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Peru with Mountain Madness

Colombia Expedition Wrap-Up

Climb­ing and trekking in Colom­bia is not yet on peo­ple’s tick list, but we think it should be if you want to get off the beat­en Gringo path. Check out our most recent trip there!

Decem­ber 11th, we returned from Cocuy Nation­al Park in Colom­bia after a suc­cess­ful, first Moun­tain Mad­ness trip to the Colom­bian Andes. The group mem­bers, Lily and Troy, sum­mit­ed all 5 moun­tains with beau­ti­ful weath­er and very good climb­ing times.

Our team mem­bers, Troy and Lily. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

On Decem­ber 5th we com­plet­ed our first acclima­ti­za­tion hike to the Mon­ser­rate Sanc­tu­ary locat­ed a few miles away from the main moun­tain range. The 12,520 ft peak offers a great warm-up for the treks to come. The climb fol­lows a nice trail, which ele­vates grad­u­al­ly from 10,500 ft. Dur­ing the hike we got a sweep­ing view over the whole moun­tain range from north to south. The weath­er was most­ly clear and we could see two of our main goals: Con­ca­vo and Toti peaks.

View from the sum­mit of Con­ca­vo. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

The next morn­ing, we drove up to Hacien­da la Esper­an­za (an idyl­lic Hacien­da with a long his­to­ry of sheep farm­ing) where we start­ed our hike to Pico del Aguila. Locat­ed on the out­skirts of the moun­tain range, it stands at 13,450 ft. This was one of the most pic­turesque hikes, as it ascends through a very beau­ti­ful green val­ley with mead­ows, flow­ers, and rock faces on the periphery.

View from Pico del Aguila to Mon­ser­rate. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

View from Pico del Aguila to Ritacu­ba Blan­co. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

The trail is almost nonex­is­tent, and any place is good for enjoy­ing the soli­tude of the moun­tains. After a steep climb toward the final ridge, we arrived at the rocky sum­mit and enjoyed splen­did views over the Con­ca­vo and Lagu­nil­las val­leys. In the back­ground, we could see the Pan de Azu­car peak, with its the square rock known as the Devil’s Pul­pit; a trade­mark of Sier­ra Neva­da del Cocuy. We spent the night at the love­ly Hacien­da and enjoyed the typ­i­cal local goat dish.

Pan de Azu­car. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

On Decem­ber 7th we estab­lished our Base Camp on the white sandy shores of Lagu­na Grande de la Sier­ra, at an alti­tude of 14,809 feet. Our main goal was Con­ca­vo, which stands 17,060 ft above sea lev­el. We start­ed the climb ear­ly in the morn­ing of Decem­ber 8th under a clear, star­ry night sky with the South­ern Cross accom­pa­ny­ing us most of the climb.

View from the Con­ca­vo glac­i­er. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

Since the weath­er and moun­tain con­di­tions were just per­fect, we chose the direct route instead of the nor­mal route. This direct route starts at the bot­tom of the glac­i­er and ascends most of the way over the glac­i­er with a cou­ple of steep sec­tions that make the climb very excit­ing. We reached the sum­mit with a clear blue sky and a spec­tac­u­lar view into the low­er val­leys and the sur­round­ing sum­mits from both north and south. The entire climb took the group 7 12 hours, which is an excel­lent time for such a climb.

Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

Con­ca­vo Peak. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

On the Con­ca­vo Glac­i­er. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

Instead of tak­ing a rest day, fol­low­ing Con­ca­vo, the group chose to go for Toti peak (16,460 ft), which is locat­ed on the oth­er side of the Lagu­na. Even though the climb is low­er than Con­ca­vo it is a bit more tech­ni­cal and presents some mixed ter­rain and a very long moraine. We start­ed at 3:30 am, again under a per­fect night sky and a very com­fort­able tem­per­a­ture. By the time we approached the last sec­tion of the climb, the sun had risen and we had awe­some views of the East­ern side of the range.

Ascend­ing Toti’s glac­i­er. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

The Lagu­na de la Plaza, with its deep blue-green waters, appeared slow­ly as the morn­ing light began to shine on the water sur­face. Look­ing into the low­er val­ley where the clouds cleared we could see the wind­ing rivers of the low­lands van­ish into a mist of hot air in the Arau­ca region. There was no wind at all and the tem­per­a­ture was very nice. We spent some time at the sum­mit, enjoy­ing the views and a snack! We com­plet­ed the climb in 6 12 hours– anoth­er excel­lent time. We relaxed the rest of the day and enjoyed the lake and the nice surroundings.

On Toti’s sum­mit ridge. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

Now, our focus turned to our last and main goal of the trip: Ritacu­ba Blan­co, the high­est sum­mit of Sier­ra Neva­da del Cocuy. We left Lagu­na Grande de la Sier­ra, descend­ed to Hacien­da La Esper­an­za and drove along the range to the Kan­wara huts, locat­ed on the north end of the Sier­ra. We spent the night at a great spot with a panoram­ic view of many of the West­ern summits.

Sun­rise over Ritacu­ba Blan­co and Negro. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

On the morn­ing of Dec. 10th we start­ed our hike towards to Ritacuba’s high Camp at 15,075 ft. The sky looked dif­fer­ent already and a weath­er change was occur­ring. There had been quite some wind dur­ing the night, but had reced­ed by the morn­ing. We reached High Camp before noon and spent the rest of the day prepar­ing the gear and rest­ing for the climb.

Ritacu­ba Blan­co high camp. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

We agreed to start at 3:00 am and went to bed after an ear­ly din­ner. At about mid­night the wind start­ed again and it increased slow­ly until reach­ing a peak of around 35 mph. Even though the team was ready to go at the sched­uled time, we wait­ed until 5:00 am as the wind usu­al­ly decreas­es its speed towards sun­rise. Upon depar­ture, the wind speed had already dropped but was still was blow­ing quite hard. It allowed us to ascend slow­ly by the exposed moraine.

Ritacu­ba Negro and Norte from Ritacu­ba Blan­co. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

We fol­lowed the rocky upper ridge to the begin­ning of the glac­i­er, geared up, and ascend­ed against the wind by the wide-open glac­i­er. After a cou­ple of hours, we reached the place called La Bifur­ca­cion (the point where the Ritacu­ba Blan­co and Negro share the ridge) and the wind speed had already dropped to a third of its ini­tial speed.

Ritacu­ba Blan­co’s sum­mit ridge. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

The last ridge was a slow march because of alti­tude, but was accom­pa­nied by incred­i­ble sights to the beau­ti­ful rock face of Ritacu­ba Negro and the south­ern peaks. After near­ly 4 12 hours of climb­ing, the whole team stood at the sum­mit of Ritacu­ba Blan­co. To our luck, we had a clear view to the low­er val­ley of Valle de los Cojines and panoram­ic sights to both the north­ern and south­ern peaks; almost all of them were vis­i­ble, and all for ourselves.

On the sum­mit of Ritacu­ba Blan­co. Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo

We descend­ed strait to the Kan­wara huts, which took us about 3 hours (an excel­lent time) and drove back to Cocuy after com­plet­ing a great climb­ing trip with all goals achieved!

~ MM Guide Juan Car­los Gonzalez

Con­grat­u­la­tions! Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez’s photo