Cerro Kennedy

  • Cerro Kennedy
  • 2866 m
  • Primary factor 1522 m
  • Location: North 11.11281, West 074.03432 (GPS at the summit)
  • Highest in the San Lorenzo mountains, Colombia
  • Northernmost Ultra in South America
  • Difficulty: YDS class 1
  • Climbed December 1. 2015


How to get there:
The coastal city of Santa Marta is the most convenient point of reference. Travel by car to the small (tourist) community of Minca. This village is served by bus from Santa Marta, more conveniently, one can go there by taxi, 60.000 Peso as of 2015.
Minca is located at N11.14371, W074.11781, elevation about 635 meter.
Route description:
From Minca, there is a road all the way to the summit, however this road could be arbitrarily bad. One may travel onwards by a high clearance 4WD, it is faster and a lot less expensive, to proceed by motor-bike. The distance from Minca to the summit is about 27 kilometer, so one may also do this as two-day hike.
Continue along the main road through Minca, you will soon note that the road quality deteriorates. After about 13 kilometer, you arrive at a very clear road-fork. There is a sign for Cerro Kennedy going left. This location also has a small bar, the view west is quite good. This important road-fork is located at N11.09707, W074.08102, elevation about 1500 meter.
Take the left fork, this roads climbs to the top of the mountain, gaining a distinct top ridge, then ascending to the final, highest part. Unfortunately, there is a Colombian military base on the very summit. There is a gate across the road and an armed guard on a small platform on your left hand side. Thus, it may be difficult to gain the true summit. (See my report below.)
There is at least one commercial company that offers a trip to Cerro Kennedy. Note, however, that they speak about a viewpoint, most likely the one where my motor-bike wanted to stop. This is 2.5 kilometer from - and many hundreds of meter below, the true summit. They also claim that this summit is 3100 meter, totally wrong and quite (deliberately?) dishonest.
Heidi and I left our nice hotel in the old center of Santa Marta at 0830, a taxi took us conveniently to Minca. In Minca, Heidi would join a full day guided tour while I would make an attempt on Cerro Kennedy.
I made an agreement that a young man with a motor-bike should drive me as close as reasonable, they claimed the road was so bad that a 4WD would not make it. (Not completely accurate, but no doubt a motor-bike was faster.)
We left Minca around 0950 and arrived at the road junction after 30 minutes at 1020. We continued uphill and after about one hour, we arrived at an antenna and a small turn-off going right to some sort of view point. Since we had clouds, this was not very interesting. However, it seemed like my young driver assumed that this would be our goal for the day. When I pointed onwards, he just said that the rest of the road belonged to the military. I told him that the summit was still about 2.5 kilometer away and that I would walk. Ten minutes later, he came driving and I had a lift a bit further along, still, there were several sections where he could not drive with me, and eventually he stopped and waited while I continued on foot.
Higher up, the road actually improved, nicely made with two parallel tracks with smooth and solid surface. I arrived at the gate to the military base at 1210. The guard was initially up on a platform on the left side, but I succeeded to get him down on the road to me. Not a single word of English spoken. Still, this seemed difficult as he clearly indicated that I could go no further. I then gave him my sheet of paper with a photo-copy of my passport. He had no idea what this was, but as it looked sort of official, he called up to the top and I realized that he explained that I had arrived with a document that possibly authorized me to visit the base. This seemed fine to me, I was looking forward to the next event with some guarded hope. Next, the soldier informed me that "El Comandante" would descend and talk to me directly. After a few minutes, he arrived in company with another soldier. El Comandante knew at least 10-15 English words, studied my document with interest, but seemed to think that this was not a proper authorization. I told him, that I had travelled all the way from Norway, he turned to his soldiers and said: "Europe Norte". Subsequently, our conversation turned to football and I mentioned the Spanish team Real Madrid. His face turned into a wide grin as he said: "Martin Ødegård". I nodded and explained that Martin was a super-talent, playing for Real Madrid already at age 16 and coming from Norway! This seemed to break what remained of hesitation, - El Comandante turned to one of his soldiers and asked that I be escorted around the base on the condition that I would ONLY take photos pointing outwards. This seemed very reasonable and we subsequently started up the final piece of road accessing the ridge slightly right (east) of the summit.
Once on the top ridge,I wanted to turn left, but my escort wanted to go right. OK, we went by a building and to the logical end of the ridge, where I took a picture of the slope, then one more of my two soldiers.
Returning, they wanted to descend back down the road, while I insisted to pay a visit to the true highest point. After some hesitation, they decided to accept my wish. We went up, I got a GPS reading as well as a picture down-slope towards the north side.
Quite happy with my success, I walked back down to the motor-bike, now waiting about 200 vertical meter below the summit. The time was 1300 when we started the bumpy ride back down. After a break at the road-fork, where a big truck was over-heating, we continued back down to Minca, arriving there at 1500.
A nice, big glass of Paulaner Weissbier was next in line. I waited until Heidi's tour group showed up around 1600. However, they were not done yet. I joined as we walked up a small hill to visit a (small) coffee plantation and learn a bit about how to make coffee. The taxi back home left around 1730 and we were back at our hotel at 1830. A well earned shower, then dinner.