Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hiking and climbing in the Sierra Nevada de Cocuy

BLISS! Colombia continues to surprise me. Stunning alpine scenery throughout a 3.5 day hike of nearly the circumference of the 30km long range of 30 or so, glaciated peaks, and culminated on the 5th day with an ascent of the highest mountain, Ritacuba Blanco at 5330m.

This really felt like the main ranges of the rockies, sedimenatry rock, low angle slopes from the west, steep east faces and all the glaciation. 3 main differences though: Oddly differnent alpine vegetation, much higher altitude, with most of the hike above 4,000m and very little wildlife....certainly no bears to worry about. The main concern is altutude, because once in the back range, there is no quick way out or down to a lower altitude if one experiences symptoms of high altitude sickness etc. The red cross maintains posts and both ends, but youve got to run a long way for cell phone coverage out there.

Starting near bottom left, Ive drawn a red line of my route going counter clockwise, which ended with an ascent of what says ¨R. Blanco¨ on the map.

Moist tropical air rising from Los Llanos, the tropical plains to east, way down below.

Some hikers and climbers have their gear packed in to the backcourntry. 15 USD per horse. Fortuately, the horses can not acess the heart of the backcountry because of the alpine bogs. However, the horses didnt seem to have such a negative impact on the trails as they seem to in the Canadian Rockies....not sure why, but then I know nothing about horses, except not to stand behind one.

The note below is from a former collegue, Leigh-Ann, who teaches in Libya.
"About your mystery purple/blue tall spikedflower with leaves that hold water - it is called a LUPIN grows like aweed in some parts of nth/eastern Victoria, Oz. Comes in all coloursof the rainbow including, pink, white yellow. Grown over a small garden area it can be considered a 'cottage garden' type plant. I grow them along a 60' embankment & as they grow up to 3-4' tall they make an impressive display in a bulk planting. Can cover a lot of ground, they tend to die off back to the green leaves, & the tall stem needs cutting back, but no one to do this on top of a mtn."

A closer look at how this plant traps and holds so much moisture in its furry leaves. So even if it doesnt rain, it gets plenty of water. I did get sleeted on a few times, but the temps never dropped below about minus 3.

A not too shabby campsite to myself.

A better view of the hanging glacier in morning sun.

Laguna de la Plaza

2 passes to climb each day.

Small seasonal lagoon, with the high water mark noticable on the bottom of the pyramidal rock.

The sign states that 10 years ago there was snow all year. Actually it was glaciated and is now about 1km away! This was confirmed by another hiker on her 8th trip here, who needed crampons etc 15 years ago to cross the pass. An incredibly fast melting rate! The bottom part roughly translated, states: continue on your way your highness or majesty!

Ritacuba objective a few days later.

Frailejone can grow to be over 100 years old.

Picos sin nombre....mtns without a the name of this mtn!

Ritacuba Blanco on the left and Ritacuba Negro on the right. The left is a 5.10 climb (or take the easier glaciated route from the backside) and the right a 5.7 or 8 with 2 bivies the climbers below informed me.

Laguna de la isla

Ritacuba Blanco again....a photogenic peak!

Ice climbing in Colombia?

Left at 3:30am under a full moon. Should have left at midnight to watch the sunrise from and the moon set from the summit!

Great slabs before the glacier. I hired a guide for the 2nd time ever. 2 reasons. I didnt bring my own equipment b/c I thought I'd just be doing a long hike and didn't want the extra weight....ah but the lure of mtn summits!....and I needed a partner. Turned out the lower glacier in regularly travelled and no rope necessary, but the final 50m would have been too steep without crampons and axe. Rafael Blanco is a 27 year old local guide, who I would highly recommend....very professional and excellent company.

Approaching the glacier from the west in the early morning light.

The objective in the distance. Rafa is know by locals for his hat. It was his father´s who died 15 years ago from cancer.

oooo la la....

If only all crevasses were this obvious.

Ritacuba Negro comes into view, similar to North Twin? from the icefields?

Summit....clearly well travelled!

Rafa soloed up the final 50m to set up an anchor and belay me.

ya ya ya ......ok so I made it.

El castillo looks like it would provide some very challenging climbing from any direction!

Rafa returning from summit.

Ritacuba Negro.....only 30 m lower, but 30 times more difficult from this approach. Note the two climbers on the RHS on the heavily corniced the dip on the LHS of the photo.

Closer view of said climbers. They appeared to be moving very slow and would be too late to make the summit in one day, as the tropical sun can create avalanches from midday on. The lead would also climb one rope length before setting another belay station....seemed alot of rope to me! If he or she takes a fall that far out....I dont think there would be much chance of survival.

Mission accomplished. BTW an ice axe is a way more comfy stool than a hiking pole. ha ha

Thanks for a super day in paradise Rafa! We were back at the cabanas by 12:30 in time for trout lunch...then down to 2500m on his 100cc honda, with my big pack on the front handle bars, for a soak in the hot springs. Then the 10.5 hour ride on the super comfy night bus back to Bogota.
I will definately be back next year or sooner if anyone wants to join me!

1 comment:

Aubrey Groves said...

Some great pics and an adventure. I´d love to join you next year, but it is a little too inaccessible from Asia