Ecuador - 1/13

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 1.60246°S / 78.38639°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jan 10, 2013
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Winter


Equador 1/13 from Moutain Ops on Vimeo.


The full album can be found here. Sorry some of the images are out of order.

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Day 1

The day began with a close brush with calamity. Justin’s truck battery chose to fail during our trip to South Station. We watched with anxiety as the electrical systems of the truck failed one by one, finally resulting in the vehicle refusing to move, just as we had decided to turn around to procure another car. Thanks to some girlfriend and mom wizardry, we were able to tow the truck while simultaneously being delivered to our train by a bleary-eyed Becky.

The train ride was thankfully uneventful. Our arrival in New York found us stumbling around Penn Station, repeatedly asking for the direction of the surface as we shouldered the crushing weight of our many bags of gear. We burst onto the bustling street and Justin tracked down a suitably large taxi, piloted by an inanimate yet ruthless Pakistani driver. I would describe his style of driving as “scorched earth”; constantly cutting off other drivers, weaving through traffic, around construction, and into bus only lanes. He would accelerate frighteningly down gridlocked streets, only to slam his brakes seconds later. All the while, my view of the driver’s face through the rear-view mirror revealed only a vacant, blood-shot, unwavering yet disinterested fixation upon the road. Needless to say, we found the cab ride to be highly entertaining, and even gave the fine fellow a bit of a tip before departing.

After arriving in Quito, following a significant plane delay due to a mechanical failure, we took a taxi to our hostel. To our surprise, it turns out that there are two Hostal Villa Nancys in Quito, and we had arrived at the incorrect one.Thankfully, the two hostels are quite close to one-another and we soon arrived at the correct destination (at approximately 2 AM). The view of the hostel from the street was fairly dubious, as it was basically a street-side metal door with a sign over it. Our taxi driver called for us, and we were soon welcomed in by the owners. The inner structure of La Villa Nancy was quite beautiful, as the true building was elevated above the street and had a very pleasant patio area. The interior was very clean and cozy with dark wood floors and doors,white walls adorned with seemingly indigenous decorations; our bedroom wall,for example, had a big ceramic lizard on it.

The kitchen and dining areas were a great place to make conversation with fellow travelers. During our thirty hour stay, these guests included: Nadia, a woman in her 30s from Switzerland who was proficient in five languages. She was in Ecuador on a humanitarian mission – “School building, or some such nonsense,”said Justin. Jeremy and Adriane, a Canadian couple in their 30s who were experienced climbers. Jeremy was an accredited mountain guide. An older Australian couple who were on holiday, exploring several South American countries. The owners, Bérénice, a Swiss ex-pat, and Joffre, presumed to be a native Ecuadorian, were extremely nice and welcoming.

Day 2

Justin and Chris reported fitful sleep the first night due to the increased elevation of 9,000 ft. I slept decently, though awoke quite tired at 7 AM. We ate breakfast and wandered the streets of the city. We stopped in a few mountaineering stores and purchased stove fuel, but were disappointed to find that hiking staples such as Clif bars and GU energy gel are not sold in Ecuador. The city struck me as being in transition from the second to the first world. Many prices of goods were only slightly lower than Boston prices; however, the price of labor (such as taxi rides) was much lower. Cars and buses were ubiquitous and made street crossing a bit dangerous. Vehicle emission standards seemed to be non-existent, and the streets were generally choked with dust and fumes. We visited a supermarket called Super Maxi and procured provisions; a fairly painless experience.

Massive green volcanoes loomed above the active city streets, inviting us to explore them. We took the “Teleferico”, a sort of gondola-ski lift hybrid to about 12,500 ft. of elevation, providing a fantastic view of the sunlit city and the surrounding mountains. We believed that the summit of Rucu Pichincha was one and a half hours away, and set off for it with limited deliberation. Simply transitioning from sea level to 12,000 ft. within 24 hours was something of a humbling experience. Onset of headache and shortness of breath, coupled with a little hypoxic confusion were fairly immediate, at least in my case. The weather was sunny and hot, though the deceptively close appearing rocky summit of Rucu was periodically draped in cloud cover, causing some concern. The true distance to the summit proved to be 3 miles and 2,500 ft. of elevation gain, which took about two and a half hours.  We encountered the Canadian climbers, Jeremy and Adriane, part way up the mountain. They had elected to turn around before reaching the summit, and seemed a bit surprised by our tenacity for reaching it. Their climbing schedule was more leisurely and did not require such rapid acclimatization.

