Jaime had wanted to do another mountain with me before leaving for the Galapagos. We had some plans for the 29th but she began to feel she was cutting it too close to her departure and had to cancel. On the 29th I was at the Explorers' clubhouse and discovered a trip organized for the next day so I joined the eight others.
Iliniza Norte (16,818') is the 8th highest mountain in Ecuador. It along with Iliniza Sur (6th highest; 17,267') are all that remains of an ancient volcanic crater. It is one of the ten mountains in Ecuador over the magic 5000 meter line. It is unique in that it is unglaciated. It is an extremely popular climb alone or as preparation for the glaciated peaks.
Although there is a climber's hut near the saddle between Norte and Sur our group decided to do the whole distance as a day hike. That meant a little over 4,000' (1.200 m) of elevation gain and a much longer descent back down to the road. That is a stout hike at high altitude capped with some moderately exposed class 3 (some say a few 5.3 moves) climbing which we ended up doing in low visibility on ice and snow covered terrain in wind and snow. Eight of the nine climbers made the summit. The ninth remained at the hut with acclimatization issues. Not bad considering we were significantly higher than anything in the 48 or Europe. Even more remarkable was that six of the eight daring souls really did not have much mountain experience. Indeed for one stalwart summiter it was her very first mountain! Meanwhile there was a group of Ecuadorians probably in over their heads. One acting as a guide was belaying some of the others over class 2(!) terrain. At their pace they would be very, very lucky to make it back to the hut before dark and they were just dayhiking so they still had at least an hour to go back down to their ride.
Jaime and I headed to the Wednesday market at Otavalo. It is not as popular as the gigantic Saturday market buy still made a great day trip. Of course it rained on us and I got soaked when a deluge from a plastic tarp-roof dumped on my back. I'm so glad I wasn't wearing cotton. No pictures for the gallery here. I'll be back though. It is definately the place to do all one's gift shopping.
On the 23rd I was supposed to go to Papallacta's thermal baths with some friends but that fell through. So I decided to head to nearby Guagua Pichincha for a quick hike. After some adventures I found myself in the back of a pickup truck with a group of honeys from the US. After a rough ride we disembarked at around 15,000 ft near the Civil Defense Hut. After a spectacular eruption in 1999 scientists keep a close watch on this volcano. It was cloudy and a bit chilly so the girls didn't climb to the summit. I left them at the crater rim and continued alone. It was a fun little hike to the summit but by the time I got back they and our pickup truck ride were already gone. I guess they didn't want to do the 1500 meter descent on foot. It wasn't too bad.
So I'm working a little on my website, working a little on Erich's website, and doing a Linux upgrade. Wouldn't it be nice to enjoy a cocktail right now? Sure! I grab my glass and begin filling it with the local nectar known as aguardiente. Gah! What the fuck is in my glass? It turns out cane spirits are surprisingly slow to kill large beetles. It took about 2 minutes to this bugger to die.
I met another solo traveler at the South American Explorers Club and she decided to accompany me on a hike up Pasochoa (4200 m / 13779 ft) the following day. We were very optimistic in spite of the weather. But the following day Jaime and I headed out under ominous skies to Bosque Protector de Pasochoa. I couldn't get the truck driver to comprehend that yes we wanted to hike up Pasochoa but no, we don't want to be dropped off at the park entrance, instead take us to the Central Hidrologico. So we ended up at the park entrance which brought the vertical distance up to 1600 m / 1 mi and added a couple hours to the hike. That would have been fine except for the rain that started as we began the hike. After 4 hours, the last 2 nearly continuous rain, we turned around at a cliff band. The summit was about an hour away. Considering the mud, rain, my picture taking, and that Jaime was living at sea level 3 days earlier, we made phenominal time by averaging about 330 m / 1100 ft of vertical per hour for 4 hours. She will be in Ecuador for a month before heading to Columbia so maybe we will do some more hiking together.
Mitad del Mundo, or Middle of the World, is a modern monument marking the equator. Located 50 minutes north of where I live it is a very popular destination with tourists and foreigners alike. It is also a virtual geocache. Two birds with one stone as they say. I can sum up the experience in one word... Tacky. It was most definately a tourist trap. Still it was worth going to just because, hey, I'm in Ecuador. I have to see the Equator/Middle of the World monument. Ironically the 18th century French expedition was a little off with their measurements. The monument isn't quite on the equator as a GPS will show. The true equator is just a short walk away however. I found a point at 00° 00.000 latitude right on the main road after a short walk.
Pululagua is the name of a gigantic and long extinct volcano crater located approximately 8km by road from Mitad del Mundo. Because of this the two sites are often visited together. I had intended on simply enjoying the viewpoint and finding another geocache but when I arrived I just sort of started walking. I paid a small fee to the warden (it's a geobotanical reserve) and started descending into the crater. Four hours later after ascending the 3rd highest point on the central lava domes, I returned. It was a fun little hike of 550+ meters ascent over 10 km. Since I hadn't planned on really doing it though I hadn't brought or drank any water all day... or eaten for that matter. On the way out I bought 2 bottles of water from a vender for 80 cents so I had a little something.
On Friday the 7th I decided to see some art. After helping Mónica with the travel agency email, I made the short walk to Quito's Museo Banco Central. It is divided into 3 general areas: the ceramics exhibit, the gold room, and the religious and colonial paintings. Shortly after entering I met Areceli and Paola. Inicially there was a third girl but her name defied pronunciation and memory. The three were tourguides-in-training. Areceli asked if she could practice her English with me (and here I thought I blended in like a native! How did she know?). Paola wanted to practice too but her English was really great and naturally spoken after 12 years in a US missionary school here in Quito. Without going into all the details it was a very entertaining tour and thoroughly enjoyable. Afterward Areceli, Paola, and I headed to the old town for a small contemporary art exhibit. It sucked. Areceli is all about art but in Paola's words it was "Fucking stupid". What a gal.