Pico Bolivar Trip Report, January 1 - January 12, 2008.

Before the Trip, Preparations.

The December/January time frame is a good time for trips to mountains that are in the Southern Hemisphere (summer) or to areas that are closer to the Equator and have their "dry season" at this time of year. However, this is often a period when it is difficult to get away (Christmas etc.) I was going to a mathemathics conference already on January 13th. and wanted to celebrate New Year with my family. What "project" could be done within such a short time interval?
My attention turned to Pico Bolivar in Venezuela. I sent an email to some friends to check out interest and availability. A positive reply came from Helge and shortly thereafter, also from Åke. I contacted Guamanchi, a local guide enterprise in Merida (thanks to Adam/Esquared for the reference), booked the necessary airline tickets and studied the general logistics and timeline of the trip. Shortly before Christmas, everything was ok and the departure set for the afternoon of January 1.
Equipment: We experienced dry weather, a single rain shower one night. The temperature was quite comfortable at day time even above 4000 meter. At night, we had temperature that dropped slightly below zero Centigrade. One should of course carry a set of rain/wind gear, a set of wool underwear as well as a fleece served us well. Normal gear for a multi-day trip in the mountains of Norway in the fall is what one needs. We shared a tent and used medium warm sleeping bags. We used (fairly) heavy mountain boots, however a somewhat lighter shoe (with a pair of warm socks) would also serve well. A team would need a climbing rope as well as helmet, harness, figure eight and a couple of carabiners per team member for climbing Pico Bolivar. No climbing gear is needed on Pico Humboldt.
Food and Cooking: In the interest of time, I decided to buy local services from Guamanchi in Merida. This reduces planning as they provide adequate provisions as well as a guide that will be responsible for meal preparations. This setup reduces the time needed for planning, it makes for somewhat less transit time in Merida, but the main advantage is that you get a taste of what local food is like. Our guide served us very good food throughout the trip. Soups that were typical for Merida and the Venuzuelan Andes etc. Highly recommended.
We all shared in packing the food and cooking equipment along the way and the weight was likely slightly more than if we had made this hike as an independent party. Merida is a large city and one can certainly buy provisions that would be adequate for a hike like this. With a little bit of advance planning, one should be able to do this by spending a day in Merida before starting out on the trek.
It will be part of the good memories from this trip, how Darwin after walking several days (uphill) with fairly heavy packs, for example asks: "Would you like a melon?", then immediately starts cutting a whole melon into big, sweet pieces. Or another time, similarly: "Would you like some pinapple?", again revealing whole pinapples as part of what the team has been carrying uphill several thousand vertical meter. It was just nice, we totally ignored the fact that carrying essentially volumes of water for days is something we would never have done if we were in charge of the food logistics. Here, we carried fresh produce, a large number of eggs, local food ingredients to make true Venezuelan food. Four days into the trip, Darwin served a dish with lamb cutlets, delicious! We all enjoyed this tremendously, an experience that perhaps tells us that more variation may be important also on the trips that we organize completely by ourselves.

Day -2, January 1st. We fly from Norway to Frankfurt.

Helge and I met as agreed on Flesland Airport, one hour before the flight to Copenhagen. Åke would travel from Oslo and meet us in Frankfurt. We met in the Frankfurt airport and proceeded by hotel bus to a local (nearby) IBIS airport hotel. This was the first time Åke and Helge met, with a shared enthusiasm for mountains and outdoor trips I had no concerns that they did not know each other beforehand.

Day -1, January 2nd. We fly from Frankfurt to Caracas.

