Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Climbing in Ecuador 2011

Climbing in Ecuador

June, 2011 Synopsis: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars, like the guidebook says - "Ecuador is a wonderful destination for intermediate mountaineers looking to get some experience at elevation" what they don't say is the locals are friendly and things are pretty cheap.

We arrived in Quito on the 30th of May and checked into a hotel in old town which did the trick perfectly.

Wednesday June 1/11  Pasachoa - attempt

We got up, had breakfast in the hotel and made our way to the bus stop, it was a bit full on and I attempted to stomp through like Forest Gump however MENSA chick made me stop and ask directions.  9:00 am got on a bus for Amaguana, with lot’s of stops it took roughly an hour - cost $0.85 for both of us.  The bus conductor was good enough to help get us a camionette at the stop however it turned out to be a small car and cost less than the rate mentioned in the guide book so we were in good hands.  The driver was a young lady whose name was Linda and she spoke just a bit of English.  The ride up to the start of the climb took roughly ½ hour on a very rough road of 7 km’s and cost $7.  Ended at a refugio at the Buogue Forest.  

This was a different spot than I was aiming for however would do just fine and we got a great hike through the rain forest.  There was a park entrance and a little man took $2 for us to enter and gave us a map.  We started hiking at 10:40 am at roughly 2700 metres.  Good trails for the first part however very wet.  The sky was threatening however didn’t really rain hard on us, just sprinkled.  The ground was quite slick in places and there was a lot of bird song.  We were in thick forest until noon at which time we gained a ridge, still in forest and quite cloudy so not a lot to see.  The map showed the end of the trail being Ruma Lumo and we reached there just after 1:00 pm at 3090m.  Just before then emerged from the forest and made our way up damp long grass, tricky footing.  Ruma Lumo was a saddle, unfortunately not much for views due to the clouds.  We stopped for lunch and then took a little bit of back and forth to determine the correct way.  We then made our way around the ridge line through very interesting terrain on the back side of the volcano.  It became apparent that we weren’t going to summit and get back to meet Linda for 5 pm so we turned around at 3600m at 2:30 pm, note the styling rain pants!  

Raced back to Ruma Lumo and made it just after 4:00 pm.  Slid our way down the trail and just 5 minutes from the parking lot heard Linda honk her horn, our spanish worked and she had come back to get us!  6:30 hour day and 900 metres but we were wet and tired.  Linda took us to where the bus could meet us and the bus happened by as we were getting out of the car!  We ran for it and it turned out to be the same bus we took there.  The conductor greeted us like old friends and we settled in to a more crowded bus for the hour ride back to Quito.  Walking out of the bus terminal at “rush hour” was unforgettable, an absolute zoo!  

Thursday June 2nd Rucu Pinchincha - 4696m

We took a $3 taxi ride from the hotel to the teleferico, a very slow Gondola that took an hour but gained 1,000m of elevation and dropped us off just after 10:00 am at 4100m.  There was a little coffee shop (Nescafe) at the top and we shared the teleferico with a french couple who were climbers and a Bolivian in Quito for work.  After using the washrooms left at 10:30 am, not much to see at outset with low clouds however it improved.  

There was a very good trail to start, quite gentle as it followed a ridge.  After Pasachoa it was good to be above tree line.  Quite industrial early on as powerlines passed close by however the terrain was gently undulating and a great view of Quito appeared as the clouds burned off.  Got to the end of the well defined path and the start of the real climbing at 12:30 pm at roughly 4500m.  The lungs were definitely feeling it but low and slow was our mantra.

We stopped and had some lunch in the lee of the ridge.  The trail then skirted the ridge to climbers right, some interesting features and a real muddy section before some sand and finally some great blocky climbing on excellent rock.  Some exposure and cairns marked the route.  We made the summit at 1:30 pm and were surprised by a large sign and quite a bit of graffiti with a few cigarette butts thrown in. Clouds came in about then so no great views however we made it through the day without getting wet.  While on the summit an Italian in shorts and running shoes lept up with his mother yelling something about Luigi in the background.  When we finally left the summit met a guy from Boston not doing well with the altitude.  A quick descent put us back at the start of the trail at 2:40 pm and back at the teleferique at 3:40 pm for a 5:10 hr 750m day.  Great fun!  Waited a bit for a taxi and got one for $5 back to the hotel.  We were both a little spent from the excercise and elevation, went easy on the booze (like none) and drank lots of water.

Saturday June 4th El Corazon - attempt

We spent the day before moving to Machachi, roughly an hour south of Quito.  The day started with a rooster waking us up at 3 am and both of us having a good bout of travellers tummy.  We planned to get out the door at 7 am however that time saw a low cloud cover and both of us sitting on the bed wondering if we could go the entire cammionette ride without having to run to the loo.  We finally sucked it up and left at 7:40 am for the 5 minute walk to the cammionette’s, found a very nice driver who gave us a ride to the gate for $4.00.  Funny scene as many locals were getting rides in pickup trucks (we counted 17 in the back of one) to work in the fields and going through at the same time.  We had to sign in with a couple of security guards however I never really understood what was going on (not highly unusual).

