| A Sea of Clouds and the Journey to South America
"I'm going to Ecuador in two weeks," Shawn stated to me two weeks ago. There has been something that I have missed with climbing and that is traveling the world with a goal of climbing the biggest peaks out there. In many ways, that's my main pursuit in climbing, climbing in the Himalayas. I want to climb the world from Patagonia to the Karakoram and 8,000 meter peaks. I think it's a must to have dreams! They define your journey along with determination. Everyone has different dreams which are great but it all comes down to one point and that is pursuing them with your whole heart. Something I think so many people miss out on especially to all the distractions we have these days. You have one life and that's it! What are you going to do to make the most out of it?
I felt like I belonged on this trip. A day later I told my family I was going to Ecuador and kept it at that. They looked at me they way they have through all my other trips – perhaps crazy. I told no one about my departure and had less then a week to pull it off from shots to medicine to packing and money. It was stressful. I got my plane ticket and packed in 5 days getting ready for South America. I should have worked on my Spanish. I really knew nothing about the trip except the peaks we were climbing.
Sea of clouds on Cotopaxi
After spending a long weekend in New Mexico, I got home very tired and the thought of going to Ecuador began to sink in, mainly because I was leaving the next morning. My past weekend had not even sunk in.
I arrived at the airport and began the 11 hour flight to Quito, Ecuador. Shawn and I arrived in Quito at around 10 at night. Flying into the city was such a real feeling. Shawn and I hired a guy by the name of Edgar. It's a must to have some sort of guide on these mountains if you want to succeed. There very complicated and the success rate plummets if you don't have one. Heck, even Reinhold Messner was guided up Cotopaxi in 2003.
Reinhold Messner That being said, I think it's best to go with a guide that lives there mainly because they know the mountain and area better then anyone. They also don't charge an insane amount. Edgar met us at the airport and took us to a Hostal in Quito. Did I mention how crazy the driving is in Ecuador? Instantly my Spanish was tested and it continued to fail the whole trip. If anything, I proved I could make it threw this trip with English. We went to bed and woke up early to have Edgar pick us up for our climb.
Rucu Pichincha (15,696 ft)
We acclimatized our first day on Rucu Pichincha. (15,696 ft) It was just an easy hike with a great view of Quito. There was also a tiny bit of Class 3 on top that topped it off. The weather in Ecuador is usually not good. We were in clouds the whole time. Still I was enjoying it. I met a few more locals up there and made quick friends with them.
Everyone up top We shared food and took pictures. On the way down we just about ran down. Everyone gave us a stare, pretty usual since we're all the way in Ecuador. We got down and were dropped off at the Hostel for the night. We then went to the shopping area named "Greengo Neighborhood" by locals. It was all expensive but I was also legal to have a beer. (Barely) After having a hamburger that tasted like a sausage, we headed to the bar to have some beer. The music just began to get on my nerves but I was enjoying this place!
Wanting fruit but not wanting to get sick!
We packed our bags the second day and headed to one of the bigger peaks, Nevado Cayambe. (18,996 ft.) It was a long drive from Quito on an interesting road that turned out to be washed out. We got to the Refuge though that afternoon at over 15,000 ft and took many pictures of the mountain and the sea of clouds!
On Cayambe We enjoyed a fajita for dinner and headed to bed for two hours of sleep. We all woke up at 12 and headed off at 1. There is about an hour of scrambling on Volcano rock to actually get to the glacier. Then the summit is even farther away. The whole night all one could see was city lights and your headlamp with the occasional crevasse. There were 4 parties on the mountain. The problem with Cayambe is the last crevasse and bad weather. If you don't go the right direction then you're not getting across. Many get turned around due to not taking the right way.
Nevado Cayambe (18,996 ft)
It was a long haul on steep glacier slope until the sun came up right when we approached the last problem.
Looking down from the Serac (You can see the other party following) Edgar knew the mountain and headed off a different way then the way everyone else went. An American guided group turned around at the crevasse quoting it was way to sketchy. The other party bailed after hearing that. The last party turned around due to how sketchy the rest of the route looked.
A picket was placed and we belayed Edgar diagonally down the 50 degree soft snow to get to the snow bridge. He crossed and made another anchor into which he belayed us over. It was not bad at all but rather fun! We headed up the 50 degree sugary snow headwall to get to the bottom of the serac in which we did not want to be under for long.