The flight from Frankfurt to Caracas was smooth and on time. Arriving in Venezuela, we discovered that the time difference to Europe was 5.5 hours, the half hour came as a small surprise. We checked by Santa Barbara Airlines to verify that they had our reservation, then exchanged some local money. It turned out that changing money in the airport was easy and one readily obtained a rate between 4000 and 4700 bolivars to one dollar, while the official rate was 2100. A slight twist as it turned out that the government had introduced a new currency "strong bolivars" on the very day of our arrival. A "strong bolivar" was equivalent to 1000 of the "old bolivars".
I had booked accommodation at the Playa Grande Caribe Hotel, this was supposed to be nice and close to the airport. The hotel was indeed close to the airport, but a total "rip-off". The price for the room as well as the cost of a dinner or the short ride to and from the airport were completely unreasonable. Unfortunately, the entire area close to this airport is pretty unattractive, and may be partly unsafe for visitors.
We had a short walk to the hotel beach in order to calibrate/check our GPS units. Åke went for his first swim in the Caribbean Ocean. A walk around the immediate neighborhood quickly convinced us that we should move on to Merida as soon as possible. We could not find a travel plan that allowed us to proceed directly to Merida, however this would indeed have been a worthwhile improvement to our overall trip.

Day 0, January 3rd. Arrival in Merida.

The Santa Barbara flight also proceeded as scheduled. We had a brief view of Pico Humboldt just before landing. Finally, arrival in Merida and the trip could really begin. Joëlle from Guamanchi met us in the arrival hall and provided direct transport back to the Guamanchi Posada (Posada is the local name for a (inexpensive) hostel-like accommodation.).
As soon as we had checked in, we wasted no time, but agreed with a local taxi that he should drive us up to the national park on the opposite side of the valley, wait three hours, then drive us back. After several travel days, we all wanted to get some exercise. Also, since the acclimatization schedule for this trip was a bit on the heavy side in the beginning, a few hours above 3000 meter today might be quite important. The taxi took almost one hour to get us up to the end of the road at La Culeta. This location is at N8:44.708, W71:03.916, elevation just below 3000 meter. We followed a trail towards what looked like a local highpoint. Getting there, this turned out to be a ridge that led us into a pretty large, flat area (sort of like a meadow), we rested then decided to continue a bit more since further along there was a higher point. We reached this local highpoint just before our turn-around time. The location was N8:46.329, W71:02.599, and an elevation of 3645 meter, in fact quite a bit higher than I had thought possible today. From here, we could see the valley that continued into the mist. A significantly higher mountain was hidden in the clouds, but we had a few short views. We tried to estimate the primary factor (prominence), this was not quite easy as there were several saddles, possibly the deepest one being furthest away. My guess is still that this point has a prominence less than 100 meter and therefore do not qualify as a mountain listing. We strolled leisurely back down and arrived about 15 minutes before our agreed return time, the taxi driver obviously pleased with getting back to Merida a bit earlier.
The city of Merida is easy to navigate as they have a (US-like) system of avenues and streets (Callo). We got a recommendation for a nice restaurant (Abadia) and celebrated our arrival with a good dinner.

Day 1, January 4th. Jungle hike to Lago Coromoro.

We got up early and organized the gear. Joëlle had offered to lend us almost everything in order to reduce the baggage on the flights. The net result was that we borrowed an ice axe (Åke), two pairs of crampons (Petter and Åke), and a sleeping bag (Åke). In addition, we all borrowed helmets for climbing. Guamanchi would further provide tents, climbing rope, gear for cooking as well as all food for the trip. We met the guide, Darwin, a slender young guy (26) with at least half a meter of completely black hair. I had told Joëlle that we would not need any more support, however she had added a porter (Joel, age 24) at Guamanchi's expense. As she said, "without a porter she was afraid that Darwin would kill her". John (Joëlle's husband) said that we should consider leaving the crampons and the ice axe as one could climb Humboldt without it. When asking about the glacier conditions, he said there was ice and no snow. After a short discussion, we decided to take the gear along. This small episode shows how a language barrier (our lack of Spanish) can lead to slightly wrong conclusions as we shall see later.
We loaded a jeep and started out around 0930. After about one hour, we arrived at the national park. Darwin took care of the formalities, all they needed to know was the age of each participant. We drove slightly more uphill inside the park, then unloaded at the trailhead. This location was at N08:37.814, W071:02.384, elevation 2236 meter.
We started hiking at 1040, pretty heavy packs, besides personal gear, I carried a bag of food, a gas container for the stove, crampons and ice axe. Åke carried our tent, however, later in the hike we distributed the tent (inner/outer/poles) among the three of us. The trail immediately headed uphill and made several large zig-zag turns in order to gain elevation. The vegetation was phenomenal, dense jungle on either side of the trail. Later, the trail contoured more right, then lost about 100 meter of elevation in order to find the creek at the bottom of a distinct valley. We arrived at the creek after 2.5 hours and had a major rest there.
We continued uphill on the left side of he creek and arrived at Lago Coromoto and our first camp at 1540. Here, at 3300 meter we still had some vegetation, but it was clear that we would leave the trees behind fairly early tomorrow. Darwin prepared a delicious evening meal and after exploring the nearby area, darkness came and we went to bed fairly early. A very successful start, we were all fairly tired from this first day of hiking. The trail had been quite messy in a few spots, fallen trees and big boulders with no easy way for making detours.

