Into El Cucoy

We woke up before sunrise and shuffled out of the hostel early to avoid missing the shuttle. Things do not always run according to an exact schedule in Colombia, so we ended up waiting an hour or so before we were able to take off up to the trailhead.

Another commute in a cargo jeep, lightly packed with foodstuffs and other mysteries. A cardboard box containing a small dog was placed toward the front of the miscellaneous cargo as we embarked into El Cucoy.

We ventured an hour into the mountains before we arrived. Caleb, the other gringo we had just met, happened to be heading out at the same time and joined us for the first part of the hike into the mountain.

We walked down a gravel path for a while, passing by dozens of wild sheep, ominous farmland and scenes of a distant winter apocalypse. Within an hour we happened upon a cabin, our first rest stop, and posed together. “Four Gringos With Beards.”

We stopped for an intermission every hour or so, and in the distance, we could see several glaciers. Caleb saw his opportunity to branch off and headed on his way to scale the icy structures.

Goyo, Angelo and I continued the gradual climb up and around the ascending hills on the well-marked path. Dozens of lizards darted around our feet as we ascended further off the grid.

Bushmeat!

We couldn’t resist the opportunity. Goyo grabbed a nearby object and within minutes smashed one. He grabbed the carcass and secured it for later consumption. Supper.

The air was difficult to consume at that altitude and as a result, I had to move forward at a much slower pace, getting left behind a perpetual 50 yards or so from Goyo and Angelo.

We continued for another hour or two before taking our lunch break. I broke out my cooking pots and gasoline and we cooked up some noodles splashed with some chicken seasoning.

We were reaching the ends of what we thought might be our last chance to refill our waters. So we filled everything up in the stream and endeavored to carry on.

Angelo had an emergency and scuttled off to deal with some bowel evacuation. It was just a warning of problems to come.

We had put in a full day of hiking, were doing well on progress, and with dusk arriving shortly, we were starting to make our plans for a stop. Angelo’s condition got worse as we hiked on, so stopping for the day felt essential.

We set up camp in a clearing aside some alien-like landscape before a large pending climb. Angelos condition continued to get worse and he would need to continually scurry off to continually evacuate his bowels. He was maintaining the nickname he had earned before the hike — the “evacuator”

He would soon be reduced to a writhing blob within the tent. Things were looking bad and Goyo continued to nurse Angelo by giving him tokes of his spliffs to help calm his stomach.

As night began to fall, Goyo and I gathered the necessary provisions for a campfire.

Goyo gutted the lizard we had caught earlier and prepared it on a skewer to roast. We spread some of our bacon grease across the lizards back as a final touch.

I rummaged through my medical supplies and grabbed Angelo some pills to help him rest.

I heated some water and mixed up Colombian fruit powder, and sipped on my ration of whiskey. Goyo and I sucked the meat off the lizard and each had a tiny ration of the bushmeat.

The night was becoming increasingly brutal — the cold increasing to more and more uncomfortable levels with the harsh wind blowing through. So we decided to pack into the cramped two-person tent with the three of us in it, to try and keep warm for the night.

That first night was the most brutal. We were all uncomfortably cold. Angelo lay on one side of the tent so that he could lean out and vomit every hour or so. My cheap sleeping bag wasn’t designed for cold temperatures and I would estimate that it got well below freezing that night.

We had tried to keep it sealed up good to ward of the freezing temperature but as a result, we all had trouble breathing. Goyo, sandwiched in the middle, had to sit up to gather the limited oxygen within the tent at one point.

We awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to confront another day.

I heated some breakfast rations and assessed the situation. Angelo was still feeling ill, so we decided to stay put another day before endeavoring to mount the harrowing rocky heights over the pending summit peak.

Angelo continued to struggle throughout the day, disappearing to evacuate his bowels from every orifice.

Goyo set out immediately to catch one of the tiny fish we had seen trolling about in the stream further back on the trail. His make-shift rod didn’t produce the desired results and he came back to the camp and joined me on an expedition to the alien flora just off the path.

We slipped through the alien trees, noticing their resilience to break. They would Bend and pop back. We took turns punching, kicking and dodging through them, recording video while we did. Our very own Alien dojo just off the brink of the grid. Perfect.

Goyo and I managed to hack down a few of them to stack behind the tent to block any wind during the impending night.

A local passing through looked at our concoction in disbelief. Later we discovered that those alien shrubs only grew 1 cm a year and were sacred to folks in the region. They were a good 6 to 8 feet tall when we found them and harvested them for our selfish needs.

That night, I finished off the whiskey and ramen rations and crawled into bed. We changed up our sleep strategy — This time Angelo was in the middle and slept with his head at the foot of the tent. We championed the night with much greater success. Maybe we were becoming properly acclimated to the elements. Still too cold, but we were able to breathe, and Angelo’s illness appeared to be stabilizing.

The following morning Angelo was ready. There may have been traces of altitude sickness or whatever it was ailing him, but he had been restored enough to journey onward.

We had a view of the nearby summit from our camp. It felt relatively close. At this altitude, we have to move at a snail’s pace, so it took longer than expected. I couldn’t make it past 5 minutes without being totally out of breath. We took it very slowly.

Once at the foot of the summit peak, we surveyed the climb to come.

Upward we went for a solid 3 hours. It didn’t appear that difficult from below. But it was a good intense slog.

We made it to the top after a long, rugged climb, had an obligatory summit photo shoot and a refueling of calories before moving on down the opposite side.

It took another couple of hours to get down. Possibly just as difficult as the upward climb. I got lost in my head, hiking for hours. Having already lost a day, we were pushing to get as far as we could.

A full day hikers daydream later, we arrived exhausted to the foot of the glacier beside a lake.

Goyo and Angelo discussed climbing up and over the glacier to make our way back. At this point, I wasn’t entertaining the crazy strategies the others were putting out. The curse of El Cucoy was beginning to feel too real. I had burnt any desire to take on the impossible and was quick to squash these dreams. Ice climbing on the fourth day of the most difficult trek of my life didn’t appeal to me at the time.

We surmised we would turn back the way we came in the morning instead. At least we were familiar with the terrain to an extent. Disappointing then, and now, that we didn’t complete the loop as we had intended. But it was hard to know what lied ahead and whether our food rations would sustain us till the end. We had only brought limited food rations and had lost a day on account of Angelos illness. In retrospect, I’m pretty confident we would have made it.

We had a relatively good sleep that night. The nights were improving.

We headed back the next morning.

When we awoke it was cold and quiet. The lake at the foot of the glacier where we were perched was one of the more peaceful scenes I’ve experienced. Nothing living at this altitude- Just rock, water, and mysterious remnants of alien vegetation.

It began to rain early and didn’t let up until the next day. I feared it would destroy us. The added weight of water collecting on our clothes and packs, plus surviving the below freezing night wearing wet gear wore heavily in my thoughts.

Goyo and Angelo were able to move forward much more quickly and somehow managed the stamina to chat aggressively with each other.

Breathing was difficult enough for me. I was lucky if I could make grunts or groans.

On top of the rain, there was a dense fog making it difficult to see past 10 feet in front of me.

Goyo and Angelo faded beyond my field of vision, and the chatter faded soon after. I was truly lost for a bit. I probably walked an hour or more not knowing if I was on the right track. Hoping for the best with no signs of the others to encourage my progress.

It was a great relief when I finally came upon them again at the foot of the summit we had conquered the previous day.

We were all in agreeance that attempting the summit was probably best left for the following day. So we set up camp again.

We attempted a fire but the elements did not agree with our choice. So we did our best to dry off and brace for the night. We posted up in the tent for several hours while the rain continued to hammer down.

Again the night passed by without too much difficulty while we listened to Bob Dylan on Angelo’s iPod.

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Archiving years of adventures in written stories while procuring new ones. All pictures are mine. Some names have been altered to help keep them anonymous.

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Bloodtoe

Bloodtoe

Archiving years of adventures in written stories while procuring new ones. All pictures are mine. Some names have been altered to help keep them anonymous.

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