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Mountain Madness Climber

Spectacular Conditions in El Cocuy Range — Colombia

What a great first sea­son in Colom­bia! As we look ahead towards the next Ecuador and Bolivia Sea­son, our thoughts go back to the begin­ning of the year and our sec­ond Colom­bia expe­di­tion of our first sea­son in the coun­try! So many suc­cess­ful sum­mits in the beau­ti­ful El Cocuy moun­tain range.

Stun­ning sum­mit ridge of Ritacu­ba Blanco

MM Guide Juan Car­los writes about the trip:

(All pho­tos by Elaine Teh)

The first MM Colom­bia team in 2013 was com­posed by 3 mem­bers who ven­ture into this new des­ti­na­tion: John, Elaine and Lana (Svet­lana) arrived in Bogotá on Jan­u­ary 8th and, after a relax­ing city tour, we all trav­elled to the moun­tain range of El Cocuy.

The team sum­mit­ed suc­cess­ful­ly two acclima­ti­za­tion peaks: Mon­ser­rate and Pico del Aguila. On both sum­mits the weath­er was very nice, not too warm not too cold and almost no wind! On Mon­ser­rate we could have a first look to some of the high peaks, as most of the range was clear. This is a great sum­mit to become acquaint­ed with the place and to get a bet­ter idea of where and how far away the moun­tains are.

The El Cocuy Range with Toti and Pan de Azucar

Pico del Aguila is a great place, as the views are very dif­fer­ent from Mon­ser­rte. From the sum­mit, it is pos­si­ble to see the south­ern val­leys and some of the clos­er peaks, where the next day’s activ­i­ties will take place. The oth­er great expe­ri­ence of this day is the food at Hacien­da La Esper­an­za and the place in itself. A typ­i­cal Hacien­da from the area, still active­ly rais­ing sheep and goats, and har­vest­ing pota­toes and grain.

After accom­plish­ing the first acclima­ti­za­tion part, the group moved up to the beau­ti­ful lake of Lagu­na Grande de la Sier­ra and estab­lished base camp at the shores of the lake, which is sur­round­ed by 5 major summits.

Even though the ascent to El Con­ca­vo sum­mit was sched­uled for the next morn­ing, some mem­bers of the group pre­ferred to have a whole day to recov­er before attempt­ing the sum­mit. Any­way, as we have a very flex­i­ble pro­gram, Elaine, who felt ready for some chal­lenge, went with me to Toti (one of the major sum­mits in area) and sum­mit­ed the moun­tain in only 4 hours from camp­site. The con­di­tions on the glac­i­er where good, but some patch­es of ice had to be sort­ed out on the Toti’s sum­mit ridge. The weath­er was great and the lake of La Plaza and all neigh­bor­ing moun­tains where cloud clear. 

Elaine and Juan Car­los on the sum­mit of Toti

Next morn­ing the whole group had an ear­ly start, in order to have the best con­di­tions for the main goal in this area: El Con­ca­vo peak. The cho­sen route was the direct one, which fol­lows most of the glac­i­er. Even though the route is steep­er than the nor­mal route, it offers a much bet­ter expe­ri­ence due to the beau­ti­ful land­scapes and a more frank ter­rain as there much less rocky moraine.

After a 2 hour approach to the glac­i­er from camp­site, we geared up and head­ed for the main ridge on the glac­i­er. The glac­i­er was a lot more crevassed than a few weeks before with the first MM group, but still in good con­di­tions. We had to crossed sev­er­al ice bridges and walk around many crevass­es until the high plateau. As we reached the end of the crevassed area, John made a dona­tion” to the Concavo’s glac­i­er, as his ice axe slipped from his wrist and plunged into one of the many crevass­es! For­tu­nate­ly, we were already above all the del­i­cate pas­sages, so his poles worked just fine for the rest of the climb!

As the group reached the Concavo’s final ridge, sun appeared just behind the top, illu­mi­nat­ing the amaz­ing val­leys and gorges below us. The group moved slow­ly but con­stant­ly as they walked the last steps to the sum­mit. The views were just per­fect, clear skies to both sides of the range and into the low val­leys of the Aru­a­ca region.