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Unnamed Image

We followed the trail over verdant, hilly terrain as we approached the rocky protrusion of the summit. The trail wrapped around the summit bulge before ascending, providing us with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside,adorned with seemingly man-made terraces that had no obvious purpose. As we rose to the summit, we passed small caves on our left as we skirted the steep sandy drop-offs to our right. We traveled up a rock slide featuring sandy, dusty soil (“scree” to the initiated) before scrambling on fourth class terrain(non-technical rock climbing) with intimidating cliffs just off our path.

We arrived at the pristine sunny outcropping of volcanic rock that composed the summit and snapped some photos near a massive wooden sign that seemed out of place. We then quickly descended, basically skidding down the sandy rock slide before trudging our way back down the hilly approach. I began to slow at this point, suffering a pounding headache, nausea and fatigue. I felt very ill as Justin explained the new Ecuadorian guiding requirement to a cranky older guy from Colorado who childishly proclaimed that he might “Never climb again,” in response to the requirement. The Ecuadorian government had recently passed a law that required every group of climbers to have an accredited mountain guide in order to enter parks containing glaciated mountains (Due to recent deaths). Though this fellow from Colorado had summited Denali, we were not terribly impressed with him. Thankfully, the Teleferico rapidly reduced our elevation,saving me from the further progression of my altitude illness.

We caught a ride back to our hostel in a tourism van full of Argentinian students who sang boisterously along with the radio. I held a handle and kept my head down as I endured waves of nausea while the van bounced along. When we reached La Villa Nancy, I quickly retreated to our room and curled up in the fetal position while Justin and Chris met with our hired guide, Edgar, on the patio to hammer out the details of our ensuing climbs. I later descended to the kitchen and made a meager attempt at eating some of the absurdly plentiful pasta that Chris and Justin had prepared. “It must be a kilo,” Nadia, the Swiss traveler said. The owner, Bérénice and the Australian couple poked fun at my obvious illness as we sat around the table and told stories, including the tale of the Australian retirees’ ascent of Kilimanjaro, twenty years prior. It was a fun evening, despite feeling ill. We went to sleep at about 9 PM.

Day 3

I awoke much refreshed and joined the others for a hearty breakfast of cereal, milk, banana, bread, butter and jelly. Nadia, Bérénice, and the Canadians seemed quite impressed by my renewed appetite and vigor. After breakfast, we gathered up our possessions (including our kilo of pasta, much ridiculed, in a plastic bag). Bérénice helped us to hail a small taxi and we managed to cram our bags and persons into it. Our intention was to travel to a bus station and grab a bus to Machachi, but, after some negotiation, the taxi driver offered to drive us the entire way for $30, and we agreed. We were relieved to avoid managing our possessions on a crowded bus.

Our drive provided views of several mountains as well as the increased poverty outlying Quito. Most structures were of unattractive cinder block construction, featuring barbed wire and broken glass configured as a defensive measure along the tops of walls; bars on doors and windows. It is sad that observing the beauty of Ecuador frequently requires one to escape its habitations. The more rustic, rural town of Machachi provided some relief from the oppressive architecture seen along the “Pan American” highway. Nestled in the central corridor of Ecuador, Machachi is surrounded by beautiful farmlands,partitioned by lines of forest, and ensorcelled by magnificent volcanoes. The famous Illinizas are visible on a clear day, covered by snow and glacier, in the case of Illiniza Sur.

After stopping to ask directions several times, our driver delivered us to La Hosteria Papa Gayo, a well-reputed tourist hotel and restaurant that was once an abandoned farmhouse. The front porch area was populated by a number of climbers and several dogs relaxing in the sun. We quickly made friends, chatting with two Italian climbers (to the best of our ability) who had failed to summit Cotopaxi due to weather. We also met two woman climbers from Minnesota and Washington who were very nice and fun to converse with. They were both highly trained mountain guides, and made our experience appear meager by comparison. One was named Anne, and the others’ name was not procured. They had successfully summited Cayambe and Cotopaxi, and were relaxing at the Hosteria before their journey back to Quito and then home to the States. We would chat with them regularly before they departed.

The Italians left for an attempt on Chimborazo as we moved into our freshly prepared room and enjoyed the pleasant farm locale, ruled by the impressive volcano, El Corazon, high above. Ricardo, the presumed manager of the Hosteria, arranged for a truck to pick us up at about 10 AM, and we were treated to a fun, bumpy, four wheeled ride through the farmland while Justin conversed with our jovial driver, Patricio. Once through the farmland, we traveled off-road to an elevation of about 12,000 ft. and began hiking with the promise that Patricio would return for us in four and a half hours. We were misinformed that this hike was a five mile round trip; the true distance being around eight miles.

