Estacion 1 – 2: [9947 ft]. Fairly easy. Trail is made up of rock and hard-packed dirt with a thick covering of trees that keep everything damp and lush…and slick. My goal: I don’t want to get my feet wet.
Estacion 3-4: [10341 ft]. Trail grows steadily harder and cripes, it’s pretty much all uphill. It’s a wet day as it is, but the forest floor—with its thick layer of wet dirt and leaves—isn’t helping. There are sections of the trail that are flooded by rainwater, so I’ve had to abandon my hope of keeping my feet dry. I’m in the g*d forest and it’s wet, so I just need to put on my big-girl pants and get used to it. New goal: roll up the big-girl pants so they don’t get too muddy.Estacion 5-6: [10876 ft]. $#!%’s getting real. This trail is narrow, rocky, muddy, and chock-full of tangled, gnarly tree roots that will reach out and grab your foot. After being unable to avoid yet another mud puddle, I scoff at my goal from the hour before. It’s raining and I’m in the forest and I don’t want to get my pants muddy? What-ever. What I really don’t want is to be forced to use my hands to hike this mofo. That. Is. All. And really, that should be easy enough to accomplish.
Estacion 7-8: [11650 ft]. This section isn’t called “La Pared” (the wall) for nothing. We were already going almost entirely uphill, but the forest floor has just been replaced with a mass of boulders and mud. Can this really be called a trail? My shoes and socks are completely wet, my pants are muddy to my shins, and now the only way I’m getting up this thing is to use my hands. There’s a vertical part that David has dubbed the “Hillary Step,” after that famous section of Mt Everest. At this point, the only goal I have left is to not slip and fall.
Estacion 9-10 [12139 ft]. After the wall, the hike gets a little easier. We finally reach the high point and can fully appreciate the high mountain vegetation with views of farmland below us. Wispy clouds float lazily and frame our views of the mountains and we pause to take in the fresh air and enjoy the paramo, which is the treeless alpine tundra all around us. It’s breathtaking, but it has started raining again and we have a nasty descent ahead, so we need to get cracking. Bachue be damned.Estacion 10 – 1. The Descent. I knew with each wet rock we climbed and each slippery step we took on the ascent, the climb down would be many times more precarious. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been on a hike that was technical enough that the descent took as long as the ascent, but this is that hike. At this point, Colleen of now is thinking of Colleen of several hours ago and thinking how naive I was to approach this hike with the goal of keeping my feet dry and mud free. How utterly quaint. Did I say my last goal was to not slip and fall? I start off the descent slipping in some mud and sliding on my butt. Then, the next fall includes one entire side up to my forearm, then the next I am sliding all the way up to my backpack. I take this falling business to a new level. Like the perfectionist that I am, if I am going to fall, I want to get it right. Though Jill, Don, and David have had a few slips, no one is doing it with the same frequency and gusto. I lose count of the number of falls I take and with each slip, I curse the company Columbia for their ridiculous trail shoes that are failing me completely with their weak little cake-walk tread.
Finally, we reach a small, rustic lodge near the end and can take a break. They serve food here, so we survey our muddy selves and sit down to a hearty meal of plantain soup and pan-fried trout—all al fresco so we can continue to enjoy the fresh forest air and the birds, which surprisingly still enchant us even after such a hike. We’re all exhausted and relieved for it to be over, but satisfied that we accomplished it on such a wet day. Though I’ve washed my hands, I’ve never eaten a meal while my legs and feet were encrusted in mud. Yet another opportunity for Miss Clean to let go.