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South America, Colombia, Sierra Nevada de Cocuy

Sierra Nevada de Cocuy. A seven-man expedition left Cambridge University in June for the Sierra Nevada de Cocuy, a range of mountains in the Cordillera Oriental, 200 miles northeast of Bogotá. Our aim was to split up on arrival at a base into three parties and to study the Tunebo Indians, who inhabit the foothills, the geology, and the glaciers of the range. The mountains contain the greatest single area of snow and ice in Colombia. The leader of the whole expedition was David Stoddart. The members of the glaciological party were John Rucklidge, who climbed in British Columbia in 1957, David Dare and myself. We left our base on the western side of the range and established a camp at 13,500 feet in order to carry out a series of observations on one glacier in particular, the San Pablin Glacier. We spent most of our six weeks in the field there, though, in the intervals between work John Rucklidge and I crossed other glaciers and climbed two peaks. At first, work on the glacier was delayed by a lack of acclimatization and bad weather. Acclimatization appears to be a peculiarly trying problem in equatorial regions; with regard to the climate, January is apparently the best month for visiting the mountains of Colombia. However, our work was only held up temporarily. We were able in the end to complete a plane-table survey of the glacier and to measure its velocity, the accumulation of snow and the melting of ice on its surface. Our data and observations may prove useful to those who try to understand the complexities of tropical glaciers. Mountaineering had to take second place to the scientific work. All the major peaks of the range had, in fact, been climbed and could be reached in a day from a camp below the snow line. Furthermore the rock was rather poor, so that from various points of view there was little scope for first-class mountaineering. Rucklidge and I did complete two ascents and made various traverses in the vicinity of the San Pablin Glacier. One of the peaks climbed was Picacho (17,100 feet), first ascended by a previous Cambridge expedition. For a week, we joined the geologists on a trip to the south of the range where we climbed Toti (16,600 feet). We completed this excursion with a new high-level traverse back to the San Pablin Glacier. We reunited at the base at the end of August and shortly afterwards all except Brian Moser, who remained to work for an American oil company, returned to England.

Richard Smythe, Cambridge University Mountaineering Club