|A tour d' Ecuador - Part 2|
Part 1 of this trip: Part 1
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.
Day 7 – Thursday 12.12
Hike out from El Altar.
We woke up at high camp on El Altar and everyone was in high spirits from yesterday’s climb. Pablo brewed us some hot tea which I probably had 5 cups of just this morning. After this trip I officially became a tea drinker and have been having two to three cups a day since flying back home. Breakfast was some fried breaded chicken, and assortments of the leftover granolas, dried fruit and nuts. We mostly relaxed around camp as the cowboy wasn’t arriving until 10am. We had much better views this morning than the other days. While it wasn’t total bluebird, the clouds would intermittently roll out so we could see the valleys on both sides. High camp sits along the southeast ridge of El Altar so we had beautiful views of the valleys on both sides. The valley to the west had a huge 500’+ tall waterfall going into a huge alpine lake. Every once in a while, the clouds would open and we’d get a full view of the El Altar summit. It was breathtaking. I grabbed my book and sat on a rock with my tea, but ended up just watching the scenery.
We then started packing up camp and getting everything into the duffels for the mules. I was feeling melancholy to leave as our camp and the scenery was simply beautiful. As we were packing, I found the shooters I had brought up from my Las Vegas trip. One vodka, one rum and one whiskey. We stood around the camp and passed them back and forth. Evidently drinking tiny shooters of liquor at 15,000’ gets you drunk pretty quickly. I think we were all feeling a little buzzed, except for David who didn’t drink. We even shared with the mule driver who was laughing and smiling. He instantly recognized the Jack Daniels logo. We loaded our duffels on the two mules then started hiking down.
Again the views were stellar and I snapped probably my favorite photo of the trip. We hiked along the ridge until the low point where you turn east into the valley. We stopped for snacks and to strip layers, it was HOT! I was down to just my baselayer at this point, but Pablo and Rappi were still in shells. They’re definitely use to hiking in warmer weather than Colorado. The hike down was honestly not as horrible as I thought it would be. Once you accepted the fact that you’re going to get totally caked in mud from your knees down it wasn’t bad. Instead of hoping and trying to avoid the mud I just sloped through it. Somehow I passed up Rappi and was just making my way along the lower traverse in the valley. Eventually the mules and driver passed me, it is a wonder how those animals don’t break a leg as the mud is so deep. But they were cruising down. The one horse was better at staying with the cowboy than the other, as he would veer off away from them.
Once in the bottom of the valley we stopped for a snack at the stream crossing before turning into the next valley. This is where the muddiest portion of the climb was, it makes the PNW look dry as a desert. When Derek and I did Forbidden Peak this summer, I remember thinking that was the muddiest, worst trail I’d be on, but that was nothing compared to hiking out El Altar. Thank goodness I brought both trekking poles as I used them for balance and got quite an upper body workout. Rappi kindly waited at the turn off point from the muddy trail to the hillside above the farm. Oddly this is where I had the most problem as I think the mud was so caked into my shoes that I had no traction. It also didn’t help that my trail runners are so worn out they’re almost bowling shoes now. I managed to fall right into a huge pile of cow poop, all over my butt and my pack bottom. Ugh! We passed a few large pigs that were tied up near the farm and finally made it to the car. Maybe around 3pm ish. The cowboy was waiting at the bottom with all our duffels next to the car. Pablo stayed behind to hike with David, and of course he had the car key. So Rappi and I hung out at the creek bed and tried to wash the mud off our feet, legs, socks, and shoes. About half an hour later Pablo shows up, then David. Poor David was totally drenched in much from the waist down, and was missing a shoe! He took a step in the mud and his shoe slipped right off, he tried digging for it but it was lost into the mud.
We piled into the car and drove out. We scarfed down the leftover snacks, I discovered these delicious chocho bean and tostado toasted corn nut snack that was amazing. I pulled out the leftover salami and the boys were stoked. We chowed away as we drove through the countryside. Pablo stopped next to a shop in this small town and Rappi ran inside. He comes out carrying two liters of beer and cups! These guys are the best! We pass the cups around and drink the beer while we drive back. David only had a bit so I was drinking double and started feeling tipsy soon. As we get into Riobamba, Pablo pulls over and runs to a store for another liter of beer! We soon pull into the hotel parking alley and Juli is waiting for us with big smiles. Hugs all around and everyone is laughing. I can tell she was bummed she had to miss the climb. The boys left to go home and shower. We schlepped our gear upstairs in the hotel and hung everything out to dry in the upstairs lobby. Then a nice hot shower, but no matter how much I scrubbed the mud around my toes would not come off.
Of all the places, the boys wanted to do Applebee’s for dinner. So we drove over to the shopping mall and met them for dinner. Juliana was telling us about the high tariffs on liquor in Ecuador, so any cocktail is way overpriced compared to the States. $14-16 for a margarita at TGI Fridays! We had some fajitas and guac while they mostly chatted in Spanish. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel and crashed.