We started hiking at 8:00 am at 3300m and basically climbed the first hour up a stone, then gravel road the trucks used.  Finally stopped for a second breakfast at three pines as we were cutting through an uncultivated field.  It was roughly 9:30 and at 3800m, beautiful views and starting to feel a little better.  Cotopaxi started to come into view.  We walked up a trail further and realized that we took a short cut and got back on the road that took the long way around.  The next several hundred metres were above the fields however we were following a road that switched back and forth and gained the hump we could see from the road.  It then meandered to climbers left and went a fair ways back before getting close to the peak proper.  Finally at 1:00 pm and 4390m we came to the end of the road with a bit of flagging and found a path through the long grasses towards the saddle.  It became apparent that it was a longer day than we calculated and we would have to turnaround at some point to get down before dark.  Once near the col we started scrambling on rock with a few cairns and some flagging from time to time.  Fairly straight forward however the day was taking it’s toll, we still weren’t feeling well and were moving fairly slowly.  Turned around at 2 pm at 4629m, took a couple of photo’s and started down. Why do I look like I'm going to hurl and MENSA chick looks like she's on a picnic?

With the good footing once we hit the road and good paths down it went quickly and we were back at the three pines at 4 pm.  A few poo stops on the way down to clean the system out.  Got back to sign out at 5 pm and walked down and around to the train station.  We asked a couple of locals about a taxi and they motioned us to the Hacienda close by.  Very nice people showed us the wonderful digs (especially compared to the relatively dumpy place we were in) and let us sit down while they called us a cab.  9 hour day, 6 hours up and 3 down and 1320m gained it felt like a lot of work as we were not feeling 100% but we could also feel that we were acclimatizing. Later on we found that the place we were staying also used the main hall for funerals, things that make you go hhmmm!

Monday June 6th Illiniza Norte  5126m

We moved to the small town of El Chaupi and stayed at Hostel Llovizno, much nicer.  Vladimir was the owner and spoke pretty good English.  We were up at 5:15 am and had the included breakfast of jugo, huevos, cafe and great jam.  Left at 6 am with Vladimir who gave us a ride to Le Virgin (a small statue) and we had to pay $2 each to enter the park on the way.  The day started off sunny with great views of Cotopaxi.  We started walking just after 6:30 am at 3900 m and just after got started a well behaved dog joined us and followed all the way to the summit ridge.   

We had to make some route finding decisions following rough vehicle trails through the trees, went left and doubted but it turned out to be the best approach.  As we got higher the views of the valley got better along with Pasachoa, Corazon, Cayambe and Antisana.   Pretty easy trekking until we got to the Refugio, which some stay the night.  On the way up passed a couple of french climbers descending along with guide and cook.  The cook told us the dog came from the village however was a mountain dog and had been to the top of most of the peaks in the area.  We arrived at the refugio at 9:30 am at 4607m, definitely feeling short of breath but pretty good otherwise.  It was a very clean and well kept refugio, we used the washrooms and left payment for it to keep the mountain gods on our side.  Nice trail from there to the Norte/Sur saddle then got scrambly with primarily good rock.  

We passed a spanish couple, the gal looked completely spent and the dog must have sensed something because it followed them down.  It slowly got steeper with some sandy areas however I followed some great directisimo bits up good blocky rock that looked like granite.  Finally passed around in front of the summit, some exposure but had trouble figuring out where the “passo de la muerte” was.  Then a bit of a steep bit on sand and loose rock to the summit ridge and onto the summit which you didn’t realize until were on it.   Summited at noon, with a large metal cross on the rock.  We stopped and enjoyed some lunch and the view as clouds came and went.  Very happy to be there and definitely sucking air!  I enjoyed this climb every bit as much as Cotopaxi.

We took an alternative way down which was more of a scree and sand descent. Came off the summit and down climbed some rocky bits, then across ridge with snow just above us and basically followed the track.  Very easy going and lost elevation quickly.  As we got closer we called for a ride on the radio Vladimir gave us however no one answered the calls.  Tried for the last hour down to Le Virgin however no response.  We met a young German and French couple who were climbing up as the weather was starting to turn.  Found out later they took the wrong turn and climbed nearly to the summit on the downtrack and eventually gave up and walked all the way back to the hostel arriving at about 9 pm!  Back at Le Virgin at 2:45 pm for an 8:10 hour (5 hours up and 2 ½ down with ½ an hour on summit) and 1250m day.  Met up with the spanish couple who had called a cammionette and we got a ride in the back, later Vladimir tried to say his wife called that cammionette for us but doubted it - ah life in Ecuador, it always works out but you don’t always understand how!

