There is a classic circuit in El Cocuy, sadly it is currently closed as there are some tension between the indigenous people who live in the area, and the administration of the park. The result of this is that a large section is closed for anything other than day use. What this is translated into when obtaining your permit is that it is off limits, however, the reality is that if you can get the miles in you can still have a great time in El Cocuy.
In addition to some very accessible and enjoyable peaks such as Pan de Azucar, there are a number of nice day and multi-day treks. Again the administration will not give you much information/help going anywhere, but it is still possible. I did a nice lightweight hike arriving late afternoon and hiking up to the Laguna Grande for a couple of hours before resting overnight. The next day I scrambled up to El Toti before heading over the pass, this was a steep descent down very loose scree, but resulted in a wonderful view over laguna grande de la plaza before hotfooting it around the backside and out again before nightfall.
Manizales is the de-facto stopping off point for the Nevados range, whilst most backpackers skip Manizales and head straight to Salento or one of the other mountain towns, most of the guides, gear rental companies, and tour operators are based here. The city itself is nice enough, but ultimately I was determined to get out into some countryside as quickly as possible. I inquired at Kumunday about a guide for Nevado del Tolima, my main objective for PNN Los Nevados. Generally they only operate tours, but were able to hook me up with Felipe, a local guide. We met the next morning, along with Guillaume another backpacker, Guillaume was interested in the traverse, and the three of us discussed our objectives, the cost, and came up with an itinerary.
The next morning we met up in Salento, a lovely mountain town in the heart of Colombia’s coffee growing region. It had been raining through the night, and despite a little respite in the morning, the weather continued. This meant the trail was pretty much a mud bath, and the rivers were pretty swollen, most of them have some kind of suspension bridge, but a few involved some log hopping. After the PCT I’m pretty comfortable with river crossings, however Felipe tried to be helpful and suggested I throw my bag across to him, this backfired and I ended up stepping into water up to my thighs in order to avoid dropping my bag. Thankfully as I was already saturated it didn’t really make any difference.
That evening we stayed at a Finca, and encountered a group of Colombians who had been waiting out the weather for a few days – dinner was great, and we strung out every item of clothing we had around the kitchen to dry out over the range. The next morning, we breakfasted and set off to the lake, the weather was pretty much the same as the day before, but with a few dry spells, and we reached the lake early afternoon and had an enjoyable dinner before turning in early.
Christmas day, and a breakfast of hot cereal, canela, more canela, and some power bars, before Felipe and I set off at 3am towards the summit. I could see stars, which was a welcome hint of some good weather. We continued up to Heliport camp, which was under several inches of snow, further vindicating our choice of a lower camping spot (at the expensive of a slightly longer summit day) from there we ascended the crag via a short scramble, and continued up to the base of the glacier, from there we put on crampons and roped up for the summit ridge. The crux of which is a small exposed section with a large cornice on one side, and a crevasse on the other.
We topped out to a perfect panorama of the entire range, with good visibility but moderate winds, and enjoyed the view for a few minutes before heading down to camp. After a short nap in the sunlight, we set off towards the hot springs, and arrived late afternoon. Christmas dinner of Pasta A La Guillaume, nice company and a great view down the valley was followed by an early night.
The next day we walked back into town, via a pretty but very steep downhill section before arriving in El Silencio and getting the bus back to Salento.
I arrived in Manizales with the hope of climbing the three nevados in the range, this sadly wasn’t to be the case, as Ruiz has been extremely active of late. This also skippered any chance of traversing the park from north to south, as the North of the park is essentially off limits due to volcanic activity. It was however possible to do a day hike up to the Glacier on Santa Isabella. This was a fun day hike, and with no technical components made for a fun walk. There were 6 of us all told, from Canada, the UK, and 3 Colombians, which made for great company. The weather was mostly overcast with occasional bright spells, which added quite some atmosphere to the hike.