June 26 – July 1st, 2019
Day 262 – 265
4 days trek of 66km (+3160m). Reaching the snow limit at 5015 meters.
Day 1 : Hiking up
On the first day, I need to hike 16km from 2300m to 3800m. So, no time to waste. I am on the road at the beginning of the trail at 6:20.
The first part is just like a normal hike in the forest. The trail is really muddy which slows me down.
Reaching 3300m, that’s when the vegetation starts to change. The trees are getting smaller. And after a point, there is no trees anymore but only these small plants that are now everywhere.
The path is still very muddy. There is a lot of humidity and it is very foggy. One highlight of the way up is the Cerro de Virgen where the landscape changes.
One good thing about being in the mountain, you can drink the water from the river. This makes my bag a big lighter. Since I also carry 4-5 days of food with me, it is very heavy! Every meal is a bless.
I reach a finca (farm) at 3800m. It is crazy to think that these people are actually living there, with cows, pigs, chickens, horses, … It is also a shelter for people hiking the park. They propose accomodation and food (for a price which is actually quite cheap. Cheaper than in town).
But for me, I choose to camp. I continue to hike a bit and install my improvised tent, made of a tarp (altitude: 3700m). It is not very big, not very efficient against the wind, but it is enough to sleep.
At the end, the night will be quite chilly. But I can rest. Unfortunately, it is hard to sleep because of the altitude. I am not used to it.
Day 2 : Acclimatation day
This is gonna be a smaller day. I put my bag at the nearest finca. And intend to climb a peak (4300m) and back.
The weather is quite ok, EXCEPT when you have wind. This is the worst.
Because of the altitude. Going up is exhausting. You are always out of breath and need to go slowly and rest quite often.
After reaching the top, the weather become nicer. There is less wind, the fog goes away and I can have a clear view of the landscape. The scenery is very impressive. It is the first time I see something this big and empty in my life. Beautiful !
I have also for the first time a clear view of the Nevado del Tolima , where I am gonna go tomorrow.
Back to the finca where I have a hot lunch. And I continue hiking a bit to sleep at the Cuevas del Laguna el Encanto (altitude 3920m). A hike… Under the rain…
I found a spot hidden from the rain and the wind.
The night is much colder. It is hard to actually fall asleep and rest.
Day 3: Climbing the Nevado del Tolima
Very very tired, I wake up at 4:00am and begin hiking in the dark. It is gonna be a very long day today and I need to start early.
Starting at the Laguna El Encanto (3970m), the first stop is at the base camp (4470m) where a few tents are here. The wind is very very strong. The fog prevent to see more than 20 meters in front of you. I leave my bag there.
From there. There is no vegetation anymore. Just rock. Somehow, some very small plant can survive here (they are also frozen). The hiking is more and more steep. It feels like you have to climb a wall.
Second stop is at the Helipuerto (4765m). You can see ice on the ground. The wind and the humidity creates ice on my jacket. The ground being frozen, it is slippery. Every step up is breathtaking (with both meanings).
I then reach the beginning of the rocks. You can now definitely pick up snow on the ground. Without wind, it is actually pretty cool.
To climb the rocks, the stone are frozen which makes them too slipery without proper shoes.
I stay there for about an hour, when suddenly the fog goes away, and the sun strikes the rocks. The ice melt a bit. I can now climb the few rocks with no problem, to reach the snow limit: the glacier at 5015 meters.
The ice is very strong. Impossible to continue without spikes. I enjoy the view which is more and more clear.
The hiking down is actually very easy and very fast. I even start to feel warm. Back at the base camp, I take my bag and carry on.
Even being at more than 4000m, going down feels like ground level. So speaking of breath, it is fine. But going this much down is hard for the knees.
I reach the Termales del Canyon: hot springs of the mountains.
I am so exhausted. But I know the night is very cold there. So I have to keep going down if I want to have a warmer night.
The vegetation start going back to normal with higher trees and grass.
I finally made it to la Escuela del Salto (3300m). It is a shelter, but also a school. The children from the mountain have to come here to go to school. And since it is far away from everything, the kids basically stay here from Monday to Friday.
They lend me a tent, and I can sleep in the classroom. With no wind, no rain. This night was much more resting.
Day 4: Hiking down
Finally the last day. I just rest at the shelter until noon. Taking lunch over there and leaving.
I guess the acclimatation worked because it felt much easier to hike. When I had to go up it didn’t feel like I was at more than 3300 meters.
I slowly go back to dense forest. The path is still very muddy as always. The changes that I have seen on the way up happen again on the way down.
The way down is also very beautiful, passing through the canyon de Combeima, and back to a river.
And finally I arrived in Juntas, at 2000m. My feet and my legs are hurting. I may have to buy new shoes and new socks. But I made it. It was indeed a beautiful trek and I would recommend to everybody.
If you are interested at how much cost a hike like I did:
- Food 83.600 COP of groceries before the trek and 2×12.000 COP for the 2 lunches: 107.600 COP (~29,5€)
- Accomodation on my last night at la Escuela: 10.000 COP (~2,7€)
- Entrance at the Cocora valley: 4.000 COP (~1,1€)
Which is in total 121.600 COP (~33,3€ so 8,3€/day).
Go off the beaten tracks, don’t be a tourist and you will see that doing these kind of activities is not especially expensive.