Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Trip Report,
December 1st. 2017 - December 22nd.. 2017.
How it all started.
I went and climbed Cristobal Colon in 2015.
This was a trip organized by Wyman Culbreth, an American living near Santa Marta.
He invited John Biggar to participate with people that he could sign up in Europe.
John, in turn, invited me to come along. Thus, in principle, I was part of
a team organized by John, but his group in turn, was, as it turned out, only
a part of the group organized by Wyman. There were numerous problems with this
setup, a very inhomogenous group with different goals and skills, ultimately the
most serious problem was that we ended up with less than a single
full day for any summit attempt. Against any reasonable odds, John and I still
successfully made an ascent of Cristobal Colon, however we could not attempt
Pico Bolivar. This was a serious shortcoming.
A full report on this trip may be read here.
I returned to Norway with quite a bit of knowledge. I normally always organize
my trips myself. The trip with John was an exception as it looked like a once
in a lifetime opportunity.
I decided that a second trip would be worthwhile if I could organize it and provided
that this would make the chain from myself to the Kogis much shorter. Still, in order to do this,
I needed a dependable contact person in Colombia. This person should ideally speak
Spanish fluently, be able to connect with the Kogi in a direct way, but also be
able to communicate with me in English.
I touched base with a couple of possible contacts in 2016, but quickly realized that time
was running out and that a first possible attempt would have to be in December 2017.
Then, on February 12th. 2017, the following email arrived:
"My name is Emilio Antonio Aljure and I am greatful to have found you!!! I
have been trying to climb this sierra for a long long time and I am happy
to hear that you and your party were able to get the permission from the
Kogis and moreover that you were able to reach the summit at Pico Colon in
For me it was a surprise to hear that you were able to hike it through the
west side of the sierra and through Kogi Territory. My knowledge of the
climb was that the only posible route to access the summit was through the
Arhuaco Territory starting the climb at Nabusimake through Mamancana, lake
Naboa, and then the summits.
My group and I planned for at least six months the expedition mentioned
above and on January 2014 we arrived at Nabusimake after a long drive and a
terrible road from Pueblo Bello. After spending three nights at Nabusimake
(Capital of the Arhuacos), the promised permits by the community leader
were denied and their pledged offer to provide us with mules for the trip
were not fulfilled. Eventhough we had paid in advance the deal was not
fulfilled. This deception was very sad for us because we saw in front of
us how the window to climb the mountain passed away. It was the perfect
lunar weather!!! Reading about your trip gives me a lot of hope to start
again this endevour of reaching the summit."
The message ended with him describing some mountaineering experience:
"I have climbed
some 5,000 mts plus peaks. I have done climbs in the State of Washington
(Mt. Rainier, Mt St Helens, Mt Baker), In Colombia (Nevado del Tolima,
Nevado del Ruiz, Sierra del Cocuy-Ritacuba Blanco y Ritacuba Negro), In
Switzerland, and in Lebanon."
Quite a promising read/lead, I was quite hopeful that this contact
could help me organize a trip, but my initial
reply was short containing the following key message:
"The key, as you know, is to find a constructive and good way
to motivate the local Kogi, including their Mamas."
Preparations, how to secure the support of all Kogi in Mamarango.
Thus, I had about 9 months to verify and secure that a second trip would have
the best possible chances of success. The easy part was to fix a sensible team.
My friend Stig Anton Hordvik, age 45 and a certified climbing instructor wanted
to come along. He would would be a very capable lead climber, certainly to climb
Pico Bolivar would not be any problem for him what regards technical difficulty.
Stig having most of his climbing experience from Norway, had limited experience with
elevations higher than 4000 meter. This would be an uncertain (risk) factor, however,
with careful and proper acclimatization I felt that this would most likely be ok.
My son Pål, age 28, was a second member. I have climbed with him since he was 8 years
old. He is strong, adapts extremely well to thin air and he is a good climber and companion.
The biggest unknown with respect to our team would certainly be Emilio. I tried via email
and skype to get an informed impression about him. He had certainly been to some rather
high mountains, Ritacuba being above 5400 meter. He had also attempted Cristobal Colon once
already, all indicating that he would be a capable team member. In addition, we agreed up
front that his primary goal would be Cristobal Colon, while our primary goal would be
Pico Bolivar. I also encouraged him to step up his exercising in the last half year before
our trip was planned to start.
Across the next 9 months, I exchanged more than 130 email messages with Emilio.
The main purpose was to ensure that we would be able to identify a reliable Kogi
contact in/from Mamarango and to obtain sufficient evidence that he would get
the support of the entire village of Mamarongo, including of course, the local
leaders there, - the Mamas.
