Peak(s):  Chimborazo
El Altar
Iliniza Norte
Ruco Pichincha
Date Posted:  01/03/2020
Modified:  01/05/2020
Date Climbed:   12/06/2019
Author:  Buckie06
 A tour d' Ecuador - Part 1   

Intro - Part 1

Part 2 is here: Part 2

This trip report is about our attempt at climbing four peaks in Ecuador: Ruco Pichincha 15,400' Iliniza Norte 16,800' El Altar 17,800' and Chimborazo 20,200'. My apologies for how long this report is, I wanted to remember all the details. The short version is this: We went to Ecuador, climbed a bunch of peaks, had good food.

This was a pretty random trip that just sort of happened. My friend David who climbed Orizaba with me went on a guided trip to Bolivia this summer with Mountain Madness. One of the guides on that trip was Juliana Garcia. An IFMGA guide and the president of the Ecuadorian Guiding Association ASEGUIM. She’s been climbing since 15, is a professional guide and a Patagonia Ambassador. They had a great time on that trip and Juli told David that she does her own guiding if he ever wants to come back. David posted his photos shortly after this trip and said he can’t wait to go back. I spur of the moment said I’d go, and here we were, 5 months later about to fly to Ecuador. Thanks again David for including me, I had a fantastic time.

Day 1 – Friday 12.06

Flight out

My roommate Joe drove me to DIA on Friday morning for my noon flight. It so happened that he was flying home the same day I fly back, so we would do a car swap at the airport so we didn’t have to leave a car for three weeks. I had an easy flight to Atlanta, then from Atlanta to Quito. I landed around midnight and went to baggage, turns out David’s flight was delayed 1.5 hours, so I meet our climbing guide Juliana at the airport and we drove to the climber’s hostel. David would take a taxi when he landed. Juli had this tiny little two seat SUV so I have no idea how she thought the three of us and our gear would fit anyways. The hostel was pretty basic but nice, it was in a quiet part of town.

Day 2 – Saturday 12.07

Ruco Pichincha

Juli and her friend picked us up around 8-9am and we drove up to the TeleferiQo gondola. The base Is at 10,200’ and it ascends to 13,000’. There’s a café and a few buildings at the top. From there we hiked to Ruco Pichincha 15,407’. The altitude was grueling and I had to hike extremely slow. This hike reminded me of the incline or grays/torreys with all the locals and casual hikers. Juli was surprised too as she said it use to be just foreigners hiking it. Now it is becoming more mainstream. There were a handful of trail runners too. We made it to the summit but no good views. The weather was socked in and cloudy for the whole hike. We hung out at the summit and snacked. Juli was talking to a group next to us, I’m not sure what she was saying, but I heard her say El Altar, and then all of their eyes opened wide in shock. That was either a sign that we’re going to climb something awesome, or we’re crazy. We took the gondola back down to town and took a taxi to the hotel. David and I took an uber to this taco place Juli recommended which was very delicious. We had a beer and hung out, then headed back to the hotel.

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Day 3 – Sunday 12.08


We woke up at the climber hostel in Quito around 6ish. Breakfast was set out for us, bread and jelly, hard boiled egg, lunch meat and cheese. We ate then pack all our gear. Juli picked us up and we drove a few hours to a small town near Iliniza. We leave our luggage at the climber’s hostel then drive up to the TH. Juli stops at the “ranger station” such that it is but no one is there. We pass the ranger in his truck on the drive up and Juli gives him our permits. Park at the TH around 13,000’ then start hiking up. The altitude was not as bad as Ruco, but it was still tough. It was pretty much cloudy and socked in the whole hike up. Juli was pretty good a doing breaks every hour for us. It’s just crazy as we’re huffing and puffing, sweating from the exertion and altitude, and then she’s hiking in her giant puffy trying to stay warm and not even breaking a sweat. Mental note that I need to quit my job and move to Quito so I can live at 10k feet.

We make it to the hut at 15,600’, walk into the lodge and sit down for some hot tea. They recently did an addition to the hut so there’s a separate kitchen room, it was the first time Juli had been there since. We drink tea and Juli decides we’re stopping as her lungs are not feeling good. Just a few days ago she was doing a guided trip for Mountain Madness and picked up a virus or something. She can feel the fluid building in her lungs, and it was getting worse the higher we climbed. We stayed at the hut for an hour to acclimate then head down. I was pretty cold in the hut so decided to hike around a bit more, I went to the saddle between Iliniza Sur and Norte, the wind was blowing pretty good above the hut. Still cloudy, but every now and then it would clear up around Iliniza Sur, the more technical climb of the two peaks. We then made our way back down. This is where I realized how big of a deal Juliana is, she knew the guide in every group that we passed on the trail. She said when you’re the director of the national climbing organization for three terms you just know everyone. We made it back to the TH safely, did some stretching then drove back to the little town. We hung around the living room drinking beers and chatting with two of her friends. Juli drove back to Quito and we had dinner at the hotel, which was nothing special. Relaxed a bit and went to bed.

