Colombian MountaineerAltitude 5,400m/17,716ft » Duration 17 Days » Grade 2A
A tough mountain trek in the North Eastern Andes, with an ascent of Ritacuba Blanco (5,400m) - the highest peak in the range
IntroductionOur Colombian Mountaineer expedition is suitable for fit mountain walkers, with crampon experience. The ascent of Ritacuba Blanco is comparable to Cotopaxi in Ecuador, though overall, this trip is more remote and physically demanding than Ecuador Volcanoes or Mexican Volcanoes.
Following our arrival and a city tour of Bogotá, we transfer by road to El Cocuy at the entrance to the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy National Park. El Cocuy is one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia, reminiscent of the charming white-washed towns of Andalucia in Spain. We spend two nights here and over the next three days, we hike in the surrounding mountains to a high point of 3,850m as part of a careful process of acclimatisation.
Our main trek takes five days and journeys through a wild mountain range, over high passes, up to 4,750m in altitude, never sleeping lower than 3,800m. We cross rivers, trek through lush vegetation and alongside beautiful azure alpine lakes to eventually arrive at Valle de los Cojines, the most spectacular of the valleys in this area. The valley is surrounded by 800m high vertical rock walls that drop from the 5,000m summits above. We must don our crampons to make the final ascent and complete the hardest day of the trek, to the summit of El Paso de Bellavista (4,850m). By now, we should be well acclimatised and prepared for our main objective.
Ritacuba Blanco is a non-technical ascent, following rocky paths, then moraine to access the summit glaciers. The final section of the climb is on snow to reach the summit ridge. From the summit there are outstanding views of valleys to the west fading away into the central Andes, and to the east, the flat lands of the Orinoquía with its snaking rivers. On clear days, it is possible to see the snow-covered peaks of Mérida, in Venezuela. On our return to Bogotá, we spend a night in the beautiful colonial city of Villa de Leyva.
FlightsThe December 2013 expedition includes a scheduled group flight.
SecurityWhilst no guarantees of safety can be given for any overseas expeditions, our expedition to Colombia has been approved by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). We wrote to the FCO with our itinerary and they have advised us that it is reasonable to travel to the specific locations named in it. If you would like to read the general FCO Travel advice for Colombia please visit the FCO website.
|Day 1:||Fly London to Bogotá|
We arrive in Colombia's capital city in the evening and are transferred by private vehicle to our hotel in the old district of Candelaria.
|Day 2:||City tour|
Bogotá is located at 2,660m, so we must take it steady today, though we can take the cable car to the church on Cerro Monserrate (3,152m), which provides excellent views over the sprawling city. After descending the furnicular, we can tour the plazas and visit the Gold Museum. In the evening, we might eat at one of the excellent steak restaurants near our hotel in Candelaria.
|Day 3:||Drive to El Cocuy|
We leave Bogotá in the morning and transfer by private bus to El Cocuy (2,850m). El Cocuy is the main entrance to the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy National Park in the northern part of the eastern Andes. It's a long but terrific drive through interesting towns and villages on mainly paved roads, though due to the recent few years of El Nino torrential rain, some roads are in a poor condition and this makes travel much slower. All in all the 400km drive should take between 10 - 12 hours with stops. The landscape will gradually change as we drive through the towns of Tunja, Soatá and Capitanejo. El Cocuy has been chosen several times as the most beautiful town of Colombia, with it's stunning white and green houses, redolent of Andalusia in Spain. We stay overnight in a hostel with good rooms.
|Day 4:||Acclimatisation walk to 3,850m|
In the morning we set out for an acclimatisation walk from the town, with the aim of climbing Cerro Monserrate (3,850m). Before we head into the higher mountains and commit ourselves to crossing high passes, we need a good base of acclimatisation. From day six, every night will be spent above 3,800m, so we need to ensure that everyone is acclimatised and ready for this. We drive to the beginning of a trail at 3,400m and walk up through beautiful Andean countryside past twelve tiny chapels to the summit. Having reached this high point of 3,850m, we descend to the hostel in El Cocuy. In the evening we will need to sort out our gear into separate bags for the porters, as well as splitting our mountaineering gear, as this will be taken separately to Ritacuba Blanco.
|Day 5:||Transfer to Kanwara Huts (3,990m)|
We drive for 30 minutes to Güican, where we begin our trek to the mountain huts at Kanwara (3,990m). In the afternoon, we take a short acclimatisation walk to 4,100m with good views back towards Cerro Monserrate. Overnight in mountain hut.
|Day 6:||Acclimatisation to 4,350m|
From the hut we follow a trail that leads up an easy ridge for three hours to gain a high point of 4,350m. From here there are excellent views of Ritacuba Blanco and Güican. The walk assists our acclimatisation, as tomorrow we cross the Paso de los Verdes (4,400m). Overnight in mountain hut.