Let's get out from under this serac We traverse out on up to 60 degree snow/ice to finally see the final summit bump. We made the trail and approached the summit slowly. It was a wonderful feeling. The view, weather, everything was great. It felt so remote.
We headed down slowly and carefully. It was a long descent. By the time we were at the refuge, I had my first headache ever. I have never had a headache until this trip. I had a cough also. I rested and then Edgar rushed us out of bed to head to Cotopaxi.
I don't remember the drive because I fell asleep even on the 4 wheel drive portion. His driving was so fast it was like the Baja 500. That night was spent at a hotel near Cotopaxi in which Shawn found long black hairs all over his bed sheets. We both slept for 12 hours. I then experienced the ice cold shower. Cold!
Off to Cotopaxi (19,347 ft) we went.
Cotopaxi (19,347 ft)
What a beautiful mountain! We ate at Tambopaxi while I stared at Rienhold Messner's piece of paper or autograph he made while climbing it in 2003. The regular breakfast was bread and maybe an egg. Not much lunch really and the dinner was always soup and chicken or beef. I brought some extra food because of this. I need a descent breakfast before a climb. We hauled up all our gear to the refuge at about 16,000 feet. We ate and talked. I met many others there and made a few friends. The funny thing is that us and another group were the only ones on the mountain when it's such a popular mountain in the world. I slept for four hours for another alpine start of 1. I forgot my oatmeal though and all that was out was bread. I threw up in my mouth upon taking a bit. I had to eat though even if I did barf it up. I felt like crap the first couple of hours. I had no energy and was going slower then normal. Halfway into the climb Shawn gave me a Honey gel to give me energy. From then on, I was moving much faster.
Glacier of Cotopaxi
The climb enters a huge glacier with gapping crevasses and seracs and goes through them for a large part of the climb. Then a large traverse on a steep slope is made to get to an ice gully that splits the seracs. It was maybe WI2 ice.
Shawn in the Ice Gully It was easy and we all cruised up it. Then the sun rose and we made it to the summit at 6:30 in the morning with the most stunning view. A vast amount of clouds was out there.
Footprints in the snowWe took many pictures chilling out with the only other party on the route.
Summit of CotopaxiThen the descent came. It was a little long and frustrating. Towards the bottom of the glacier I was letting too much slack between Shawn and I, huge mistake on my part. Shawn made a smart comment to me that was quite offensive. From then on we got in a huge fight; Altitude and being tired had played a toll on both of us. I apologized for what I did wrong and Shawn did the same. We descended the rest of the way in better moods and soon Edgar told us that we must go and that we can't rest now.
Shawn on the Descent
Shawn and I were tired, we had done something like 13,000 feet of gain in four days with most of that being over 15,000 feet. I didn't get why we were in such a rush. We had twelve days here not 6. Shawn developed a huge blister on his foot. Our next plan was Chimbo but we soon told Edgar we would not do that climb a day later as he planned. And who knows if we would have even got on the mountain with the condition of the mountain currently. A 15 or more hour day did not appeal to either of us. Due to many reasons we decided to be thankful for our two summits. Many come down this way and are lucky to summit one peak. We were very content.
Leaving Kevin on the high point of my trip
Edgar ended up dropping us off in Banos after a night stay at a hostel. He was nice enough to take our duffel bags for us while we were out of Quito so we didn't have to haul them around. Banos is an amazing town 4 hours from Quito. It is the last city before the Amazon Jungle. It also has a highly active volcano right above it which made us ponder. We spent the next 4 nights ($10/pp a night) buying art, t-shirts, eating, and anything else. It was relaxful. We also rented dune buggies for two hours in which I accidentally went on a one way road into a tunnel with a bus coming towards me honking and flashing its lights. That's another story though. I thoroughly enjoyed the jungle hike too. Experiencing the Amazon was also a memory made along with the culture. The music was really repetitive.
Dune Buggie anyone?
We took a five and a half hour bus ride to Quito with many transfers in which we were confused. It's not straightforward there. We picked up our duffle bags from Edgar and headed to the airport. Flying all night we finally got back to Colorado. Man, I love and missed this place so much.
What a privilege it was going on this trip. Going to high altitudes and experiencing what the world has to offer and most importantly, living my dreams.
Summit of Cotopaxi
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