The "Pichinchas" consist of the three summits Guagua, Rucu and Padre Encantado, and is located 10 Km west the capital city of Quito. These peaks were first climbed in 1582 and still today both Guagua and Rucu are very popular acclimatization climbs for those seeking to climb the higher peaks of Ecuador. The easy access and non-technical nature of the peaks also make for great treks for non-climbers wanting to experience high altitude.
Guagua (4794m/15,728ft) is the higher and younger of the peaks. It is a highly active volcano that most recently had a major eruption in 1999. The eruption caused 2mm of ash to be deposited on Quito 10km away. Since then vulcanologist have placed data collecting units all over the mountian. Despite the activity of the volcano, it is still considered very safe to climb.
Rucu (4698m/15,413ft) is the older and slightly lower summit to the Northwest of Guagua. Since the Teleferico opened Rucu's popularity as a trek was tempered by the potential for crime along the beginning of the standard route which goes through a less fortunate neighborhood of Quito.
Padre Encantado (4685m/15,370) is less popular and little information exist for climbing or trekking it.
There is both public and private transport to these peaks. Public transport is both complicated and time consuming. Private transport is easier although more expensive.
It is best reached using private transport from New Quito. There are many agencies in the area and a vehicle and driver rental for the day is about $100US for up to 4 climbers. This will make the drive shorter and you can customize your day. If you insist on using public transport to the tiny village of Lloa Located at 3030m. This leaves you with a long hike up the road while eating the dust of every tractor and car that passes. Private transport takes you through Lloa to a parking place at 4150m where it is best to start to allow for more acclimatization. If you'd like most 4WD can make the drive on to the Ecuadorian Civil Defense hut at 4550m when the conditions are dry.
The following directions are included but are not currently recommended by any of the local guides or agencies due the the high rate of crime in the neighborhood you must pass through.
The regular starting point for Rucu is from Cruz Loma. A combination of public and private transport can be used but isn't always reliable. Take a bus from "old Quito" to San Roque market and then hire a pick-up truck for the rest of the drive to Cruz Loma (approx. 10$ US).; From the antenna, follow the obvious grassy trail on the northwest side to the base of the mountain (1h1/2)
Schitthaedt adds the following as an alternate approach for Rucu: An alternative approach to Rucu Pichincha from Quito is to climb the ridge to the north of the valley seen from the city (the southern ridge being the normal "Cruz Loma" approach). This approach begins in the neighborhood known as El Bosque, from a shopping center called Dicentro. From Dicentro you follow the roads leading up to the broadcast towers, then follow the ridge toward Rucu, passing the cliffs known as Condor Rumi on the way. Head for the left side of the summit pyramid, where the trail meets up with the standard Cruz Loma trail. This nothern approach is a little harder, but it is more interesting and probably a bit safer because it begins in an upper-class neighborhood. There are many buses that go to El Bosque. The one that I took started at the shopping mall Quicentro and headed northwest. It of course had a sign saying "El Bosque" in the window.
Rucu via the Teleferico
The safest option to climb Rucu is to take a cab to the Teleferico, a sky tram up the hillside which is visible from most of Quito. Users can ride the Teleferico to around 3800 m. Ecuador residents with proof of residency get the "Discounted Rate" of $4.90. Foreigners only have the option of the Express Line rate of $8.50. (Thanks to SP member mtngeek for this updated information.)
You may need to give the security at the ticket counter your passport number to be allowed to hike from the top of the Teleferico.
Up and back should take between 3 and 6 hours. The Teleferico opens after 9 am.
No permits or red tape, although you may encounter armed army patrols that guard the government antennas at the trail head.
Also as stated before, it is NOT recommended to climb Rucu from Cruz Loma.
Most of the guide services located in "New" Quito offer everything from fully guided tours to transport only. Shop around to get a feel for each operator and also to check current prices. It shouldn't cost more than $140US per day for a jeep and driver for up to 4 climbers. Most are located around Veintimilla and Amazonas streets.
These peaks can be climbed year around but are best climbed during the dry seasons which typically are June through August and December through February. Nights and mornings are generally clearer and present the best views.
Camping isn't needed for these peaks due to the fact that they are typically done in one day from Quito. There is a governement run hut at 4550m on Quagua above Lloa. It does not have much more than a roof, 4 walls and a toilet. You must bring your own stove, sleeping pads and sleeping bags. It usually cost a few bucks and some food paid to the caretaker.
However if you must camp then keep in mind the following. Camping is permitted everywhere on the mountains of Ecuador BUT, it is not safe to camp at the base of Rucu of these. The proximity of the city makes this trailhead vulnerable to robbery.
Generally the peaks are snow free but on occassion a storm will cover the peak with a brilliant white layer. Rain and mist are almost certain. Be careful when climbing in wet and misty conditions. The rock can become very slick and the visibilty poor. Take care to remember the way down or be with someone who knows the way.