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20/5/12

NEVADO DEL TOLIMA: NORMAL SOUTH ROUTE

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This is the most popular trek (although is not the easiest one) of this mountain, the reason of the big inflow of people is due mostly because is the most direct way to the summit, being possible to reach it with a good effort in three or four days.  


GENERAL LOCATION OF THE ROUTE

The aerial image gives an idea of the route, with the approximate location of the main points such as camping zones and useful references:


Journey from Ibague to Juntas 

For those who have their own car:

Locate yourself in the Music Park (Parque de la musica) Carrera 1 with calle 10 near the music college (Conservatorio de musica), easy to identify because of the metal figures of musicians that are all over the place.  This is the initial point of the journey to the snow mountain across the Combeima Canyon; just continue the way at the left of the park which begins to go down through the cannon, without turning aside.


About 20 minutes later you will leave behind the last neighborhoods: Libertador, La Vega y Chapetón where the industrial zone of the city is located, after that you will pass across the small villages of Tres Esquinas, Llanitos, Pastales, Villa Restrepo (from this spot with a good weather is possible to see the snow mountain).


And finally the last village called Juntas, there, mostly on weekends you can find a great gastronomy offer (between 10.000 and 20.000 pesos/dish aprox). In this point finish the paved road.


Journey from Juntas to farm "El Silencio"

The journey takes 40 minutes to get to the farm El Silencio at 2600m, where the trek starts. Even though the road doesn’t have pavement, in general is in good shape, it allows all kind of cars pass throw it (the vehicles that doesn’t have four wheel drive will find some difficulty).  

You can park and leave the car in El Silencio,, will charge you about 3.000 COPColombian’s pesos for the parking. You can camp also (5.000 COP tent/night aprox.) and occasionally you can ask for cooked food (5.000 COP aprox). There is a small room available for rent.

When you are near to arrive to EL Silencio (right hand of the road going up) you will find the control house/office of the park where occasionally there is a person of the environment ministry in charge who will give you some advice and register in a visitors book for safety.

Note: The shopping for trek food must be done in Ibagué, the Combeima cannon has small shops with a very small and short offer.

2. For those who don’t own a car: 

there are three options which depend on the available time.

1. The choice is to hire a Jeep from Pedro (who lives in Juntas) in this number: 310 4412866. The service from Ibague to El Silencio and after returning down the mountain from El Silencio to Ibagué cost between 120.000 y 140.000 pesos (prices of may 2012)

2. The next choice is to take a bus from the small bus station called La Ibaguereña (Ibagué center, carrera 1 with calle 13 at the corner) which goes to Juntas (40 min, price: 2.300 COP). From Juntas you will start walking to EL Silencio (2 hours with backpack). The available bus schedule goes from 5:30 am until 7:30 pm, every 20 minutes aprox.

3. Other choice is to hire another vehicle (this service is called expreso). The best way to get it is talking with the voice man of the buses La Ibaguereña – Cambulos, who will do the contact in exchange of a tip (do not give more than 2.000 COP). Is better this way because the voice man knows all the drivers and know where they are, usually at the market square near the station.

The transport: Recommendations

Private transport (expreso) 
The negotiation with the driver must be very clear, must arrange the price (until 150.000 pesos for the service). Must clear the exclusiveness of the vehicle (some drivers wish to pick up extra people by the road), and just a fraction of the price must be paid at first (40 or 50%), paying the other fraction back in the city.

The deal must include two ways, the pick up from Ibagué to El Silencio, and the pick up after coming down the mountain in El Silencio to Ibagué. Also the time of the pick up the returning day must be clear usually at 4 or 5:00 pm and get the commitment of the driver to wait at least untill all the group has arrive.

Fortunately there are already mobile signal at the south face starting at 4000m (Comcel and Movistar) and you can arrange the pick up easier.

I do all this recommendations because here (I don’t know if everywhere public drivers are the same), the drivers tend to get advantage of the passengers, so when I am forced to hire a vehicle I am very careful. Last thing, when putting the bags over the vehicle, you must demand and verify that the bags are secured with ropes. Some drivers don’t do it and say that the bags don’t fall, but THEY DO FALL.

Journey from farm "El Silencio" to thermal pools "El Rancho"

Normalmente son unos 40 minutos a buen paso por un sendero muy bien marcado hasta llegar a los termales. Este tiempo puede variar, pues parte del camino va por el cauce del rio Combeima y debe cruzarse dos veces, lo que en los ultimos meses se ha dificultado debido a los efectos del fenomeno de la niña, que con sus continuas lluvias han hecho que el rio crezca llevandose los puentecillos y modificando el camino.

Usually takes 40 minutes with a good walking rhythm in a well settle path, to arrive at the thermal pools. This time can change because part of the way passes across the river Combeima and in the winter months because the river raises with the rain and modify the path.

Little bridges over the river 
The route for the Combeima river
The path is kept thanks to the people labor of El Rancho, always willing to fix the path, rebuild the bridges, and finding a new way to cross and go along the journey. Even so it is not uncommon to find a raised river and has to pass it with rope security.

