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Mountain Madness Climber

Successful Summits and Beautiful Vistas in the Colombian Andes

The fourth Moun­tain Mad­ness expe­di­tion to the Colom­bian Andes enjoyed great weath­er and post­card pho­tos.” The team, led by MM guide Juan Car­los, tack­led Pico del Aguila, Toti, Con­ca­vo, and Ritacu­ba Blan­co in the Cocuy moun­tain range.

The beau­ti­ful Jan­u­ary sum­mer weath­er wel­comed us in the Cocuy moun­tain range. The clear sky accom­pa­nied us almost the entire dura­tion of our fourth Moun­tain Mad­ness expe­di­tion to the Colom­bian Andes. 

After enjoy­ing a relax­ing city tour in Bogo­ta and an easy but long bus ride to El Cocuy, we start­ed our trek on the west­ern slopes of the moun­tain range. The whole group hiked through new­ly bloomed gar­dens of col­or­ful flow­ers, which are almost a trade­mark in Colom­bia. The first acclima­ti­za­tion hike was incred­i­bly beau­ti­ful, as both the sun­ny weath­er and the clear air made the land­scape per­fect for post­card pic­tures. The group enjoyed the nice hike and vis­it­ing hous­es in the area. 

All images: Juan Car­los Gon­za­lez photo

Team members at Cerro Monserrate summit

Team mem­bers at Cer­ro Mon­ser­rate sum­mit.

The next morn­ing, we drove up to the charm­ing Hacien­da La Esper­an­za, where Guiller­mo, the own­er, wel­comed us as part of the fam­i­ly. We rest­ed a short while before start­ing the climb to Pico del Aguila, our sec­ond acclima­ti­za­tion peak. We fol­lowed the Aguila’s val­ley, pass­ing by local farms and mak­ing pho­to stops at some of the great view­points along the trail. We were lucky enough to see some of the high alti­tude fraile­jones” (endem­ic alti­tude plants from the North­ern Andes) bloom­ing with strong yel­low col­ors. The group made the sum­mit in three hours, which is a per­fect time, and had clear views from the sum­mit towards the Lagu­nil­las val­ley and to some of the high sum­mits of the south­ern end of the Sierra.

Dominic at Pico del Aguila sum­mit.

We descend­ed by the Esper­an­za val­ley, a neigh­bor­ing val­ley to Aguila, fol­low­ing mead­ows flanked by steep rock moun­tain­sides. At the bot­tom, we returned to the Hacien­da La Esper­an­za, our home for the night, where we enjoyed one of Guillermo´s local specialties!

Pico del Aguila sum­mit.

After these two very nice acclima­ti­za­tion hikes, we moved to our camp­site at Lagu­na Grande de la Sier­ra, one of the most spec­tac­u­lar places on the moun­tain range. We locat­ed our camp on the west­ern sandy beach of the lake.

We decid­ed to post­pone our sched­uled climb to Con­ca­vo, opt­ing for a short­er climb and trek. We aimed for Toti Peak, as we have done pre­vi­ous­ly with oth­er teams. We had beau­ti­ful weath­er the whole day. After three hours we reached the main ridge where we could take a peek over to the east­ern slopes, almost all clear into the low­lands of the east. The final climb was rock­i­er than usu­al, as this had been a quite dry sum­mer; most of the snow had dis­ap­peared from the steep slopes. The final meters were quite hard work, walk­ing on rocks and soft snow with cram­pons, but the clear sum­mit was a grat­i­fy­ing reward!

Michelle and Dominic on Pico Totis ridge.

In the mean­time, Mike did a hike around the wide part of the lake with assis­tant guide Rafael, and enjoyed great weath­er and views. The hike is over some dif­fi­cult ter­rain and there are no trails, which make it into a chal­leng­ing trek! 

We all rejoined for a nice late lunch and free evening.

Michelle and Rafael on the Con­cavos glacier.

Ear­ly the next morn­ing, we start­ed our Con­ca­vo climb round­ing the lake by the north­west end and head­ing up to the glac­i­er. We divid­ed our group in two and Rafael, the assis­tant guide and cook, led the sec­ond par­ty. After cross­ing the crevassed sec­tion, we ascend­ed above the main ridge and were reward­ed with the beau­ti­ful first lights of dawn and an incred­i­ble view of the Ori­no­quia. We moved by an inner val­ley formed by the glac­i­er and on to a ridge, nego­ti­at­ing some recent­ly opened crevass­es. Then we head­ed in an almost straight line up to the final ridge, which led us to the Sum­mit of Con­ca­vo. A very nice and straight­for­ward climb!

Michelle and Rafael ascend­ing el Con­ca­vo Peak.

Michelle and Rafael on the Con­cavos ridge.

Michelle and Rafael reach­ing the Con­cavos summit.

The team at the Con­cavos summit.

Our next goal, the Ritacu­ba Blan­co! After recharg­ing bat­ter­ies at Hacien­da La Esper­an­za and a pleas­ant hike to Ritacuba’s high camp, we pre­pared for our final climb. The weath­er was look­ing favor­able and there was no sign of wind, despite a windy fore­cast. We had a nice din­ner and went ear­ly to bed for the next day climb. The wind start­ed to blow by mid­night and got stronger by the hour. We start­ed very ear­ly ascend­ing by the left side of Playitas’s val­ley; we hit the glac­i­er just after dawn. There were clouds com­ing in from the east, pushed by the strong winds and begin­ning to cov­er the high sum­mits. We were lucky to have a great view of the low­er val­leys and the dis­tant gorges of the East­ern Andes. By the time we reached the Bifur­ca­cion” (the place where the ridge splits towards Ritacu­ba Blan­co or its neigh­bor­ing sum­mit Ritacu­ba Negro), clouds engulfed the moun­tain and snow began to fall. The remain­ing climb was cloud cov­ered; we reached the last steep sec­tion and pro­ceed­ed to ascend the last 70 meters to the sum­mit. We were very lucky, as the sum­mit crevasse was still cov­ered and we could reach the sum­mit! By the end of this sea­son the crevasse col­lapsed and it has been impos­si­ble to access the sum­mit since then.

The team just below the Ritacu­ba Blan­cos summit.

The team at the sum­mit of Ritacu­ba Blan­co!

Anoth­er great Moun­tain Mad­ness sea­son in Colom­bia with a great team and very nice experiences!!!

~MM Guide Juan Car­los González Camacho