I repeatedly, in fact Emilio must have been quite tired of this message, kept
saying that we needed to be absolutely certain that our Kogi contact understood
that the entire community of Mamarango needed to stand behind us. Thus, we should
make a substantial contribution to the Kogi community. We needed to communicate
this cleary to our contact. We would of course, also pay our main contact well,
but all experience with native people (eg. from PNG) told me that a successful
balance between the individual compensation and the community benefit would be
essential. (In Kwombwu the natives all worked to help us
succeed with our climb.)
The trip in 2015 also supported this priority. Initially, that trip was complicated
by a strange team with very incompatible skills and objectives, but the Kogis had been
very dependable and positive. However, as the trip entered its critical phase having
arrived at the base of the peaks, this changed. Wyman somehow had promised the Kogis more than
he could deliver. He ran into bitter arguments with the Kogis. The Kogis then withdrew
their support for a multi-day stay and in the end, it was just luck and persistence that
enabled John and me to succeed climbing Cristibal Colon.
Below are excerpts from some of the more relavant messages from Emilio. You may
skip ahead if this is not of interest. These messages document the process of
securing the necessary support from the Kogi community.
I will call my friend from Palmor, Armando Calvano, to tell him about this dates Dec 6 to Dec 21.
I have good news again!!! Yesterday I talked with my contact Armando.
He told me that the dates are fine and that he has already someone in mind
two take two mules (Aprox: 50 kg of bags each) for our party of three.
My contact, Armando Calvano, knows very well the area and the people
there. He used to live in Palmor and worked with the Kogis as a social
worker. He is a BioChemist and now he is working at Drummond in the
field of environmental awareness and action. He was highly reccomended
by a very good friend of my father. I am sure that through him we should
find the right person to take us up there.
Armando is still in Palmor and hopefully by next week we will
have some news.
I talked with Armando last week:
He told me that around next week to call him back. Hopefully by
then, he will have news for us on the Palmor route and the person with
He told me that in Mamarango with only one day and one night is more
than enough. The important issue here is that the Eldest be there to
give us the permission. To be able to coordinate this, we need to
give Armando the exact date we will be arriving to Mamarango.
Armando will coordinate all the road transportation from Santa Marta
to Palmor and after until the end of the road. He ask me about the
The good news is that Armando wants to come with us up to the lake (he
has been up there) and wait for us while we climb the peaks. I
consider this a door that opens for us. Is good that someone stays
in Camp VI waiting for us as a backup. This also guarantees us the
mules and the guide.
Good News!!! I found our Kogi guide. His name is Edinson Perez
Mosote. He remembers you!
My contact Armando was able to find the local Kogi guide that we were
looking for. As I told you his name is Edinson Perez Mosote and he
remembers you. He told me he was the one who gave you the permit to
climb last time.
In my phone conversation with him yesterday morning, he told me that he
has a well organized logistic to take foreigners up the mountain through
Palmor-Mamarongo route. He will be responsible for all the
transportation, including Santa Marta to Palmor, plus all the food. It
seems that he is like a type of tour operator all included (except tents
nor sleeping bags nor climbing equipment).
He will provide us with the mules for our team with the kogi guides and
the special food for the trek. He told me to send him the exact dates
and the number of persons in our team. I told him that the dates were
around from December 6th to December 18th and that we were going to be a
party of five (three from Norway - one from Lebanon - and one from
Colombia who will not climb the peaks). Please confirm me the dates and
He also told me about his plans of developing a sustainable way to
take hikers in very small groups and help create a small scale economy
that will favor their community without affecting the mountain nor their
Edinson called me back tonight. He told me that he met with the Mamos
and they remember you as well as John Bigger and Eric. He told me that
the trip is a go ahead and that these Mamos are welcoming us to their holy
He told me that Kogi Andreas, that went with you last time was coming with
us with two other Kogis who will handle the mules. He also gave me a
total budget for our party of 5. This total budget includes all the trip
from St. Marta up and back + 2 kogi mule handlers + mules + Andreas + food
The important issue here is that Edinson told me that we do not need to
stay at Mamarongo more than one night.
Thanks about establishing contact with the Kogis. For me it has been
great talking and getting to know Edinson. He is a young Kogi who
understands the meaning of being a local liason between his community and
foreign visitors who appreciate beautiful mountains. He has already some
experience as a type of tour operator for foreigners in the sierra. As
soon as I get his new quote without food I will send it to you. This
should cover: Mules plus handlers for a team of five, Transportation from
Santa Marta - Palmor - Santa Marta, the hotel at Palmor,
"salida santa marta-palmor
y desde ahi 4 dia al borde** de glacial
este es un costo de 300.000 por dia y subiremos los picos nevado con
un permiso especial con los indigena y los pueblos del resguardo un
This quote from Edison included food, we subsequently decided to take care of food
ourselves. Also, it was stated that the Kogi would only follow us to
the high lake, then return on an agreed date to pick us up from there.
