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.
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