Caution!
When arrive to the thermal pools there will be a closed fence. You should say that you are just passing to go up the mountain unless you wish to use the baths, camping, or alimentation in the pools.

The Tolima snow mountain is part of a national park that we can visit without restriction to people and it is not common to see state control in the zone. At the right hand of the fence you will find a bridge and then the thermal pools after that point starts the trek.

Note: About  thermals pools "El Rancho"


The thermal pools "El Rancho" (2008)
In this place you can get food, usually is available sometimes is not, depending on the demand for the date. Despite the big quantity of visitors that comes to the place on holydays and weekends the service is not the best. The prices on Colombian pesos (COP) aprox are 3.000 thermal baths, 8.000 per dish, 5.000 camping, there are kind of small cabins available that cost 10.000 per night (I prefer my tent).

For the mountaineers groups who go this way I recommend passing along this place, or stop at the returning for a thermal bath or to eat, the camping is not worth it and there are better places.

The actual rustic pools are built on the ruins of the old touristic complex El Rancho that had a very good buildings but it was buried by an avalanche a few years ago (with human lives losses). There is still a risk of avalanches at the pools, mostly in the rain season.
The following image is a scan of a paper photo a few days after the avalanche, under the stones is buried El Rancho complex.

Under the stones is buried El Rancho complex (image: Fernando Lastra)
Journey from thermal pools "El Rancho" (2.600 m) to Camp "La Cueva" (3.600 m)


Raices
It is a long way to La Cueva, is well stepped and has some signals, it doesn’t has deviations so getting lost is unlikely (with day light, good physical and weather conditions). The first part or this journey is called “raices” roots or “raizales” because it goes up on a strong ascent and some times you need help support in the trees roots.

There are sometimes fallen trees that are more difficult to climb:

Fallen trees in the way
About 40 minutes of sustained walking there is the first reference point: La Cascada (the water fall) at 3000m. also here are avalanche risk mostly in the rain season.

The waterfall (3.000 m)
In the next picture you can see a stone avalanche near the water fall in a place that was typically used to have a rest and eat. (Photo of oct/08)

Avalanche of rocks in the waterfall
Arriving to the next reference point “Las Lajas” takes about two hour, it was a used point to stop have something to eat and pick up some water but that was until the 2009 avalanche that erase all the path leaving behind just a huge flat stone.

Lajas
From there, is about one hour until Tierra de Gigantes (Land of giants) at 3300 m, easy to know because the path becomes flat and go along a stream that runs over a little dark canyon due to the vegetation, must be careful about tree falling and avalanches.

Land of giants
Crossing Tierra de Gigantes (land of giants) under a strong rain.

An unlikely view, the snow view from Tierra de Gigantes
From Tierra de Gigantes is an hour until the point “La Cueva” (the cave) at 3600m, where the fog forest ends. On the way you have to cross the creek several times:


La Cueva is not signalized but you can easily recognize it because the division is evident between the forest that you pass and the starting moor, also there is a flat stone from where you can see for the first time the hole south face of the mountain (with a good weather) and more than one uneducated person has scratched their name on the stone.

The south face on the nevado from the camp "la Cueva"
Journey from "La Cueva" (3.600 m) to camp Latas (4.600 m)

The camping place (La Cueva) is at the right hand taking a small path (about 50m) from the flat stone, this is important because some mountaineers pass by the main way and don’t find this camp.

La Cueva (The Cave)
The cave (La Cueva) is a small stone shelter with a good rain protection although is very humid and cold, there are space for 6 tents, near by there is a small water fall where you can take water (sometimes you will find it almost dry or in summer it drag so much sediments that turns in to white and becomes not potable) for that the best option is returning to the flat stone where another stream runs.


In front of the camp you will find “the bathroom” a small zone that seems like a "mined camp" so my suggestion is using it with day light or with a good head lamp if is night, walk very carefully, and PLEASE bury your human waste with the ice axe.

Continuing with the journey after the cave (taking the main path at the flat stone), it takes about one hour until the 4000 m camp walking along a single way without deviations where you can find some small camp sites.

The 4.000 m camp
At the 4000m camp you can recognize, besides the two flat zones for the tents, at the right (facing the mountain) a deviation towards east that takes to the thermals of Cañón – Salinas (r.i.p.) and to the East face of the mountain (about 5 hours crossing). Nowadays the deviation is signalized.

Camping on the deviation (a good option if the 4000m camp is full)
This is the last camp where you can find water and just a little in the little holes that you can find on the way, you must check that the water if flowing, in summer is unlikely to find water so it must be taken from the cave. (In very dry summers had been necessary going down until tierra de gigantes to pick up water)

In case of keep walking to further camps above 4.000m you must take the water from here. By the Cañón deviation there is no water (at least not by the first walking hour).

From here is two hour to the Latas camp at 4.600 m the highest camp of the south route. The path is easy to follow until 4.400 m aprox. After that the landscape becomes sandy and rocky and the slope becomes harder.


Camp “Latas” at 4600m
At this zone the path becomes harder to follow because it mixed with the sand, with fog and little light is easy to get lost, so it requires to know well the way or to have a good sense of orientation.