We would assume full responsibility and take care of everything beyond
the lake. This is an ideal setup, as it will preclude some of the
trouble that we had on the previous trip.
In the next message, it became clear that our initial contact Armando
would not come along, due to work (and price?) considerations.
The person whom I know, was recomended by my fathers friend, and was the
person who gave me the contact name of our contact for our trip, mr
Armando called me yesterday. We spoke briefly. He told me that because
of his work at the Drummond company he will be unable to go on the
expedition with us.
Edinson was in Mamarongo the whole week and he is back to Palmor
yesterday. I was able to talk with him today and told him about the
change in the number of people to a party of 4. He told me there was no
issue with this and that he was going to organize it for a party of four.
Yesterday I talked with Edinson. He told me that the Mamos are welcoming
us and we have all the permits! I told him that next week I will deposit
in his bank account the 20% of the total amount of our party of four.
This 20% will be a deposit of 3,600,000 pesos.
An expedition update:
The following is a list, provided by Edinson today, of the people that
will be involved with the logistics:
* Fray Torre - Caracol : Transport guy from St Marta to Palmor to St. Marta: +57 3218925619
* Alberto Gil - Principal Guide and in charge of ALL the logistics: +57 3146821924
* Edwin Quintero - Owner of the Palmor Hotel: +57 3114242839
I must admit that things did seem to be in pretty good shape.
We had an official permit, I was never sure that
a valid permit existed back in 2015. The permit clearly stated that we would go all the way to the snowy peaks, it stated
the agreed upon duration of our expedition and Edison and Alberto both
had a copy of our planned schedule to which
they were in full agreement.
Day 1, December 1st. - We travel to Bogota.
Finally, after a very long period of planning, we are on the way. Our flight departs early from
Bergen. We meet at my house the night before. Final logistics. We will check 4 bags, just below
100 kilo. This includes expedition food for 4 climbing days, a satelite phone, first aid equipment,
2 60 meter climbing (half)ropes. Climbing gear for both rock and ice, 8 climbing ice axes etc.
We bring 2 axes as well as crampons and mittens/gaiters and a head torch for Emilio. For cooking, we
bring both propane/buthane as well as gasoline based stoves.
team will consist of 4:
Stig Anton Hordvik, age 46, Norway
Pål Jørgen Bjørstad, age 28, Norway
Petter Bjørstad, age 67, Norway
Emilio Aljure, age 48, Lebanon.
Stig is a certified climbing instructor. He would be our lead climber on any technical terrain.
Pål is my son. He has
extensive mountaineering experience also above 5000 meter. He normally leads any climb that the two of us do together nowadays.
About Emilio, we have more limited information. We will meet him in the
Santa Marta airport on Monday, December 4th.
We arrive in Bogota around 1900, according to schedule. We get a larger than normal taxi that
drives us to our Bogota hotel. The hotel, Casa Modelia, was conveniently located quite near the airport, this hotel
can absolutely be recommended if inexpensive accomodation near the airport is needed.
Day 2, December 2nd. - Acclimatization in Bogota.
An easy morning, resting after the long flight. In the afternoon, we took a local bus
to the center of Bogota. After walking around a bit, we headed up the hill and walked to the
top of Cerro de Monserrate.
About 600 meter of vertical and getting up to
3200 meter seemed very good as a beginning acclimatization.
In the evening, I went back to the airport and checked out a reserved 4WD from AVIS.
This was not as smooth as one would expect. I had explictly booked a high clearance
4WD, and the rental agent offered me a low clearance 2WD claiming that this car
"was similar". I told him that we were headed to Chingaza National Park, he looked it
up on the WEB and claimed that a 4WD was only recommended, perhaps not required?
After more discussion, he finally offered us a truck, but maintained that we needed
to pay for the so called upgrade. Absolutely unacceptable, he even called his manager
to ask about this. In the end, when it became clear that the "upgrade" only cost
about 5 US dollars, we paid and left. AVIS should avoid such horribly bad service,
rental car customers should look elsewhere.
Day 3, December 3rd. - Acclimatization in Parque National Chingaza.
The hotel helped us with a secure parking for the night and we left already at 0500 the next
morning. Characteristic for the superb service, the hotel staff was up before this and prepared
breakfast that we could take along in the car.
