If you have been following along you no doubt noticed that Don, the trip organizer, has been having some trouble with altitude. Although he has climbed some repectable peaks in the Cascades and the Whites he was not able to acclimatize to the 4000 - 5000 meter warm up climbs here in Ecuador. Sadly our team started to fall apart after Iliniza Norte when Don decided to pass on attempting Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. The remaining three climbers went to Cotopaxi, however, after a failed bid and more trouble with various illnesses we decided not to make a second attempt the next day. Konrad had been fighting a cold for about a week and it wasn't getting better, and Sam was having bouts of altitude sickness as well. Since this was not primarily a climbing trip for him, Sam decided to be happy with climbing Iliniza Norte and then moving on to the coast. Konrad and I have some undefined plans to do another climb before he has to leave in a week.
Don (US) and Konrad (Germany) are climbers I met online. We got together Sunday the 20th of June in Quito and we 'finalized' our climbing plans. They are here for the standard mountain roundup. The ultimate goals were the standard routes up Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. Acclimatization mountains include Pasochoa, El Corazón, and Iliniza Norte also all the standard routes. It was a two week schedule with rest days. Later we would be joined by Sam from Colorado.
Below in reverse chronological order is a summary of our climbs.
The three of us and Jens (Sweden) turned back on Cotopaxi. After spending most of the day in the climbers refuge hiding from the weather, talking about wind loaded snow and avalanche potential, and organizing our gear we got a little sleep and left at 12:45 for our summit attempt. In case you are unaware, that is 45 minutes after midnight not midday. We were the first of four teams. The others were 30 - 45 minutes behind us.
The wind had not abaited since our arrival and the driving snow limited visibility. Nobody felt very good about our chances but we still hoped for the best as we left the hut and struggled into the tempest. An hour later we were on the glacier discussing whether it was worth it to climb a little further or turn back. We hated to turn around and be the first team to bail but the wind was not going to get any better as we ascended and the visibility was hindering route finding so with the bitter taste of defeat in our mouths we turned our backs on the summit and faced the string of feeble headlamps climbing towards us. The other groups had paid a lot of money to be guided to the summit and they continued. We second guessed our decision throughout the night but especially towards morning when the others had not returned yet. Finally between 8 - 9 o'clock they began staggering into the hut iced over. Two other teams and some of the Spanish team had to turn around somewhere around five-five, 5,500 meters, or 18,150 feet due to the conditions. We were very much relieved to have our decision validated. Those that did make it to the summit didn't even have a view of the crater!
Three of the four climbers made it up this one. We were joined on this climb by Sam from Colorado who would be joining us on Cotopaxi. Unlike the last time I did this mountain, we stayed in the hut at the col between Norte and Sur. Don was victimized by Acute Mountain Sickness and stayed at the hut. Konrad, Sam, and I started around 06:17 in the clouds for the summit. After gaining the crater rim and a half hour of climbing we broke out of the clouds. There was still wind but at least we could see. And what we did see was spectacular — especially Iliniza Sur. More pictures and a movie (9.9 MB). Iliniza Norte was a wonderful climb and great acclimatization.
A success for two of the three climbers. Konrad and I made it to the summit after 1717 meters (5,666 ft) and 5:20. Views all around were great! Lots of great pictures and movies of Corazón and surrounding mountains resulted.
Great time to the summit but not so great on the way down. Pretty good pictures and a couple movies of Pasochoa. We tried to link the standard route with a descent through the Bosque Protector – which is what Jaime and I tried to ascend previously. It did not work and we gave up bush bashing but we lost two hours in the process. Eventually we made it back down to the road and managed to hitch back to the highway after about an hour of walking.
Jaime was back in Quito from Cuenca but only briefly. She was leaving for the US Saturday at 4:00 in the morning but she was still up for one last hike on Friday. So I suggested Guagua Pichincha. It is nearby and we could hike it quickly. Chris dropped us off just below the hut which left only about an hour's hike to the summit. It was a bit windy but we actually had some views! Finally I got to see something. There were some clouds around but we managed to see Pasochoa, Rumiñahui, a cloud-covered Cotopaxi, Atacazo, and a bit of El Corazón. We were also able to see down into the crater to observe the lava dome venting a little gas. The picture is Jaime next to the summit facing the route back along the crater rim.
In the hilltop neighborhood of Bellavista Alto resides this gem of a museum. The location is beautiful overlooking the rest of Quito and grand views of Rucu Pichincha. The neighborhood is quiet and residential and $3 gets foreigners inside ($2 for residents).
The museum is a small complex of 4 buildings that appear to have been at one time residences. There are 4 areas to see. The first displays and sells modern jewelry, the second is a rather large collection of archeological pieces, the third is the colonial/religious art exhibit, and the fourth is Guayasamín's own contemporary art. Overall I was impressed with the museum especially the number of pieces, but ultimately after an hour I had seen it all.