Day 2, January 5th. We hike to Lago Verde.

We all slept well and had a nice breakfast before heading uphill at 0800. The trail was now somewhat smaller and climbed the left side of the valley. Further along, we gained new area after crossing a small wooden pathway with slight exposure. The trail continued uphill and eventually crossed the creek, a suitable spot for a lunch break. The trail was quite nice, but did require easy scrambling in a few sections. We also met a rather large party going downhill. Finally, we were high enough in the valley to see Pico Humboldt for the first time. The clouds were parting and initially the peak looked very steep, rising into the clouds, however, as the view cleared the proportions of the landscape became somewhat more normal. It looked rather majestetic, with its white cap of snow and a rather distinctly pointing rock piercing the sky. I was already looking forward to the next day.
The outlet from Lago Verde is so small that the trail needed to gain considerable ground in order' to contour around, then descend into this secluded valley. Care is needed as the route crosses a fairly exposed section here. We just exceeded 4000 meter around this corner before descending slightly lower as we reached the valley floor. A boy and a girl tried swimming in the lake when we traversed above. The boy actually did a few strokes of real swimming, while the girl at least got somewhat wet.
We put up camp and met the dog Pincho. He seemed pleased that we came and established camp. We were immediately adopted (by him) and thereafter he always told any other hiker to keep his distance from "our camp". We had arrived at 1210, a good effort with absolutely perfect weather.
Later, we did a short hike up to the beginning of the climbers trail to Pico Humboldt. The local creek had formed ice on the steep rock. It seemed strange that any ice could survive, since the temperature was quite warm. However, with temperature dropping below zero at night, we decided that it indeed had to be possible.
We met Sabine, a German girl that travelled alone. She had teamed up with two other trekkers and hired a guide and a porter from Guamanchi. We would see this team the next three days as they followed the same schedule. The rocks across the valley showed that we were now properly among high, rugged mountains. The valley floor was still sprinkled by many kinds of flowers. We enjoyed another delicious meal prepared by Darwin and hit the sack early, eager to climb our first Venezuelan mountain the next day.

Day 3, January 6th. We climb Pico Humboldt.