We made our way through some well-trodden grasslands without encountering any other hikers on our way toward El Corazon. The upper reaches of the volcano were entirely obscured by cloud cover, and we labored our way up volcanic rock, pushing ourselves hard as we realized that the insufficient time window that we had arranged was closing. We pushed on through the clouds, ascending third and fourth class terrain as we followed a somewhat poorly marked trail. We were tricked by several false summits as we progressed slowly toward the culmination at 15,600 ft. We took some photographs and caught our breath at the summit as the clouds ensconced us.

El Corazon
El Corazon

Just as we began to head back down, it began to rain, making our descent more perilous. Once we reached the grassland we essentially ran the rest of the way to meet Patricio, cutting switchbacks and running straight down hills in a couple of cases. We arrived about ten minutes late and enjoyed our bumpy ride back to La Hosteria. I felt slightly ill from the altitude gain, but recovered quickly this time.

We elected to eat dinner at the Hosteria’s restaurant, which was very pleasant and patronized entirely by our fellow travelers. The servers poke a bit of English. Justin asked for three waters, to which the server replied, “We have juice.” Okay. Juice it is. After hearing the options, Chris and I ordered grape juice and Justin ordered mango juice. The server disappeared and a few moments later Ricardo appeared and asked if we had ordered drinks; we said yes. He asked what kind, and we answered with our selections. “Grape!?” he exclaimed, seeming thoroughly perplexed. “Yes,” we said.“Grape!?” Ricardo exclaimed again, and Justin began to describe a grape as a small fruit – “I know what a grape is,” he interrupted. He then walked into the kitchen and we heard “Grape!?”one more time, which elicited giggles from us. Whatever we got, it sure as hell wasn’t grape.

We ate delicious burgers with fries and talked to the American girls fora bit before heading to bed. For some reason, we all slept pretty poorly, taking a long time to fall asleep and waking up frequently.

Day 4

We awoke and prepared for another day of hiking, and ate omelets at the restaurant (with mango juice this time). Patricio had previously agreed to get us into the park of Cotopaxi to climb one of the non-glaciated peaks; something that would legally require a guide. However, some other obligation precluded him from assisting us. Slightly disappointed, we elected to take on a less challenging hike up the caldera rim of Pasochoa. We were told at the entrance that we must not try for the true summit,as the climb is too dangerous.

This hike was very unique compared to the other two, taking us through jungle and cloud forest and exhibiting a plethora of interesting vegetation. The trail was very conspicuous, well-trodden and muddy.We broke free of the tree cover and I began to sweat as we hustled up the mud trail surrounded by very strong, coarse grass. We reached what appeared to be a local high point and rested a bit. Here, we soon met a French couple who spoke excellent English because they had lived in Australia for five years. They told us that they were just starting a yearlong vacation through South America and Asia. They had turned back from an artificial barrier on the trail, but after speaking with us a bit, they elected to join us and go past it.

After the barrier, our objective was again obscured by cloud cover as we hiked over hills covered with grass. Later, when the clouds cleared a bit, we could see that these hills made up much of Pasochoa’s caldera rim, and were bordered by a perilous drop. The French couple failed to keep up with our pace, and so we parted ways. Through breaks in the clouds we observed the hill steeply curving upward to the base of an intimidating wall of volcanic rock which featured a massive cliff face that dropped into the depths of the caldera. We plodded our way up to the rock wall and determined that, due to the wetness of the rock, we could not safely ascend or descend the wall.We idled there for forty five minutes to allow ourselves a bit of extra time to acclimate, knowing that we could go no higher.


We then descended the four miles to the base, slipping occasionally on the very muddy path. The clouds cleared for us as we retreated, giving excellent views of Machachi and Quito. We encountered the French at the bottom, and chatted with them a bit more. They were camping at the base that evening and returning to Quito the next day.They were very curious about our plans for Cotopaxi, as they had hoped to climb it as well. They wished us good luck on our endeavor and we departed.

We asked our driver to take us to a supermarket. His solution was to bring us to an open air market in Machachi which featured a slightly disturbing

After only a few minutes, we began to march our way back down the mountain.T
smelling meat market, complete with frolicking insects. Justin bought a block of cheese that Chris and I were horrified by, and after asking for directions a few times, we found a well-stocked dry goods store. This store was fairly large, composed of aisles of metal shelving. The funny thing was, they had no electricity, so we had to use the light on Chris’s phone to shop. We grabbed bread, Nutella, jelly, nuts, water and some tomato paste (in little plastic bags). There was no cash register in the establishment and the cashier used a calculator to add up our total. We paid $28 in cash and the cashier added some candies to our bag with a smile.

