Thirsty, hot, tired, out of water…desperate.
These are the thoughts that went through my mind as the entire group had run out of water only after 3 hours on an 8-hour hike.
Altitude sickness, 30 degrees sun, then the cold at 3700 meters above sea level (m.a.s.).
These are the facts we had to deal with as we went through our ordeal looking for water.
How could this happen? To everyone on top of that? Were we so unprepared?
We got picked up at an astonishingly early 5:40 AM, the bus was supposed to pass at 6:00 AM…it passed at 6:30 AM.
We were heading to the Páramo de Siscunsí in Boyacá, where flora unique to this part of the world can be found.
“We will walk uphill for 4 hours, then downhill for 4 hours”. “Do not bring more than 1 liter of water, there are clean water sources throughout the hike.”
This is what we were told the day before we left while preparing for the hike.
Starting at 3100 m.a.s. and walking up to 3700 m.a.s. was not going to be an easy task, and certainly not one that I had come to Sogamoso for.
To be honest, I had no clue what I would do in Sogamoso before I arrived. Me coming here was not a result of any suggestion or even on the list of places I had to go. No. It was a lack of preparation.
So how did I end up on this hike???……..peer pressure.
The Hike Started Innocently Enough
The bus left us on the highway and our hike up began.
The start of the trail went up, and up, and up. Not too painful, but painful enough. Not hard, but hard enough to make the muscles in my legs ache. Hard enough to remind me to watch my breathing and save my breath while going up. Hard enough that it reminded me of that hike in Huaraz that took me out for 2 days.
Eventually the trail would disappear, and we would be trekking through unmarked places surrounded by mountains. Mainly going uphill, the trail had become harder for everyone.
Our guide was patient, making sure everyone made it OK to the top of each hill we climbed, and allowing the group to take breaks as much as possible.
But Then The Inevitable Happened…
Two hours into the hike, the altitude started affecting someone in the group.
On the last hill before reaching the Páramo, a girl became dizzy and pale. Nausea and headache were apparently already being felt. So we decided to take a long break to give her time to recover.
So we decided to not climb the last 200 meters, and instead took an “easier” path. An easier path which would become the reason why we would end the day as thirsty and exhausted as we did.
We walked down the mountain through some not so easy terrain, one which our guide although familiar with it, had not been through in many months.
And The Day Kept Getting Hotter And Hotter
We had started the trek at 8:00 AM. It was now 11:00 AM by the time the girl started to feel sick.
With the sun getting higher, the more we walked the hotter it got. And the hotter it got, the more water we drank. And drank. And drank.
By the time we took the decision to not make it to the Páramo, we had already drank about ¾ of our water.
Our guide reassured us that we could finish our water, as “there are water sources not too far from here” he said.
So we continued walking.
The water was dirty at the first water source. Discouraged, we kept walking under the heat of the sun.
The thing about altitude is that temperature changes very quick. When the sky is clear and the sun is out, it burns like a motherfucker. But when clouds hide the sun (or when it’s just cloudy), it gets very cold and windy.
In the span of 10 minutes, I took my long-sleeve off and put it back on at least 3 times.
We kept walking uphill in what seemed like a mountain with no end, and our girl was not feeling any better, but she wasn’t the only one. Others started feeling the exhaustion, walking slowly, dragging our feet (yes, I was also one of them).
Walking breaks were needed more often, and as the sun kept burning, water kept getting drank. It is then that some starting to run out…
“There is a water source up that hill”, the guide said. “That one should be clean”.
Some of us enthusiastically drank whatever we had left in order to get new, refreshing, drinkable water in our bottles.
And we waited…
After 20 minutes of wait, we were happy to see our guide come down the hill. “FINALLY!!!”. At that point, we had walked for close to 5 hours. Having rested with the sun at its highest in a place with no shades made us even more tired and thirsty…needless to say, headaches started to settle in while we sweated like pigs.
“No clean water guys”.
Four words that crushed our hearts, hopes and thirsty throats.
“Oh no! And I drank the rest of my bottle…I’m out of water”, another girl claimed, almost sobbing.
No Choice, We Needed To Keep Going
We kept walking through mud, wet grass, and rocks. Uphill always short on breath, then downhill with hurting knees, then up again. We climbed and went down mountains for the following hour.
And then we saw it…about one kilometer ahead, a house!
“Who the hell lives here???” It didn’t matter, if they live here they MUST have water!!!
We kept walking. Those who had water last time no longer had any.
We were getting hungry. But without any water, the bread and bags of peanuts some brought seemed less than the ideal snack.
We rush to it, so fast that I started feeling a headache caused by the altitude. But it didn’t matter. I was thirsty. So thirsty my tongue could no longer make saliva.
As we get closer to the house we realize….
It’s not a house. No one lives there. It was an old beat down stable. There were horses around, even the cranium of a horse which probably died of thirst, but no one to ask.
The guide went uphill to another water source with one girl from the group while the rest of us waited at the stable.
Some sat down tired and thirsty as clouds settled in and the weather got cold. The rest of us decided to walk around the stable.
As we walked across the cliff where the house sat, we stood in silence as we heard the most amazing sound we had heard all day.
And not just any river. As we approached it, we notice a hose coming out of the ground, spitting what seemed to be clean water.
As the guide and the girl come back empty handed, we show them the water source. The guide inspects the small river and where the water comes from, and confirms that it is clean.
As a sight of children in a candy store, we all rush to the hose to get our bottles filled. We all very much drank them dry and filled them again. IT. WAS. SO. GOOD.
The Long Way Back
Even though our thirst had been satiated, many of us were tired and with headaches due to the altitude.
From the stable, it would still take a long 1 hour uphill walk and an extra hour of both downhill and uphill to reach a point where a bus could pick us up.
We were cold, tired, hungry, and some had massive headaches. By the time we reached the bus, we were depleted. And someone puked on the way back.
And so ended our misadventure.
But what exactly happened??? Did the guide not know that there was a possibility of water running out on a long 8 hour hike? Were we that slow and tired that we just over-killed our water?
We had been told that there would be clean water sources on the way to the Páramo. But these were all on the part of the mountain which we had decided not to go. All other water sources we found were close to where animals like to roam around, and therefore water was undrinkable at these sources.
Has something similar ever happened to you while hiking? What did you do to keep going?