Today, we woke up already around 0500, breakfast slightly before 0600 and we were on our way at 0620. We hiked back up to the area of the frozen waterfall that we visited yesterday. A climbers trail traverses up across a few small cliffs then proceeds to climb the broad ridge that rises above. It was a nice morning, the route is in the shadow of Humboldt, but the morning sun was shining on the peaks across the valley. When reaching the moraine above, we had a first (close) view of the small glacier and our goal, Pico Humboldt. Our progress continued upward across broken terrain and eventually more frequent patches of snow. Since the glacier is rapidly melting, the route now climbs on its right side, then more steeply up on the very distinct ridge that extends out towards the valley. Reaching the top of this ridge is a definite milestone. From here one already has panoramic views as well as the first possibility to look across the dividing ridge that separates this valley from the large slopes (La Traversia) that lead to the south side of Pico Bolivar.
This ridge is quite beautiful with colored rock. It is quite distinct, yet easy to climb.
We had a good rest at the edge of the glacier, waiting for everyone to catch up. The glacier had an initial, very gentle uphill slope, then looked flat across to the peak on the opposite side. I checked the snow, there was no ice. In fact, the surface had a slight crust and a boot would sink only a few centimeter in. The snow condition was near perfect for walking. It was clear that neither ice axe nor crampons would be of any use. I discovered that Darwin was about to put on his harness and pull out the climbing rope. I quickly told him to put it away, suggesting that we should proceed without the rope across the glacier. He seemed happy with this. Thus, we carried some extra weight, however the conversation in Merida had not been sufficiently precise to clarify what conditions we would actually experience.
I walked across the small glacier and eagerly looked for a route up the final rocks. Joel was right next to me, but he suddenly indicated that he would make a different hike and go further right. It turned out that he proceeded to climb Pico Bonpland, 4883m, a mountain he had never climbed before. I saw a line that seemed to lead to the summit. It went straight up on the left side of the ridge that was up to my right. I scrambled up this way, it was all easy until just before the top, where the crack became narrow and forced me to make a move out to the left before gaining ground above the crack. This qualified as a short (YDS) class 4 move. From here, it was an easy stroll the last 30 meter to the small summit cairn.
I arrived around 0945 and had a few minutes all by myself before Darwin and Åke showed up lower down on the ridge. Åke then approached rather slowly, he was clearly affected by the thin air, taking several short stops before reaching the summit. Shortly after, Helge also appeared and similarly covered the last few meter at a fairly slow pace. Thus, by 1000, the entire team was sitting at the summit and enjoying our first really high Venezuelan peak, the second highest in the country. From here, we could gaze directly back down to Lago Verde, about 1000 vertical meter below.
The other team guided from Guamanchi, could be seen down on the glacier. They had roped up and it took some more time before they joined us at the summit. I noticed that their guide led them up a route that gained the ridge quite a bit lower on the ridge, indeed this route turned out to be a (YDS) class 3 scramble all the way. Amazingly, our dog Pincho also showed up and subsequently took a nap right next to the summit. At well above 4900 meter, this is definitely the highest point where I have ever seen a dog. The other team then arrived and the summit got quite crowded.
Darwin said that he would climb the subsidiary tower-like summit called Puiz Teran. He quickly descended to the local saddle and spent the next 40 minutes climbing on what looked like a fairly difficult route.
We left the summit at 1100, having spent more than one hour on the top with no wind, sunshine and a very comfortable temperature. We had left our backpacks at the other end of the small glacier, thus another stop was scheduled for having a small, but well deserved lunch. We continued down around 1130. The return hike was quite nice and easy and we reached the valley floor at 1300. An easy stroll back to camp concluded a very sucessful day.

Day 4, January 7th. We hike to the base of Pico Bolivar.

We broke camp and started out at 0830. Todays hike was supposed to be about 7 hours. The trail led up the valley and across what looked like col, just after the area where the trail to Pico Humboldt forked left. The valley curves more left, there is a somewhat more level stretch before another uphill that leds to the end of the valley. Looking back, one readily sees that the entire valley is closed off by the main ridge. Here, the small lake, Laguna el Suero, fills the short remaining space, behind it the polished rock blocks further progress. We have arrived at the base of the high, connecting ridge from Pico Humboldt to Pico Bolivar. Amazingly, we also met a small group of "El Toros", cattle grazing peacefully next to this small lake. Darwin said that they came from the village of Los Nevados, our destination. In order to get here, the only way would be to cross the main ridge and descending the steep scree gully named Chumahoma, that would now be our next uphill challenge. I ascended the gully fairly easily, turned right higher up and arrived at a spot where a general rest had been declared. Åke and Helge followed rather quickly, the view back down served as proof that we already had completed most of the uphill section to the col across this barrier ridge.
We continued a more gentle climb as we traversed to the col in the ridge where the trail crosses. This location is N08:32.997, W071:00.905, elevation 4485 meter, most likely this col determines the prominence of Pico Humboldt. From this col, one can see directly back down the main valley to our second camp and the Lago Verde. The fog now closed in and we kept hiking across the huge slope called Traversia (Pico Humboldt and Pico Bonpland can be seen behind). We had a couple of rests along the way, but no stop for lunch. Eventually, the trail climbed more and I think we all were pretty tired by the time we came to a trail fork. Our trail continued straight and after another 30 minutes we finally reached our highest camp at 4600 meter. This camp is just below Pico Bolivar on its south side and a good starting point for ascending the peak.
After pitching the tent, I decided to go and get some water. Somebody pointed uphill, so I went in that direction. No water to be seen, I hiked higher and Helge came from below and joined the search. Finally, a full 100 vertical meter higher, at elevation 4700 meter, we discovered the small lake called Laguna Timoncito. If I had known the effort, we should certainly have brought more containers than just a single bottle. From up here, we got to see the teleferico top station, the terrain across there looked quite rugged as well.
The day ended with an absolutely brillant sky, thousands of sparkling stars, and the now famous vegetable soup prepared to perfection by Darwin. Tomorrow was the big day, our attempt to ascend Pico Bolivar.