It's not all guinea pig and intestine soup for food here in Ecuador. Like today for instance, crab dinner. Mmmm. Very fresh and boiled up by Mónica in a beer broth.
I couldn't believe my eyes. I exited the house intent on heading to SuperMaxi on a sangria run, and there before me radiant in the setting sun was Cotopaxi. Okay really it was a very small view that I could have blotted out with my thumb at arm's length but it was there all the same. After nearly two month I had yet to see this jewel. I ran in side and got my 5MP Nikon and shot some pictures on full zoom from the second floor.
After some judicious cropping I was left with a fairly nice picture don't you think? The standard route runs up from below Yanasasha, the obvious rock band, and avoids it on the right side. Cotopaxi is the second highest mountain in Ecuador after Chimborazo. This volcano stands proudly at 19,347 ft and is still active. It is on my short list to climb.
This little trip could have turned out better. It is really more of a trip lowlight than a highlight. Five of us left Quito on Friday for a trip to Cotopaxi National Park in order to climb Rumiñahui. It is another 4000 meter peak with a nice scrambly finish and exciting proximity to 4000 m (El Corazón & Sincholagua) and 5000 m (Iliniza Norte and Sur & Cotopaxi). The views should have been fantastic. My god, think of the photos! That is the mountain in the photo to the right. It has 3 peaks, Sur, Central, and Norte. Norte is the highest at 4.634 m (15,203') and is hidden behind the cloud on the right in the picture.
We camped at a lake the night before in the rain after a number of fortuitous circumstances brought us into the park after dark. All day I had noticed that I wasn't feeling right. Not properly sick but I was not well either. It was a general feeling of malaise and unwell. And I had not really had any appetite or eaten for a day and a half. I forced myself to eat a decent dinner so I would have some energy for the next day however.
In the morning the rain stopped thankfully and we packed up and got hiking. I managed to eat a few pretzels for breakfast. After about an hour we stashed our packs off the trail under a tree and headed up through the wet ichu grass toward our destination. The weather was cloudy and threatened rain and the upper portions of the mountain mostly stayed in the clouds. We couldn't even see Cotopaxi directly behind us on the other side of the tiny lake and it is a 19 thousand foot mountain! Unfortunately the weather never got any better. The clouds lifted a little but once we climbed into them it didn't matter. It was poor visibility, no real trail, slick mud, and loose sand and cinders. Eventually four of the five made it to the crater rim where another turned around. We were 50 meters below the summit but needed to descend slightly into the crater and traverse around over loose and wet cinders and mud over what was probably a giant drop that we couldn't see because of the clouds. We investigated but ultimately made a unanimous decision to turn around. It hurt to be so close and have to turn around.
On the way down I confessed to Andy from Australia that I was not going to do this again the next day on Sincholagua. He and I had plans to spend an extra day and climb Sincholagua the following day. He laughed and agreed. In fact I went further and stated I wasn't planning on doing any more mountains here until the weather is clear. I'll take a couple weeks off and evaluate the situation at the end of June. We tried to catch up to Tim and Herman but they were way ahead of us.
So we eventually bushwack our way back down to our stash location to pick up the pack and they are goooone. Fucking gone except for some of our trash bags. We couldn't believe it. What are the chances that some people are going to stumble across our packs in almost the middle of nowhere in a National Park, off the trail and not visible, and what are the chances these hikers are going to be thieves and have enough people to carry out their stuff plus our packs. We looked around the area quickly in case they dragged them off to rifle elsewhere but we didn't see anything.
So to make a long story short we had to get the heck out of there. We didn't want to be forced to spend a night out in the park without our gear and we had to hitchhike out. The three of us eventually caught up to Tim and Herman on the road after a couple independent hitches. They had their backpacks! In that hour between them picking up theirs, someone had found ours and taken them somewhere. Eventually we get back to the park entrance and report it. They offer to take us back up there to look around but it is twilight by then so what are we going to see the the dark that we couldn't see in daylight? Miraculously we manage to tag along on a charter bus of school kids on a trip all the way back to Quito and that concludes our trip.
Wow it is June already. After a month and a half of living here I decided to go on a photographer's journey into Quito's old town and acquire some pictures of the colonial buildings. Mission accomplished. I began with the Basilica Voto National (seen at the right) and moved on to Plaza de la Independencia (Palacio Arzobispal, Palacio Municipal, Palacio del Gobierno, and the Catedral. A short distance away Plaza San Francisco and its namesake church sat awaiting my camera. And there were also good views of the famous Virgen of Quito atop the Panecillo. Afterward I took the EcoVia bus back to the new town and SAE before returning home for lunch.