Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados

It’s been oppressively hot and humid for months now and I’ve been looking forward to cooler weather for a long time. I put in a couple of big days driving right through the heart of Colombia, headed for the mountains. Not just any mountains either, but the Andes. Winding my way up into them is the realization of a dream I’ve had for a long time and I can’t stop grinning the entire time up the very steep and windy road.

The temperature drops quite quickly and I smile when I have to wind up my window due to the cold and not long after I turn on the heater, a novelty. I climb and climb and climb and take the turn-off to Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. Before long I roll by a sign announcing I’m at 4,000 meters, clearly the highest I’ve ever been in my life. The sun is falling fast so I find a quiet spot off the side of the road to pitch my tent. My only visitors for the night are a herd of cows that are very curious and seem to like hanging around. Once the sun disappears it’s not just cold, but freezing, my little thermometer showing below zero before the night is done.

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Guerilla camping in Colombia at 4000 meters

Early in the morning I move up into the park itself which is already busy due to the Easer holidays. All of the rangers are extremely friendly and try exceedingly hard to help me as I move from an orientation session (in extremely fast Spanish) to filling out a basic form to enter the park. Entrance is quite expensive for foreigners, I pay (in $USD) $19 for entry, $12 for a mandatory guide, $6 for the Jeep and another $6 to camp in the official campground for a night.

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Rock formation in the National Park

Our guide, Michelle, jumps in my Jeep and we form a convoy of four vehicles driving up high into the park. Every five minutes or so we jump out to have a look at the beautiful scenery while Michelle explains the geological features around us. While we drive together I practice my Spanish which again improves a lot in a very short time. We drive up and up, until we reach 4,700 meters where we have to climb the rest on foot. Michelle explains how quickly we’ll run short of breath at this elevation and so we hike up as slowly as physically possible. I’m careful to make sure I don’t have to breathe really hard, though I can feel my heart rate racing to keep up.

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Road to the top

In just over an hour we reach the glacier, at 5,125 meters. It’s stunningly beautiful and everyone is really excited to see ice and snow, the first time for many of the locals. It’s surreal to be up this high in the Andes, the first time of many for me I’m sure. After an hour of hanging around and walking on the glacier I make my make back down to the campground, at around 4,200 meters. By this time I have a mean headache that doesn’t go away until late the following day.

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At the summit of Nevado del Ruiz, 5125 meters

At the campground I meet some locals who are crazy about hiking and camping, and even crazier about showing off their fantastic country. We quickly pour over my map of Colombia, talking excitedly about all the places I need to see. The night is again frosty cold and I have out all my cold weather gear, including thermals and two sleeping bags. A couple of times in the night I can feel my heart rate skyrocket just from the exertion of rolling over.

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Driving up into the mountains, at about 4500 meters

Interestingly the Jeep performs really well at such high elevations, only take-offs are a little sketchy and need a lot more accelerator than usual. I can think of no better way to relax and cure my headache than a soak in a Hot Spring, and as luck would have it there is one just on the outskirts of Manizales, which I make use of for a couple of hours.

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Crater La Olleta, the inactive volcano


4 Responses

  1. Kyle says:

    I came across your blog about 2 weeks ago and went back to the beginning of your trip and read each one up to here. I enjoy reading of your adventures. I have two vehicle that I like to use cruising around one is a 61 Willys jeep and the other is a 05 Honda Shadow Aero 750. Good luck and have fun!

  2. Jim K in PA says:

    Dan – I discovered your blog first through research into the Dalton Highway, and then again via the Expo portal. I just spent the last two days going through from start to finish. First, I must say thanks for continuing to share the experience with “us”. Just keeping up a blog can become a tedious exercise. Those of us following certainly appreciate it, and in the years to come you will appreciate it even more.

    In 2012 my wife and I will celebrate our 25th anniversary by camping our way from northeastern PA to Deadhorse AK and back. It will be our first long trip without our kids who will be in college at that point (unless they decide to tag along – maybe we should sneak away . . . ). The Pan-AM highway is calling us too, and we will begin that adventure when we are ready to choose it.

    BTW – I know you have mentioned your varying levels of discomfort in your choice of vehicle due to it’s fuel consumption. Honestly, I think the choice of a durable, dependable, SIMPLE vehicle is a very prudent one for an adventure like this. Everything in life is a balance of trade-offs and alternatives. A more fuel efficient vehicle may not get you where you want to go, or as easily. As you have done to this point, you will learn where you have made good decisions and not so good ones. But don’t waste any time with regrets over your choice of steed.

    Godspeed and keep the faith.

    • Dan says:

      Great to hear from you Jim, I’m glad you find my website a good read :)
      All the best on your upcoming adventure, you’re going to love it up there it’s absolutely amazing.
      As for my Jeep – you are 100% correct, there are pluses and minuses for everything in life and I’m slowly learning to see them all. Next time I’ll have the perfect vehicle (haha).
      Keep dreaming!

  3. Brian12566 says:

    Hey Dan…thanks for the Jeep porn! :-)

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