Day 5, January 8th. We climb Pico Bolivar.

What a beautiful morning! The camp was quite crowded, we had the group of three that also went with Guamanchi, then another group of two. These teams all wanted to climb Bolivar, then hike across to the teleferico and get a ride back down to Merida. Since we had allocated somewhat more time and since we did not want to take the teleferico, but rather hike all the way to the Andes village of Los Nevados, Darwin quickly concluded that we should start fairly late in order to avoid/minimize hazards related to accidental rockfall (by other climbers). Thus, we slept long, had breakfast at 0700 and started uphill at 0730. Since Helge obviously still struggled a bit with the thin air, I suggested that we do as I often do when I climb with my son Pål Jørgen, take only one backpack for the summit. Its gets twice as heavy, with more water and more clothing, however, the idea is that you save the weight of an empty pack, additionally, whoever is in best shape can carry the pack and thus maximize team progress.
We walked uphill more or less as the evening before, in order to reach the small lake Timoncito at approximately 4700 meter. The route continues somewhat steeper above this lake, still at (YDS) class 2, and soon the Timoncito glittered with its emerald color quite far below. The snow that feeds it was off on our right, and the sharp peak called Garganta Bourgoin, after one of the pioneer climbers that almost made the summit of Pico Bolivar in 1935.
Next, a few ledges are climbed, the scrambling is now (YDS) class 3, and care is needed as there are many loose rocks in this area. The next section is slightly more gentle as the route turns right and locates the lower end of a fairly distinct gully. The terrain gets steeper as the route starts up this gully, and soon you notice the first (fixed) belay point in the rock above you on the left side of the gully (facing uphill).
The first pitch is also the crux of the climbing route. It is graded (by John Biggar) as UIAA IV. Darwin climbed up to the next belay point, then signalled (Listo !) for Helge to follow. Helge climbed upwards, then made a move about two meter right around a small corner, before proceeding directly up towards Darwin. I followed, it was a bit awkward to make the move around to the right, followed by a few meter straight up where the holds were small, especially for my hands. With the pack on my back, I had a slighly uncomfortable moment when it felt like a push upwards by my foot would render my handholds somewhat insecure with respect to keeping me on balance and not loosing contact with the rock. Mostly psychology perhaps, but definitely a point where I gladly should have traded the backpack with Helge above me. Soon, the climbing became easier and I could advance, except for being held back by the rope going from me down to Åke. Judging from his "complaints", he did not find the climbing in this spot any easier. The best picture from this spot, is a zoom from above. I still wonder if the climbing straight up or even a bit left (that is right as seen on this picture) from where I am would be slightly easier. It seemed to me at the time (as well as what one may see from this picture), that a direct route may have somewhat larger holds. Its main difficulty would be a very steep section just above where I am standing. However, from my position, Helge traversed right (that is left as seen on the picture), then proceeded up the rock along a route where the holds were appreciably smaller. Thus, I ended up climbing the same route, despite some doubts about the choice. Helge, being an expert climber, may just have wanted some extra challenge and perhaps some extra fun, standing on the top of the pitch and seeing me struggle and breathing more heavily due to a combination of the stressful position and the pretty steep rock at almost 4900 meter. Åke joined us gasping for air and telling that he did not know how he managed to climb the crux below. Helge politely suggested that he could now carry the backpack, an offer that I readily accepted.