The distance to Chingaza National Park seemed short, but indeed it took us almost 3 hours
to drive there. The main purpose of the day would be to continue our acclimatization, walking
all day at elevations from 3200 meter to 4000 meter. This was indeed very successful, you may
read about this day here.
Day 4, December 4th. - We travel to Santa Marta.
We travelled to the airport with extra time in case of unforseen problems. That was a
wise decision since the taxi drove us back to the international terminal while we should have
travelled to the domestic terminal. I should have remembered/checked this, but totally forgot
about it. The mistake was discovered and we travelled
back to the correct terminal in a small taxi
that someehow still took us and our 4 large bags.
This is a short flight, the added bonus is a good view of Sierra Nevado de Santa Marta on
th right hand side of the aircraft. The mountains are often covered by clouds, but at this
time of year in the morning, chances to see the peaks are quite good. Thus, I had a good
look at the three main peaks
a few minutes before landing. Simmons is the high, isolated peak
to the left, then follows Cristobal Colon and Pico Bolivar.
Arriving in Santa Marta, we hung around about 1.5 hours waiting for Emilio. He arrived
on time and we took a taxi to the beach apartment
that he had been able to borrow for
the next two nights. This place was actually very close to the airport, but in the opposite
direction of Santa Marta. Great place, the small
complex had a private swimming pool and
a direct access to the beach
and the Caribbean sea.
We went the same evening to the big shopping center with a large Exito grocery store
as well as a Home Depot store and several smaller stores. The first point on the agenda
was gas canisters for our propane/buthane burners as well as purified gasoline (white gas in the US)
for the other stove. No such luck. The canisters existed, but with a different valve connection.
We bought two new burners to solve this problem. Then in a sporting goods store, we finally found
small containers with lighter fluid. This was gasoline, but in a somewhat small and expensive format.
We got a large number of containers adding up to about 2 litre.
We also purchased spare batteries for our torch headlamps, these were subsequently left behind
in the taxi, so a new supply was needed the next day when buying food supplies.
Day 5, December 5th. - Shopping.
The priority task today was to go shopping for all expedition food that we would
need when on the hike (both up and down) with mules helping carry our loads.
We had already planned and brought with us the food needed for the stay in
Base Camp, that is our camp at the very base of the peaks.
Thus, we went to quite a reasonable super-market that could supply us with
the bulk of what we needed. A small supplement at the end back at the big Exito store
and we were well supplied.
The rest of the day could be used by the poolside
and also checking out the
Caribbean sea - around
30 Centigrades, definitely warm enough. Too bad that this
excellent place would be unavailable when we returned. Obviously, a very popular place
to rent as Christmas is approaching.
Then, to our astonishment, two persons, unknown to us, spoke Norwegian at the
poolside. This turned out to be Dag Krogsvold and his wife Marcela.
She was born in Colombia, they decided to buy a two floor apartment
(the 4th. and 5th. floor) in this complex about 10 years ago.
What a coincidence! They were very friendly and immediately offered us to
leave a bag behind for storage in their apartment.
After a nice dinner, we slept early,
knowing that everything was now ready.
Tomorrow would be another nice morning by the pool. We had been promised
a pickup by our driver for the trip to Palmor in the afternoon.
Day 6, December 6th. - To Palmor.
We enjoyed a lazy morning, a swim in the ocean and some sun by the pool.
After lunch, our driver showed up a few minutes before the promised time.
A good car that definitely would be able to deal with the rough road serving
The drive went smoothly, I remembered many details
and the road was pretty much
as two years ago. Impressive landscape
as we gain elevation.
One must wonder why they dont improve it a bit.
on a large volume of coffee export, one would think that a better road would be
a pretty good investment. We arrived in Palmor after roughly 2.5 hours.
The hotel, located a bit further down the hill than where we stayed last time, expected
us and 4 rooms had been nicely prepared for us.
The next point on the agenda was a visit to a Kogi family living just
across the bridge (on the road that we were going to travel the next day).
It turned out that the Mamo with only one leg that played a prominent role
up in Mamarango at my last visit, had since moved to Palmor.
Later, we went out for dinner. Here, we met Alberto and Mario, but not Edison.
Mario was the brother of Edison and Alberto was the person named on our
permit. He should act as our main Kogi guide, following us on the trek up to
the last lake at 4850 meter as well as on the retun hike. We were informed that
also Mario would come along on the entire trek. Mario and Alberto each
asked to be paid one million pesos for their services.
The next morning, a truck would take us and the cargo to the end of the road.
From there, mules would take over. Last time, the mules started from Palmor, but
it certainly made sense to use the truck as far as possible.
