After climbing the major summits of Pichincha, a large volcanic massif overlooking Quito, Nord and I returned to our hotel to relax and treat ourselves to a steak dinner in the Mariscal. The next morning we met Patricio, our guide for Cayambe from Moggely, in our hotel lobby who would also go with us to Chimborazo and Cotopaxi. We drove to the town of Cayambe to pick up food and then left the paved road for a two-hour drive which started on cobblestones which soon gave way to dirt and rock. The road eventually entered a sharply carved glacial valley before ended at the refuge near the Hermoso glacier. The glacier has receded dramatically to the right and below the hut, but the route fortunately doesn't go through this area and is currently in good shape.
The rapidly receding Hermoso glacier
The refuge is very nice- the hut at the base of Orizaba provides only a poor comparison. The hut fee is $10. The wood floors were oiled and the building was clean and well-kept. Two rotating guardians take turns staffing it for 10 day stretches. The current guardian was there with his wife and infant. Patricio cooked us soup, and pasta for dinner, and gave us the gameplan for the climb. We packed a standard straight axe and a technical axe (which we didn't use), three quarts of water and a 20oz bottle of Gatorade. We then turned-in for a not-so-restful nap. The bunks are on the third floor and have good pads. We were the only party there that night, so it was pretty quiet, though.
Third floor bunks
After some breakfast, Patricio made hot water for our bottles and left the hut under a starry night. The lights from Quito illuminated the horizon to the South. We climbed for about an hour on a dirt and rock-filled path before reaching the glacier. At this point we put on crampons and roped-up. We first portion of th glacier was not very steep and even flat at times and contained some crevasses which were not very wide. Five minutes into this section Nord fell into one up to his waist! Fortunately this was the only crevasse anyone fell into during our trip. Patricio kept a good pace, it seemed he didn't believe in switch-backs which was great as we made good time. The slope steepened and the snow was very good- not very icy and no postholing. Near the summit we encountered some large seracs. At this point it was getting pretty cold, and I put on my down parka which I kept on until we descended the glacier. Our route took us between the large seracs and crevasses. At this point my breathing became more labored and we had to stop every few minutes for a quick breather. In order to reach the summit we had to climb a short section of very steep snow maybe 65 degrees for about 150-200 feet. There was a trough in the snow which helped. Once on top, the summit was broad and flat. The sun had not been up for long, and we had a truly awesome view in all directions.
Summit of Cayambe South view from the summit
To the Northeast Reventador began erupting below us. The rainforest could be seen to the east. To the south was Antisana, Cotopaxi, the Ilinizas and even Chimborazo in the distance. It was very windy and cold on the summit, so after taking a few pictures and a little time to enjoy the view we headed back down. It took less than two hours to reach the hut from the summit. The conditions were still perfect since we made good time- a little under 5 hours to the summit. On the way down and during our drive to the town of Cayambe we were lucky to have clear views of the mountain. This was to prove to be the exception during our trip!