We then met back up with our driver and headed back to La Hosteria Papa Gayo. We had a fairly uneventful evening, mostly composed of eating our kilo of cold pasta accompanied by the tomato paste-like substance, squeezed out of the bags we had purchased. It was a bit on the gross side, but we were hungry and finished nearly all of it. Justin reported that his pasta was much improved by adding a portion of his market cheese. The rest he fed to the three resident dogs of Papa Gayo.

We also discovered that the American girls had crammed candy bars under our door before they departed for Quito – a nice gesture between climbers. After our pasta extravaganza, we relaxed in the comfortable living room areas of the Hosteria. Justin and I watched part of Forrest Gump while I wrote in my journal, and then we went to bed around 10 PM. Again, we all slept poorly in comparison to how we sleep at sea level.

Day 5

For Justin and I, this attempt was made mostly in vain. The Diamox regimen that I began that day kept me exiting the tent due to its impressively potent diuretic effect. The pungent aromas emanating from Justin’s sleeping bag led us to coin the phrase “Mountain Chili – not even once,” in mimicry of the anti-crystal meth television ads. Chris slept pretty well, but I only slept about two one-hour blocks and Justin only slept thirty minutes “In between the third and fourth times that you left the tent, Josh.”

At 11:15 PM, Justin woke Chris and me up. We took some meds, ate some food, and strapped on our boots and gaiters. The headlamps of a few early teams passed our campsite as we waited for Edgar. When he arrived, we took off immediately into the night. We marched up a rubble scree slope at a strong but pleasant pace, eventually passing all the other teams. When rubble gave way to snow, we sat down to put on our crampons. I quickly realized that someone had borrowed my crampons recently and that they were no longer sized to my boots. The French team behind us was graced with some of my muttered expletives as I struggled to adjust the crampons. Within a few minutes I had the situation straightened out and we proceeded up the snow slope, our crampons crunching in merrily.

We quickly outpaced the other teams, and soon arrived at the entrance to the glacier. Edgar surprised us by telling us that we would ascend in two two-person rope teams. Justin suggested that I go with Edgar, and so we roped up (we had originally believed that we would all be on the same rope.) The glacier itself was much more frightening than we had expected. The trail was very obvious, but it wound along treacherously steep slopes and through massive crevasses, the bottoms of which disappeared into inky blackness. It occurred to me that a fall taken along perhaps seventy to eighty percent of the trail would prove fatal unless instantly arrested by the ice ax of the fallen climber or his partner. I remember Edgar stopping to rest and eat on a small ledge, a butted by a near vertical drop. As he munched away, I dug in my ice ax and crampons and sat paralyzed with anxiety until we started to move again – nobody spoke during this break.

Edgar kept us moving at a fairly stiff pace. It appeared to me that he sped up while ascending steep sections and slowed down when the route flattened out. However, Justin later observed that he was probably just moving at the exact same rate at all times. We labored hard, breathing heavily to soak up the reduced oxygen in the air. It took everything we had to maintain Edgar’s pace.

The following are some distinct memories from the ascent, as recalled by Justin and Chris: Descending into a crevasse and then ascending the other side of it. Shortly after the aforementioned rest on the harrowing ledge, the overhanging ice ceiling of the ledge forced us to crouch down very low (especially Chris). The further away from the drop-off you leaned, the lower the cetheiling was, forcing you to pick your poison: crouching down in great discomfort, or walking slightly crouched yet dangerously close to the edge. There were also a couple of icy sections that were effectively “technical”; one was a six foot section that had a hand rope fixed along it. We ascended it by swinging our ice axes above us and planting our crampons into the vertical ice and working our way up. Another section had the path turning a very sharp, icy corner that over looked the gaping maw of a colossal crevasse. Here, again, we used our ice axes and crampons to negotiate our way up and around the dangerous corner to relative safety.

Day 6

Panting heavily, we stepped onto the summit of Cotopaxi at 19,300 ft. just as the first dull red hue of sunrise crept onto the edge of the night sky. Edgar and I were the first to reach the summit and he gave me a celebratory hug. I was happy to be finished with the ascent, but not exactly ecstatic about accomplishing the goal of reaching the top.Many climbers report the empty feeling of “now what?” upon achieving their goal. However, I just felt general displeasure and fatigue. We took our victory photographs once Chris and Justin caught up (moments later), and thanked Edgar for getting us to the top.