Day 7, December 7th. - Trek to Mamarongo.
We had a good night sleep and then a good breakfast down the street at
the same restaurant. The truck came at the promised time to drive us up
to the end of the road. The road was exactly as bad as I remembered it,
possibly even a bit worse. Erosion and water had washed it out in several
sharp curves to the extent that one might worry about a wheel dropping
into a big void below.
At one point we came to a spot where an abandoned vehicle blocked
the road. It would indeed have been very risky to try passing
on the outside. We were able to push the car further off the road, then pass.
Further onwards, there were muddy sections and we almost got
stuck. Good pushing by På:l, we all had to get off, and the last
serious problem section was behind us.
Finally, the trek could begin. Alberto was supposed to take care of the
mules, while Mario would walk with Emilio. Pål, Stig and I could
start out for Mamarango.
We walked along and waited for Emilio at the top of the first ridge, the spot
where the route starts going downhill to the river. Mario and Emilio came after
about 15 minutes, we realized that Emilio could not quite keep up with our
normal walking speed.
Arriving in Mamarango after about 4 hours, the village seemed more quiet than
two years ago. We waited quite a long time. Mario and Emilio finally arrived,
Emilio saying that he was utterly exhausted. appearently, he had not walked
for 6 hours in a very long time.
We were a bit concerned that the mules had not yet arrived. Mules walk at a
pretty good pace. The fact that they had not arrived already could only mean
that they started out much later than what had been planned.
Alberto arrived with the mules shortly after dark. He needed 400.000 in order
to pay for the mules. Somewhat surprising, he informed us that these mules
could not go to high elevation, thus a new set of mules would be used for
the remainder of the trek.
We slept in the same hut as last time, the big hut normally used for the
women to assemble.
Day 8, December 8th. - We trek to Uramaka.
The next morning, we met with Alberto to plan the day. He advised that
he would now need 2.4 million in order to make an agreed contribution to the
Mamarango village as well as paying new mules that would then be with us for the
rest of the trek. It was further agreed that Pål and Stig could walk first,
while I would walk with Emilio.
Pål and Stig got my GPS with a waypoint in Uramaka and a brief description
of the route, before starting out. A bit later, I walked with Emilio. It soon became
appearant to me that Emilio was indeed much slower than I had ever imagined. In particular,
in uphills his walking speed was extremely slow. Ok, with patience, most everything can be
done. We arrived in Uramaka after almost 7 hours on the trail. Pål and Stig had then been
waiting for us more than 3 hours, fighting pretty aggressive mosquitos. It started to rain and
we took shelter under the roof of the hut. Again, we were unhappy about the late arrival
of the mules. Last time, the mules had been arriving more or less together with the group,
we were almost always able to pitch the tents before the afternoon rain. Eventually, just as it was
getting dark, Mario arrived together with a Kogi family and three mules. Mario said that
Alberto had decided to catch up with us the next day.
Day 9, December 9th. - We move to 3650 meter.
We were concerned about Alberto, but at the same time happy to now have Mario,
the Kogis responsible for the mules and the mules - all in one location.
After breakfast, it was again agreed that Pål and Stig could start out first, that
I would again walk with Emilio and that Mario and the mules would start early, they would
surely catch up with Emilio and me, then arrive at 3650 in order to get the tents up well
ahead of the afternoon rain.
Pål and Stig arrived in about 3.5 hours. Emilio was possibly even slower than yesterday,
today was essentially a single, long uphill. We arrived after more than 6 hours and again,
he was very tired indeed. I had already concluded that it would take a miracle for him
to get any further than base camp. The summit day is long and it would require ascending to
the glacier before sunrise. This seemed extremely unrealistic. I still felt that Emilio
would come to this conclusion himself, thus no need to tell him this now.
The big concern was that no mules had caught up with us. It was really hard to
comprehend why they would start so incredibly late, running a big risk to have
rain before arrival. The only somewhat plausible explanation would be that they
kept waiting for Alberto.
The two Kogi huts, last year there had been one hut and one shelter, ie. a hut without
proper walls, were both locked with padlocks. Last year all huts were left open.
It started to drizzle. In the end, Pål and I walked back down to the point where
we could look down at the Kogi huts located near the river where the trees and general
vegetation ended. There, we spotted the mules, they had rested and were just about to
start uphill on the final, short stretch.
The weather now turned quite bad. The rain picked up and the temperature dropped to only
a few degrees above freezing. We felt sorry for the Kogi, in particular the young woman,
she came uphill, barefoot pulling on the first mule, with only a thin layer of the
traditional white clothing. She was shivering and obviously very cold. The Kogi tried to
make a small, open fire next to the hut wall in order to stop being so cold. This looked
like a pretty doomed project, the small flames almost died out and did not help against the
cold and rain.
