Summiting Nevada Del Tolima Day 2: Feast or Famine

This is part two in a series about summitting Nevado Del Tolima. Part 1 is here.

Day two begins at 4:30 AM with the crowing of the farm rooster. After this unceremonious wake up call, I lie in bed for another 30 minutes in total darkness. It’s the kind of darkness that engulfs you. Even if you keep your eyes open they don’t adjust. You can’t see your hand four inches in front of your face. It’s kind of nice. It’s also kind of eerie.

Normally, if a rooster woke me up at 4:30 I’d want to strangle it but having gone to bed at 8:30 PM the night before, I wake up feeling refreshed. When I finally decide to get up my headache is completely gone. When I can see again, I check to see that my feet are still attached to my body. They are!!! Excellent! I’m surprisingly not even very sore. The sleep must have helped a ton. Honestly, I kinda feel like a new person.

Then I put on my boots.

Ughhhhhh!!!!!! My socks immediately saturate with cold water. They were caked with mud, freezing cold, soaking wet and probably a pound heavier than they had been 24 hours before.

The day before had been brutal. It took all of my mental energy to get psyched up for today’s trek. When I put on those wet boots, all the enthusiasm I could muster up, drained right out of me.

But then I saw the most Macguyver move ever; and it would save the trip for me. Two Italian guys whom I had met the night before were wearing plastic bags under their shoes to keep their socks dry.

We had two plastic bags! Maybe it could work for me. For about half an hour I pressed my wet socks against the stovepipe in the kitchen hoping that they would dry. Eventually they did.

It was the moment of truth. I put the socks back on and tied the plastic bags around them. Then I put on the right boot. It was dry! I did the same with the left. Both were dry. Praise the boot lord!! Hallelujah!!!

Praise the bag Lord! These things saved the trip for me.

Woman Down

At breakfast Brittany tells me she doesn’t think she is going to continue on. After yesterday’s hike from hell, Brittany’s trust in Rodrigo is all but extinguished. How could she trust him to lead her up an active volcano filled with dangerous crevasses when he couldn’t even give us an accurate ETA or tell us what clothing we needed to bring on our first day hike. I’m bummed that she won’t be with me at the top, but I don’t blame her. Our first day was truly a nightmare.

Brittany makes the wise decision to stay at the finca

And We’re Off

Finca Primavera where we stayed.

Even though I woke up at 4:30 somehow we don’t actually leave until 11 AM. When we get out the door, it’s super foggy outside and you can only see about 20–30 feet in front of you.

A third person is joining our trek this morning. He’s a big dude, about 6 feet, 210 pounds. I don’t know who he is. He speaks Spanish. I think he’s another guide or maybe he’s helping carry gear. I don’t really know. And now doesn’t really seem like the time to ask questions.

When we left in the morning, visibility was nearly non-existent

As we begin walking, the fog begins to clear and I realize we’re trekking through in a beautiful valley. A beautiful valley lined with poop. Everywhere you look there is cow poop. Here a poop. There a poop. Everywhere a poop poop.

The crazy thing is there really weren’t that many cows. They are just prolific poopers. During the four and a half hour trek I counted a total of twenty-six cows in the valley. I didn’t count the number of poops, but I think a conservative ballpark guess would be around eight million.

Aside from the cow shit minefield, for the most part, day two is supposed to be an easy day. The plan is to hike for five hours and then set up base camp for the next day’s summit.


The most exciting part of the day for me is when I ask Rodrigo what we are eating for lunch.

“Nachos” he says. “Do you like nachos?”

“Nachos?!!!” I exclaim. “I love nachos.”

I’m so excited. In my head I start singing Nacho, Nacho, Nacho to the tune of Conga, Conga, Conga.

I have no idea how he’s gonna pull off nachos out in the bush but I guess that’s why we’re paying him the big bucks.

About an hour later we stop for lunch.

Rodrigo pulls out a bag of tortilla chips. I’m still curious how this is going to work and I honestly half-expected him to pull out some type of mini oven next to melt the cheese.

But instead of a mini-oven, he pulled out nothing.

Rodrigo’s version of nachos was bag of tortilla chips and a banana. Something had obviously been lost in translation.

I scarfed the banana and the chips and truthfully I was fine. But man, I had really been excited for some bush nachos.

The rest of the day’s hike was a piece of cake compared to the day before. We climbed just over 1300 feet in elevation (compared to over 4000 feet the day before) and most of today’s hike was relatively flat.

This is the landscape of the Paramo. Millions of these plants dot the landscape.

Even so, basecamp was at nearly 13,500 feet and by the time we arrived at 3:30 I had a splitting headache from the altitude. After we set up our tents, Rodrigo advised me to go lie down and close my eyes. This did the trick.

we set up base camp. If you look directly behind the tent, you can see the base of the glacier we would climb tomorrow

Feast or Famine

A half hour later, Rodrigo brought me room service: a hot mug of tomato soup with black pepper and parmesan cheese. The warmth of it immediately made my whole body feel better.

Having fallen pray to the fake ‘nachos’ for lunch I assumed that soup was our entire dinner, so when Rodrigo offered me another half cup I gladly took it.

I was wrong. The tomato soup had merely been the amuse-bouche. About an hour later Rodrigo came by my tent again, this time with a ham and cheese sandwich on an eight inch French roll grilled to perfection on the campfire stove.

Yum! What a great meal! I was stuffed.

About a half hour later I hear Rodrigo call me again.

“Etan, it’s dinner time.”

Wait? What? There’s more?? Didn’t we just have dinner??

For our final course, we had spaghetti with marinara and fresh veggies. I was so full at this point, I could only eat half.

We were finally done. I was flummoxed. For lunch we got tortilla chips. For dinner we had a three course tasting menu. But I wasn’t going to question it. I assumed Rodrigo knows what he’s doing and was stuffing us with food so we’d have energy for tomorrow’s summit.

Sleepless in Salento

After dinner, the sun had set and it was time for bed. We would start our accent to the summit tomorrow at 3 AM and we needed to get plenty of rest. Rodrigo said it would take us five hours to get up the mountain and at least another five to come down and walk back to the finca where we had started this morning.

The problem with going to bed at 7:30 PM is that, well, it’s a crazy hour to go to sleep. My circadian rhythm wasn’t prepared for it and I couldn’t sleep. I listened to Call of the Wild on Audible. I counted sheep. Nothing worked. I laid awake most of the night. I looked at my phone. It said 12:11 AM. We were scheduled to start our day in a few hours and I hadn’t slept a wink. The next day was going to be interesting