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After only a few minutes, we began to march our way back down the mountain.The thought of descending through the objective hazards that we had faced on the way up caused me to feel intense anxiety. However, the act of viewing the same hazards in daylight served to dispel some of the menace felt during the night. Ones’ imagination of what lies in the dark often far exceeds the reality. The fear was mostly gone, but the danger remained. We were all extremely tired (except, perhaps,Edgar) , and so we carefully picked our way down the twisting path of ascent in a zombie-like stupor. We soon encountered the inextinguishably goofy Haiyo, who struck a mock gentleman’s pose as we congratulated him on his impending attainment of the summit. From that point on, my only focus was ensuring that each step and ice ax placement was correct – I felt that no mistakes would be tolerated by the great volcano.

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We stumbled into our tent at perhaps 9 or 9:30 AM, tore off our gear and collapsed onto our sleeping bags to rest for an hour. It was with much resistance and stiffness that we arose to pack up our gear and break down our campsite. A short while later, under the load of our heavy packs, we descended the gentle dirt path to the parking lot. While resting in the tent, we had discussed our plans for Chimborazo,and it had been revealed that our ascent of the highest volcano in Ecuador would begin in about thirty six hours. In my sleep deprived and physically exhausted state, I could not understand how this would be possible. In Justin’s (the trip planner) defense, Chris and I had been given ample time to dissect the climbing schedule, but had not absorbed the knowledge that the two climbs would be so close together.

As we made our way down the path, I expressed my feeling that I was not physically capable of taking on an even larger climb in so short a span of time. We deliberated for a while before agreeing to stick to the plan. I would simply not climb if I was not feeling capable. Once at the vehicle, we loaded up and headed south to the city of Ambato,where we would gather provisions and sleep before making our pilgrimage to Chimborazo.

In Ambato, we caught our first glimpses of what an upscale Ecuadorian neighborhood looks like (nice, as one would expect.) Edgar took us to a “pizzeria” which had food prices that would be unremarkable in Boston. Justin’s heaping plate of shrimp and steak cost $12.50.Chris and I split a family sized pizza Americano for $18. The waitstaff were very well-mannered and made it obvious that this was  a fancy establishment. I felt a little embarrassed for our unshaven,hiking garbed appearance, as the other patrons were nicely clothed and made it seem that this was a special occasion for them. The waiters insisted on serving Chris and me each slice of pizza individually. This perplexed Chris and he attempted to serve his own pizza several times, but only succeeded once. The waiters watched our pizza consumption like hawks.

Unbeknownst to Chris and me, Edgar had requested from Justin that we pay for his dinner, and Justin had agreed. So, I felt a little miffed and amused when the comparatively large check arrived and our diminutive, wiry,dark-skinned guide simply said “Thank you,” to us. We left the pizzeria and set about finding food and lodging. This was an exhausting process that my sleep deprived brain had little patience for. Hotels were hard to locate and usually far too expensive, so we seemed to drive around Ambato in an unending circuit. We bought food in a supermarket called “Mega Maxi” (as opposed to the Super Maxi we had encountered in Quito) that was connected to a large American style shopping mall, providing further evidence that the city of Ambato possessed citizens of greater means than elsewhere in the country.

After buying food and water (24 liters!), we finally located a hostel of suitably low quality and price and were greeted warmly by the owners.Parts of this building seemed to be fairly nice, while other parts were clearly ramshackle additions. Our room featured a bathroom door without a knob or the ability to close, as well as ceiling level windows that looked out into the hallway. The light of day could be seen through the missing ceiling panels above the shower, in addition to a bunch of exposed wiring. The roof seemed to be composed of various unrelated materials. At $12 per person per night, we were pleased.

We repacked our gear, took some antihistamines and melatonin, drank a little whiskey and then passed out four approximately eleven hours.

Day 7

Inthe morning, Edgar left to visit his nephew and get his Land Cruiserrepaired. We lounged about our poverty-level hostel room, conservingour strength for the task ahead. Justin and I visited a coffee shopand ate chicken and cheese sandwiches with what seemed to be espresso. It was very good. Edgar returned at about 11 AM and wedeparted at 12 for Chimborazo.

Thepeople at the hostel very graciously allowed us to leave our excessgear there while we were climbing. The drive to Chimborazo took twohours and allowed us to view vast stretches of beautiful farmland andsmall villages that seemed much more traditional, as compared to mostof the habitations that we had seen. We saw a few very expensivelooking houses, and Edgar explained that there were gringocommunities in this part of the country. The farmlands and villagesgave way to sparse tundra-like terrain, and road construction seemedto be commonplace and quite disruptive to travel. The tundra areaswere inhabited by Vicuñas, cute orange creatures that are closelyrelated to llamas.

