Bladimir drove us to La Virgen (elevation approx. 13000 ft) for $15 one way. It was a very beautiful morning with great views of Illinizas. We had decided that if weather were good, we would hit Illiniza Sur right away tomorrow and Illiniza Norte the following day. All of us wanted to climb Sur more then Norte, and that we would try and take advantage of good weather if opportunity presented itself. We packed our packs with 2 days of supplies, paid $5 usd to some guy from the reserve (?), and headed off. The hike was very pleasant. There were plenty of interesting wildflowers. Most I had never seen before.
Quickly, Brett pulled ahead and the three of us fell behind. No big deal though. I wanted to take my time and enjoy this hike. There were many cow paths but it was fairly simple to follow.
Following the usual pattern, the cloud rolled in by early afternoon and the views of Illiniza Norte and Sur soon disappeared. We reached Refugio Nuevos Horizontes (15,200 ft) in 4 hours. We were the first “overnighters” to arrive so we quickly took the lower bunks (Glenn had warned us about condensation buildup in the refugio and that upper bunks usually get very wet). We all felt pretty good at this point (Thomas started to feel bad couple hours later).
Soon, a big group of college students (from nearby town) returned from climbing Norte. Some of them were beat up pretty good. Many of the senoritas became very friendly with us. Conversing in broken Spanish and English, we managed to keep up good conversation with them. Soon, we were all snapping pictures and posing for the camera. Most of them were really cute!
After they left, couple more parties arrived. There were a group of 2 from Colorado and their Ecuadorian guide, a Moggely guided team from Australia, Britain, Germany, etc. and their Ecuadorian guides. Soon, we had multi-national story telling and plenty of laughter going on. I think this is the best part of international climbing…meeting people from all over the world and sharing stories.
Everyone was planning on climbing Norte tomorrow except for us. We still had our sights set on Sur, provided weather was good. We hit the sack at 9pm with a plan to get up at 2am to check the weather. (The weather didn’t look too good when we hit the sack though. Visibility was poor and some snow started to fall).
I woke up several times throughout the night. In fact, I didn’t sleep much at all. I got up to piss couple of times but mostly, I felt really sick. This was unexpected for me. I have slept at 15,000 ft on third day on Iztaccihuatl (Mexico) and didn’t have problems. On this trip, I’ve already been above this altitude on Guagua Pichincha. On one occasion, I walked outside and vomited. This unusual sick feeling was probably from lack of ventilation inside the hut. The community stove was running all evening so the fumes were nauseating.
I once again got up at 2am to check on weather. There was probably 2” of snow outside and it was still coming down. No telling how much snow the upper mountains received. So without making too much noise, I woke up Brett and told him it’s probably wise to do Norte instead. He agreed and we passed the word onto Thomas. Thomas was not feeling too hot so he didn’t care. As for Courtney, he was pretty quiet, we just assumed he was still asleep and we didn’t bother telling him.
At around 4am, the other teams stated milling around and getting ready. There was now approx. 3” of new snow on the ground. We felt that we made the right decision to do Norte instead since that’s more of a walk-up.
Since space was limited inside the hut, our team waited until the other teams all left for Norte. We left around 5:30 am and just followed the boot track made on the freshly fallen snow. Brett and I felt pretty good (my nausea was definitely related to the stove fumes because after 15 minutes of climbing, I felt 100% better). Thomas was still not feeling too hot and Courtney was even worse! Apparently, he had come down with sinus infection (pretty common occurrence for him, I guess). What a bad luck. To come all the way to Ecuador and come down with sinus infection at 15,000 ft!! Still, both pushed on, albeit very slowly.
Brett and I felt like gangbusters. I felt so good that I had to control my speed. I didn’t want to get too far ahead of Courtney and Thomas. It was hard to contain my excitement. The fresh snow made things very interesting. The wet rocks and unsettling footing made Norte little more then just a walk up. This actually felt like a climb. This is fun!
Shortly after starting, the weather cleared and we were treated to some spectacular views of Sur. Too bad we’re not climbing it today. Maybe tomorrow. Soon after gaining the ridge, Cotopaxi, Ruminahui, and Corazon came into view. All the peaks I’ve been staring at on summitpost are now in front of my very own eyes. How exciting!
After couple of hours, we came across Paso de la Muerte, where the guided team had fixed ropes across. All 4 of us made it across with ease and 45 minutes later, we were standing on the summit of Illiniza Norte. Wow, what a view of Sur!!!
I was pleasantly surprised Courtney and Thomas gutted it out. I had serious doubts couple of times during the climb because they looked so miserable. But I have to give them credit they persevered and for that, I was proud of both of them.
The guided teams were already heading down and they cleaned up the fixed ropes on descent. No big deal though, even without fixed rope, we had no problems getting around Paso de la Muerte. Soon, we were back in the hut relaxing and try to figure out our next move.
Because Courtney did not feel good at all, Thomas was anxious to get down to lower altitude, and all of us did not want to stay another night in the crummy and nauseating hut, we all decided to go back to El Chaupi. We will save Sur for another time. Maybe we can fit it during the tail end of our trip. So we quickly packed and started out. Bladimir picked us up at La Virgen (we contacted him on a radio) and we all rode back to his hostel, anxious for some food and R&R.
We all had another marvelous dinner, courtesy of Bladimir the chef. He really served up some tasty food and fresh fruit juice for us each breakfast and dinner. We all huddled around the fire and exchanged climbing stories and what we thought so far of Ecuador (during this whole time, Courtney was pretty quiet and not himself. We all wondered how bad he really was and what he would do from here on out).
Go to Cotopaxi Trip Report (to be posted soon)