|Day 7:||Cross Paso de los Verdes (4,400m)|
This is really the first of five days of trekking across the range. We begin the day with a moderate ascent to the first of two mountain passes. It takes about 1.5 hours to reach the Paso del Cardenillo, from where we can enjoy amazing views towards the northern peaks of the Sierra. It takes about an hour to descend from the pass into the Valle del Cardenillo, where we must cross a river, before climbing up the other side of the valley to the higher Paso de los Verdes (4,400m). This pass is the entry point to the eastern side of the range, through which we will travel over the next four days. On the descent from the pass, we pick our way through lush vegetation to arrive at a beautiful green lake in the bottom of the valley. We camp on the shore of Laguna Grande de los Verdes at an altitude of 4,050m. 7 hours walking.
|Day 8:||Trek to Valle de los Cojines|
Awakening to the cool of the morning, with mist rising from the lake, we contemplate another day of tough trekking to reach the Valle de los Cojines, one of the most beautiful locations on the trip. After breakfast, we follow a steep path for about 1.5 hours to reach the Paso de los Frailes (4,300m). Here we have views into the Valle de la Laguna de la Isla, so named because of its beautiful alpine lake with a small island in the middle of it. It takes about three hours to descend from the pass and walk up this valley, past the lake to the next pass, El Paso de la Avellanal (4,750m). It's here that we enter possibly the most attractive of all these high mountain valleys; the Valle de los Cojines. The valley is surrounded by several peaks above 5,000 metres, which have steep rock walls as high as 800m on their eastern aspects. We camp below these beside yet another lake, the Laguna de la Avellanal, at an altitude of 4,500m. 7 hours walking.
|Day 9:||Trek to Laguna del Pañuelo|
At sunrise the steep rock walls of the valley are illuminated and glow a bright orange colour, providing a wonderful backdrop as we enjoy breakfast. Our route today takes us down the valley and past some strange vegetation, that gives the valley its name. 'Cojines' means 'pillows' in Spanish and is the name given to the floating vegetation on the swampland in the middle of the valley. After a couple of hours walking, we reach El Castillo, a very curious looking peak, which is well-known in the Columbian Alpinist world. From here we head up to the next pass at 4,650m, which has a small glacier on the top of it. The descent is straightforward and takes us to another alpine lake called La Laguna del Pañuelo at 4,350m. 7 hours walking. Overnight camp.
|Day 10:||Cross Paso de los Balcones (4,500m) to La Laguna de la Plaza|
The climb up to Paso de los Balcones is on steep moraine and should take about 1.5 hours. On a clear day it is possible to see the east face of Concavo, an impressive wall that rises up to 5,200m. After a rest at the top of the pass, we descend through high altitude vegetation to the biggest lake in the range; La Laguna de la Plaza. This blue lake is surrounded by an alpine scene of snowy peaks and vertical rock walls, which contrasts with the lush vegetation of the valley. 7 hours walking. We set up our camp at the end of the lake at an altitude of 4,400m.
|Day 11:||Cross El Paso de Bellavista (4,850m)|
This is the toughest day of the trip, crossing the highest pass on our route through the Sierra. We need to make a very early start to ascend moderate slopes from the western shore of the lake to reach a huge couloir. This large, rocky feature leads us directly to the top of the pass. The final 200 metres of moraine can be quite difficult and it is typical that crampons are required just before the final snow-covered section to the top of the ridge. The ascent of the pass should take about 4-5 hours altogether. From the top there are far-reaching views towards the wide open valley of La Laguna Grande de la Sierra and five major mountains that encircle it. We descend an easy glacier and moraine to the shore of the lake, where we have a break, before descending for a further 3 hours to La Esperanza Farm (3,600m) where we spend the night. Previous groups have taken 10-13 hours to reach Esperanza farm.
|Day 12:||Trek to Ritacuba Blanco High Camp|
We aim to have a relaxed morning, before driving for an hour to Kanwara for lunch. We then walk to a campsite at Las Lajas. The walk should take between 3 and 4 hours to reach the campsite on glaciated slabs at 4,500m. Mules carry the team's gear today. In the evening, we pack and get organised for tomorrow's climb.
|Day 13:||Ascent of Ritacuba Blanco|
We should aim to depart very early in the morning for our ascent of Ritacuba Blanco, as we can expect an 8-10 hour day to climb the 850 vertical metres and descend. The mountain is considered a 'trekking peak', with no technical sections, but it involves walking on rough, rocky moraine and ascending moderate snow slopes, with the final 50 metres to the summit being quite steep. The views from the summit crater are outstanding. The valleys to the west fade away into the Central Andes, and to the east, the flat lands of the Orinoquía are visible with rivers snaking away into the distance. On clear days it is even possible to see all the way to the snow-covered peaks of the Venezuelan mountain range of Mérida. After the climb, it is a short drive back to El Cocuy where we overnight in our hotel there.
