High altitude alpine mission - Merida.

It was time to get out and stretch the legs. I met Ben, another traveler who showed up one night at our Couch Surfing host. We decided to take my bike and ride up in Parque National Sierra La Culata north of Merida. Hoping to bag a peak, we set off to hike to the summit of Pan de Azucar at 4640 meters. Normally hikers will go for a 2 day tour to get there. We went for the one day mission.
Our friend Maigualida told us to get going early, but the usual morning coffee made it a late start. We finally got going at 9am and started hiking just after 9:30. Merida is nested just above 1600 meters and the peaks surrounding the city reach up to 5007 meters (pico Bolivar) and many above the 4500 mark.
We reached the end of the Valley at 3000 meters were we started to hike. The air already felt thin and quickly gained altitude above 3500 m until we reached a valley surrounded by high peaks over 4000m and weird looking plants, frailejones (espeletia).
As we hiked farther into the valley, we could see our objective (what we thought was!) Pico Pan Azucar. A moon like mountain covered by sand. We didn't really know the exact way to climb it. All we really new, is it was covered with sand! So when we saw the first sandy looking peak, we decided to head for it's summit. Not on a hiking trail, but cow path! We started to climb steeply gaining altitude fast, we were now above 4000 meters and could feel our lungs pumping for air. Ben came from Colombia, he had been in higher elevation for a while but not in hiking shape, myself, I was in hiking shape, but I was at sea level for the past year on the road, so we both felt it! We made the mistake of not filling our water bottles from the river, thinking we could find a stream higher. We also had nothing but half a loaf of bread. I don't really know why??? but we didn't bring food! Dum Idea...
As the air got thinner, also did our stomach from the lack of food and water. We kept climbing until we reached a point were we were sure our summit was near. The clouds got thicker so was our saliva! When finally a window opened. We could see the summit being nowhere near but 2 mountains behind! We rested for a while and finished our last sips of water. We dreamed of a cold coca cola, cold beers, chocolate...everything we didn't have. We looked up at Pan Azucar far behind the valley and called it quits. Too late to keep going, too cloudy anyways. We started to make our why back down to reach the river so we can refuel our dehydrated bodies. Relieved from our thirst, we started to make our way back to the valley. Our legs were dead from the steep descent and lack of food. Now thick fog covered the valley, it started to get much colder. We finally arrived at my bike beat. We had been going 8 hours on half a loaf of bread.
As we rolled back down towards Merida in thick fog, our bodies were frozen. We kept talking about what to cook, Pasta?? Rice?? something big, a big warm meal...
When we got back to the house. We were drained, Ben was red as a lobster from the high altitude sun, I was frozen from riding the bike back down. A loaf of bread was sitting on the counter, too tired to cook anything, we filled up our stomach with more bread and past out for the night.
Next time!!! we won't forget about the chocolate Ben!

Benjamin hiking up above 3000 meters.

Looking down the valley and La Culata. Merida is down left at the very bottom.

The end of the road at La Culata.

Up we go, now at 3500 meters, air is thinner, our objective is the very far peak straight above the trail.

Scenery along the way and the frailejones (espeletia) weird plants.

Our only fuel source was this beautiful clear river.

Campers in the valley at the 1st Refugio.

Far above 4000 meters with the clouds coming quick from the valley below.

Other peaks waiting to be climbed.

Looking far down at the trail, we climbed over 1000 meters in less then 2 hours.

Thick clouds coming in fast.

The clouds rolled in so we called it quits at about 4500 meters.

Our objective peak hiding far behind to the right.

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