The scenery is quite dramatic, small patches of fog are drifting around, thus changing the light as well as the subjective feeling of size and distance. The main Bolivar ridge is coming in from our left, looking a bit further down, we realize what has already been accomplished. The next rope length is quite easy, we cross the hard snow in the upper part of the gully and proceed on easier terrain to a next belay point attached to a huge boulder. From here, we could see the distinct col in the main Bolivar ridge, in fact the teams that started several hours ahead of us, started to appear towards the sky. The climbing to this col is actually quite easy, there are many holds and one can take full advantage of fairly large cracks in the boulders along the route. Reaching this col is a milestone in the climb, for the first time you can see north. The immediate view is a (intermediate) station of the teleferico, as well as the main ridge connecting towards Pico El Toro (4695m). The continuation of the summit ridge looked rather uninviting. As I mentioned this, Helge would just show a happy grin and say "I just hope that this is the continuation." Fortunately, (for all but Helge?), the route now turns a slightly exposed corner and continues along a nice ledge on the north side. This corner is on my right side in this picture, the move is not hard as there is a very secure hold for hands as well as a place to put your boot way out at the tip of the cliff. The team therefore proceeded unroped around this corner and along the ledge. At the end of this ledge, there is a fairly distinct gully that narrows to more of a crack in the rock higher up. This is the last rope length of climbing. The rock is very good and there are reasonable holds, the difficulty increases somewhat as you climb higher and the hardest move is close to the very top. Overall, this climbing is hard (YDS) class 4 or possibly a low (YDS) class 5 near the very top. I would say it is rock of category UIAA III. The terrain is definitely steep as this picture just slightly left of the route clearly shows.
We unroped and scrambled rather carefully the last few steps to the bust of Bolivar. The amount of real estate is severely limited. A single extra step in all but one direction would result in a long fall. Helge moved around with a really big smile, nobody should doubt that he liked the view and the exposure, being on the very top of Pico Bolivar, tremendously. The clouds separated and I got a good view directly down to the city of Merida. We soon began our careful measurements of the location and the elevation by way of two independent GPS units. Using the average mechanism, we each took between 500 and 1000 sample measurements. My gps stabilized on 4988 meter, while Åke's ended up showing 4989 meter. Again, we found a strong correlation and conservatively agreed to the elevation of Pico Bolivar to be 4988 meter.
The main Bolivar ridge continued east, but it was easy to see that we were in fact sitting on it's highest point. We were in no hurry and took the time we wanted. The weather was nice and the temperature very comfortable. Bolivar himself did not seem to mind us, as we took turns sitting at the few pieces of rocks that defined the highest point.
The view further east was quite nice, the main ridge continues with twists and turns, very rugged indeed. In the other direction, this sharp ridge disappeared into the fog. With direct line of sight to Merida, Darwin used the opportunity to make a phone call. Perhaps equally nice, as the clouds kept drifing around, we got brief, but nice views of the valleys deep below us.
We had reached the summit of Pico Bolivar at 1000, after almost half an hour, it was time to leave. I walked carefully back to the point on the ridge where we would start our first rappel. When I reached the ledge, Helge had already returned to the col. I followed and turned the corner without difficulty. There, we waited for Åke and Darwin to catch up. Before long, we continued with a second rappel down from the col to the south side. Three more rappels and we were back down in (YDS) class 3 territory.
We had a brief stop back down at the lake before we continued the descent to camp, reaching it at 1230. It had indeed been a very successful day. I had believed that we would have lunch then start our trek towards the village of Los Nevados since I knew that this was still a considerable hike. However, Darwin was more happy about a relaxing afternoon, assuring me that we would have plenty of time to reach Nevados the following day. Thus, we relaxed around camp, made a short hike to verify where the trail ascended towards the teleferico, enjoyed a well deserved lunch to be followed by Darwin's great vegetable soup (much) later in the evening. This would be our last night in the tent and our last camp at 4600 meter elevation. Again, the night came with breaking clouds and brilliant stars, however not quite as nice as the night prior to our climb.

