Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This fine range situated in northern Colombia, was visited in March, 1930, by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas D. Cabot. Although easily accessible from the eastern seaboard, and with peaks 19,000 feet in height, the range is almost unknown to alpinists. Being completely surrounded by low land, it is not a part of the Andes, but is a separate group close to the ocean.
The peaks are covered with magnificent glaciers. They are not volcanic cones but present cliff's of rock and ice and fine arêtes to tempt the climber. The highest massif with a triple summit is in the center of the range and is called by various authorities Horqueta, Picacho, and Colon. There are no other peaks approaching it in height. Earlier parties have approached the peak from the south side, which they reached from Fundacion, or Rio Hacha. Mr. and Mrs. Cabot went in from Rio Frio and by following Indian trails through the jungle reached the paramos, or alplands, a few miles from the main peak. This means of approach saves four or five days each way, but they were very short of time and in order to catch their steamer home, they had to return after reaching an altitude of about 12,000 feet on the paramos.
The north side of the mountain is a large névé leading to all of the three summits. They were unable to tell which summit was the highest. The easterly summit looked fairly easy by the western snow-field and main (west arête); the western summit by the north arête. The central summit would probably be more difficult; the eastern arête looks the best but has a break near the top which might prove bad. Besides the three summits of the main peak, the only ones they saw worth climbing were some very steep, but much lower, rock peaks to the north.
From Santa Marta, which has several passenger steamers weekly, to snow-line takes only three or four days. The route is through the densest of jungles inhabited by wholly uncivilized Indians of the Ahruaco tribe. This tribe is not dangerous, as is the Goajira to the east and the Motilone to the southeast. It will probably be impossible to get Indians to act as porters, but trinkets, etc., should be brought to exchange for food and minor services. The only trails are foot trails, too steep for mules. They can be negotiated by burros with a good deal of assistance.
As to the altitude of the peaks, various authorities give figures all the way from 16,419 to 19,310 feet. The former is given by the British Admiralty and the United States Navy charts and the latter by de Brettes. The Encyclopedia Britannica gives two figures—16,-728, and 17,389. Mr. Cabot believes the peaks are over 19,000 feet, for a careful survey was made by the United Fruit Company engineers, who measured a base-line by accurate co-ordinates near Sevilla and triangulated the peak visible from that point. This worked out almost exactly 19,000 feet. This is probably the western summit and the central summit may be slightly higher. The famous Alexander Von Humboldt gives 19,100 feet as the altitude.
De Brettes claims to have climbed the highest summit in 1891. He reached the summit alone. There were clouds to the north and east, so it is quite possible that he might have thought he was on the highest peak with higher peaks invisible behind the clouds. Simons and Sievers also reached great altitudes but both say they were unable to get to the top. So far as is known, no one has tried the north sides of the peak. De Brettes says the south side is much less steep than the north side.1
T. D. C.
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1 Authorities :—
Brettes, Comte Joseph de, Reisen in Nordlich Colombia, Braunsweig,. 1898.
Brettes, Comte Joseph de, Chez les Indiens du Nord de La Colombia, Tour du Monde, February et seq., 1898, Paris.
Sievers, W., Reise in der Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Leipzig, 1887. Simons, F. A. A., Proceedings, Royal Geographic Society 1879, pp. 689, 752 (Map); Dec. 1881; 1885, pp. 781, 840; 1887, p. 705 (Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Goajira). Maps.