The whole team on the sum­mit of Concavo

We descend­ed by the nor­mal route and reached the camp­site about 3 hours lat­er, where our cook Rafael, was wait­ing with some fresh juice and a well deserve lunch.

After accom­plish­ing our goal on the South­ern area, we moved to the North­ern part of the range: the Ritacu­ba Val­ley. We hiked down to La Hacien­da La Esper­an­za and there we meet Alfre­do, our dri­ver, who took us to the Kan­wara huts. A well-deserved rest at this idyl­lic place with views towards many of the moun­tains is a great reward!

Next day, by mid­day we hiked almost 600 meters up to Ritacu­ba Blanco’s high camp and pre­pared for next morn­ing climb. 

We woke up ear­ly and start­ed with a bit of wind at around 2.30 AM. Unfor­tu­nate­ly after a few min­utes the wind brought mist/​clouds and the con­di­tions began to dete­ri­o­rate. There­fore, we turned back to wait a while for bet­ter con­di­tions before get­ting into the glac­i­er. At about 4.30 AM, the con­di­tions had improved and I decid­ed to move on. John and Svet­lana decid­ed to stay warm in their sleep­ing bags. Elaine want­ed to give it a shot and we start­ed the climb just before 5.00 AM. The weath­er improved, as we ascend­ed, and by the time we reached the glac­i­er the sky was quite clear and the wind had decreased considerably. 

Ascend­ing Ritacu­ba Blanco

The last 70 meters up to the sum­mit of Ritacu­ba Blan­co were a bit steep and icy, due to the long dry peri­od, but a nice sec­tion to con­clude the climb. The reward was a sum­mit in beau­ti­ful clear weather.

We joined with the rest of the group on the way down to Kan­wara huts and after the long descent returned to the town of El Cocuy for a good rest and shower.

Next morn­ing we took our bus for the 12 hours return trip to Bogotá and after that enjoyed a nice cel­e­bra­to­ry din­ner with a wide menu to choose from! Con­clud­ing in this way, anoth­er suc­cess­ful trip in the Colom­bian mountains!

~ MM Guide Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez Camacho

Juan Car­los and Elaine on the sum­mit of Ritacu­ba Blanco

Thanks also to Elaine Teh for a great report of her experience: 

The climb­ing trip to Colom­bian Andes was a tru­ly unique expe­ri­ence. Although it shares sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics to oth­er South Amer­i­can Andes, it also has a dis­tinct fla­vor. Rather than the usu­al mul­ti-coloured and flared skirts ubiq­ui­tous in the Andes, typ­i­cal Colom­bian som­breros and pon­chos are the norm. The hacien­da La Esper­an­za, was amaz­ing. Rus­tic and inti­mate, and the own­ers are the most wel­com­ing and accom­mo­dat­ing people!

Our camp­site in Lagu­na de la Sier­ra was on beau­ti­ful sandy beach, right by the lake, sur­round­ed by the Sier­ra Neva­da. It was per­fect to sit and con­tem­plate the amaz­ing land­scape; also per­fect for a good soak for the sore feet after the climbs! We were very blessed with per­fect climb­ing weath­er. Not too windy or too cold. The glac­i­er was just bliss­ful to tra­verse. Toti was a fun mix­ture of ice and rock scram­ble to its rocky sum­mit. Con­ca­vo has a unique sum­mit; at a cer­tain angle, it looked like a Puma head! And, final­ly, Ritacubo Blan­co has an enjoy­able long glac­i­er tra­verse, before a very short chal­lenge of short, steep front-point­ing to the mouth of a mas­sive crevasse. Final care­ful cross­ing of a firm snow bridge leads to its beau­ti­ful summit. 

Juan Car­los and his team looked after us all very well. Juan Car­los, being a true local, showed us the mag­ic of his home­land. He and Rafa, our ever so friend­ly and smi­ley cook, fed us more than suf­fi­cient­ly. No one had any stom­ach upset – which is a real feat!”

~ Elaine Teh