25 March 2014

Cycling and hiking in La Sierra Nevada de El Cocuy

March is a quiet month to visit El Cocuy, which for us worked out great. Not only do you get the whole village and the park to yourself., but also prices for food and lodging are significantly lower. After paying a hefty 50.000 COP (25 USD) for the entrance, and getting some up to date information regarding what is allowed and not in the park (as of March 2014, doing the whole loop around the Sierra Nevada is no longer permitted), we got ourselves ready for a couple of days hike into the mountains.

Not what I would call gourmet cuisine, but enough calories for 5 days and three people
Instead of taking the infamous lechero (milk) truck up to the Park entrance, we rode up, dealing with some light traffic along the way. (photo courtesy of Martin Andexer)
Even though we travelled light(er) than usual, with only two back panniers, riding at 4000 m is never easy

At 4150 m we caught the first glimpse of the real mountains

And shortly afterwards, the clouds cleared to show us the Pulpito del Diablo and Pan the Azucar snowy peak

We then went to our campsite, at the Herrera´s house, who kindly let us stay for free because we were cyclists

We cooked hearty meals while we acclimmatised

And admired the views all around us. Here the highest summit of the Park, Ritacuba Blanca, at 5300 m

Martin's art vs. the real thing.

Bed with a view

The first day we hiked up to the Lagunillas sector, at 4200 m

Lagunas and frailejones
Sunset from our campsite (photo courtesy of Martin Andexer)

The second day the real climb began. Martin Sherpa in the front, followed by Lucy. Since Lucy and I lack proper backpacks, Martin kindly carried our sleeping gear and clothes!

We climbed some steep sections towards the Alto de Conejo

The Paramo vegetation was all around us

Our Sherpa showing off

I thought this colours and shape were only a thing of the Coral Reefs?

After three hours of uphill climbing, we catch our first glimpse of the high mountains

And then the infamous Pulpito, covered by the afternoon clouds
Looking for a campsite at 4600 m before the last push
We hiked to 4800 m after setting up camp, before descending for some further acclimmatisation
A night at 4600 m, below freezing temperatures, and a gorgeous view of the mountains the following morning 
Then reached the glacier, at 4800 m

And made quick progress on the snow

Towards the rock, at 4920 m
A very special moment for the three of us. Martin reached the Pulpito del Diablo 8 years after his first attempt. We hiked under our own steam to nearly 5000 m. (photo courtesy of Martin Andexer)

Descending to our base camp. Highest point we've ever been, other than on a plane
One last look. The much admired Pulpito del Diablo rock (photo courtesy of Martin Andexer)
The descent was just as scenic
22 km of downhill on dirt road, and 1.5 hours later we are back in the comforts of El Cocuy. (photo courtesy of Martin Andexer)

The town of El Cocuy (2700 m). A welcome sight after 3 days above 4000 m. (photo courtesy of Martin Andexer)

Two pollos enteros for three people was our much deserved post-Sierra dinner. It came higher on the priority list than a shower...(photo courtesy of Martin Andexer)

View from our balcony at El Cocuy. Hopefully we will be back soon for the whole loop round the Sierra
Saying good byes to new friends. Jaime, the owner of the Almacen in the Parque central, who looked after us during our stay in El Cocuy
Special thanks go to our good riding (and hiking) friend Martin from Austria, who not only carried our sleeping gear on the hike up to the mountains, but also was the first in recommending going to El Cocuy.

Some notes and comments regarding our ride and hike in the Sierra Nevada:

- Entrance fee is now 50.000 COP as opposed to 36.000 COP.
- The portion of the lechero route that we rode was completely rideable on a touring bike, despite the Park office trying to convince us we needed the lechero for the ascent.
- The route onwards to the Cabañas Herreras or Sisuma was a bit rougher, but still doable on thick tyres, at least downhill
- Food is very limited up in the Park, except in a few cabañas, where it needs to be arranged beforehand, at least in the low season. We carried everything we needed for 5 days.
- The popular route around the whole Sierra Nevada, from El Cocuy to Guican, is officially closed as of March 2014, due to disputes with the indegenous people on the other side (or that´s what we were told at the Park office)
- Maps handed out in the Park office are very inaccurate and unreliable. We had GPS maps from Openstreetview and those had most paths marked, as well as accurate elevation profiles.
- We could not find reliable weather forecasts, so best to ask the locals, especially while on the actual Park

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