Wednesday June 8th Cotopaxi  5897m

We agreed after breakfast with Vladimir to go for it and organize a guide for the two of us on Cotopaxi, then we both feel pretty sick for a bit.  The guide, Marco showed up at the Hostel shortly thereafter and we all had lunch together at 1:00 pm. H spoke English although not terribly comfortable with it, obviously an experienced guide. Marco also had interesting skull and cross bones tattoos on back of each hand, more things that make you go hhmmm!  The four of us drove to Machachi and we hit the instant teller and forked over $200 each, then Vladimir departed on foot and Marco drove us to Chilcabamba to drop our packs off to stay on way back (one of the advantages of traveling with a girl, it was a higher end fantastic place to catch up on sleep after the climb).  We drove through the park which is pretty desolate near Cotopaxi and up switchbacks to the parking lot.  We left the parking lot at 3:30 pm and arrived at the refugio at 4:30 pm, 4800 metres.  

It was a fairly large refugio, max 75 people, however fortunately not nearly full. We took a couple of bunks and stored our stuff in one of the large lockers supplied using our padlock.  Met some others climbing and some who just came out to stay, many were sick and hadn't acclimatized much.  Marco made us chicken with mushrooms on spaghetti for supper and it was awesome.  We went to bed at 7:30 pm however lied awake for some time, I got up to take a leak and there was a clear sky and awesome stars, however gasped for air in the sleeping bag.  12:10 am woke up having slept through the alarms.  I took another 250 mg of Diamox after taking the same the previous noon, supper and just before bed.

We left the hut at 1:15 am, scrambled climbers right of refugio for 30 minutes until we hit the snow and put on crampons.  We then scrambled up perfect cramponing snow, mostly clear however quite windy with the occasional gust containing grappel.    One woman and guide passed quickly, a large group was just behind however we put distance on them fairly rapidly.  I was having trouble with my headlamp as it was old and (like me at times) not very bright.  We stopped at 2:45 to rope up at 5175m, up until then pretty consistant 30 degree snow slopes.  We were using the one mountaineering axe and one ski pole technique and Deanna was tied in just behind guide and I was 4 metres behind.  Marcos was good with MENSA chick, giving her instruction along the way as it was the first time she had used crampons.  From here up I didn’t see much except what was directly in front of me. We worked our way up to around the right hand side of a large rock face.  4 pitches of steeper snow about then however didn’t belay anything.  It actually got quite cold on the hands and we used handwarmers, it was coldest between 3 and 5 am and I would estimate 5 below celcius.  I found the pace pushing it and spent most of the way up huffing, MENSA chick seemed to be doing better.  We stopped 3 times in all for food and drink and to catch our breath, the last time at the top of the rock step at 5600m.  Some interesting crevasses and features going around the rock face, definitely large terrain.  We met the fast gal coming down with her guide about then.  On the way up, Marco had to stop a few times to check the way otherwise we were just following crampon tracks.  I had tingly fingers from the Diamox early on however once around rock face started to get clouded vision in my right eye and as the day wore on in both.  It was quite slow from 5600m to the summit and just before summit the sun started to come out and we turned the headlights off.  We summited at 6:15am, 5 hours up which felt pretty quick.  It is a broad summit looking into old valcano crater, great views of surrounding peaks including all of the high ones.  

Unfortunately, my vision was still clouded - felt like cataracts and stung just a bit.  I thought it might be the blast of grappel every now and then as climbed (should have had goggles) however after some research believe it was because I took too much Diamox.  It was definitely a lot of work, however have hurt worse.  Spent 30 minutes walking around in a daze on the summit and eating some great tasting food (including a twinkie like roll).  

Two female English teachers arrived on the summit just before us and we had a great chat.  Descended quite quickly - 2:15 hours.  Snow good all the way down, didn’t soften up as some cloud came in.  My vision got a bit worse and couldn’t take photos.  Neat to climb down in the daylight and see what climbed up.  

We basically went straight down the lower part to the rocks.  I had one loose boot and didn’t bother tightening it up.  Should have as my big toe swole up and got red and sore for a couple of days, eventually lost the toenail.  We got down to the rocks and took off our crampons and harness, rested for a bit then headed back to hut.  Arrived back at 9 am, 5 hours up, ½ hour on summit and 2:15 down.  Rested, organized and rehydrated until 10:30 am then Marcos gave ride to Chilcabamba.  
Deanna tipped him $30 which he didn’t seem to expect and Chilcabamba was a treat - perfect way to recover and my sight came back in time for supper (after much sleep).  Great adventure, got up early the next morning to watch people climbing Cotopaxi through the scope at the hotel.