Fogrolled in as we approached the entrance to Chimborazo Park, limitingour visibility to a few hundred feet. We were supposed to meet oursecond guide, Marcos, at the entrance, but he was nowhere to be foundand Edgar had no cell phone reception. The guards at the gate wouldnot grant us access because, apparently, Marcos was the only personwho had a climbing permit for Chimborazo. Edgar explained thatindependent guides were required to pay exorbitant annual fees forclimbing permits (to the tune of $500 per mountain per year). Shortlythereafter, Justin quietly said to Chris and me, “Now I see why weneeded a second guide.” We drove around a bit until Edgar was ableto get cell reception, at which time he called Marcos. After a verybrief conversation we drove back to the gate to find Marcos awaitingus.

Marcoswas a friendly looking, somewhat heavyset fellow (at least as far asEcuadorian mountain guides go). According to Edgar, he was involvedin the production of some sort of rubber boot gaiters that had provenas effective as traditional gaiters, supposedly. He greeted us verykindly and we were soon traveling up an extremely rough road,surrounded by badland, in our separate vehicles. We deposited thetrucks at the first refuge and proceeded up the 200 vertical metersto the Whymper Refuge; our home for the next few hours.

Thepath to the Whymper Refuge was littered with monuments to the dead:gravestones, tablets, and stone scrawl commemorating the lives thathad been lost in pursuit of Chimborazo’s summit. These objects ofsuffering left me with an ominous feeling as I shuffled ever closerto the invisible peak, mysteriously veiled behind a wall of clouds. Ihoped that the mountain would look favorably upon us and grant uspassage on our pilgrimage.

Wereached the refuge at about 3 PM and were greeted by a guard whoinquired about our guide. We responded that our guides were behind usand would be along shortly, and so he welcomed us inside. We ascendedsome thin metal stairs and found that only one of several rooms onthe second floor was occupied. We selected one of the smaller roomsand began to unpack our gear. Upon seeing the unadorned, unfurnishedroom, complete with stray nails coming out of the floor and walls andlighted only by an opaque plastic skylight, Chris remarked “Lookslike somewhere that a homeless person would sleep,” and then,thoughtfully, “Well, I guess we are homeless.” “True,” Iresponded and proceeded to lay out my sleeping mat and bag. I wasvery happy to have four walls and a roof in which to put on all of mygear in the morning. Getting three guys ready to climb a mountain ina small tent is an arduous task.

Wesoon met Remo, the other occupant of our floor. He was a 24 year oldSwiss climber who intended to climb Chimborazo with one guide. Hespoke a very small amount of English, but seemed to be veryproficient in Spanish, allowing him and Justin to converse fairlyeasily. Justin was amused by the fact that their means ofcommunication required them both to speak in a second language. Uponhearing that we were from Boston, Remo proclaimed his love for theDropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, Celtic punk bands that havegarnered international attention. We learned that Remo had been inSouth America for months because his girlfriend was some sort ofexchange student or study abroad partaker. She had reached the summitof Cotopaxi with him, but she had fallen ill shortly thereafter, andso she awaited him in Ambato while he made his summit bid onChimborazo. Apparently, prior to traveling to South America, Remo hadnever climbed, though he had summited another high mountain in thePeruvian Andes before coming to Ecuador.

Aftersetting up our sleeping space and gear for the ascent, we moved downto the kitchen area of the refuge to prepare our dinner. Justinexpressed that he was worried about conditions on the mountainprecluding us from climbing, stating that the guard of the refuge hadtold him we would need “buena suerte” (good luck) if we were toreach the summit. Justin was also concerned by the fact that we mustpay the guides whether we climb or not. He felt doubtful that theguides would push through non-ideal weather conditions.

Weboiled water for our Maruchan Cup of Noodles con Queso. I heardlaughter from the next room and Justin explained that the guides weremaking fun of our choice of meal. I was amused – Rich gringos comeall the way to Ecuador and eat Maruchan instant noodles, I thought ontheir behalf. We ate our noodles, which were delicious, and chattedwith Remo in the dining area of the refuge. Remo ate nothing anddrank little, claiming that this method of preparation had worked forhim in the past. I found this a bit foolish, truthfully. We concludedour dinner and headed for our sleeping bags, taking some melatoninand/or antihistamines along the way. We laid down at about 5:30 PMand slept blissfully until Edgar woke us up at about 10:30PM.

Weturned on our headlamps and quickly dressed, putting on boots,gaiters and harnesses. We walked out into the surprisingly warm nightair and looked up to see Chimborazo in all its glory; the snow slopesleading up to the Veintimilla summit easily discernible under themoon and star light of a cloudless sky. We quickly set off upon theCastillo route, beginning with a simple dirt trail that led usquickly into the notorious rock fall. The passage through the rockfall during daylight hours has been described as “running betweenfalling boulders.” Thankfully, the stones were silent this night.

