only 5 days
So many people think of me as a being a little bit "loca"= crazy, and I guess they are right. I work too much, and take many short, rushed trips, and this one only confirms it. I finished working late Friday night after a busy week of 10 to 12 hr days in the hospital. I packed quickly, and threw hiking/climbing gear into my backpack. Luckily, if one does this often, he becomes quiet skillful in packing. It is not that I enjoy having short trips, but my job does not allow me to take more than 7 days off, provided I worked 3 weeks non-stop (either days or nights). So, I got into a habit when working nights, skipping the sleep and going out to be able to keep up with all you active SP members. I have to admit that I do miss sometimes the more relaxed European lifestyle.
I got a cheap flight from Albuquerque to Quito via Atlanta and arrived shortly after midnight on Valentine's day. Boriss (= High Expeditions) made a reservation at a hostel in a nice area of Quito called La Mariscal.
Day 1 - Quito
I was truly impressed with the capitol of Ecuador. Quito is 2,800 m (about 9.186 feet) high, so you can acclimatize just while exploring this beautiful city. The climate was nice, so close to the equator (only 25 km north of the city), but so high in elevation. The city was declared Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO, so there is much to see.
It is surrounded by volcanoes, some are active (so please plan your visit accordingly). The valley in which Quito is situated is also called "Avenida de los volcanos".
So, during my first day in ECU I just decided to relax into a tranquil South American atmosphere. I hiked up "El Panecillo" (3.016 m = 9.895 feet), a small hill with the monument to the Virgin Mary. This Madonna has wings, so first I thought it to be an angel. I walked from here through the historical center of Quito, and befriended a group of kids who were working, either cleaning boots, or selling stuff. I had a lunch with them on Plaza de San Francisco. There was a carnival going on that day, so people were out in the streets celebrating. It was a nice leisurely day. Quito has many nice parks, and the Mariscal area is very tourist friendly, tons of choices to eat out, internet caffes etc.
Day 2 - Illiniza Norte
Boriss arranged for me this trip (Boriss = High Expeditions was busy with an another client). Segundo, a local spanish guide, picked me up at 2:30 am with his truck, and we drove to the trailhead for both Illinizas. We arrived to the parking lot around 4:30, after stopping at a gas station to buy some water and snacks. The hike was beautiful. We stopped along the way at the refuge, which was completely empty. I bought matte coca, just a commercial tea bag. I was told that coca leaves are illegal in ECU, which was very disappointing. I still remember chewing up on the leaves in Peru with a belief that this action will get me into any altitude without difficulties.
We reached the beautiful top of Illiniza Norte around 9:00 am. I was very happy since we were moving fast, and I felt no effects of the altitude. I was actually starving on the top! I took about 150 photos along the way, and was able to be back in my hostel by 1:00 pm. I loved having so much extra time for relaxation, and exploring the Mariscal area.
About Illiniza Norte - it is 5,126 m (16,818 feet) high. It is just a hike, so you do not need any equipment, just good hiking boots, and trekking poles are helpful. It is relatively rare to hike this in the snow. The route is quite obvious. I think that I would feel very comfortable going without a guide next time. The views along the hike/scramble (you do have to do a little scrambling near the top) were amazing - Illiniza Sur, Cotopaxi, Corazon, and Chimborazo.
Illiniza Sur is a glaciated peak and one of the most difficult in ECU, you do need two technical ice tools. I wish to have more time and climb this one as well.
Day 3 - Cotopaxi refuge
This was a very relaxing day. Boriss and Segundo stopped by my hostel around 10:00 am and after a nice breakfast at Magic Bean restaurant we drove towards Cotopaxi National Park. It was raining a little bit. We stopped in a small town, where Segundo was from, to buy some fresh food. The drive is mostly on a 4-wheel drive road, and you can go all the way to the 4,500 m. The hike to the refuge is very short, only 300 m above the parking lot, but at that altitude and with your load you can count on about 1/2 hr walk.
The refuge is big compared to the Illiniza refuge, and there were many day hikers visiting. We picked our beds and made lunch. Boriss started to talk to some guy inside the refuge, and shortly I realized this is Andre Hangaard, an SP member. What a nice surprise! So, our trio ate together. Andre was so kind that he offered us his home made power bars - very delicious, and I hope that he will e-mail me his secret recipe. We relaxed the rest of the day outside the refuge. The weather cleared up, so I shot some more photos, dropped my expensive Canon camera and broke a filter. Oops. We went to sleep around 10:00 pm with the plan to start hiking around 2:00 am. Most people were however getting up at midnight, and they woke me up (I forgot my earplugs). But, this is already day # 4. I forgot to mention that Boriss made some soup and he put banana chips inside it. I was very suspicious of this meal at first, but it was actually very good.
Day 4 - Blizzard on Cotopaxi
We got up, had some tea and a nice breakfast, and left the refuge shortly after 2:00 am. I guess most people try to leave around 1:00 am, but I was hoping to be a little bit faster. It took us nearly an hour to reach the glacier. We put crampons on, and started climbing. The weather was getting worse every minute, it was windy, snowing, cold. We soon started to see some people descending. Most parties were giving up due to the strong wind. I wanted to go on so much, but after reaching 5,600 meters, and seeing most people getting off the mountain, we turned around. I am still wondering whether we should have pushed to go on. I was slow, I started to feel the effects of the altitude. I guess I can always come back and do try this again.
I was very cold after the arrival to the refuge. I crawled up inside my sleeping back, but was still shivering, so after about an hour of shiver I decided to get out and move. Boris was so kind that he brushed the ice/snow off my ice axe and crampons. Segundo picked up us at the parking lot and we went back to Quito, where I finally warmed up.
And this day was not over yet - Boriss suggested a trip to the Otavalo, small town north of Quito. So, we took the bus, actually many buses. I was impressed with the bus system in ECU - very cheap, clean, and fast.
Day 5 - Cuichocha crater lake
We had a leisurely breakfast in Otavalo, walked through the market and took a bus towards the Cuicocha Crater Lake. The visit to the mysterious Cuicocha lagoon was amazing. It lies at an altitude of 3.068 m, and is 120 km north of Quito. It has a diameter of 3 km and depth of 200 meters. Cuicocha is part of the Ecological reserve Cotacachi-Caypas. The bright blue colored lake is located inside the volcanic crater under the skirts of the Cotacachi volcano. The local flora is absolutely amazing - Boriss has a special album of flora along the crater lake. The hike along the crater takes about 3-4 hrs, depending on the frequency of your stops, and after hiking, you can take a cruise on the lake.
And it was it! My flight was leaving shortly after midnight. It was fast, but a great trip.
I would like to thank Boriss Aulestia = High Expeditions for helping me with my plans and being a wonderful guide, and to Marc Soltan, who encouraged me to write this trip report.
I am sorry about the rushed composition. It is like my life, not enough time to think about my writing (done in 20 minutes, and I never had time to study English).