocean and then trekking, hitch-hiking and catching rusty buses to the start of the climbs.

Category: Individual, assisted

Adventurer: Kai Fitchen, 20 years old, from Cape Town

Previous big adventures: KAPE 2 KENYA Environmental Expedition 2012, high points of which included summiting Batian (5199m), the highest point on Mt. Kenya; sharing the K2K eco-programmes with over 600 students along the way and completing the journey on foot and by basic public transport. This expedition saw Kai voted as Nightjar Adventurer Readers Choice winner 2013). Member of the Mike Horn Pangaea Expedition to the Himalayas 2010, on which the team made the first ascent of Pangaea Peak (6170m) in Northern Pakistan, carried out research for the MAYO clinic and observed how climate change is affecting the Baltoro Glacier.

Length of expedition: 21,000km

Duration of expedition: 6 months

Completion date: 7 August 2014

Continuous or a series of adventures: Continuous

Highlights: 30 days at sea travelling by the power of the wind and viewing dolphin pods and extraordinary sunsets; wading through the swamplands of Pantanal; making it to the mountains in a sustainable and eco-friendly way; ascents of three 6000m peaks in Peru and Bolivia, Tocllaraju, Peru (6035m) being the most significant as he summited despite suffering from an intestinal parasite and being ditched by his partner at 5400m with no tent or fuel.

To find out more:


The first MY KAPE expedition KAPE 2 KENYA 2012 laid the foundations for a far more ambitious adventure. South America is home to some of the wildest peaks on the planet and I wanted to climb there. As with my previous adventure I wanted to get myself to the mountains with minimal environmental impact. Sailing, cycling, hitching and walking were my only means of transport.

Goals of the expedition

To bag as many 6000m peaks as possible
To visit Peru’s Cordillera Blanca
To cross the Atlantic Ocean by boat
To travel each and every kilometre by sustainable means
To raise awareness about environmental issues and epilepsy 


MY KAPE 2 ATACAMA expedition was one of a kind. The big chilly climbs, the low impact means of travel and the causes I championed made for a unique combination. 


Ha ha. The planning was more difficult than the expedition! I began planning a year and a half before I set sail. Initially, everything went swimmingly. I had a team partner, we’d found a boat for the Cape to Rio yacht race and there was a title sponsor. Then 3 months before we were supposed to head off, I lost the title sponsor, my partner pulled out and everything came crashing down. I even blew my knee out during this turn of unfortunate events. It was crazy!

The adventure that unfolded began in a dinghy, with me buzzing around different marinas in search of a ride to Latin America. I was lucky enough to come across a crew just 6 days before they pushed off to Brazil! 

All my plans and preparation of the previous year and a half went out the window when I jumped on that boat.

Back-up plan

No real back-up at all but there were other climbers on the peaks and the guides/rescue facilities in the Cordillera Blanca are pretty good so if we had had a serious accident the chances of alerting rescue were reasonable.


It all came out of my own pocket. I got some cash from friends and through a small crowd funding campaign, but I was travelling on the bones of my arse the whole way. I managed to get a job in Southern Peru for a few weeks during the trip, which topped up my funds a bit.


Photos and the friends I made on the journey and on the climbs. Oh yes, and I’ve got some hospital bills that I picked up along the way!

Scariest moment

Coming down Illimani, Bolivia. The snow was far too soft, deep and unstable. We couldn’t place any protection and everything became quite intense. An avalanche went off in the icefall below us. It was just luck that it didn’t set off an avalanche on the slope we were on. Fortunately we managed to traverse to a safer area, which had harder snow. That got my heart going.

Most unexpected experience

The ascent of Tocllaraju. When I arrived in Huaraz (a Peruvian town at the base of the Cordillera Blanca) I started looking for climbing partners and within a few hours I’d met a Brazilian named Cissar who was keen to take on Tocllaraju (6009m). It would be one of the most difficult peaks I’d attempted and on the eve of departure I fell violently ill. I was meant to be leaving a few days before Cissar to acclimatise with Dani, a groovy bloke from Spain. However, I could barely get out of my sleeping bag and an 8-hour trek into base camp was out of the question.

The following day I left alone thinking that it was just a bit of food poisoning. (As it turned out, I had a nasty parasite). I would have bailed but Cissar was out of contact and I couldn’t leave her stranded.In my nauseous state I moved slowly to base camp despite logic telling me to turn back. By the time I found Dani the next day I was feeling better, yet I hadn’t properly eaten for 3 days.

Tocllaraju glared at us as we pushed up to high camp where both Dani and I waited for partners. Dani’s arrived and Cissar didn’t. Yes, I got stood up at 5000m. She was also meant to bring the tent and fuel! I couldn’t believe it and neither could any of the other climbers at our camp. I was about to turn around and undertake the rather dangerous descent back to base camp but charity smiled at me. In 30 minutes I had two climbing partners and a tent to sleep in.  The summit push that followed turned out to be one of the most trying and life-changing ascents I’ve ever experienced.

What was the biggest lesson?

Climbing out of season isn’t the best idea.

Best piece of gear

My Osprey backpacks. They were crammed full of everything I depended on; rope, climbing gear, high-altitude apparel, smelly foods from the smelliest Bolivian markets and sailing gear which was too expensive to dump. They dealt with salty sea spray, were dragged up mountains and down canyons and were thrown on and off dodgy buses more times than I can count.

Any amazing person that you met on the trip? 

So many cool folks! The backpackers and climbers I met kept me psyched particularly since I was travelling alone for so long and was generally the youngest at any spot. Towards the end of the trip an amazing family in Chile looked after me. And I spent 3 weeks with a group of interesting Argentineans on the Peruvian coast…they were musicians, artists, and some very talented cooks. Even though I barely understood a word they were saying, I felt very relieved and privileged to be in such a positive environment.

What did you eat on the trip?

Mainly rice and boiled eggs… yum! But, my favorite meal was ceviche, a fish dish where the fish is ‘cooked’ (ie pickled) in lemon juice. Simple, tasty and cheap. We ate a lot of it on the boat, because fresh fish was all we had. After we touched land in Brazil, I craved it. Luckily ceviche is a national dish in Peru.

It did, however, give me a damn stomach parasite, which put me in a dodgy Peruvian hospital for a few days. But it was worth it.

What was the worst thing that bit you?

The mozzies of Patanal, Brazil. These beautiful wetlands are home to toucans, capybaras, alligators, and some of most extraordinary creatures that Mother Nature has to offer, however I’ve never been attacked by so many flippin’ mosquitoes in my life. Our hikes involved being chased by swarming dark clouds of the blood suckers. Never again!  

What’s next?

Cycling the Silk Road - with some big climbs along the way! Now, it’s time to start scrounging around for some cash!


The contenders for the Nightjar Adventurer 2015 competition were all interviewed by Nightjar. The content included therein is, to our knowledge, accurate and true.

Adventurer 2015