The Pichinchas (Rucu and Guagua) are the backyard volcanoes in Quito. Pichincha Rucu towers over the western slopes of Quito and is easily accessed with the modern gondola that takes you half way to the top. The trail from the top of the gondola (named the Teleferiqo) is heavily traveled up to a point around 14,500 feet. Even after that, there is a well worn, although smaller, trail toward the summit. That trail leads around to the right/north side. There is a split in the trail located before what I've heard people call "the spine." The split is located at 0 09'56.26S 078 33'36.66"W and is clearly visible at this grid on Google Earth. It's a scramble - that can get challenging - the rest of the way to the top.
Guagua is more remote and is the subject of some very good imagery on Google Earth. 0°10'42.37"S 78°35'48.15"W clearly shows the refuge and the short trail to the rim that is around 15,000 feet. "Fly" east-northeast to Pichincha Rucu. The clouds regularly roll in after sunrise but for the early risers, the views are spectacular! The hike from the Teleferiqo, over the top of Rucu to the Guagua refuge (or vice versa) is beautiful. It's a long haul down the winding road from the Guagua refuge to the bus in the village of Lloa. Plan a full day if you are considering this route. About 1500 meters below (east) of the refuge, there is a creek that is usually flowing. Otherwise, there aren't any water sources.
Pichincha Rucu - www.teleferiqo.com provides details on the Gondola. Any taxi in town will know how to get to the Teleferiqo and it will not cost you more than $5. It's not only an easy way to the top of the ridge but you can avoid the more dangerous routes that traverse troubled neighborhoods. From the top, it's about a three mile hike to the top. The top is a moderate scramble that can become quite chilly when the wind and clouds blow in. Once you are near the top, orient on the wide sandy area. The summit is to the left of the sandy slope. There are frequently shuttles waiting at the Teleferiqo that will give you a ride back to the Mariscal for $1/each.
Pichincha Guagua - From Quito, you need to travel south of the Panecillo and over the ridge west to the little town of Lloa. From Lloa, you can follow a dirt road for the LONG walk to the top. If you drive, you may be able to make it to the refuge with a 2X2 if the weather has been dry. A 4X4 is a better bet. I found the route by working backward from the refuge on Google Earth and plotting waypoints on a GPS. Many of the tour companies in the Mariscal offer transportation but it was costly -$50 one/way for three of us. We then walked for several hours across to Rucu, down to the Teleferiqo and then back to Quito. You can see the trail on Google Earth. The summit is marked by a cement post with "ALTI 4.781 MT" painted on the post. The path from the refuge can't be missed and cuts across the slope to the southwest to the crater rim. At the rim, take a right and follow the path up to the summit post.
Unless you get lucky with the weather, the clouds usually start accumulating after sunrise and by 9 am. If you can make it to the top for the sunrise, it won't disappoint on a clear morning. After the sunrise, you can feel the warm air blowing up the slope. The clouds start to form right behind that. The views on a good day include Cayambe, Antisana, Cotopaxi and the Illinizas.
SECURITY ON PICHINCHA
The lines can grow long for the Teleferiqo so get there when they first open (you'll also improve your chances of beating the clouds). For an additional $3 ($7), you can buy an express ticket that gets you near the front of the line. You'll also want to start hiking as soon as possible to have a better chance of avoiding the clouds.
***SECURITY ADVISORY. Unfortunately, there were two attacks on groups late last year (2007). A man wearing a mask and brandishing a machete and handgun forced a group of six off the trail. For unknown reasons - possibly a good police response - nobody was hurt or robbed. A month later, however, he successfully robbed a group of eight and sexually assaulted two women in the group. Both attacks occurred in the vicinity of 0 10'42.37S 078 35'48.15"W. While hundreds of people successfully traverse this area on their way to the top, the fact that these groups was attacked should make hikers very cautious of lone strangers in this area. I recommend you contact the South American Explorer's for current conditions and safety recommendations. ***
JUNE 2008 UPDATE - The attacks resumed with a group of three being forced off the trail and the woman was raped. Before that, there were two other rapes. The police have shown some concern but the guy is still out there. He's attacked small groups and large so be careful. All of the known victims who reported the attacks have been tourists indicating that's this guys profile.
While it's not red tape, you should know that GSM cellular service drops off above the tower supporting the power lines that pass through the ridge you ascend on the way up Rucu. If you're counting on 911 to respond if you have problems on this day hike, it won't work above this point.
The Teleferiqo and Volcano Park: http://www.teleferiqo.com
South American Explorers, Quito http://www.saexplorers.org/quito.htm
If you plan to camp, the Guagua side is probably safer. There's not much water.
Check out 0 11'14.94" S 078 35'07.33" at 13,500 feet for a nice place to camp if you have a vehicle on Guagua.