The Latas camp is located at the left hand of the main route next to the stream bed (left hand facing the mountain) and it is recognized because of a small cross with yellow ribbons placed in a high stone. The problem is that this high stone is not so high and the cross is not that big and some times it falls. 

The channel, summit route from latas
There is a three tent room available, no water and the temperature could drop a lot, in winter the snowstorm could go down here. Also there is a small zone where reminding plaques pay tribute for for dead climbers:


If the target is reaching the summit and camping in latas is not planed, it is not that important to find the camp, just ascent directly to the glacier.


Journey from Latas to snow border

From Latas to the snow border there is not path, it is just the knowledge of the route or the personal skills. There are “natural ways” of ascent to the snow border,  called channels and they correspond as the depressions in the ground as seen in the photos one in summer and another in winter:

Summer
Winter
The matter is that from the distance is easy to see them, but been there is easy to confuse them even with good weather. The idea is to keep ascending looking for the best line to the glacier. Must be alert of the ice falling from the walls of Dulima glacier that is located just ahead the channels, and in the left channel it get worse with the stone falling from Cerro Negro. 


The other natural way goes over an eroded rocky spur shoulder as shown in the image (right).

Route for the eroded spur
At the end all this paths in 5-6 hours from latas take you to the same zone, reduced by the high and for the conical shape of the mountain: the base of the glacier  walls "Dulima".

Cerro Negro
Journet fron snow border to summit

1. If you go over the spur shoulder, ascent directly across the snowfield, this will take you to a soft slope that must be taken to the left until the crater. Have extreme precaution when glancing there, better with security and for non reason descending there (two people have already die there). There is a fetid fume, soft and flashing and if it takes the mountaineer by surprise it could dizzy. The summit is a little bit further keeping the left side of the crater.

Summit and crater

2. If the channels way is taken, approach to the right hand of the spur wall (be careful with the falling stones) and climb through the glacier to the soft slope that I have already describe:

The channels: "Dulima" glacier

3. If for any reason you reach the vertical glacier walls, go to the right side looking for the zone called “El oido” where you will find several holes in the ground with hot pressurized gases coming out, the place is easily know because the hit of the gases has melted all the snow. 

El oido
At the right side there is a small wall that occasionally becomes very vertical that lead you to the soft slope already mentioned.

One must be very careful with the falling blocks and the fumes of “el oido” (the ear), in September 2010 a mountaineer stop there to have a rest and after falling sleep he died intoxicated by the fumes. He was found 5 months later. Also in 2009 there was a big ice avalanche in this place. The best thing is avoiding it.


Blocks falling at “el Oído” in 2009
Depending on the weather, is possible to identify two different important crevasses of the glacier about 20 minutes after starting the accent (upper bergschrund) before reaching the crater. The deep of this main cracks could overpass the 30 m, is possible to find short passes, for that reason the rope is fundamental especially if they are covered with snow.


For those who like going alone or decide to not using the rope, here it is:





This was in a very strong summer that melted all the snow that is usually on the route.

On the summit!


With a good weather, the summit allows to see all the national park "Los Nevados" volcanos: Ruiz, Santa Isabel, Cisne, Quindio, Huila and the Combeima canyon to the south and the spectacular upper view of the glaciers that descend from there.

From a step to the summit this guys are Experts and have decided not to use the rope.
The national park "Los Nevados"
THE DESCENT

It must be done early, before it gets too foggy and if it is possible across the ascending route. If you have carried flags or tapes to signalize the best thing to do is picking up them. You must be very careful to not deviate from the main route. Walking with a good regularity you can reach the 4000m camp in 4 hours and in another 4-5 hours the place El Silencio.

For those that don’t own a Vehicle the options of arriving to Juntas (where normal transportation can be found) are limited:

1. Have a hired expreso.

2. Walk about 2.5 hours from "El Silencio" to Juntas by the road, the last bus leave at 7.30pm.

3. To be lucky and get a ride from some tourist of El Rancho to Juntas or Ibagué.

In any case do not forget to take back all the generated garbage and even try to pick up some that has been abandoned, in Ibague there is no groups or institutions that make this job, it is just the effort and willingness of the mountaineers. The garbage must be taken to Ibague there is no recollection truck elsewhere.

CLIMBING TIMES

Silencio - rancho: 1 hour
Rancho - Cascada: 1.5 hours
Cascada - Tierra de Gigantes: 2 hours
Tierra de Gigantes - Cueva: 1.5 hours
Cueva - campo 4.000: 1 hora
Campo 4.000 - Latas: 2 hours
Latas - Borde de nieve: 4-6 hours
Borde de nieve - Cima: 1.5 - 2 hour

GEAR

Tent (three seasons), sleeping (-5º C), Stove (gas, multifuel), cooking kit, head lamp, rope, harness, helmet, rappel device, carabiners, ice axe (clasic), crampons, camelbak, water bottle, backpack (60 L), boots, thermal clothing, water resistant clothing, first aid kit, cell phone (Movistar-Comcel).

FINALLY...

I think this information is good enough to give an idea of the Tolima Snow Mountain normal route, if there is any doubt or opinion, I appreciate leaving a commentary.
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