El Cocuy Parque Nacional… the hidden secret above the clouds of Colombia Part #1

Th 4Runner led the charge tracing through the sinewy backroads of El Cocuy National Park. Due to the consistent rainfall around this time of year, the unpaved road had transformed from nicely packed dirt to slick snotty mud. I had to use 4×4 a few times to make it up the inclines.

Traveling with our good buddy Nacho is kinda like hiking with a fat girl. Sure, sometimes you gotta stop and help her up the hills but… she always has the best snacks!

We scoped out a flat spot of land in the mountainside and excitedly setup camp. Coming off weeks of insane paperwork, expensive hotels, flights, giant cities, and a general overload of “the real world”. We all needed some time to decompress, reflect, and re-align our chakras in good ol’ mother nature.

I do not think we could have picked a more beautiful place to do it. I stepped out of the truck into a fairytale scene. We were parked 2000 feet above an expansive deep green valley, dotted with ancient stone corrals, and bisected by a raging river cascading over giant boulders below.

Next door to our campsite was a small mountain cabin. Brad and I went over to investigate. It was there where we found the owners insanely cute daughter, Jenny, wandering around with her dolly “Nina”

Jenny introduced us to her mother who agreed to let us camp for the whopping price of $2/per day. The family piped spring water down from the mountain for the site and even had a nice little shower if someone felt brave enough. Only the set of icicles hanging off the showerhead to deter you.

We spent the next few days camping out, exploring, acclimating ourselves to the 13,000 foot altitude, eating like kings, and generally loving life. To steal a line from my friends Life Remotely, THIS IS WHY WE OVERLAND.

Jenny was very intrigued by these milk faces in their big trucks sleeping outside her cabin and came over to talk from time to time.

My poor attempt at child interaction. I am not good at kid.

I am good at scaring them off though, Jenny sneaks off under the barb wire fence to her cabin.

Feeling properly acclimated we started a gameplan to backpack some of the parks trails.

Brad and I were thinking big. We had read about a massive 7-day loop hike that took us out to the most remote parts of the already extremely remote park. It was a lofty goal but we figured we could do it. Hell we are men, aren’t we!?

To confirm our manliness, we both acknowledged and then completely ignored the fact that this was the absolute worst possible time of year to attempt this hike. Rain, sleet, snow, and well-below freezing temperatures are expected daily.

Our ever encouraging ladies, whom would be accompanying us on our death hike, remained silent but gave us the usual “As long as you get us out alive…” look that both Brad and myself have become accustomed to at this point in our relationships.

Decision made. We loaded our packs with every scrap of food we could scrounge and went to sleep. Dreams of summiting “Pan de Azucar mountain” bouncing inside my head.

Pan de Azucar (Sugar Loaf mountain) and the Devils Pulpit.

We were up with the roosters the next morning, dressed ourselves in every stitch of warm clothing we had, and hit the trail.

We soon found ourselves dropping into the “Valley of Frailejones”. A large valley jammed to the gills with a funny looking shrub that is native to the high Paramo region of the Andes. Frailejones translates to “big monk” as the plant sort of resembles a humble monk in his robes. You be the judge…

We hiked on for a few more hours enjoying a beautiful sunny day. My GPS indicated we only had 1.5 miles to go before the summit of the first pass. Looking at the height of the pass and comparing our current elevation, I realized we were about to do some damn serious climbing. 2000Ft in 1.5 miles. As we rounded the bend our eyes met a hardcore series of switchbacks leading up and out of sight. The trail evaporated into the clouds near the top of the mountain. Oh well, Here goes nothing.

We began the climb in high spirits.

As we progressed, we waved goodbye to the sun who went to hide behind the clouds. Without the sun, the temperature immediately began to plummet. We donned our beanies, gloves, and pressed on. GONNA TAKE MORE THAN A LITTLE COLD TO STOP US!

annnd then the rain started… We zipped up our rain-jackets and scoffed at mother nature as we continued our trek up the mountainside. WATERPROOF TECHNOLOGY IN YO FACE NATURE!

I am not sure why I do it… making fun of mother nature is always a rookie mistake. Somewhere around 1/2 way up the mountain my socks soaked through and I realized I couldn’t feel my toes. I had also lost my gloves at some point and shoved my hands deep inside my pockets to ward off frostbite.

The upside and occasional downside of hanging out with seasoned travelers is that we don’t like to complain, nor do we like to give up. From the silence in the group I could tell we were all pretty miserable. But we ignored our bodies cries to stop and trudged our way up the mountain.

We finally reach the top of the pass. It had stopped raining!!!

annnnd… started to snow.

Freezing cold we all huddled together behind a small summit sign trying to block the freezing snow/wind whipping around the mountain top. We all knew what each other was thinking as we looked down the next part of the trail leading into a swirling pit of gray despair. 7 days of this crap? No way! But who would be the first to say it?

“Well…. We got a decision to make here folks.”

We all instantly agreed “to hell with this!” and our mood immediately got 1000x times lighter. We even managed a smile on top of that miserable mountain.

Screw this! I’m going home. Freezing cold at 14,469 feet.

We bounded like antelopes back down the mountain, carried by thoughts of warm clothes and a hot meal.

As we all huddled warmly into Nacho that night we discussed our decision to turn back. It was hard for any of us to have regrets as we sipped hot cocoa under a thick set of blankets enjoying the luxuriousness that is “The Nacho”. However, we all vowed to return to the mountain soon for another challenge.

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  • Swantje

    Wow, you definetely had better weather than us – we had 4 days of rain …. but we loved Cocuy

    • HomeontheHighway

      Beautiful place, we were lucky the weather held out, at least at the lower elevations

  • Bernard Barbour

    Hahahaha I climbed Cotopaxi in the same conditions and am happy you guys made it as far as you did. I turned back after making it only to the refuge camp at 13,000 feet. Good for you guys, real troopers!

    • HomeontheHighway

      Too cold for this Florida boy!

  • James Mom

    You are such a great story teller you always captivate me and I feel a part of your adventures through your journalism. The little girl with her doll was so precious. I sure she stole all your hearts. I am glad you guys made it as high as you did on your hike but used wisdom to get out of the fridge extremes.

    • HomeontheHighway

      lol thanks ma, glad you like it

  • Bip Bip

    who is slackerassed on the blog scene now? Get on with it fella!

    • HomeontheHighway

      im horribly behind :( where are you guys at?