December 7, 2007
El Cocuy National Park Trip Day 4
I got up at first light today and left the relative comfort of my tent for the freezing cold conditions outside. Last night's rain turned into a sheet of ice that covered the fly of my tent this morning, and I had to huddle close to my stove while I was cooking breakfast to try to warm myself up. Too bad I got rid of most of my warm clothing when I finished mountaineering in Bolivia. I started walking as soon as I could and shedded layers along the way.
The path I was following up the side of the mountain was full of hoof prints, but it didn't look like any people actually walked on it, especially not by themselves. As I continued walking, the clear skies and strong sun warmed me up quickly. I passed lots of horizontally-layered rocks that I was told were once covered with snow before the affects of global warming took over. Now there's just a thin strip left, which I was determined to reach.
After several hours of walking, I reached the snow line, but I couldn't see any path heading that way. The altitude started to get to me at that point as I felt drunk and found it hard to concentrate on anything. I had gone way higher in Bolivia but never had problems with the altitude because I had been acclimatized properly. I stopped and looked around for a few minutes and eventually spotted a few rocks stacked on top of each other on a high plateau. I figured that must be the path and headed that way, despite my soroche.
Getting to the top of the plateau required a bit of climbing, but I managed it with my long legs. From that point on, there was no more path per se, but every now and then I spotted a rock pile to guide my way. The problem was that sometimes the â€œpiles" were only two small rocks on top of each other, which could've easily been a coincidence. But if I seemed to be lost, I just kept heading up and eventually found my way again.
After several hours of walking uphill, I finally made it to the point where there was only snow. It was an incredible place surrounded by mountains, lagoons, and of course lots of snow. The silence was deafening as there were no other people or animals for miles. But I knew I had to head down once the soroche got bad enough that I couldn't walk without stumbling around everywhere and the clouds started rolling in and blocking my view of the way back down.
I had barely started my drunk-walking downhill when the fog got so bad I could only see about twenty feet in front of me. Suddenly those rock piles 100 feet away weren't helping to guide me at all. I stumbled my way along the rocky terrain awhile longer but saw no signs of the path. At one point I stopped and squinted at the clouds for several minutes, hoping for a clearing. Suddenly, I thought I saw a house way below me, so I couldn't have ventured too far from the path. When I got back to the point where there was some vegetation, I realized that I must have bypassed the plateau entirely and figured out where I had to walk to find the path. It took about eight hours round trip to get back to my tent.
The owner's wife made another appearance this afternoon, but she still wasn't saying much and had a horse to take her down to her house tonight. It looked like it would rain again, and I didn't want to have to cook outside in the wetness again, so I caved and stayed in the cabin. Even not having anyone to talk to, I kept my mind occupied by making a fire and was in better spirits by bedtime.