Oncebeyond the well-marked (often walked) trail, we put on our cramponsin case we encountered ice. This process was much faster now that mycrampons were properly fitted to my boots. Marcos warned me to put onmy gloves for my “seguridad” (safety) as we began to weave atwisting path through the rock fall. My crampons emitted showers ofsparks as we scraped somewhat clumsily over rock and soil. At thistime I felt thankful for the guides, because it would have beennearly impossible to determine the correct path without priorknowledge. Headlamps could be seen tens of meters above, indicatingthat Remo and his guide had left the refuge in advance of our party –We were aware of no other climbers seeking the summit that night (adistinct contrast to the numerous climbers who had attempted Cotopaxiwith us.)

Wereached a small ridge composed of dirt and stone and clipped into ourropes in preparation for the glacier. This time, Chris and I roped upwith Edgar, while Justin roped up with Marcos. Edgar warned us thatthe following section often held thick icy surfaces that were nakedof snow, and that we must be extremely careful, ensuring that ourcrampon points have purchase upon the ice. My imagination ran wildwith images of nightmare landscapes of ice that fore bade ice axarrest. The reality was much more forgiving, and I felt greatconfidence in the placements of my crampons. The fear that hadclutched me on Cotopaxi now washed away, and what remained wasresolution. One more day of danger, I told myself, then we can relaxfor a while. After the ridge, we negotiated a small stretch of rockscrambling before setting foot upon the glacier proper.

Fromthis point onward, the ascent was a test of endurance andacclimatization, as our path shot nearly straight up the glacier atan angle of perhaps as much as forty degrees. We bumped into Remo andhis guide a few times before permanently passing them. It concernedme that every time I saw Remo he was lying down. I scarcely sat downduring the ascent for fear of becoming accustomed to such an inactivestate. Despite my concerns, I consistently viewed the other team’sheadlamps in pursuit below us.

Ihad some problems of my own. The diuretic effect of my Diamox regimencaused me to frequently need to use the restroom. However, standingat a forty degree angle, roped to my team a few feet away, windwhipping, and headlamp beams wandering about, I just couldn’t forcemyself to go! This was one of the most frustrating situations that Ihad ever experienced and all that I could think about was reachingthe first summit so that I could unclip from the rope and wander offto take care of business. In addition to this, I was getting verycold. I put on my balaclava and mid-weight gloves, but I could feelmy core cooling dramatically. The first pains of frost nip werebiting at my nose and I oscillated quickly between suffocating withmy neck gaiter raised up, and fearing for my nose with it down. Totruly correct this situation, I needed to swap out several pieces ofgear, and I didn’t feel that this was feasible on the terrain thatwe were progressing up.

Ifelt that the best solution was to grit my teeth and push up to thesummit as quickly as possible. I could tell that Justin was cold aswell, as he wore heavy gloves and kicked his feet in hopes of warmingthem. I asked Edgar how far to reach the first summit. He said itwould take forty five minutes to one hour. This wasn’t the bestnews in the world, but at least I now had a number to focus on. Aftera few frustrating delays, (Marcos seemed to have run out of steam,shockingly) we stood upon the Veintimilla (20,000) summit. I rapidlyunclipped and shuffled off to take care of business – What arelief! I then put on my belay insulation jacket and my heaviest pairof gloves, which quickly warmed me up.

Day 8

Ithen looked up the remaining 50 vertical meters to the true (Whymper)summit and felt awash in a sea of ecstasy at the impendingrealization of our dream. All of the excitement and happiness thathad been conspicuously absent on the summit of Cotopaxi came rushingto my brain and I shouted “Chimborazo!” as we quickly made ourway to the true summit. The guides seemed genuinely thrilled as westepped upon the summit and we all embraced strongly. I discoveredthat day that the manliest hugs in the world occur at the pointfarthest from its center. We took some celebratory pictures andvideo, striking suitably absurd poses, and we looked on in wonder asthe sun began to rise over the land of Ecuador. The peaks of all ofthe subordinate volcanoes could be seen standing proudly above athick carpet of cloud cover. We knew then that our mission wasaccomplished and we set about getting ourselves down the mountainsafely.

Remoand his guide were shortly behind us and I congratulated him with agauntleted handshake as he shuffled past in a daze. We descended theglacier carefully as we were treated to a dizzying perspective of thelandscape below, now strikingly visible in the brilliant sunlight. Atthis time, I realized that I was running out of gas, though I washighly alert due to copious caffeine ingestion. I saw some sloppinessin the motions of both Chris and myself, and I became worried for oursafety. Justin and Marcos had descended rapidly out of view and Ialso worried about the increased danger we would face in the rockfall due to our slower pace. I resolved to move cautiously yetdeliberately and to be prepared to arrest in case anyone fell. We hadthe additional safety of Edgar at the end of the rope, but Chris andI outweighed him by a large margin, and I did not want to rely on hisability to arrest us.