Looking ahead at the Ilinizas

The weather was like this for the whole hike

The hut at 15,400'

Iliniza Sur popping out from the clouds

Cliffs below Iliniza Sur

Day 4 – Monday 12.09

Rest Day

We wake up in the climber hostel, breakfast is bread and jelly, meats, cheeses, and fresh fruit juice. We pack our bags and walk around the small town. Not much of anything going on, everyone who lives here works on the crops or animals so there is no activity in town. We head back to the hotel and wait for Juliana to arrive. She picks us up around 9am and we drive off to Riobamba, one of the larger cities in Ecuador after Quito. We check in to the hotel, definitely the nicest place we stayed at during the trip, a true hotel and not a hostel.

David and I walk around town to the market, cathedral and plazas. The city has a cool feel to it, nice and low key, very pedestrian friendly. The traffic is pretty crazy though! Back at the hotel to meet Juli and we walk over to a restaurant to meet Pablo and Rappi, our guides for El Altar. Juli decided she will not climb because of her cold/fluid in her lungs. She’s really bummed, she hasn’t climbed this peak in 5 or so years. But she didn’t think it was safe going up in altitude. She planned to visit the doctor and stay in Riobamba to rest.

We have wings and beer at the restaurant, then walk over to the grocery for some last minute camp food, then walk all over town looking for a restaurant, but the ones they want to go to are all closed for some reason. We end up walked back to the hotel and eating at the hotel restaurant. I order ratatoullie which wasn’t too bad. We head up for showers and bed.


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Day 5 – Tuesday 12.10

Approach to El Altar

Pablo and Rappi showed up at the hotel around 8:30am and we loaded up the car. Somehow, four people, five duffel bags and four day packs all fit in/onto their tiny car. We started the drive out of Riobamba, then after 30min Pablo turned the car around, “Rappi forgot his helmet so we need to go back.” We drive back to the hotel and Rappi grabs Juli’s helmet. Ok we’re off, but no the guys stop again to buy Gatorade and snacks.

Loading up

And now we make our way through the countryside to the “trailhead” which is a spot in the road next to a farmhouse and the creek. The mule driver is there waiting for us, he says something to the guys and points to his watch. I’m guessing he’s mad we’re late. We load up the duffel bags for the mule driver, then start the hike. Up the hillside then onto the “trail of mud”. I’ve never hiked in so much mud in all of my life combined. Wow was it muddy. I had a feeling we were in for trouble when Pablo pulled out his knee high rubber boots at the car. Ecuador’s location to the Equator and considering it has more of a PNW rainy climate means the trails are always muddy and wet. This one gets beaten up even more by the mules and donkeys. We struggled through the mud trail and turned into the next valley.

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This was the trail for about 6 miles

Overcast patchy clouds meant we had views in/out, but mostly it blocked the sun as the temps were already warm. Traversing along the valley took a long time as we were always slopping through the mud, even as we switchbacked to the ridge. The mules, cowboy and his German Sheppard passed us at this point. Across the valley to the north was a beautiful waterfall that looked to be 1000’ tall. We finally finished the sidehill traversing and started switchbacking up the hillside to get to the ridge. This is where the wind and cold started to hit us. We met another mule driver heading down, Rappi talked to him, apparently another team was up there but they missed their gear so the mule driver had to go back or something, I wasn’t really understanding. We hiked for a while longer on the ridge then got to the other team’s camp. The guide was a friend of Rappi and Pablo, he said the conditions were perfect on the summit, good news for us! A little bit more and we were at camp, our duffels waiting for us. We setup our tent and gear. Pablo started cooking dinner; pasta and meat sauce. There was a bit of confusion as Juli told us not to bring bowls, but there were no other dishes to each out of. So we had to share the cook pot. After dinner we all laid down to sleep. We knew that the next morning was the best weather window and we were hopeful for good conditions.

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the valley we hiked through for most of the approach. El Altar is above the clouds in the center of the photo.

Meeting our cowboy on his way down

The view from high camp

Day 6 – Wednesday 12.11

Summit day of El Altar/Obispo Peak 17,451’

We awoke at midnight for our summit attempt. David was not feeling well from the hike in and the altitude, as we’re in the tent he says he is not going for the summit. As I get ready and tell the boys, he pops out of the tent and says he’s going. YAY! Breakfast was a wash as the guys were not exactly the best camp cooks. Rappi later told us they usually have a camp chef with them and they’ve never cooked camp meals themselves. I have some oatmeal but can tell it wasn’t enough. We rope up together, Pablo and I, and Rappi with David. We hike along the rocks for a bit then get to the first short rock scramble down. Then it’s onto the snow as we traverse up. Soon I’m feeling a little sluggish and weak. Obviously, I didn’t have a big enough breakfast and now I’m running on empty. I try to eat but can’t eat anything solid, I eat an applesause thing and some gus, but they’re not much. I manage half a BoBo’s bar but immediately throw up. David and Rappi start moving ahead while I’m stopping and resting. I tell Pablo I’m not feeling well but want to at least make it to the bottom of the gully. I think it was all a mental block though, as soon as I see the technical pitches I feel fine. This is something that I need to work on for the future; building my mental fortitude.

