For the 2012 MCSA Supertramp Award, six applications were received of which one didn’t meet the age requirement. The award was made to Alasdair Walton, a member of the Johannesburg Section, for an expedition to Colombia. In late October 2012 his partner was changed to Bryian Meenehan. During the expedition, not all went according to plan as Alasdair fell ill and returned; Bryian continued on his own.

The east of the Andes runs into Colombia where one can find over 22 peaks (600- 5330m) in a mere 30 km range. The national park of El Cocuy is home to all of these peaks, including the highest peak in the east of the Andes, Ritacuba Blanco. Connected to this peak is the peak of Ritacuba Negra, this peak is accessed via the back of the mountain, or the North-east wall. The wall is 600m long at 5290m above sea level. At grade 17 A1 the wall is accessible and is climbable in two days given the natural bivy ledge half-way up. Alasdair’s plan is to, if possible, free climb the North-east wall of Ritacuba Negra (at grade 5.10b) as well as traverse the snow ridge to the summit of Ritacuba Blanco, and then explore as many of the other peaks available in the area.

Below follows brief accounts by Alasdair and Bryian.

Alasdair Walton:

On December 27th 2012 I departed for Bogota, Colombia. Arriving 30 hours later I caught a taxi to Cranky Croc, the youth hostel we had booked into. The hostel is in the central district of Colombia and a great place to stay. Bryian was only arriving on the 31st and so I spent a couple of days sight-seeing. By the 29th of December I had developed a throat and chest infection. I then spent the next two days resting in the hostel. Unfortunately by the time Bryian arrived, I had still not improved and so we spent News Year’s Eve indoors. After the buzz of celebrations had died, Bryian and I began planning the first leg of the trip. I was still ill, and was taking antibiotics to try to improve my health. Both Bryian and myself agreed that the sooner we left for El Cocuy the better. Bogota was stifling us and despite my poor health, moving on was necessary. After a couple of delays regarding bus tickets and forgotten Kindles, we were on the road for Cocuy. Arriving early the next morning we ate some breakfast and began enquiring around the town for supplies and accommodation, with little luck. Eventually we had packed all our gear (which was far too much, a hard lesson learnt) and arranged transport to the campsite. Unfortunately I was still not well, and by this time I was not fit to continue. Bryian and I sat down and discussed our options, and we agreed that I was not capable to continue. My physical and psychological health was not strong enough to be able to cope with the upcoming plans. Bryian graciously accompanied me back to Bogota and continued with the expedition.

Bryian Meenehan: A Quick Summary of my Trip to Colombia

Late in October of 2012 I decided to join Alasdair Walton’s trip to Colombia. After way too little preparation and a whole lot of excitement I jumped on a plane on the 30th of December. After some delays in Bogota we got on a twelve hour bus to Cocuy. We hired some transport up to the Southernmost camp accessible by car. From there the plan was to hire horses up to the Plateu below Pulpito del Diablo and Pan de Azucar, to attempt some climbing there as a warm up to Ritacuba Negro. Here unfortunately the trip ran into its first major snag with Al having to pull out.

After another long bus trip back to Bogota and seeing Al safely home, I went to Suesca with one Juan Zambrano, a mountaineer I met in the hostel we stayed and someone who would become a fast friend and true ambassador to Colombia and its people for me. Suesca is much like Boven in many ways, a climbing destination close to a major city, with friendly people and an amazing variety of climbing to be done. Here you can find a kilometre-long cliff face ranging from 20 to 150 meters, with trad, sport and mixed routes ranging from 5.5 to 5.13. I spent about two weeks here, climbing, relaxing and getting to know the locals.

In Suesca I put together a group to go back to Cocuy. This included Juan, one of his friends, Jorge, a Brit I met there by the name of Matt and one John Ramos, who was the most experienced Cocuy climber of the bunch. We drove there in Jorge’s car, which gave me the awesome experience of negotiating miles of mountain passes on my very first time in a left-hand-drive car (bunches of fun!). We made our way into the park and camped at the Laguna Grande de la Sierra, a moon-like landscape of boulders and lakes surrounded with four peaks over 5000 meters and one just lower than that.

We acclimatized on Toti, a fun glacier scramble at 4800m. The next day Matt and Jorge couldn’t join us, having had a harder time than expected; so John, Juan and myself made the trek to Pulpito del Diablo. We experienced many delays from bad weather and the difficulties of a moving in a group unexperienced with each other, so when we finally summited it was after 6pm, robbing us of any view. The next day Juan and Matt left the park while Jorge, John and myself went on to summit Pulpito again.

At this point Jorge had a job to get back to, so we descended to Cocuy and rested a few days. The plan from here was for John and I to hire some horses and get into the park form the Northern town of Guican. From a base camp here, we could alpine climb a vast number of peaks, including Ritacubas Blanco, Negro and Norte. Unfortunately the local ATM chose this point to stop working, and after a day of carrying all our gear in to the park, John and I had an argument and called it quits. As luck would have it Juan was guiding some tourists on the North to South trek of the Park, and I managed to send the heaviest of my gear back to Guican with their horses.

So here my climbing dreams ended, but I got an amazing experience nonetheless. The park is truly and astonishing place to be, with peaks surrounding you all the way through the five day trek. Even better for me was the chance to see the numerous caves one can stay in, eliminating the need for a tent, and the fact that the whole trip I never had to carry more than a litre of water at a time, and never had to purify it. We finished the trip off with a summit of Pan de Azucar, a pretty easy glacier walk with beautiful weather all the way to the summit, where we were covered in clouds unfortunately. I have every intention of returning to Colombia, having made many contacts and learned all the best ways to go about visiting Cocuy.

Read more about his trip here: