Earth is steep. Until just now, I’d never put it together how much climbing you do while traveling, but now that I’m thinking about it, it’s kind of a crazy amount. So many sights, both man-made and nature-made, require a spike in elevation which makes me wonder, why is all the good stuff up so high?
I’ve done every combination of the following:
I’ve (a)_____ very steep (b)_____ to reach many (c)_____.
a) climbed, hiked
b) stairs, ladders, paths
c) ancient ruins, castles, towers, vista points
This story is about a time I climbed very steep stairs to reach a vista point – it’s about La Piedra Del Peñol near Guatapé, Colombia. The monolith, known to locals as simply La Piedra (Spanish for the stone) is really just that, a really, really big rock. It soars high in to the sky and at some point in history, (although I can’t for the life of me figure out when) someone built stairs to the top. Climbing these stairs is a must-do for visitors to the area and on our last day in Guatapé, Andy and I set out to do just that.
First, we had to get there. We took a taxi to the base of the rock and conveniently a nearby restaurant happily let us store our luggage in their office while we made the climb.
After a ten minute taxi ride, we arrived at the base.
Seriously, the rock is enormous. Take a look at that same picture but this time notice the part I’ve circled.
That little blip on the side of the rock is actually this…
Only about 1/3 of the rock’s mass is above ground and that portion alone is about 650 ft. The stairs are numbered in increments of 50 and I documented the 100 milestones.
Did I mention that the town of Guatape is at an elevation of around 7,000 ft.? People get altitude sickness at much, much lesser heights. Also, I’m from Portland which is roughly 50 ft. above sea level. We just about died.
Once we reached the top, we were met by some pretty fantastic views, there were also some souvenir shops and restaurants. As my own leg muscles involuntarily convulsed I tried to sneak a peak at the legs of the men and women setting up shop who made the climb every day. They must have some mighty quads.
At the top we felt pretty darn triumphant. After we caught our breath and our legs calmed down we did a few little photo shoots of the views and of ourselves.
And then, after a bit more water, a bit more resting and a bit more appreciation of all the beauty around us, we headed back toward the stairs to begin our descent. As we approached the stairs a man stopped us and said something in Spanish.
“¿Que?” I said, which means “what” and probably accounts for about 95% of all my responses in Spanish.
He pointed at the one of the buildings and then pointed to the top. Then he chuckled and pointed up and then we understood. We weren’t at the top yet and my legs died a little inside at the thought of more stairs.
I’d like to know whose idea it was to build a four story building on top of this massive rock. What deranged sadist decided that every poor sap who risks heart failure by climbing 700 steps needs to climb another 40 in order to really be at the top? Who is this cruel being?
Sigh… Whoever he was, he succeeded in sucking us poor saps into his evil plot and we hung our heads and climbed the final steps. I took a video to document the final ascent.
And once again we felt triumphant.
Also, because I’m apparently just as deranged, I decided we should take advantage of being the only ones up there and try to get a jumping picture – meaning that I had to set the camera’s self-timer, run up the final few steps and jump really high not once, not twice, but six times to get the shot.
Here are the fails:
And then finally we got one where we were both in the air:
After a few more photos we once again decided to head back down, first the building’s four flights of stairs and then the rock’s many more. After a bit, we reached a fork in the staircase. On one side we saw the way we’d come up; on the other prong, we saw different stairs with a sign that read, “Bajando” which translates to “Down” and an arrow pointing as such. At the time we presumed that two sets of stairs, one for climbing up and one for climbing down, served the purpose of lessening congestion. There were only a handful of people on the rock that morning but we’re rule followers and we had no reason to not follow the sign.
So we did.
Until, after about 200 steps or so, we reached this point.
There was nothing to do but laugh, turn around and climb back up. At the top we proceeded to climb down the up stairs but fortunately, like most stairs do, they work both ways.
From there we took a taxi to the airport in Medellín and flew back to Bogotá. After takeoff I was positively thrilled to look out the window and see the rock we’d conquered just a few hours before. I’m not in that great of shape, I have a torn meniscus and, at the time, Andy was lugging around a tumor this size of a brick on his backside. Considering all that and the fact that we got to see some downright spectacular views (and manage a jumping photo with both of us mid-air) I’d say we had a major travel triumph on our hands.
Here are a few more pictures of the magnificent views – and also one picture that was taken through a dirty airplane window.