Simone Bronnhuber and Tom Fritzmeier push their boards and their legs to the limit while setting a world record. Inside a volcano crater at nearly 6,000 meters altitude. With a stand-up paddleboard. Here’s how they still missed the ultimate crown jewel.
My head is pounding – really pounding. It’s as if I drank a bottle of liquor the night before. My legs feel like lead and every step is painful. I want to give up. Right now. Just standstill. Sit down. Right here. Right in the dust. It doesn’t matter. Just stop moving. Me, I’m Tom Fritzmeier, 36 years old, and I’m about to set a world record. At the 5,519-meter high Licancabur volcano crater in the Bolivian Andes. With a stand-up paddleboard. Sounds foolish, and maybe it is.
There’s 1,200 meters of altitude difference up to the summit. The Licancabur volcano was worshipped in former times as a seat of the gods and even as a deity. An incomparable view of the Atacama Desert and the Laguna Verde, where I paddled the day before, awaits us at the top. And of course, the world record: the highest stand-up-paddle tour of all time, inside a crater lake of a volcano. But, at this moment, just 300 meters from our goal, none of this matters to me. Winding 1,200 meters of altitude difference through the screen without a trail to follow. And, in addition, the thin air, there’s the 20-kilo backpack. I’ve had enough. Really. But giving up is not. Never.
Break time. We need fresh energy, new power. And we need it fast. The PowerBar products with us help immensely. In particular, the REAL5 Vegan Energy Bar gives us an energy kick on our way to the top.
My girlfriend Simone Bronnhuber turns the corner behind me. I know that she hates me right now and would like to kill me. Impale me with a walking stick. Strangle me. Push me down. Because I got this record attempt in my head – and her legs are just as heavy as mine are right now, and her head is buzzing even worse than mine is.
The path to a world record brings us to our limits
I’m a former pro hockey player. Simone is a fitness coach. Athletic challenges and putting in the hard training – we both know all about that. At least that’s what we thought. But the ascent to the Licancabur volcano exceeds everything. It was the hardest thing we’ve ever done – and that’s just the reason it’s so brilliant. It’s exactly what we want: to feel alive, to feel every muscle, to test our limits – and go beyond them. To see just what we’re capable of.
We made it – here’s the summit. We’ve done it, we’ve won the battle against pain and defeated the impulse to give up. Wow! Awesome! Magnificent! It’s pure euphoria – this feeling goes far beyond getting the world record. But since we’re here…
The crater lake lies a mere 50 meters below the summit. Going down is not a problem. But we also have to go up afterwards. And I need to pump up the board with the air pump.
Finally, I’m out on the water. The heaviness in my legs has suddenly disappeared. My headache is gone, too. There’s an enormous sense of relief. The world record is ours. No one has ever stood on a SUP board on a higher sea. It’s such a unique feeling to be on crystal clear water at 5,900-meter altitude. The view of the surrounding crater walls is indescribable. Not only does it look like paddling on the moon, it feels like it too. This foolish idea was not so foolish after all.
Can we do more? Yep. Then, it starts snowing…
The SUP tour in the Licancabur crater lake was really only the first step. A “warm-up”, you might say. Our actual goal was even higher. Almost 500 meters higher. The crown jewel is still before us – the Ojos del Salado lake in Chile. Sitting at 6,370-meter altitude, just below the highest active volcano of the same name, it’s the highest mountain lake in the world. In one week’s time, we wanted to beat the record we had just set and exceed our limits once again by setting a record that can never again be beaten.
We’re perfectly acclimatized as we reach base camp. We’ve already made three ascents to 5,000 meters. We take the final 6,000 meters almost at a walk. We’re ready to go, but unfortunately, the weather isn’t cooperating. The snow on the evening before our planned ascent to Ojos del Salado is the first precipitation after 20 days of sunshine.
It presents another challenge, but we’ll get there. At 12:30 am and in 30 cm of fresh snow, we start driving to the starting point. We drive, push the van, dig out the van. Keep driving. Push some more. Dig some more. Turn around.
Back at base camp, we wait for the weather to clear, then start again. And get stuck again. Four jeeps carrying mountain climbers down from the higher camp come towards us, as they flee the snowstorm. Our guide hears over the satellite phone that another 50 cm of snow is predicted for the coming night. And the temperature hits -18 degrees celsius.
It’s the end. Our second record attempt falls short. “Game over, Buddy”, those are the words from our guide that I will never forget. Over and out.
We knew this could happen. That we could perform to our best, but that in the end nature would always win. This moment hurts. Maybe it had been too easy – the perfect weather we’d had until now. The first record, exhausting as it was. Giving up is not easy. But we’ll be back, push ourselves to our limits – and beyond, once again.