5:40am and the sun is just starting to come up. We have incredible views to the west as we climb the steep snow couloirs. We top out and walk along this really cool ridge/cornice, with views of Chimborazo way off in the distance, the sunrise, and an erupting volcano to the west. We get to this flat section on the glacier where the ice wall is. Just stunning! You could see the layers of the glacier and how it has shifted and pushed as the glacier moves. Rappi was leading the first ice pitch as we got up there. We ate, snacked, and watched the sunrise as he and David climbed. I kept asking Pablo to climb the steep ice to the left, but he would not. The glacier ice is very unstable and weak, it didn’t look like it would hold a fall. Pablo leads up the shorter ice then belays me up.

The ice wall, Rappi is climbing the ice pitch on the right

Rappi up the ice pitch

Views to the west, that's an active erupting volcano

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Chimborazo above the rocks

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Camp is way off on the left

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The route conituned up the gully in the center

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Above the ice pitch we were on this open snow slope and could finally see the massive size of the glaciers. We climbed up these runnels that have formed in the snow slope, then to the technical mixed pitches. Another nice steep ice pitch with some mixed climbing. Then a few more pitches of mixed climbing up the narrow couloir. We then top out on this very small saddle and can see into the crater for the first time. And wow! This was unbelievable. It makes the crater on Rainier look like a tiny dimple in a sandbox. The crater is 1.5miles wide and 3,700’ deep. At the bottom is a beautiful alpine green lake. The final section is a 30m pitch of 5.6ish rock. Pablo starts to lead and asks me to take photos, he’s stoked and this is his favorite pitch on his favorite mountain. Halfway up he pulls a rock and it comes crumbling off, scary! He makes it to the top and belays me up. The climbing is easy but the exposure is unreal. The pitch faces north so straight underneath you is 3,700’ to the lake. Very cool! I climb up to the top and David and Rappi are hanging there waiting. Pablo and I then hike the remaining 20’ of snow to the summit. We take photos and videos and enjoy the view. It is sunny, warm and clear on the summit. We made it at 10am, about 9.5hrs of climbing.

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Pablo leading up one of the mixed pitches

Looking down from where we came.

The final rock pitch

Looking down the rock pitch

From the summit looking down into the crater
The crater from the summit

The erupting volcano from the summit

the crater rim

Crater rim

Getting down took about 8-10 rappels, and we didn’t have a rope with a middle mark, so it took a while at the belay stations. I helped out Pablo as much as I could so we were speedy. At one point he setup a rap off a wiregate biner and a piton. Yes it was totally find but the AMGA in me kicked in, I swapped it out for a locker when it was my turn to rappel. Then the anchor above the ice pitch was a sling in a snow bollard that a guide friend of theirs made the other day. But it looked really shallow and sketch. I backed it up with an ice axe and had Pablo weigh it. It was shitty snow anyways but I just wasn’t excited about trusting my life to a tiny bollard I didn’t make.

We continued down, lots of hiking and rappelling. We finally got to the last rappel at the top of the snow traverse. We relaxed a bit, snacked, and coiled ropes. We then hiked down the snow traversing back to camp. We made it to the rock section just as a hailstorm unleashed. Luckily there were some overhanging rocks that we sat under and waited 20 minutes. We did the last rock scramble to climb up, then we were back on the west side of the mtn and back at camp. Probably around 2pm for about a 12hr day.

David was exhausted and went to bed, but I actually felt great. I pulled out my book, “Warriors don’t Cry” by Melba Beals (one of the Little Rock Nine children that tells the story of going to that school, I highly recommend it). I read and David slept until dinner time. Pablo cooked up some really good pork and veggie soup.

End of Part 1

Part 2

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Guiding requirements?
01/04/2020 08:42
Your conditions look similar to what I experienced in Ecuador a couple years ago: either you are in a cloud, or under one and getting rained on. Fortunately the rain wasn€„˘t hard, so my $5 poncho worked admirably.

Did you hear anything definite about guiding requirements? My partner and I got different answers from different people.

01/04/2020 09:27
Great pix! Looks like you had a wonderful time.

01/05/2020 07:17
Seano - I specifically asked Juliana about this and she said no, you do not need a local guide to climb. As she is the Guiding Assocation director she would know best. However we did need a permit for Illiniza, the Ranger stopped us at the gate. Juli had to apply for the permit in advance, I have no idea how you'd do it yourself if you don't speak spanish and don't know who to contact. Having a guide made this trip so much easier as she booked the donkeys, permits, and booked the tent reservations on Chimbo.

Yea the weather was a bummer, very similar to Seattle/the cascades weather. It is typically always like this in Ecuador.

Viva Ecuador
01/21/2020 22:02
Nice report! I didn€„˘t get a chance to do El Altar when I was down there, it looks like a very interesting climb!

01/29/2020 00:56
Great photos! I'm looking at Cotopaxi this summer, do you have guide recommendations? Thanks!

01/30/2020 11:27
If you want to do an american guiding company then Mountain Madness seemed to be the most respected. If you want to be flexible and hire a private guide, we booked

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