Day 6, January 9th. We hike to the village Los Nevados.

This morning, we had a visitor. El Toro had decided to say hello. At 4600 meter, by far the highest cow I have seen anywhere. We broke camp and hit the trail at 0715. This trail is quite interesting, there are a few variations. It climbs and traverses the south side of the ridge that connects Pico Bolivar with Pico Espejo, the top station of the Teleferico. Soon, we hit a trail fork where one trail climbed up a steep gully towards what looked like the sky, while an alternative trail traversed the scree side further below. The view back to Pico Bolivar was also quite good, one can clearly see the middle section of the climbing route from yesterday. It still looked steep. Darwin indicated that we should take the higher alternative. As I hit what looked like a local col, I noticed that the trail continued to climb the ridge, it appeared that we were almost on the high ridge. Here, the trail suddenly descended off the high ridge to the bottom of a large gully that faced south. Obviously, we would ascend on the opposite side. There seemed to be two alternatives, a fairly easy looking uphill further left or what looked like a scramble route following a more narrow crack straight uphill. I assumed we would continue on the more obvious route, however this would mean that we needed to descend somewhat more. Helge immediately said that he "hoped" the route would be straight up along the crack. Sure enough, Darwin pointed up the crack. The crack itself was too narrow to be climbed, but there were good holds climbing right on its left hand side. An interesting experience, I cannot remember having climbed/scrambled any stretch this steep (and long) with a full (heavy) backback before. At the top, we sort of popped out on Pico Espejo, arriving directly to the top plateau with its madonna statue and top station for the cable car. This cable car is the highest in the world, and a room next to where passengers would exit was properly set up with chairs and oxygen masks. I wonder how many tourists do take this ride directly to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), then back down in order to recover.
Pico Espejo, may have a prominence around 50 meter, it is well connected to Pico Bolivar, but still provides a very nice view point. Pico Bolivar dominates the view, but the panorama in the opposite direction is also nice. The crest has two more peaks in that direction, Pico Torro and Pico Leon. To the north, across the clouds that covered the valley with Merida, a long skyline of peaks where we made our first acclimatization hike. Slightly right of Pico Bolivar and further back is Pico Humboldt and Pico Bonpland. One can actually see the bust of Simon Bolivar at the very summit of Pico Bolivar. We had arrived at 0815, and we looked around and rested until 0845. By then, the very first load of tourists had arrived with the first car of the day.
Leaving the tourists as well as the inscription below madonna behind, we continued our hike down towards the south-west, descending and contouring the uphill slopes on our right hand side. From here, Pico Leon (left) and Pico Toro (right) started to look higher. Their connecting ridge is supposed to be a fine scramble. Suddenly, we had a short, but steep uphill just as we were getting used to the easier, steady downhill motion. Quite a shock in terms of effort, we turned a corner here and soon resumed the descent. Traversing further, we crossed the ridge to its north side and hiked more horizontally to a point where our trail merged with a small, old road that would descend further to a lower station of the Teleferico. Arriving here at 1030, we declared rest and finished some of the remaining provisions. Pico Bolivar looks good from many angles, from here was now exception. Our route would now turn left and head uphill to the highest col on this old road, this location is N08:31.998, W071:04.736, elevation about 4238 meter.
This road connects Merida with the remote village Los Nevados, our destination. Darwin said the road was at least 100 years old, suitable for mules and donkeys. From here on, our route would descend along this road (the picture is looking back) and we would gradually see how the valley would get deeper and wider as we descended. Nice scenery in all directions. There were colorful flowers and we could sense how the vegetation got richer as we got lower. Another effect that was quite noticable, how the air got thicker, more oxygen, easier breathing. Eventually, after more than 8 kilometer, we had crossed the river, ascended a bit before turning corners and observing the first small farms. Then suddenly, the small village of Los Nevados. White in color, with its church and small plaza, a fairytale village and a perfect place to end our trek. As we had descended along this old road, seeing how people had worked to make it as good as possible, we talked about what a great day thsi had been. Most people hike to the Teleferico, and take it back down to Merida. We certainly agreed that our plan was much superior, those people may not even know what a fantastic hike they fail to experience.
The Guamanchi Posada in Los Nevados is very nice indeed. A bed for sleep and a place for gear. A place to eat, this time sitting at a table. Flowers with sharp colors everywhere.
We had arrived around 1400, a good day with a reasonable effort despite a net loss of 1900 vertical meter. The dog Pincho showed up, we had not seen him since starting out for Pico Bolivar. This dog has a good life in the mountains. In a few days, he may walk the long way back to Camp II and wait for another party to come along. We looked around in the village, had a nice dinner at the posada, then checked out the local (sweet and strong) drink, before finding back to good bed, after 5 days in the tent, what a luxury.

