| 2 of 4, ILINIZA NORTE
Right after setting up our tents at our 12,000-something-foot base camp, rain started to fall. Jen, me and Cosme (our Sherpa-height Ecuadorian guide with oxygen-rich Incan blood running through his veins) sought shelter in our "kitchen" tent, which is where we met another team (with the same company) – Javier, a pilot from Spain; Elke, a dentist from Brazil; Pavel, an elevator technician from the Czech Republic who is currently living in Vancouver, Canada; and Franklin, their guide. There were some minor language barriers, but everyone was very friendly.
As we ate some tasty soup and Ritz crackers for dinner, we noticed a small stream of water trickling through the tent, which quickly turned into a small creek. Cosme and Franklin spent a good amount of time digging a trench to keep the water from flooding us out. Meanwhile, we could hear a waterfall cascading onto the road, where it was completely dry just an hour prior.
Earlier that morning, I remembered Cosme telling us that Iliniza Norte was dry and that it rarely holds snow, so technical tools wouldn't be necessary. But I just knew the upper mountain was getting hammered with snow as the torrential rain continued to pummel us.
That evening, sleeping was difficult because the rain continued to pour and we kept struggling to keep our down sleeping bags away from the wet areas of the tent.
Here are the only clear images I have of the Ilinizas (the first one is a photo of a postcard and the second one is a photo of a poster in one of our hotels):
Here are some images I took from the drive to our base camp:
(Yes, that's a guy chopping coconuts in the middle of the road.)
The next morning, at almost 6 a.m. and a couple hours into our hike, we made it to the empty Refugio Nuevos Horizontes hut and my concerns were confirmed. A thick and wet fog cloaked the mountain and a fresh layer of snow and ice coated everything from the hut to the summit.
Beyond the hut, the climb became much more challenging. It was a low-visibility rollercoaster ride of narrow, exposed ridges and steep gully traverses. But in a somewhat twisted way, I was really enjoying it.
I wasn't expecting to climb on exposed, snow- and ice-covered rock, but nothing exceeded our abilities or comfort zones. That said, there were still a few sections that were a little dicey, requiring extra time to brush snow off rocks and search for good holds.
On our circuitous route to the top, we did many Class 3 moves and at least a few Class 4 moves. Shortly after 8 a.m. we made the summit unscathed and it felt good to stand on top, especially after such a challenging climb.
Climbing back down was a bit more difficult, but it was no more challenging than some of the climbs we've done in Colorado in the early spring.
Eventually, we passed the other team on their way to the top; you can see two of them in the middle of this photo:
We later learned that Elke took a little extra time on some sections, and she had to be belayed on the way down. This was understandable, as the snow and ice on the exposed rocks definitely ratcheted up the difficulties.
As we descended, Cosme kept asking us if we wanted to take a break, but Jen and I don't really take breaks. We just stop briefly to change layers, drink water and wolf down food. I don't think Cosme's used to guiding people that don't take a lot of breaks.
By the time we made it back to our base camp at around 10:30 a.m., we were completely soaked to the core. I think that was the wettest I've ever been on a mountain in my entire life.
On the drive out, Jen snapped this photo of the mountain:
That night we stayed at a quaint, country hotel called Cuello de Luna, which is Cotopaxi's other name that translates to Neck of the Moon.
Throughout the evening we spent our time drinking beer and drying gear.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):