We had been promised that we could use these huts, in fact Alberto was supposed to
carry the keys. We had our tents and sleeping bags, but the Kogis obviously needed some
form for shelter. After a brief discussion, we decided to break the smaller padlock
(easy with an ice axe), in order for the Kogi to seek shelter indoors. They were happy
and immediately got a more useful fire going inside the hut.
The evening was clear and the sky was filled to capacity by sparkling stars. We slept
with the tent wide open and I really had a good time watching the sky, both before sleeping
and after I woke up quite early in the morning. However, Pål had been cold. We all
realized that his sleeping bag was getting old and that it was too cold as soon as temperatures
dropped to near zero Centigrade.
Day 10, December 10th. - Acclimatization hike.
Today was acclimatization day. We did sincerely hope that Alberto would catch up.
It was totally unclear what had happened to him. Emilio wanted to rest, eventually he
made a short walk up to the airplane wreck. The three Norwegians headed across the river
and straight up the hillside. We ascended to about 4200 meter. There was no peak to climb,
the terrain just continued to go higher. We stopped at a location that gave us a good
view of the route up to the 4400 meter camp. Returning via the airplane wreck, we all felt that
this hike had been very worthwhile.
Today was the first day without any rain in the afternoon. It seemed like the weather
would cooperate. The snow that fell on the peaks and the glacier yesterday (and the days
before) would now consolidate and hopefully provide really good conditions by the
time we would be up there.
No Alberto, it seemed that we would need to continue with Mario as the Kogi trip leader.
Day 11, December 11th. - We move up to the 4400 meter camp.
The day started with a small crisis. Mario said that the Kogis owning the mules would
not go any higher before Alberto showed up. He was the man with his name on the permit and
thus they could not proceed without him. This was bad news since everybody knew that
Alberto was not here and by now, we seriously doubted that he would appear anytime soon.
Eventually, it seemed that what the Kogi really wanted was a guaranteed deal for being
well paid. After some negotiations, it was therefore agreed that Mario would be the
responsible Kogi, that the mule owner would be paid 3 million pesos. This payment
should cover our transport up to the 4850 meter camp, then their return to help carry
our gear back down and all the way back to the road above Palmor. There was some
discussion about which date they should come up for our return, this was never completely
clear, but my view was that we could live with returning one day earlier that the agreed
schedule. In any case, we could settle this issue when arriving at 4850.
Thus, finally, we had a day that seemed normal and carried out the way I had expected
all the time. Pål and Stig left first, followed by Emilio and me. However, this time
the mules caught up with us pretty early and arrived at the 4400 meter camp together with
Pål and Stig. I arrived a bit later having followed Emilio until the very last
uphill. When Emilio arrived the camp was well established and we had quite a good
afternoon. The rain did not show today either. From this camp, finally, one can see
snow and Simmons.
The Kogis did not really have any equipment for an overnight up here. The scheme, unlike
two years ago, would be that they should return to the 3650 camp and stay in the shelter
of the hut there. They left the mule equipment behind, the mules would enjoy a free walk
back down, then similarly on their return. Thus, tomorrow the mules would come back up
by 0800-0900 in the morning, carry our loads to the 4850 camp then return to the
3650 campand remain there until the agreed day to make a trip back up to fetch us.
Day 12, December 12th. - Complete breakdown.
A very nice and crisp morning. We all slept well and had a good breakfast.
We were all a bit excited about this being the last day with the mules. We discussed
briefly that it might be a smart move to continue directly today, after a break by the
high lake, down the narrow valley, then camp at the flat grass area at the lowest point
on the route to base camp. In this way, we would avoid sleeping very high tonight, but also
get a super-easy day tomorrow, which would allow us to try for the summit of Bolivar
the day after tomorrow.
The mules were later than promised. Mario said they would be back up by 0800, we had added
one hour to this estimate, but by 0900 there were no mules in sight. Still, a full two hours
later, no Kogi or mules. This was indeed cause for concern. Our plan would not work, the next
camp would be at the 4850 lake with such a late start.
Finally, Mario arrived together with some Kogi whom we had not seen before. He explained that
these Kogi had arrived at the 3650 camp. They were mad because Alberto had not paid for using
their hut, made some fuss about the broken lock, but worse, they had prevented the Kogi with the
mules to fullfill his agreement with us and come back up with the mules. They claimed that we
could not proceed, because our permit explicitly stated that we should travel together
with Alberto and he was nowhere to be seen.
They wanted to help us carry our bags back down the hill to the valley below. Later in the
day, the mules would come up to that point and take our supplies back down to the 3650 camp.
This was really bad news. We repeatedly asked Mario to try negotiate conditions under
which we could carry on, but this did not seem possible. To make things even worse,
Emilio, the only person in our party that could communicate in Spanish, lost whatever
little motivation he had left. Emilio had clearly concluded that his slow speed would
make an ascent for him impossible anyway. One can of course, easily understand that his
motivation for the project had decreased somewhat after this realization.
This situation, that different fractions of the Mamarango Kogi tribe would disagree
on our presence, was exactly what I knew all along that we should prevent. It was
Edison and Alberto that were responsible for doing what was needed to secure the
support from the entire local community.
I am totally confident that they could have achieved this if they had tried.
We were prepared to contribute with quite a sizeable payment to the benefit of
the community. However, it is easy to see that Edison and Alberto had failed
in this respect. In fact, they had not tried much at all. They looked at short
term personal gain, with no understanding that to invest in community goodwill
and to ensure that all the local Kogis would sense that this visit was an event that
would carry some benefit to the entire community, would have built a foundation
for a longer term, small scale eco-tourism. This could have given everybody, in
particular Edison and Alberto, a long term steady income and opportunity.
Instead, they now have created a situation where no group of mountaineers from
Europe or elsewhere should even consider Palmor and Mamarango as a point of entry.
This is just very unfortunate.
We carried everything back down the first big slope, the mules would eventually appear
and we all hiked back to the 3650 camp. Needless to say, very disappointed.
Day 13, December 13th. - Trek to Mamarongo.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, Alberto had shown up in camp last night. He had some brief
meeting with Mario, then tried to avoid us as much as possible. His short statement
was just that our trip did not have sufficient community support. True, but totally
ignoring the fact that he was the person (aside from Edison) that should have
done what was needed to achieve this. As it turned out, he had only paid 1.2 million
to the community of Mamarango. He should have stayed with us the entire time, it was now
5 days since we had seen him. If more work and effort was needed in Mamarango (due to
inadequate work by Edison) we should have stayed there and sorted out any issue before
hiking up the valley. This way, we wasted more than a week on a totally useless hike that
got us nowhere.
Pål, Stig and I walked back down
to Mamarango in about 5 hours. Emilio knew that
this would be a long day for him, and indeed it was. He walked with Mario and the trek
took about 10 hours. He started out well ahead of us, we caught up on the trail still
high above Uramaka.
Day 14, December 14th. - Back to Palmor.
The next day, our mule Kogi wanted a million if his mules should carry our bags
back to the road. This just another evidence of how evrything had broken down.
A sensible price would have been 400.000, however we had promised him 3 million for
taking us to the high lake. Now this was all cancelled, obviously Alberto did not
want to pay anything and the guy should be paid for the work in the past days as well.
We settled this and walked back out to the road. Again, Emilio arrived about 3 hours
behind, but it seemed to me that his body was starting to get used to long
days of walking.
However, we still had to cope with one problem. Mario told us that the car that had
driven us from Santa Marta to Palmor would come all the way here, pick us up, then drive
us directly to Santa Marta. I was not convinced that it would be possible for that
car to get up this really bad road, but Mario seemed convinced. The car failed to
show, but a few motor bikes appeared. Mario then told that they reported that the
car was on its way, but driving very slowly. Finally, he rported that the car had
given up and turned back to Palmor. All this turned out to be a big lie, that car
never even tried to drive up here.
Next, the idea was to ride to Palmor on motor bikes. This would require 5 bikes
plus 2-3 more for the luggage. Emilio and I started out on the two that were
available. Pretty soon, one of these bikes broke down and we decided that I
should proceed to Palmor and make certain that a number of bikes would go
up and get the rest. It was now getting dark and obviously, we would not get
to Santa Marta today.
Fortunately, I met the truck that had taken us up to the end of the road.
It was now, finally, on its way to get us. After a brief éxchange of information
they continued uphill while I had a good ride back down to Palmor. I went to
the hotel and located the manager. I immediately got busy preparing 4 room as
requested. About 1.5 hours later, everybody was back in Palmor and a dinner
was much in demand before a good nights sleep.
Day 15, December 15th. - Great hospitality in Santa Marta.
We got up, had breakfast in the same location as the dinner last night, then
got the same truck as we had used to drive us to Palmor. In about 2.5 hours we were
back at the apartment complex near the airport. Dag and Marcela gave us a warm
welcome back and immediately offered us to stay in their apartment until the
next morning. We all went out to a beer and hamburger place for diner.
