“The mountains are calling and I must go” -John Muir
For some time now, I have been wanting to do a solo backpacking trip in the mountains. I’ve been spending my evenings watching you-tube videos of solo backpackers on their epic adventures- alone, out in the quiet wilderness. Pitching their tents between big beautiful trees after a long day of hiking and settling in front of a fire cooking beef stroganoff over a wood stove. Steamy morsels entering their mouths and the look of delight on their tired and exhausted faces. Pure joy. Sitting on the couch, I would become so envious of these hikers who were completely enveloped by the peaceful solitude and beauty of the mountains.
A friend of mine in Colombia tipped me off to Paramo Del Sol and I am forever indebted to him because of this. It is a pretty obscure place that isn’t so well-known in the hiking world. I probably wouldn’t have been able to find out about it on my own. Come to think, there are probably so many places like that; hidden hidden gems. When he sent me pictures, I knew that this was something I was absolutely going to have to do.
Paramo Del Sol
Paramo Del Sol, located in Urrao, Antioquia, Colombia is a stunning, extra-terrestrial trek that tops you off with breathtaking views from above the clouds. The summit, Alto Campanas, is the highest point in Antioquia at 4,080 meters above sea level. It encapsulates some of the most diverse vegetation, flowers, plants, and trees that you will ever witness in one hike. Hummingbirds, beehives, indigenous orchids, mossy fairy tale like jungles, and Frailejones covering the plains of paramo makes blinking a serious inconvenience. You won’t want to miss a second of the unique tropical alpine ecosystems of the northern Ande region.
The journey started on a bus ride from Medellin. It takes about 4-5 hours to get to Urrao depending on the traffic. On the drive, I found myself getting more and more anxious thinking about the next day. “What the f*** have I signed myself up for?! Am I prepared for this?”. My worries faded away as we drove on and my attention shifted to the sunset outlining the trees and mountains.
I stayed at an old quaint little inn located right near the city center where the bus would be departing from. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well at all. The next morning was an early start waking up at 5 a.m. to catch the bus. My anxiety sky-rocketed when we ended up missing the bus that takes us near the starting point. I silently drank my tiny cup of coffee and waited for a taxi to take us to the trail head.
Off to a great start
At the trail head, we could see the mountains that loomed ahead. After we asked the mountain for its blessings, stretched, ingested some coca leaves, we began our hike with high spirits and quiet excitement. I was feeling really good at the start despite a restless night of sleep. I can’t emphasize how important it is to start a trek off on the right foot mentally. It’s what will give you the momentum you need in moments when you are tired and second-guessing yourself.
It’s also so important to consider who you are trekking with!! My comrades were positive, strong, kind, nature loving souls. Our tempo as a group was also in sync and it made it easier to move through the mountains as a unit….well I started to trail off a bit towards the end, but always had my friends in sight. Don’t go with people who won’t slow down or speed up a bit, people who will get irritated or upset that you are going to slow or too fast, and may potentially leave you behind. It really kills the vibe and makes it harder to enjoy the experience.
The mossy forest leading up to Paramo plains.
We walked and walked and walked some more. Passing by the Hummingbird Reserve , walking up what seemed like an endless staircase, walking through the mossy forest, and then finally entered Paramo del Sol.
There’s an uncanny sensation that ran through my body as I entered Paramo. Frailejones pervaded the entire landscape. I felt like I was being watched as I walked amongst them.
It is an arduous hike to get to the peak. I remember hating myself for getting myself into this and it took every ounce of my strength and brute perseverance to put one foot in front of the other. The final stretch of the trek is approximately 1.5 hours of what basically felt like very steep torturous climbing. You get to the final destination with steady resolve and many short breaks. Tears came to my eyes as I tried to steady my shallow breathe and take in the insane beauty before me as I reached the summit.
From the summit, we could see the tops of the Frailejones, the Choco jungle, the Pacific Ocean, the plains of the Paramo del Sol, and the city of Urrao.
We sat together and watched the sunset.
One of my favorite parts of this trek was witnessing the camaraderie between Jose and Juan. They had been working together for a long time, going up and down Paramo many a times. I’m sure their friendship deepens with every trip.
Juan went ahead of us at some point to set up this tent before we got to the campsite. It was covered in black tarp that was skillfully propped up by a giant stick to block out the insane winds and gust that were picking up more and more speed. I showed my dad this picture and he said, “You slept in that piece of crap?!”.
Yes dad, I sure did. And I was also sandwiched in between Juan and Jose for extra body warmth. Just kidding, I didn’t tell him that part.
The next morning
I woke with a colossal headache that was brought on by the altitude and sheer exhaustion. It was the kind of headache you would feel justified calling in sick to work for. Fortunately for me, my friends had prepared a hot medicinal drink called Panela. It is boiled and evaporated sugarcane juice. My headache went away instantaneously. Magic in liquid form!
The journey back to the town of Urrao was not as arduous as I thought it would be. My body was beyond tired but my spirits were high and I felt peaceful and calm the rest of the way. There was a poignant moment for me walking back through the Paramo plains. My mind was clear, my heart was full, and I remember feeling so empowered and grateful for the life that I am privileged enough to live.
Here I am back at the start. One eye smaller than the other more than usual, exhausted, pushed beyond my limit, happy, laying in the grass just reveling.
One final and important note:
This wasn’t completely a solo trek. The city of Urrao requires that you have a local guide take you to Paramo Del Sol. My guide, a 22 year old, born and raised in Urrao. A genius mountain hiker with a killer sense of humor and the most genuine and kind disposition. We called him The Jaguar. Never still, running ahead, running back, picking up sticks, sniffing flowers, tirelessly providing a botany lecture on every plant we passed by. I couldn’t believe this guy. Its like he didn’t know the meaning of tired. Later, he told me that of course he gets tired, but what really matters is one’s mental stamina. “I am immortal”, he said. I’ll never forget it.
There was also Jose. The owner of a local travel agency Viajando Sin Afan. With very little notice, he arranged all of the logistics from buying and reserving bus tickets to Medellin, booking a hotel room for the night before and after the trek, the food, the tent, arranging the local guide, to being my steadfast encourage-er. I wouldn’t have been able to do the trek without his help. He did everything he could to make sure I had the best experience on this trek. One of the kindest, warmest, strongest humans I have ever come across. If you ever want to do this trek, or explore other parts of Colombia, definitely talk to Jose. He enhanced my experience ten-fold.
So there it is. The three of us. Three strangers. And then, three friends.
I guess I’ll go for that solo-trek another time.
- Duration: Approximately 7-10 hours from the base to the top, Alto Campanas. Trek time: 2 days and 1 night.
- Difficulty: Medium-difficult. Depends on whether or not you stop and camp at sites along the way before you get to Alto Campanas.
- Distance: 14 kilometers on the direct route. We walked non-stop the first day to get to Alto Campanas. The second day we walked 14 kilometers back down the mountain to the trail head, la Terminal de Chuscal.
- Elevation: There is a net gain of 1,700 from approximately 2,380 m above sea level.