Day 7, January 10th. We return to Merida.

The jeep arrived already before the promised time of 0900, and we were all onboard an on our way before the scheduled time. The road was dirt, quite narrow and more often than not balanced on a narrow ledge in a very steep hillside. With no kind of fence it was obvious that we needed to believe in our driver. Driving off this road (on the downhill side) would clearly be deadly. The road seemed dug out from soil and dirt, not much of a foundation anywhere. I was indeed very happy that it had not rained in a long time. Additionally, we had uphill and downhill sections that were far steeper than any rules regarding roads would ever dream of. We quickly learned that a section with a concrete surface did not mean that the road was any better or safer, rather the opposite. Concrete had been used in a few spots where the road simply would not survive without it. Typically, sections that were so steep that concrete with artificial extra friction was needed if any vehicle should be able to navigate the hill. There were turns that were so sharp that the jeep needed to go a bit in reverse halfway through the curve. We readily observed small "mini" wooden structures, like a small doll house along the roadside. Darwin explained that each such "house" was a memorial for someone that had been killed on the road. The large number of these memorials sent a pretty strong message about our general safety.
After more than 3 hours we were safely back in Merida. The last night would be like our first, in the nice Posada owned and managed by Guamanchi. After checking back in, we set out to celebrate our successful trip in the famous Heladeria de Coromoto, this place has taken the proud entry in Guinnes book of World Records for having more different flavors of ice cream (840) than any other ice cream shop. It was a colorful place with postcards as well as foreign bills and messages posted across several walls. Four scoops and flavors each, then more sightseeing around Merida. Later in the evening, we walked back to our favorite restaurant, the Abadia and had yet one more and our last big and tasty dinner in Venezuela.

Day 8, January 11th. We fly back to Norway.

A quick breakfast, then Joëlle drove us as well as her parents (From Switzerland) to the airport. Our flight back was quick and efficient, we had spent two nights (Frankfurt and Caracas) when flying here, while the return flight brought us back to Bergen with efficient connections arriving there the next day (Saturday, January 12) shortly after noon. Åke left us in Frankfurt, taking a direct flight back to Oslo.
Concluding notes and references.
This trip was highly successful and the entire team had a great experience that will remain a lasting good memory. It was organized on very short notice, but this effort was quite limited. Our airline tickets were perhaps a bit more expensive than what one may obtain with a longer planning period. The total cost of this trip from leaving Norway and until we returned came to about 2000 Euro per person. Except for the desire to avoid the stop in Caracas, there are essentially no major points that I would have organized differently if the trip should have been repeated.
We monitored the heart rate as well as blood oxygen saturation throughout the trip in order to catch early signs of altitude sickness (AMS). This was Åke's first multi-day trip above 3000 meter. Our rate of ascent was slightly faster than ideal when having participants with almost no previous experience with altitude. A full extra day and night at the 3000 meter level would have been nice, perhaps up in the area of La Culata. The details regarding heart rate and oxygen saturation have been plotted here. See the summary for a few useful contacts as well as links to specific information about the two peaks that we climbed.
BIG thanks are due to Åke and Helge for promptly saying YES and coming along on an adventure on fairly short notice and with extremely limited advance information. It was a very nice trip and I had not been able to do it without your good company. I do hope we can meet again on some similar project in the future.

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