Excited to get back to South America and traveling instead of just vacation, Sadie and I took off to Colombia for three weeks. We spent about a week in Medellín, Minca (North Coast) and Salento (Central Coffee Region) respectively. The big thing to know is that Colombia is pretty safe now (aside from a couple specific regions) with a very active tourist industry that seems likely to keep it that way. If you follow basic traveler safety tips for any foreigner who is rich by local standards, you’ll have a fine time.
One of the things we were most excited about in Colombia was a summit attempt on a 17,000+ ft glaciated volcano in the Northern Andes: Nevado del Tolima. The ascent is pretty non-technical and guides don’t require any previous mountaineering knowledge or fitness restriction. There are multiple guide services and itinerary for this trek between 3-5 days, some with a stop over to a natural hot springs, some extending to hit the two other nearby glaciated peaks. We booked a guide for four days with SAWA Travel with 12,000 ft of gain and picked up one extra person on the itinerary for a little lower cost (still $450 pp). We wanted to use a guide to help us navigate logistics, local weather and contribute to the local economy. I think a guide is required to attempt the summit, but I’m not sure.
There is a lot of interesting story about finding this canyon, our guide, getting to San Carlos and about the area. However, if you are here just to know about the canyoneering descent, I’ll get right to that and talk about the rest later. We descended the La Chorrera – Inferior (lower) section of this canyon with many 100+ ft less-than-vertical rappels often involving (but not through) flowing water during what seemed like low-flow conditions (it hadn’t rained in a couple weeks). It was a great, non-touristy canyoneering experience guided by Manuel of Eco Guías Colombia who provided gear and wetsuits (one fit me at 6’6”!) and was exactly the authentic canyoneering experience I was looking for.
While there are over a dozen coffee tours in Salento (and dozens more elsewhere in the county) to choose from that give you the general information on how coffee is grown, harvested and produced… I wanted to specifically try “Coffee Cupping” (i.e. coffee tasting) because I’ve never liked the taste of coffee but wanted to see what ‘good coffee’ tasted like and how it varied. For this reason (and because Ocaso was close to where we were staying) we chose the “Premium Coffee Tour” from Ocaso. This was 100.000 COP ($29) per person in Jan-2024.
When you think of Colombia there are two consumable products that start with “C” that come to mind and one of them is Coffee! Anywhere there is coffee and tourists in Colombia, there are coffee farm tours. We had a great time on some cocoa tours in Costa Rica and love learning about local things while traveling so went on a couple of them. Here is what we learned:
Trying to find a small-medium canyon in Death Valley with a mixed experience group is always difficult. However, we decided to give Big Shit Canyon (3A IV 11r 190ft) a go with a very early start so we could be back at camp before sunset to cook, setup and prep for our huge NYE celebration. Every Death Valley canyon truly has its own character. This one had a very solid approach on good rock (2.4 mi, 2900 ft) with a technical ridge scramble, a lot of down climbing and very accessible, solid anchors. The only questionable part was the canyon’s name…and maybe descending from the ridge.
At 9am we started up the Mosaic Canyon ridge choosing the first descent option of Mosaic Canyon- Hidden Fork (3A III 11r 100ft) of the four off the ridge to try to beat the afternoon forecast of rain. It would be my first canyon breaking my 1-1 ratio of experienced Death Valley cannoneers to newcomers with just myself and Jaymie sandwiching our friends on either side throughout the canyon. After building well over 20 cairns from scratch last season, it was the first time I would be making all anchor decisions without a second pair of experienced eyes.
I had some time off work to burn before the new year. I would normally go to the alpine, but it was already pretty cold at normal elevations. Let alone above 10,000ft with limited daylight. So I did some brief research and found that a sought after slot canyon backpacking trip in the desert had plenty of permits this time of year: Buckskin Gulch.
There are a few ways to do Buckskin Gulch, but the way I did it was a 44mi trip from Wire Pass to Lee’s Ferry (GPX) with no elevation gain besides when you choose to get out of the river and go over a bank. The first third is through a near continuous, close slot canyon with 200 ft walls. The second third through a wider carved river canyon with many hundred feet walls that kinda felt like The Narrows with how much time I spent in the river. The last third had some boulder sections and became more like a silt bottomed river through a more open desert and I spent much less time in the river. Surprise to me, I think I liked the middle section the best as it was a more dynamic landscape even though the first third is probably the most unique.
With just a recommendation and a track from a friend who used to live in the area, I went to check out “Peekaboo Slot Canyon” / “Red Canyon” near Kanab, UT on a solo Kanab road trip. It was a great example of a no expectation side trip to a not-frequently visited destination that I just got to simply take in and be surprised at every turn.