After a quick look at the map and with the information that we would be unable to
climb Nevado del Ruiz (closed by the government due to danger of eruption), we decided to
fly to Pasto, a city far south in Colombia, not far from the border to Ecuador.
Day 16, December 16th. - We fly to Pasto.
Morning flight. We said goodbye to everyone, in particular our hosts
Dag and Marcela, then travelled in two taxis to the airport.
The flight was a bit late, but it got us to Bogota without any big issues.
Flying from Bogota to Pasto turned out to be a bir more exciting.
The Pasto airport is located on top of a hill/mountain with near vertical cliffs
going down at both ends of the runway. This, most likely, causes more than
normal turbulence near the beginning/end of the runway.
We were only a few meter short of touching down when one wing tilted more than it probabely
should down on the right side. The pilot responded with full throttle´, aborted the landing
and shot back into the sky. I thought we would try to land again, but the pilot kept flying
and I started to worry that we would land elsewhere. However, after calming his nerves and flying
for a full 30 minutes, we tried a second time - this time with success.
Almost all passengers applauded the performance of our pilot.
Most taxis in Colombia are small and yellow. After a bit of searching I located
a slightly larger cab and after about 40 minutes of driving we arrived at our
hotel, Torre del Bosque.
Day 17, December 17th. - Travel to Cumbal.
The driver picked us up after breakfast and we were on the road around 0800.
He seemed quite competent, good speed without any reckless driving. The trip
took about 2.5 hours. We agreed on a pickup time around 1500 on the next day.
Day 18, December 18th. - We climb Volcán Cumbal.
This trip and climb is described in a separate report.
Day 19, December 19th. - We climb Volcán Galeras.
Quite a successful day despite many obstacles. Please read about
this climb in a separate report.
Day 20, December 20th. - We explore a climbing area.
We spent yesterday afternoon looking at the WEB to see if we could find some
areas near Pasto suitable for climbing. This search directed our attention to an area
only about 5 kilometer from our hotel. The small place on Hwy. 25 going north in the direction of
Genoy, is called Villa Maria.
We took a taxi there, then headed downhill from the main road along a pretty big path.
Keeping left this path served some local dwellings, and we were advised by a local to
cross a fence and then an open field. This got us to the top of the cliffs.
If one follows the top edge going right, one will locate
a trail that descends, then runs along the base of these
We never succeeded in this. I conroured around left, crossed a creek and a meadow and
got both feet soaked in water. Pål and Stig eventually took the climbing
rope and absailed down the cliff wall. We faced a couple of issues. First, almost
all the routes we looked at were pretty hard, rated in the upper range of
difficulty. Second, we did not have anything but pretty muddy trail shoes. These
were quite unsuitable for this kind of rock. Third, the bolts in the rock certainly
appeared to have variable quality. Some looked old and very rusty while others
were new and looked very good.
Thus, after ooking around quite a bit, we decided that we were not really equipped
to do much climbing here. There was virtually zero friction between our shoes
and this kind of rock and the climbing did require the direct use of friction.
We walked back up to the highway and within 3-4 minutes a red bus came along.
We flagged it down and it swiftly (and very cheaply) took us back to
Day 21, December 21th. - We climb Cerro Morasurco.
Our final day and still time for some local exploration.
Read about this local trip in this report.
Day 22, December 22. - We fly back to Norway.
The flight back was pretty much on schedule with no unexpected issues. We knew
that it would be important to get an airplane down to this rather special airport,
in order for us to fly out and make our connection in Bogota. When I booked the
flight to/from Pasto, I had no idea about the airport being a bit tricky to land on.
However, everything went fine and we landed in Bergen around 2230 on December 23rd.
This was about as late as we could arrive, given the plan to celebrate Christmas
at our mountain home near Lillehammer (6 hours of driving) the next day.
After the Trip, Wrapping Up.
We drove to Lillehammer the next morning and by 1700 on December 24th. our traditional
Christmas celebration could start. Heidi had been busy making all important preparations
and the next 8 days were spent according to the same, relaxed schedule: Breakfast around 1000
with tons of excellent food. A short ski trip to Prestkjerringa around noon. Followed by
some indoor activites, then dinner - always excellent. Finally, some more card games,
3-person bridge etc.
We had a major snowfall on December 26th. With some effort the next day established a pretty
deep track to be used for the rest of our stay.
New years eve came and we stayed up until midnight in order to extend good wishes for the
new 2018. This concluded 2017 and as always, the stay up at the cabin reminded us all that
life can be great and valuable without extensive travels and ambitious expeditions.
The next morning we cleared out of the hut and drove back to Bergen. The year 2018 had started.
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