Quito (9,200 ft)We arrived in Quito around midnight; customs took its usual forever, but we made it thru security without any major hitches. As Tim and I departed the airport, people looked at us quizzically, staring at our trekking packs – gear attached, and our overall rugged demeanor, dissecting our intentions with their imaginations and prospective wonderment. Everyone loves to dream of adventure – they saw that dream in us …
The next morning Tim and I woke-up bright and early to meet and greet our two other team members at a local restaurant and coffee sanctuary, called The Magic Bean, located just a few convenient blocks from our hostel. Our group would consist of four climbers – Dan and Gavin, both from Earth Treks Climbing, and Tim and me, with Climb for Hope. Dan was our leader, a well-versed climber and educator in both mountaineering and rock climbing, and just the kind of high-wired, super enthusiastic adventure-life-nut we needed to lead our high octane, and hopefully efficiently performing mountain team. Gavin, the young buck of the bunch and the seemingly quiet leader-type, brought a healthy and contagious eagerness and mountaineering knowledgebase to match his own apparent passion for living life to the fullest and bettering the world by helping those less fortunate around him. Tim I knew and had climbed with before back in 2009 on our first Climb for Hope expedition on Mount Adams. He’s a rock with the beating heart of a lion, and although outwardly concerned with and often comically verbal about his elder age and subsequent crumbling body, Tim’s one dude you wouldn’t trade for anyone when it comes to grit and determination in any endeavor where shit can go bad. Overall, looking around the table that morning at breakfast, and after spending ample time with these three in the days to come, I don’t think we could have asked for a better, more complimentary team of individuals to climb with in the Ecuadorian Andes.
Pasochoa (13,779 ft)
Beyond reaching a point where we had to climb over a makeshift door on the barbed-wire wooden fence boarding the open farmland around us, we began to trek up an oddly robust, lusciously green and growing terrain, no doubt the product of heavy rainfall and the highly fertile, volcanic soil compounds squishing below our feet – a site somewhat new and bizarre considering we were perched at a relatively high altitude.
The final few hundred feet mostly consisted of bouldering and simple maneuvering up to Pasochoa’s summit. Once standing upon our first accomplished feat, we posed for a few pictures and exchanged hugs between team members, two constants I’ve come to know and appreciate in my short mountain climbing career.
Rucu Pichincha (15,413 ft)The following day, the team assembled and headed towards Pichincha, a three-pronged volcano with its eastern slope boarding the city of Quito. Our goal for the day was to reach the summit of Rucu, via the direct route, to an elevation above 15,400 feet. This seemed ideal in that Cotopaxi’s José Ribas mountain hut, which is where we would stay for our climb of Cotopaxi, is at the same altitude further assisting in our acclimatization process before making an attempt at Cotopaxi two days later.
Once up and onto the trail, we hiked for what seemed to be a little more than an hour or so to a point where Class 2 climbing would no longer suffice. While Tim, Gavin and I geared up with harnesses and affixed the rope, Dan free-climbed up the first technical rock formation and tied-in an anchor around fifty meters above our position. One-by-one we climbed up and over the rock ridge, sliding the Prusik knot up along the fixed rope as we negotiated different vertical formations and clipped in and around the anchors Dan was setting ahead of us. Given that this was Tim’s first ever rock climbing experience and my first outside the confines of a climbing gym, the two of us enjoyed the entirety of the experience on an exponential level. Gavin, on the other hand, got his fix when we reached “la ventana del muerte” (i.e., the window of death), which is a point where, when climbing in and amongst the clouds, its name is validated in full. The drop-off had the illusion of an infinite white abyss, but was something we didn’t really recognize or focus on until making it successfully thru. It’s strange sometimes how extreme concentration can blur out the looming dangers perceptibly imminent in your immediate surroundings.
After working thru the more technical sections, the group was able to hike up the remaining portion of the ridge and reach Rucu’s summit for our second successful and efficiently accomplished goal in as many days.
Click Here >>>CLIMBING VIDEO in LA VENTANA DEL MUERTE
Cotopaxi (19,347 ft)Two days after summiting Rucu Pichincha, we hopped in an old school extended van and headed for Cotopaxi National Park. To say that Tim and I were a bit anxious for the climb would be an understatement. As climbers for Climb for Hope, we both felt the need to reach our goal and fulfill our end of the bargain by doing what we said we’d do and summit the top of this mountain. Hundreds of people had selflessly and generously donated towards a cause in response to solicitations from us; we weren’t about to say thanks for helping us reach our [monetary] goal, but unfortunately we weren’t able to make it to the top of Cotopaxi … but almost. It just wasn’t an option, but in actuality, it was.
Dating back to the first conversation we had with Dan, and from previous firsthand experience, Tim and I were well aware that we had one shot to make the top of this mountain. If it didn’t happen the day/night we were scheduled to climb, then it wasn’t going to happen; at least not on this trip to Ecuador. We had one shot – that was it, and given that we had absolutely no control over the elements, we fretted over the prospect of the unknown and the uncontrollable. So, if weather came in and showed its ugly face, or if avalanche conditions were reported and determined to be too great of a risk to climb, or even if wind gusts were too high for us to stand-up straight or step forward and back, we would have to scratch the climb and head home, head in hands, embarrassed at our inability to succeed, and agonizing at how to tell the people, who had donated thousands, that we had failed. Despite these semi-prevalent pessimistic thoughts, we primarily honed-in on the optimism of just having the opportunity to do something great, and the prospective climb ahead.
We reached the hut in early afternoon, set-up our sleeping areas, and sat down for lunch in the communal area with a fully loaded kitchen, tables and all. The plan was to rest for the remainder of the day, nap a bit during the afternoon, and then hopefully sleep a few hours throughout the night. The next morning we were scheduled to wake-up around six, eat some breakfast and head up onto the snow-covered slope for some rope-work and mountain school training with Dan and our new Ecuadorian guide, Romel. After that, we’d repeat the process of the day prior – eat, sleep, eat, sleep, eat, and sleep some more – except for this time, on the second night, we’d get up, gear-up and start the ascent.
Romel led with me behind him and Tim behind me. Dan and Gavin followed suit, with a separate, two-man roped team, climbing right behind us. As we worked our way up the slope, switchbacking to decrease the pitch as we worked towards the glacier overhead, we began to pass people who were taking a more direct, straight-up route, in greater and greater frequency. The entire week prior we had preached team efficiency and the idea of “keeping a good pace”. Speed was one thing, endurance another, but the marriage of the two meant pace, and by working together at a doable, efficient clip, we were definitely keeping a good pace. At some point we stopped passing people because there was no one else to pass, which meant we would act as lead climbers, with Romel setting anchors for everyone else to clip-in to, for the steep and icy and highly exposed sections of the climb ahead.
Click Here >>>SUMMIT VIDEO