El Cocuy National Park

This week we completed a six day hike around the mountains of El Cocuy National Park in Eastern Colombia. This turned out to be a very educational experience for us, with some of the major lessons being:

  1. Driving through Central America eating Pringles and Fajitas does not prepare you for hiking at 4000+ metres.
  2. Just because we drive our van Ginger to high altitudes does not prepare us for hiking at high altitudes.
  3. If everyone on the truck says this is your stop, make sure to check with the driver before getting off.
  4. Cold temperatures are even colder after months of sweating through Central America.
  5. A sleeping bag rated for -10C is not actually bearable at this temperature.
  6. Night buses suck! Day buses aren’t much better. Gravol certainly helps to prevent barfing and is a great sleeping aid!
  7. Nights in a tent are VERY long when they start at 6pm.
  8. You should not feed the crazy Peruvian man, as “he needs to be forced back into the real world” (according to our new British friend Phil)

We started our adventure to El Cocuy National Park with a long overnight bus trip which dropped us into the town of Cocuy at 6am. We managed a few hours sleep in a hotel then finished off our preparations with a few last minute items, buying our park pass, etc… The next morning we hopped onto the Lechero (milk truck/local transport) after confirming with the driver that we wanted to go to the Northern end of the trail where we would check into a nice Cabana for the night while acclimatising to the altitude. However, we got off at the wrong end of the trail because we listened to our fellow truck mates who assured us it was correct. Oh well!

Our first morning of unexpected hiking...

Our first morning of unexpected hiking…

We quickly changed gears and plans and knew that the real fun had begun with a half day of hiking and the start of 5 nights in our tent.

Our first nights camping next to a small lake

Our first nights camping next to a small lake

We got to the lake campsite around 2pm and set up for the evening, and a long evening it was. Each day it got dark around 5:30pm and then the real cold set in. Every night we ran into the tent to get some warmth at around 6pm and stayed there, cocooned, for 12+ hours. Let’s say they were looonng nights, and sadly not a heck of a lot of sleeping due to the effects of the altitude and cold.

Our mornings usually started around 7am when, if we were lucky, we’d get a bit of sun on our tent. A quick breakfast of oatmeal and then we were on our way. Each day we had at least 2 mountain passes to get up and through, usually between a 300 to 500 metre climb for each one. And at this altitude most activities are much more difficult, your legs feel really heavy and catching your breath is even difficult. Plus we had heavy backpacks and at least 2 litres of water each to carry. Sometimes a bit of a nagging headache too, which is one of the first signs of altitude sickness. Nothing that a bit of ibuprofen couldn’t get rid of luckily!

Christine climbing towards the first pass on the hike

Christine climbing towards the first pass on the hike

For the first few days of our hike we had great weather, with the sun making appearances throughout the day. This was super but the first day because we weren’t prepared for a long hike we got blasted by the sun and the intense UV up there. We learned to try and keep covered (hence Christine’s gloves, hood, etc…) and to reapply our sunscreen regularly. The great weather sadly didn’t keep up and on our fourth night we woke to the sound of rain on the tent. Cold rain! Unfortunately the rain and cloud set in for the next 48+ hours, which saw us hiking, cooking and sleeping in a constant light, did I mention cold, rain. The ever present clouds also blocked out the views and often made finding the trail difficult.

In short the trail was very tough, especially because of the altitude. Right up until the half way mark we had repeated conversations about turning back, normally while trudging up towards the next pass and stopping every 10metres to catch our breath. After the half way point we knew we were committed to finishing.

Now that we are finished, and have had a couple of recovery days we are both very glad that we chose, and finished, this amazing and remote trail, in an area that sees very little tourism. Until 2005 the park was occupied by FARC and ELN guerrillas and saw no tourism until recently. It is also predicted that within 10-15 years all of the glaciers in the park will have disappeared (based on recent glacial recession rates), so we are happy to have seen it when we did. It’s difficult to show the grandeur and magnitude of the mountains and landscape but I hope our pictures at least give you a taste of what we experienced!

Dave in his camouflage coloured clothes

Dave in his camouflage coloured clothes

Happy to arrive at camp.

Happy to arrive at camp.

Beanies and down jackets definitely required up here!

Beanies and down jackets definitely required up here!

The crazy Peruvian sleeping in the open under his poncho. He claims to have taken 2 years to walk up from Peru, and is an 'artist'....

The crazy Peruvian sleeping in the open under his poncho. He claims to have taken 2 years to walk up from Peru, and is an ‘artist’….

Hiking around the side of one of many lakes

Hiking around the side of one of many lakes

The track was never easy and often required rock scrambling skills

The track was never easy and often required rock scrambling skills

Looking along the trail, with th small gap on the horizon being that afternoons pass

Looking along the trail, with the small gap on the horizon being that afternoons pass

Looking back along the trail (day 3)

Looking back along the trail (day 3)

Great mountain views

Great mountain views

Phil and Borna, our loosely affiliated trecking partners

Phil and Borna, our ‘loosely affiliated’ trekking partners

It was a very barren landscape at this altitude.

It was a very barren landscape at this altitude.

img 6297

Dave still managing to smile somehow...

Dave still managing to smile somehow…

Once again looking from one pass to the next

Once again looking from one pass to the next

Christine lily-pad hopping along the valley bottom

Christine ‘lily-pad’ hopping along the valley bottom

Lily-pad valley and surrounding mountains

Lily-pad valley and surrounding mountains

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Cold camping conditions

Cold camping conditions

The view to our friends Phil and Borna's campsite

The view to our friends Phil and Borna’s campsite

Christine at another pass, with glacier close behind (day 5)

Christine at another pass, with glacier close behind (day 5)

Dave happy to be nearing the end (day 5)

Dave happy to be nearing the end (day 5)

Lakes and glaciers

Lakes and glaciers

The clouds setting were relentless

The clouds were relentless

Dave giving a GQ pose

Dave giving a GQ pose

A glacier with very obvious recent recession

A glacier with very obvious recent recession

Celebratory drinks back in Villa De Leyva

Celebratory drinks back in Villa De Leyva

 

This weeks banner - mountain view in Cocuy National Park

This weeks banner – mountain view in Cocuy National Park

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3 Comments

Filed under General News

3 responses to “El Cocuy National Park

  1. Peter Moore

    If you two can survive that, the rest of your life together should be a piece of cake! Lol

  2. Marg

    I agree with Peter! You are ‘relentless’ and Congratulations! Love Marg

  3. Madeleine

    hey Christine and Dave , how could you ever describe your trek in the Andes – even when you say it was of epic proportion, gigantic, enormous, horrendous, all words fall short. Bravo to you both ! Our views of the Andes in Peru were lush and gorgeous – something to look forward to !
    All our love , Mom and Dad B.

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