Colombia’s Endless Rain (or My Wet 25th Birthday)

[ed note: While mildly to severely delayed, this series of posts, chronicling a very fun, slightly random, strictly Autumnal trip to Colombia, continues. Most recently, I previously wrote about finding the trailhead. This trip happened in the Fall of 2012.]

Starting on the trail in the national park, we spotted the only snowy peaks that Colombian people–if they know of any snow in their home country at all–know about. (On the fourth day of our hike, I would learn that it’s common for the “in-the-know” Colombians to take a 20+ bus ride to El Cocuy, spend the night, take the morning lechero (milk truck), hike a few miles, catch a horse for a few miles, spend the night in a refugio, hike to the snow line, touch the snow, take a picture of the snow, turn around, and reverse the process. They do this just to see and touch snow for, what is bound to be, the only time in their life. I was happy to learn this, and I can wholeheartedly relate to this obsession with snow). These peaks were beautiful and clearly not so far away.

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We passed two small houses at the “entrance” of the park. These two families, living far into the hills, make a living by offering weathered hikers a horseback ride, homecooked meal, or bed. With energy in our step and mountains in our sights, we were quickly past them and entering the heart of the park. It was 7am.

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By 10am, we were less than 6 miles into the park and the clouds showed imminent rainfall. Our rough maps had allowed us to estimate our campsite to be a few miles further. We stopped to eat some food, but soon realized that we needed to set up our tent and wait out a storm. There were no places nearby offering protection, and within minutes of erecting our tent, the rain was pounding on the nylon. It was 10am.

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We are in the tent by 10am the first day.

The rain paused for 15 minutes at 6pm. Because the ground was already saturated, we cooked dinner on our stove without stepping out of the tent. I can’t recall clearly, but assume that the dinner probably sucked. The tent was probably soaked through, too. And we were probably really uncomfortable since we had to keep all of our stuff inside the Lego-sized tent.

Twenty hours later, the rained stopped for the first time and the clouds almost parted enough for unfiltered sunlight to emerge. Our motivation rose with the sun, and a quick breakfast had us hiking soon.

Wait, did you just skim over that part? I said twenty hours after getting in the tent, we emerged. As rainwater seeped into and dripped down the inside walls of our tent, slowly soaking all of our belongings, we watched the clock hit noon, then 5pm, then an entire night pass before we were finally able to exit. Those evening hours didn’t pass quickly because by the time darkness befell our yellow tarpaulin, we had already been entrapped for hours. Sleeping didn’t come easily.

Waking up groggy and soggy from so much time in the tent, we tried our best to use the rainless hour to dry our gear.

As it turned out, when we woke up, it was also my 25th birthday. HA, who woulda guessed!? There was nowhere I’d rather have been.
Seriously.

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Then we put a damp tent into damp backpacks and started walking. Up, up, and over 4410-meter (14,468-foot) Paso de Cusiri, the highest elevation Lindsay had ever reached.

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The hiking persisted, the elevation changes tired our legs, and the inconsistent rain became consistent rain.

As nice as it was to be atop the pass, we looked down the opposite side (through a dark veil of rain), realized that we had an absurd amount of miles, elevation change, and wet weather ahead of us, and continued walking down.

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After having climbed 3,000 vertical feet to the top of Paso de Cusiri, we immediately had to drop 3,000 back to the sub-valley floor on the opposite side. The terrain was enormous, with valleys more vast than any I’d seen. Huge rock walls and deep gorges, peppered with waterfalls dropping into the rainy mist from unclimbed walls, surrounded our drenched selves.

Soon, we were starting to climb again. Up, up, and out of sight.

Submitting to the downpour.

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The incessant rain was exhausting. Our waterproof shells were soaked through, our backpack’s waterproof covers weren’t preventing them from becoming wet, and moral was difficult to maintain without the ability to see the surrounding beauty through the thick cloak of rain.

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It was–seriously–a tough walk. I can’t attest to its difficulty under clear skies and pleasant weather, but Lindsay and I were tired and (awesomely) miserable. Given how far we were from any sort of civilization or sunlight, drying our gear would be impossible.

We had another pretty huge climb ahead of us. It was raining very hard. We climbed and climbed until we reached a saddle, hoping Laguna la Plaza, the lake which would provide our campsite, was right over the pass.

It wasn’t.

We hiked and hiked and traversed loose rock trails and went up and went down and down and a few hours later found ourselves on the banks of beautiful, 3900-meter, Laguna la Plaza.

Exhausted, we cooked under the only semi-overhanging rock that could possibly provide any sort of protection from the rain. We erected our tent on the driest patch of saturated dirt. We waited for any break in the clouds, offering views of the colossal, glaciated, steep peaks bordering the lake.

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Frailejónes are plants native to Colombia. In the photo below, Lindsay is camouflaged, standing among them.

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After catching a few VERY quick and VERY limited glimpses of the mountains, which are truly the main reason I wanted to visit this national park in the first place, we resigned to a wet night spent in a moist temp in damp sleeping bags.

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