ecuador2006 travel

Bursty. Things flow in dribs, drabs, and then deluges. All our lives, it seems the pattern is to work hard so that we can… rest. Fifty weeks of labor, two weeks of vacation; fifty years of toil, a few years of retirement bliss. Oddity.

Today we are sloth embodied. Well deserved, in my opinion. Bagged four peaks in five days…

First was Rucu Pichincha. Forgot what Pichincha means, but rucu is “old” in Quechua, the language of the Incas. Old indeed. On Rucu, one takes the new TeleferiQo (a very slow ski gondola) from 3800m up to 4100m. A nice scam they’ve got going there — you can pay $4 to stand in the “slow” line or pay almost, but not quite double ($7) to stand in the “fast” line. The time savings can be huge — 10 min. for the fast line vs an hour or more for the slow line. It should not surprise the readers of this email that I voted for the slow line. The hike itself wasn’t bad, a little bit of scree near the top, but otherwise, uneventful. Unfortunately, we were socked in by clouds at the summit (4698m or 15,413 ft.).

Next was Guagua Pichincha (pronounced wah-wah), which means “baby” something-or-other. The volcano is considered active, and volcanologists monitor it constantly. Getting there was interesting — we hired cabs to drive from Quito to the hamlet of Lloa (pronounced yo-ah), and from there, we haggled with a local fellow to drive us up the road to the dropoff spot in his pickup. The six of us piled into the bed of the truck, and held on for dear life as he rattled and farted his way up the twisty mountain road. Score one for Toyota engineering. The hike itself was trivial, starting around 4100m and ending at 4784m (15,695 ft.). The views from Guagua were the same as the views from Rucu, cloudy, natch.

A day of rest, which I thought was good until today happened.

Then, we hooked up with Safari Tours, the guide company that is to bring us up Cotopaxi. We’d scheduled 2 acclimatization peaks with them in addition to the big one. They are considered one of the best operators in Ecuador, which makes me wonder what can be considered “worst”.

First was Ruminahui, a supposedly easy peak at a mere 4722m (15,492 ft.). Maybe it’s easy if you hike the standard route, rather than bushwhacking for hours up the back side because the guides don’t want to have to pay the park entrance fee. Don’t get me wrong — I enjoyed saving the $10 too, but maybe I had unrealistic expectations that the guides would actually know the backdoor route rather than having multiple several-minute conversations amongst themselves about the best way to go up, with the resulting answer being “through some more bushes”. It turned out to be an all-day affair, starting with us clients helping push our van out of the ditch that the driver helpfully backed into, followed by tromping through bushes, and ending with us back at the car in full darkness. Awesome. Jawesome, even. The one saving grace was that we got at least a few minutes of good views before the clouds moved back in. Are you starting to notice a trend here?

Finally, yesterday, we hiked up Illiniza Norte (5126m, 16,817 ft), again with Safari. It went a lot smoother, mostly because the standard route is impossible to get lost on. We finally got to do some meaningful scrambling, which was a welcome relief for yours truly, who is somewhat sick of scree and talus fields. Views from the top? Same as it’s ever been.

If you want to simulate our experience, do the following: