Crowning the Alto de La Cuchilla

It has been on my list of climbs in the Bogotá area for a while now, and I finally found the time and guts to crown it, La Cuchilla. I am not talking about the 11.5km climb from Guasca to the Paramo top, as I’ve done that one too many times already. No, I am talking about the 35 kilometer long climb starting at the town of Gachetá, down in the valley.

Cold to warm, and back…

La Cuchilla is a known name for cyclists in Bogota, or even in Colombia. The climb can be categorized as Hors Categorie, thanks to the length and average grade of 5%. And then there’s the height! The summit of La Cuchilla – The razorblade – tops a staggering 3.365 meters. At these heights you enter the Páramo system, known for its rare plants and flowers.

To start my long journey to the top, I first had to descent down to Gachetá. The descent is a perfect time to check out the quality of the roads, and see where the hard parts are. Starting at 3365 meters high, I was covered by clouds and could only see the silhouettes of the Frailejons surrounding me. Slowly going down, and leaving the clouds, I could see the beautiful valley below me. There were small farms with their cattle, and a small river crossing these lands. The road surface was very well, with the exception of some washed out sections. But with my narrow tires these weren’t too difficult to avoid.

What goes down, must go up

After descending all the way down to the river Gachetá, I stopped and noticed how warm it has become. The Frailejons made way for Banana trees. Descending more than 1500 meters resulted in a big change of temperature. My Gilet and armwarmers were no longer necessary, so I stowed them away in my backpockets. I didn’t have to drive far into the town of Gachetá to find a place to grab a quick breakfast. The bakery on the steep uphill streets entering the town looked well enough, and I didn’t feel like climbing up further away from my goal of the day. After flushing away my Pandebono and empanada with a Coke it was time to get ready for 35 kilometers of climbing.

Crowning the alto de la cuchilla
crossing the river Gachetá

The sun was out, and my Garmin showed a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius. I never had any trouble with warm temperatures, so I was feeling okay with it. After crossing the bridge over the river Gachetá the climb to la Cuchilla would officially start, and my plan was not to go too fast from the start. After all, it was 35 kilometers of climbing to the top. The last time I did a climb this long was el Vino, and there I had the same game plan.

“Vamos Nairo!”

The first part of the climb, up until Sueva, was going great, I had a good rhythm and survived the heat perfectly. Along the way I even got some cheers from locals along the side of the road. “Vamos Nairo, Vamos”  and “ Lucho, Lucho”  were some of the cheers, referring to the legendary Lucho Herrera, and more recent Nairo Quintana. After crossing Sueva there was some time to recover, as the percentages went down to a more pleasant 4.5-5% average. I found some time to enjoy the view over the valley and the big cliffs on the left of me.

Crowning the alto de la cuchilla
The Hairpins

But I noticed that the percentages were picking up again, and it was full on pushing again. I remember descending that there were two beautiful sections of hairpins, and I have just reached the first one. 4 consecutive hairpins were kicking up grade, and it was a good point to see how quickly I was making vertical meters. Right about now the temperatures had dropped, and the heavy sweating stopped by now. The next 10 kilometers at 6.5%, with several ramps at 10 and 11% and a whole kilometer at 8.5% would quickly change that however.

The long straight roads

Crowning the alto de la cuchilla
The long straight roads

I was now entering a new section of the climb, were long straight roads would make it seem endless. No more nice views over the green valley, but trees on both sides of the roads and clouds starting to form. It was now getting really difficult, steep long sections combined with the time climbing made my speed drop down for the first time. When I saw a very small “shop” at the side of the road I decided to stop for a Gatorade. I didn’t feel hungry, but was afraid to be empty before the top so I reached for my Bocadillo’s in my jersey pocket. This sugar rush should help me reach the top without running out of energy. I asked the old lady in the shop how much longer it was. “Mas o menos 20 minutos” she said while looking at me like a mother looks after her child.

Crowning the alto de la cuchilla
The view over the valley

Reaching the top

20 minutes, that doesn’t seem that far anymore. I compared it with climbing Patios, and thought I can suffer those minutes as well. By now, I have reached the Páramo heights, and felt the raindrops falling down. This last part of the climb is known for its ups and downs, and giving you the false hope that you’ve reached the top. What bothered me even more, were the negative height meters, knowing how hard I’ve pushed to gain them. The last kilometer was marked on the tarmac, since the GFNY Colombia had his finish on top of la Cuchilla less than a month ago. At the summit waits a big Movistar sign with a picture of Nairo Quintana on it and the text “Coroné el Alto de La Cuchilla.” But due to the heavy fog it was impossible to see the sign until less tan 10 meters away.

Crowning the alto de la cuchilla
Crowning the alto de la cuchilla

I realized I did it, I crowned the Alto de La Cuchilla from its longest side by crossing the eastern cordillera of the Colombian Andes. There was no time to stand still and be proud, as the temperatures were below 5 degrees and a cold wind was cooling me down rapidly. Quickly I descended down towards Guasca, and was thinking about my next big mountain pass to crown. Would it be el Aguila from Pacho?

The Stats

  • Distance: 30km
  • Average: 5%
  • Lowest Point: 1690m
  • Highest Point: 3365m
  • Category: HC

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