Day 1 Climb - Laguna La Coromoto

Route map Day 1

Saturday, January 24

Park Entrance
The climb begins near the
National Park entrance at La Mucuy.

he behavior is typical - each backpacker waits for every other person to heft his load first as an unspoken signal that it is finally time to suffer, all day mind you, through the trials of an uphill slog. Not a sign of laziness, this behavior reflects a desire to avoid wasting energy standing with a full pack while others remain seated.

When you climb with an overnight pack every card is aerobically and mechanically stacked against you: the travel is uphill; the elevation is likely well above sea level; the pack is a major fraction of your own body weight; and the pack is behind your center of gravity. Try this sometime - walk backwards carrying a heavy load on your back. See how much less physical effort is required? That center of gravity concept is to blame. Never easy, and often it seems more like torture than somebody's idea of a "vacation".
La Coromoto camp
Camp at Laguna La Coromoto.
Adam wears his Bolivian beenie.

The backpack must support you for several days. The list of essential contents is extensive. And, unlike packing a suitcase for a fun-in-the-sun normal vacation, if you accidentally forget one item, the entire climb is jeopardized: there is no convenience store. Nor assistance. Anywhere. Self-sufficiency is the name-of-the-game, most often resulting in an oversize pack that, as noted above, you refuse to pick up until the very, very last moment.

We began at the La Mucuy entrance of the Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada, elevation 7,200 (or 7,300) feet. Our guide Enrique is a free agent, working for various companies in Mérida on an as-need basis. We hired a guide because it would improve our chances of success on summit day for Pico Bolivar. Ironically, and only in hindsight, the technical rock climbing could have been achieved by ourselves with Edward as lead. Instead, we ended up appreciating Enrique's services because of difficult routefinding issues - a potential complication that we had not anticipated.

The trail wound its way through the cloud forest. The odd tree trunk blocked our path. A downhill section of perhaps two hundred vertical feet was annoying, for it meant that much additional ascent would be required before reaching our day's goal of Laguna La Coromoto.

We separated owing to differing pack weights (in proportion to body weight) and levels of conditioning. Somehow I ended up ahead of the others, arriving at camp by four o'clock. At 10,800 feet Laguna Coromoto was near the cloud forest's upper altitude limit. Indeed, a cloud deck was present all afternoon at just about lake level. It was therefore no coincidence that the cloud forest, bathed in this humid mist, exists within the prescribed altitude range. Slightly higher the paramo, or high altitude grassland, was visible.

By five p.m. we were all accounted for. After preparing and eating our own meals, we were all soon asleep in the four-person tent. The quarters were tight. Edward and Bob always slept on the ends, with the two smaller people, Enrique and myself, in-between.

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