Cragging through Colombia with a Yosemite Crusher

For the last 10 years, Miranda Oakley’s endless enthusiasm for rock climbing has taken her all over the world. Just last year she completed a 27-hour solo ascent of El Capitan, put up an FA in northern Patagonia (5.12c) and completed an onsight free ascent of The Rainbow Wall in Red Rocks (5.12a).

So when she’s not climbing the endless granite walls of Yosemite Valley where she works as a climbing guide, Miranda hops planes, trains or automobiles to the world’s best crags. Here Miranda lays out her recent climbing trip to Colombia, and offers up beta for anyone else thinking of visiting the South American hot spot.

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Miranda Oakley in La Mojarra, Colombia. Photo: Beckett Honicker

Why Colombia? Did you know anything about the climbing going into it?

I knew some climbers who had been down there last year and I’d heard about the really good, fun sport climbing and great rock quality. My boyfriend and I had done some research about a place called Cocuy where there’s supposed to be big walls up to 3,000 feet. I’d also met some Colombia climbers when I was in Yosemite last fall. They were super nice and really welcoming, and invited me to come visit. Aside from climbing, I’d heard Colombia was on the up and up, and a lot safer to travel in that it used to be.

What’s the local climbing scene like in Colombia?

It’s a really small community. All the Colombian climbers know each other. They don’t get a lot of international travelers, especially for climbing, so when you meet people they’re really excited to see people traveling from the U.S. to climb. They’re really welcoming and psyched to meet foreign climbers who are making their way to Colombia specifically for the climbing.

Learning new rope techniques from some local guides in Cocuy National Park. Photo: Beckett Honicker
Learning new rope techniques from some local guides in Cocuy National Park. Photo: Beckett Honicker

Can you give us a rundown of your trip? Climbing highlights & best crags?

I went down there with my boyfriend, Beckett Honicker, at the end of January to hop on some fun sport and try for some big walls. We went for about 5 weeks and spent the first 10 days in an area called La Mojarra near Mesa de los Santos and Chicamocha Canyon. It’s a pretty remote, small sport climbing area up in the mountains with overhanging sandstone and great friction – it was full on sport climbing vacation time! The climber who developed the area also started a hostel up there, and that’s pretty much the scene. Just a small refugio right next to the cliffs and one store. You can buy veggies from a lady down the road, otherwise you need to drive to the nearest town.

Miranda on a fun warm-up in La Mojarra. Photo: Beckett Honicker
Miranda on a fun warm-up in La Mojarra. Photo: Beckett Honicker

After La Mojarra we went to Cocuy where it’s even harder compacted sandstone that almost looks like granite. Once we got to town, we realized that there were access issues that would keep us from climbing the bigger faces we had our hearts set on. It’s part of a huge national park, and the indigenous people in the area were tired of people trashing it since the ecosystem there is super fragile and unique.

There’s still some climbing there though, just not as big. The altitude was giving us some problems anyway, so we did this thing called El Púlpito de Diablo – it’s this little block of rock that sticks out of the snow next to a peak called Pan de Azucar. It’s a really cool formation, but it’s only a few hundred feet tall.  We did a shorter 5.11- FA (Paradito en Paraíso / Little Wall in Paradise).

Beckett scoping the incoming clouds in Cucoy. Photo: Miranda Oakley.
Beckett scoping the incoming clouds in Cucoy. Photo: Miranda Oakley.

There’s a whole wall of stuff there that looks climbable but we didn’t bring a bolt kit or anything. There’s not a lot of natural crack systems that go all the way up, so you’d need extra protection. Next time I will definitely bring a bolt kit to try for some first ascents.

After Cocuy, we spent a week in Suesca, about an hour from Bogota. It’s really where climbing took off in Colombia. It’s also sandstone, but it’s a lot harder rock and is a lot more polished because of the foot traffic. There’s a lot of mixed sport and trad climbing, and I would never go up on a route there without at least a single rack. There are really really fun, roof cracks there!

Techo de Cholera (5.12b) Photo: Beckett Honicker
Techo de Cholera (5.12b) Photo: Beckett Honicker

After that we went to Florián where the rock is limestone. There’s not a lot of routes there, but the main climbing area is in this cave with really crazy stalactites and tufas, so you’re pretty much climbing horizontally through the cave, knee barring on and chimneying against stalactites. This was probably the most remote place we visited and the people there were really surprised to see foreigners.

What were your favorite pieces of gear you brought on the trip?

I really like the Brooks-Range Invasion Tent, it was super lightweight and super easy to set up when we were camping at close to 16,000 ft. I pretty much haven’t taken off the Brooks-Range Down Sweater since I got it. It’s a really great layer because it can keep you super warm in colder conditions or you can use it when it’s just a little chilly. It’s super lightweight, so with the Armor Jacket it was a great combo.

Camping at 16,000 ft. in the Invasion Tent. "Not as cold as I thought, t-shirt in the day, puffy at night." Photo: Miranda Oakley.
Camping at 16,000 ft. in the Invasion Tent. “Not as cold as I thought, t-shirt in the day, puffy at night.” Photo: Miranda Oakley.

As for climbing gear, we really over packed. We brought a triple rack and three ropes that we didn’t end up needing since we couldn’t  get on any big walls. I climbed in my La Sportiva Solutions the whole time, which were great for the overhung walls.

Any best rest day activities?

It’s really cool to appreciate the culture on rest days. When you’re climbing, you’re just hanging out with other climbers. We would often walk to town and see what the locals were up to. Drinking beers, eating empanadas and watching soccer were our go to.

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How about recommendations for climbers thinking of visiting Colombia?

To get as much climbing in as possible climb in La Mojada or Suesca. Suesca offers the most range of grades hard stuff and stuff for beginners. But definitely take the ratings there with a grain of salt, they’re just a little bit sandbagged. Both of these areas have guidebooks, but there are also really cool guides working down there that are affordable for hire.

For more climbing adventure I’d recommend Florián. There are no guidebooks so you just have to ask the locals, but brush up on your Spanish. A lot of people there don’t speak English.

For the ultimate adventure, try for Cucoy. While the area we were looking at was closed, we have heard from many local climbers that there is potential for big walls in the areas that are open. If people are looking to develop bigger routes in Colombia – go!

The beer… is not great, but there is a small microbrewery in Bogota, the Bogota Brewing Company (BBC), that I’d highly recommend! Colombian food is simple but delicious. You can even order a “La Mojarra” which is a type of tasty fish.

Miranda on the first pitch of Techo de Cholera. Photo: Beckett Honicker
Miranda on the first pitch of Techo de Cholera. Photo: Beckett Honicker

 

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