|Day 14:||Spare summit day/Transfer to Villa de Leyva|
This day is effectively a spare summit day, in case the weather is not good enough to attempt Ritacuba Blanco on Day 13. In the event that the we do climb the mountain on Day 13, our local representative will book accommodation in Villa De Leyva for the group tonight. It takes about 6 hours by private transfer to travel to Villa De Leyva, so we will have the afternoon and evening free to spend around town. However, by keeping things flexible, it does mean that room standards can vary according to availability. The alternative would be to not have a spare summit day and to book hotel nights in advance. If the mountain is climbed on Day 14, we will travel to Bogotá from Esperanza Farm today.
|Day 15:||Transfer to Bogotá|
We have most of the day to enjoy the colonial city of Villa De Leyva with its cobbled streets. It is a very well preserved Andean town and a good place to buy arts and crafts. It is also home to one of the most important paleontological discoveries in Colombia, the Dinosaurio de Villa de Leyva. We will visit this excellent museum to find out more about this dinosaur from the Pleistocene times. Alternatively, you might prefer to simply relax with a beer. In the afternoon, we return to Bogotá to spend a night at our hotel. We have a final, celebratory meal in the old part of the city.
|Day 16:||Depart Bogotá|
|Day 17:||Arrive UK|
PLEASE NOTE: Every effort will be made to keep to the above itinerary, but as this is Adventure Travel in a remote mountain region, we cannot guarantee it. Weather conditions, road conditions, vehicle breakdowns and the health of climbers can all contribute to changes. The expedition Leader and our local agent will try to ensure that the trip runs according to plan, but an easy going nature will be an asset!
LeadershipOur expeditions are led by very experienced mountain leaders. In selecting suitable leaders, our prime concern is that they have an excellent personal track-record of climbing at high altitudes...read more about leaders.
Team CompositionThe minimum group size is 3, with expeditions marked with an 'orange spot' guaranteed to run with 3 people. Teams of 8 - 12 are led by a Jagged Globe UK leader, supported by our local guides. Groups that are smaller than this are led by Juan Carlos Gonzalez, a fluent English-speaking Colombian guide. Juan Carlos has grown up mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy, so knows the area intimately and to date, has worked with three Jagged Globe teams. On Ritacuba Blanco additional guides will provide a guiding ratio of 1:3. A fluent English-speaking assistant guide will also be employed for part of the trip, depending on team numbers. Mules and porters are used to carry both the group equipment and team members' gear, so you only need to carry a daypack.
- There are a maximum of 12 places available on each expedition
Experience RequiredColombian Mountaineer is graded 2A.
The Colombian Mountaineer itinerary is suitable for those with basic crampon and ice axe experience, such as that gained on an Introductory Winter Mountaineering course or Alpine Introduction course. If you have completed a previous strenuous trek such as the Western Breach route on Kilimanjaro, this is a good first experience of glaciated terrain on higher peaks.
To have a good chance of success, you need:
- Experience of mountaineering in Scotland in winter on routes of grade I or equivalent.
- To have a good level of health, fitness and determination.
For more information and advice about how to gain the skills to join this expedition, please contact the Jagged Globe office.
EquipmentA complete climbing equipment and clothing list is included in the expedition dossier, which is sent to you on booking along with details of our comprehensive Equipment Hire Service.
Find out about our comprehensive Equipment Hire Service.
What the price includes
- Economy class return airfares from the UK (unless otherwise specified.)
- UK airport taxes.
- Good standard hotel accommodation in Bogotá and El Cocuy on a bed and breakfast basis.
- Camping and mountain hut accommodation throughout the expedition.
- All road transport by private vehicles.
- All meals during the expedition.
- All porterage costs.
- All costs for leaders, guides and local helpers detailed under Team Composition.
- Jagged Globe kitbag or fleece.
What the price does not include
- Visa fees.
- Overseas airports taxes not paid in advance through the international airline ticket.
- Bar bills and laundry.
- Travel insurance.
- Lunch and evening meals in Bogotá and El Cocuy.
- Optional trips.
Tailor-made optionWe can organise this expedition on a 'tailor-made' private basis for groups of friends, families, clubs, charities or any other group. Depending on your mountaineering experience, you may want a Jagged Globe leader or go 'self-led' with the assistance of local guides. The cost of going private can be surprisingly reasonable, particularly if you take the self-led option. Please contact us to discuss the itinerary and your preferred dates. We will then send you a quote, with no obligation.
Additional InformationIf you wish to discuss any aspect of the expedition or your suitability for it, please contact us by telephone:
- +44 (0) 845 345 8848
Alternatively, you can contact us by email via the Contact Page on the website.