Pico de Loro
Wanting to get some much needed exercise and to escape Cali city life, we decided to arrange a hike in the nearby mountains. Valentina, our hostess at Casa Bella (Airbnb in Cali), hooked us up with a guide to take us on a six hour, round trip hike to the top of Pico de Loro. This is a medium sized 9,000 foot mountain to the south of the city. The description of the trail and mountain sounded perfect. One thing we forget to ask, however, was how difficult was the hike. We quickly found out!
Our guide picked us up at Casa Bella and we were soon out of the city heading up an unimproved road to the trail head. During the ride, our guide Alejandro told us a little bit about himself. He is 40 years old, has a university degree and has been leading hikes and tours for 15 years. When we told him about our plans to ride to Tierra del Fuego, he mentioned that he and his girlfriend are going to drive his 60’s vintage VW Beetle to Patagonia in 2017.
After driving for some time on an unimproved road we arrived at the trailhead which was located at the entrance of the Farallones de Cali National Park. The park opened shortly after we arrived. A few warmup and stretching exercises led by Alejandro, and we were ready to head into the dense forest. It didn’t take long to realize that this was not going to be a leisurely stroll in the woods. The trail had a steep incline that was about the same slope as the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon. When we asked Alejandro what we should expect, he explained that the trail gained approximately 3,500 feet in elevation and the last couple of miles to the top were much steeper than the section from which we started. He also said that it was uphill all the way with no flat spots.
We came to a spot where a waterfall could be seen and heard through the forest. Alejandro mentioned that a hiker had gone off trail and climbed to the top of the falls where he slipped and fell to his death. Needless to say, we did not go to the falls.
The next major feature we came across was an old, dilapidated building deep in the forest. Alejandro explained that years ago the area where the park is located was a haven for rebel groups like the FARC and narcotraffickers. About 15 years ago the Colombian military cleared out the area and now the only thing left from those days are the remnants of old cabins like the one in the photo. Before the military cleared the area, a hike like the one we were on would have been extremely dangerous.
As we moved up the mountain the forest changed dramatically. The lower part had been clear cut about 50 years ago and was still recovering. The upper part had never been cut down and was still in its natural state.
As we were hiking, I realized there are very few things that could harm you. For the most part, the plants don’t have any thorns or toxic substances on the leaves. And surprisingly, there were very few insects. I expected to be eaten alive by the mosquitos, but I only encountered a few critters. We did run across the Colombian version of a centipede.
As Alejandro suggested, the last two miles to the top of Pico del Loro were extremely steep and slippery. It required both hands and feet to safely navigate the track we were on. As I was about to tell Omar that I couldn’t go any further, we climbed out of the forest to see the summit emerge shrouded in fog.
On a clear day Alejandro said that you can see Cali, but he added that there are very few clear days on Pico de Loro. The photos I took give you some idea how foggy it was. Every now and again the fog would lift for a brief moment and then close up again.
Like me, Omar was exhausted from the hike to the summit and decided to take a short nap on a rock nearby. When he turned to his left a mango he had carried with him rolled to the right down the rock face and off the ledge. Later when there was a brief break in the fog, we discovered that it was a couple hundred foot straight drop off the ledge to the forest bellow. It was a good thing Omar turned the other way.