Wemade our way off the glacier and into the rock fall at our ploddingpace. Here, we were no longer in the shadow of the mountain and thesun burned down upon us, slowing our progress further. Although therefuge was plainly visible below, our motion toward it wasmaddeningly slow as we wound our way through the rock fall. Again, wewere favored as the mountain did not cast any rocks down upon us, andwe methodically picked our way down to the refuge. Justin awaited usthere, having reached the refuge approximately one hour earlier.

Hetold us that he had endured heavy rock fall during his passagethrough El Castillo, with stones as large as microwave ovens whizzingpast him. It seems that the small vibrations of our rope team’sjourney through the rock fall affected great danger upon the climberstravelling below us. I apologized, not knowing what else to say. Wecongratulated each other again and retreated into the refuge to packup our gear. I pulled off my boots to find that the toenails of bothof my great toes had turned almost entirely black and blue – atestament to the abuse they’d received at the hands of my doubleplastic boots.

Weexited the refuge and made our way slowly down toward the lowerrefuge, my feet feeling much more sensitive now that I had viewed thedamage that they had suffered. We spoke excitedly of ouraccomplishment and I thanked the others for pushing me to climbdespite my misgivings about our attempt on Chimborazo. At the bottom,we shook hands with Marcos, thanked him genuinely and then partedways. We climbed into Edgar’s Land Cruiser and bid farewell toChimborazo.

Wethen returned to our hostel in Ambato and reclaimed our, thankfullyunmolested, possessions, including my journal. The people of Ecuadortook nearly every opportunity to demonstrate that they were honorableand trustworthy. On our way back to Quito, we asked Edgar to choose aplace for us to eat. He took us to a restaurant only inhabited byEcuadorians and ordered “two plates” for us to share. The cashregister receipt literally read “2X … $12.75.” The platesincluded pork and various corn-based fixings. I found the food to bepeculiar but passable. As we continued our drive back to Quito, Edgarcalled a friend who secured a reservation at La Villa Nancy for theevening for us. We were very happy to be able to spend our lastnights in the comfortable and familiar hostel.

Uponreaching Quito, we stowed away Edgar’s Land Cruiser and took ashort walk into the heart of “Gringolandia”, the high-pricedsection of Quito that caters to tourists and wealthy Ecuadorians. Wesat at an open air bar and treated Edgar to a couple of pitchers ofAmerican beer and a plate of nachos. He seemed pleased by this andbecame fairly conversational after a couple of beers, discussing ourfamilies, vocations, and sports teams with us. He described ourwaitress as having a “magnificent ass” and accompanied this witha head shaking motion that we found to be hilarious. After relaxingfor a while, we headed back to La Villa Nancy. In farewell, we eachreceived a hug from Edgar as he told us that it had been a greattrip. We held open the metal gates of the hostel and watched Edgar’sLand Cruiser disappear into the streets of Quito. We then spent ourevening quietly, drinking a bit of rum and falling asleep in theearly evening.

Day 9

Thenext day, our last in Ecuador, was spent in embrace of our touriststatus in the country. We went to a large art market, at Edgar’ssuggestion, to purchase gifts for girlfriends. We ate hamburgers soldby a street side grill. We explored the “old city”, takingpictures of architecture and perusing the many strange stores andback alley markets that seemed to saturate every street. For the lifeof me, I’ll never understand why there are so many shoe stores orhow any of them make money at all, being practically stacked on topof each other. Many market stalls featured ancient electronics thatwould be instantly discarded in the United States. Other stalls solditems of only the most rigid practicality, such as one that wascomposed only of “rollie” wheels. We even viewed a fully functionblacksmith shop operating in one section of the market.

Weconcluded our day of relaxation by drinking rum and smoking a cigaron La Villa Nancy’s patio area as the sun began to set. Weproceeded to shower up and return to the epicenter of Gringoland justas the Friday night party was heating up. We grabbed a table at theoutdoor bar and enjoyed a couple of pitchers of Long Island iced teawhile soaking up the sights and sounds of the buzzing central square.In testament to our rapid decline into old age, we headed back to thehostel at about 9 PM, grabbing some gringo oriented burritos as wewent. At the hostel, Chris passed out instantly and Justin and Iquickly followed suit.

Day 10

Inthe morning, Joffre kindly drove us to the airport. We said ourgoodbyes and began the long journey home.

As told by my good friend Josh.


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