I needed money.
Ecuador had captured my imagination. A land of volcanoes, cloud forests, and the headwaters of the biggest river in the world, what's not to like. Blame it on some climbing magazine, but I HAD to get south of the Equator and climb these behemoths. I would be able to practice high-altitude suffering, learn about glacier travel, experience a new culture, and do some volunteering.
First, I needed money.
My philosophy is recession be damned. Creativity can solve any fiscal situation. Therefore, I decided to save money by camping in my sister's back yard and re-modeling a friend's kitchen. Internet research led me to a volunteering solution that would allow me to stay in the country for ubercheap. With about a thousand bucks in my pocket I was ready to go.
I showed up in Salasaca, Ecuador somewhere around Thanksgiving. Salasaca is a wide spot in the road just south of Ambato. I was volunteering here at a local school called Escuela Katitawa. A friend of mine Robert runs the school, which specializes in teaching the local Quechua kids Spanish, English, and Quechua. If you are thinking of heading to Ecuador you should check it out. From the roof of my house I could see five of the big ten mountains. It only costs a dollar a day and you get three meals and a bed. Pretty great deal for a dirtbag climber. (Check out the link down at the bottom of the page)
Anyway, first on the list was to get acclimatized by hoofing it up a couple of the smaller non-glaciated peaks. The climbs of Mojanda seemed perfect for this.
Mojanda is the remnant of a volcano that lost its temper and blew its top. The crater is filled with water now. The highest peaks rimming the caldera are around 14,000, perfect for some acclimatization scrambles.
My plan was to climb Fuya Fuya then walk down and around the lake to climb Cerro Negro. Both peaks are easy pseudo-scrambles. Each peak has only a few 3rd-class or 4th-class moves. The peaks also offer a gorgeous introduction to the Paramo, Ecuador's high-altitude grassland.
The Paramo was supposedly created when the Spanish burned all the high-altitude cloud forest for livestock. I was shocked to see meter tall vegetation at 14,000 feet. Very different climbing environment for a Sierra Nevada, Rocky Mountain boy. No talus hopping just walking around in deep grass.
Did I mention the caldera is filled with a beautiful lake? I knew this before hand and so I didn't bring any water. My thought process was, "There is a lake up yonder. Gotta have some clean streams filling the lake. I will just get water from those." I didn't know that Ecuador allows livestock grazing all over the Mojanda area, and therefore the water wasn't clean at all.
Also, I assumed that a bag of cookies and a couple cans of tuna would be enough for my two day jaunt.
My John Muir style of hiking sounds pretty miserable. I guess somewhere along the dirtbag way I got used to not eating.
Fuya Fuya proved to be a great easy peak with gorgeous views of the neighbouring mountains. I hustled back down and headed off towards Cerro Negro. I was hoping to summit both peaks that day. As I was walking the dirt road between the peaks, the rain started. I was struck by how beautiful the Paramo was-- glistening with new rain. I was also struck by hail. The nice sprinkle had turned menacing, dropping marble-sized hail that accumulated into nice, neat piles. What concerned me was not getting brained by hail, but getting zapped by lightning. The Paramo doesn't offer much shelter, and while I have always wondered if I would acquire a super-power from getting struck by lightning, I decided today was not the day to find out.
I spotted a hut in the distance and ran to it. The mud-brick shelter was mostly dry inside, there was even a small pile of firewood. I figured I would camp here for the night. I hadn't had any water all day as I never found any clean looking streams. My choices now were limited to the puddle in front of the shack, and a drainage ditch filled with muddy looking storm-water. I opted for the storm-water ditch.
I had built a small fire to warm my frozen ass up a bit. I remembered seeing Survivorman boil some water in a plastic liter bottle when he was camping in Africa. If its good enough for him, its good enough for me.
I sat there holding a plastic liter bottle filled with muddy water over my pathetic fire for about an hour or so. Miraculously, the water began boiling. Don't doubt Survivorman.
The water tasted horrible, like somebody had dumped a few teaspoons of carcinogens, added a pinch of cow-crap and stirred. After a few sips of the obviously plastic-saturated water, I decided I would rather have Giardia then cancer. I had some more muddy water and a couple of cookies. Well sated, I hit the sack.
The next day I climbed Cerro Negro and hiked about 15 miles out to the next town (Tabacunga--I think it was) It was a wonderful hike, but man I was thirsty by the end of it.
I decided to plan a bit better for my next excursion ; )
External LinksEscuela Katitawa
is a wonderful resource for climbers coming to Ecuador. Give back to the local community through volunteering as a teacher or worker. Stay for super-cheap ($1 per day) near all the best climbing, you get 3 meals a day and a bed, and the opportunity to meet some really amazing people. I stayed for 2 months and had a blast.