Night three was damp and cold and our lake side camp was consumed by a thick fog well into the morning. As we woke there was a silence amongst the tents and you could feel that everyone was waiting for the same thing, a little beam of sunlight to stir us into motion.
When we finally crawled out of our sleeping bags and unzipped the tents, we emerged with some hungry bellies. Unfortunately, when we went shopping for food in El Cocuy, we didn't have many options. What ended up in our bags for breakfast was some gnarly off brand instant oatmeal. It was artificially flavored pink and reminded me of the the first time I got wasted on wine as a teen and puked slimy red barf all over our friends house. Jordan and I can both eat about anything, but neither of us could stomach the pink goo. This meant that we were now eating our lunch for breakfast, which was a snickers bar, and it had to hold us over till dinner. Both of our muffin tops were now evaporating quickly.
The hike out of camp was the loosest of the trek. We gradually made our way up the terminal moraine of a long gone glacier. Each step was precarious and we could not help but feel like sitting ducks with all the quivering boulders hanging above, perched on cliffs. After a long stretch of climbing out of our foggy camp, firmly focused on our footing, a short rest allowed us to look up and acknowledge how nice the day had become. The fog had cleared and the sun was rewarding us with blue skies and warm skin.
Once we made the pass we could see a massive green valley bellow us. Hundreds of acres of level ground reaching off into the distance. It was a scramble to get down and the trail markers were pretty much nonexistent. We picked our way through the boulders and rocks and eventually set our feet on the flat ground at the bottom. We were stoked to be on flat ground again and the walking was easy. We made our way along a meandering river, enjoying a small path broken into the coarse grass and around the massive cushion plants that covered the alien landscape surrounding us.
At the far end of the valley, the trail evaporated into the swamp and river. We spent some time considering the best way to continue and ultimately decided that there was no best way. We all ended up getting decently wet before bush whacking our way to the amazing waterfall that dumped the river into the valley hundreds of feet bellow.
Along the path we came upon some pretty fresh hoof marks. Knowing that the circuit had been closed to trekkers for some time, the tracks gave us hopes of meeting some of the indigenous people of the area. From the waterfall we could just make out some small shelters and animal corals with paths crisscrossing the sides of the steep valley off in the distance. Miguel broke out his binoculars allowing us all to get a good look. That was as close as we would come to meeting anyone. From the waterfall we turned our tired asses around and started hiking up the steep grade out of the valley.
A decent ways up, we found some awesome overhangs in the rock wall that made for a great camp spot. It's great how routine the end of the day becomes on treks like this. Find a spot to set up tents, cook food, talk while eating, pass out. Everyone is on the same program and it's never weird when all the tents are zipped up tight and quiet early in the evening.
The tranquility and silence of the morning was pierced by the sound of a helicopter coming up the valley. Since this section of the park was closed it made us a little nervous when the helicopter circled back and hovered nearer to us, seeming to be coming in for a closer look. Miguel's binoculars came in handy again and he was pretty sure it was a military helicopter doing patrols of the area. We saw the helicopter a couple more times but by noon it had left the area. The helicopter's unwanted presence brought some good stories out of Anna while we finished packing up camp and started out. Both she and Miguel work at Rocky Mountain National Park back in Colorado and had successfully helped fight helicopter access there. Quite the accomplishment in a culture that's constantly looking for the easiest and most profitable access to everything.
Day five took us up the harshest ascent and brought us to the highest pass of the trek. Zig zagging up the rock face of the pass we peaked out at 4650 meters (15255 feet). It was a special rest up there on that windy ridge. Neither of us had ever climbed this high. The view was vast and allowed us to see much of our last couple days. And, while we knew there was so much more ground to cover, looking ahead it felt like we could almost see the end of our trek. Over the next pass would be our final camp. Miguel helped us with a portrait and we spent some time just gazing out.
When it came time to depart the path ahead was no more than a faint grey line cutting across an incredibly steep scree slope. It was a focused descent to say the least, but once we made it past we found a well trod trail. We were now entering a zone of the park that is open to day hikers, and it was nice to have a real path to follow again.
The terrain was easy on our weathered bodies and we took our time resting whenever there was a nice spot to sit. We knew that if we wanted to catch a ride back to town tomorrow, we would need to make the next pass and on to Laguna de Los Verdes today. This would make for a short hike on day 6 giving us time at the alpine hostels to coordinate a ride out. We all marched along and with slow deliberate steps we finally crested our second pass of the day. Looking down, Laguna Verde sparkled and welcomed us to our last camp of the treck. There were two small ranches surrounding the lake and sheep dotting the hillsides. It was a bitter sweet relief to set up the tents and have our last meal of the trek, knowing that tomorrow would bring us back into civilization.