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Saturday
Dec112010

Ecuador Volcanoes

Some trips are so smooth it feels like I've cheated. This trip to Ecuador was one of those.

Last July Glenn Wilson and I were brainstorming trips and thought of Ecuador. Glenn and I met in 1998 on a six-day mountaineering course in the Cascades. In 2006 we climbed Mount Bona (16,550'), the tenth highest mountain in North America. James Kesterson, who also joined us, and I have been to Denali's West Buttress (2002), Mount Marcus Baker (2004) and Mount Iliamna (2008). 

Over ten days James, Glenn and I bagged peaks and enjoyed Ecuador's timeless haciendas. Javier Herrera at Andean Face compiled impecible logistics. Our driver Louis Tonato taught us about Ecuador: pasillo music, how to eat granadilla and tree tomatoes, and where to find the belt stall in Muchachi. I highly recommend Andean Face for your Ecuador logistics. 

Louis, James, Glenn and I on the summit of Guagua Pichincha (15,696'), our second acclimatization peak after Pasachoa. Guagua sits just east of 1.4 million people living in the capital city of Quito. In October 1999, Guagua blew out the west side, spraying ash 3.5 miles into the sky. 

 

Iliniza Norte was our third peak and first real climb. Beasts carried our kit to the refugio at 15,400 feet at the saddle between Iliniza Norte and Sur. 

 

As the evening the fog lifts, James checks our route up Iliniza Norte, the right ridgeline. 

 

Summit ridge of Illiniza Norte (16,818'). We roped up for the final 300 feet of exposed frozen snow slopes. 

 

Estancias are the second reason to visit Ecuador. After climbing Illiniza Norte, we stayed at La Cariona, a 200-year old spanish hacienda. We didn't ride around in that 1952 Benz. Louis drove a 1992 Nissan Patrol capable of climbing 5.3. 

 

Ecuador's high-class, apres-climb is demanding for a Palouse country boy. Lucky for me, around back of La Carriona I found a wooly paramo donkey who could relate. All four feet of him. Dmitry Sidrov in Anchorage was sympathetic of our situation. He recorded us an accordian song

 

Our second major peak was Cayambe. We drove to the Cayambe Refugio at 15,250 feet. Cayambe is the only snowy place on the equator. 

 

Climbing out of the bergshrund 200 feet below Cayambe's summit. We were lucky. This shrund is often wide open and hard to pass. 

 

Freezing mist on the 18,994-foot summit of Cayambe. James' GPS read 19,084 feet at 7:17am. We went beyond the summit. 

 

Six hours after summiting Cayambe we were at Guachala, the oldest hacienda in Ecuador from 1580. Guachala was my favorite rest day place until...

 

...we moved to Chilcabamba, below Cotopaxi to finish our rest day. Serious tranquilloness. 

 

Our third big peak was Cotapaxi. We stayed at the Jose Ribas hut at 15,729 feet on the normal route. An ice avalanche nailed the hut in 1996 - maybe hire an avalanche consultant for the next hut! 

 

James at 18,500 feet with Cotopaxi's shadow beyond. We started climbing at 12:15 am. It's bright enough to see at 5:45am. This means we didn't see anything except black crevasses and stars for 5 1/2 hours. 

 

On the 19,347-foot summit of Cotopaxi.  

 

Cotopaxi's last major eruption was in 1904. In the distance near Banos is Tungurahua, belching away. Beyond Tungurahua is El Altar and Sangay. 

  

I first visited Ecuador in 2001 and worked with Tim Connelly and Derek Elliot for the American Alpine Institute. Our local guide was Santiago Quinteros, a very psyched climber. He soloed this rock face on Cotapaxi called the Yanasacha (Quechua for large black rock). I'm glad Santiago is still alive. 

 

One more 6,000-foot step to the base. 


Thanks for an incredible trip Glenn and James! I can't wait to climb with you again soon!