Day 8 – Friday 12.13
Morning in the Riobamba hotel. Pretty nice breakfast of eggs, yogurt, fruit, bread and fresh fruit juices. As we drove out of town, the sky was clear and we had a stunning view of El Altar. The picture doesn’t do the mountain just as the crater is massive!
We drove to the resort town of Banos, driving past Volcan Tungurahua which erupted some 10 years ago. The eruption made the farmland very fertile and they produce tons of fruits. Both David and I buy $20 sneakers since ours were destroyed by the mud on El Altar. We stop and have coffee at a nice café. David orders this ridiculous towering smoothie. We then walk around the shops, looking at souvenirs. They are setting up for an event in the downtown, Julia asks the police and they say it is a cart race in the afternoon. Have lunch on this second floor patio restaurant, really good salmon with potatoes and salad. We then walk over to the race, they have the street blocked off with people on either side of the sidewalk. People are selling everything in the streets, stools, butt cushions, fruit, pig skins, cotton candy, toys, fruits, etc. David wanders off and buys two beers. The person standing next to us is listening to the race and gives us updates. It is a time trial, every few minutes a two person cart team comes racing down the hill. It was pretty fun to watch. After a while we walk back to the hotel. Then drive up the mountain to this resort that overlooks the whole town of Banos. We sit and have a drink on the balcony that overlooks the whole city, it is a beautiful view. I then have a pedicure, David has a facial, pedi and hand massage. As the lady was removing the old nail polish from my toes I discover that my big toe nail is completely black! Shocked! It must have happened on those training hikes when I was trying out the new double boots before this trip. Juli works on her laptop while she waits. After we drive back to the hotel, then walk the main street for dinner. We stop at this really good restaurant and sit next to the window. Juli orders empanadas, this corn and pork dish, soup and salad. Probably one of the best meals we have. I decide to walk back to the hotel, they go on to a bar for another drink.
Day 9 – Saturday 12.14
Drive and hike to Chimboorazo.
We woke up in the hotel in Banos. Breakfast upstairs was pretty good, egg quiche, granola and yogurt, meat and cheese. We then packed up our things and loaded up Juliana’s truck for the drive. Banos was a beautiful place and I was sad to leave, but happy to be doing a climb. The drive was quite scenic, going around Tarungua, the volcano that erupted 10 or so years ago. We stopped in Riobamba for lunch, all the stops Juli wanted were closed, so we went to our old hotel and ate in the restaurant. I had ribs and potatoes which were ok, but they had a nice salad and veggie bar. We filled water and did the final gear pack, then drove to the Chimborazo trailhead.
There are now two options for camping at Chimborazo, the giant refugio that you can drive to. Or some local guides have established a camp about 2,000' up the TH. They have two large 20people dome tents that serve as cook tents. And they have 6 or so three person tents always setup. Juliana contacted them in advance and reserved tents and meals for us. They provide breakfast, lunch when you get back from the hike, dinner, water, coffee and teas. It was a really nice setup and I would highly recommend this to anyone attempting this peak. It definitly felt more like a mountaineering climb than staying at the touristy refuigo with all the crowds.
We started hiking up and I felt really strong, energized and excited. It was all rocky hiking, reminded me more of Colorado peaks than all the other hikes on the trip. For some reason though, the last 200’ or so were a real struggle for me. I started feeling the altitude, maybe some anxiety, but was breathing hard and not very relaxed. I think that last push was not good for me. I walked into camp feeling very light and dizzy. Went to the very cool large dome cook tent where they have potato soup, chicken and rice. I tried to eat but was having trouble, and felt like throwing up. We finished and went to bed around 7:30/8pm. I laid in the tent feeling light headed and weak. I was worried about the altitude.
Day 10 – Sunday 12.15
Summit attempt of Chimborazo 20,500’. We “woke up” at 12pm, which really means I just laid in the tent until 12pm. I woke up feeling light headed and dizzy. Went to the cook tent for breakfast. They had just bread and cookies laid out, which didn’t do anything for my appetite. I ate a few cookies but that was it. We started hiking, the three of us short roped together. I knew right off the bat something was wrong. I felt so lightheaded as we were hiking. We did the traverse along the steep rock cliffs and I was very worried about falling and pulling everyone else down. I had to stop multiple times to rest. We finished the traverse and got to the ridge that starts the big snow slog climb. I talked with Juilana about how I was feeling and we decided to go down. I was pretty bummed, I wish I could of kept pushing. Looking back now, I think if I would have just stopped and ate a bunch of food I would have been better. But we were getting very cold with every stop.
Looking up at all the headlamps was quite beautiful, it was a perfect weather day, the conditions were right, I was just weak. It was extremely frustrating. Because we were roped up, all three of us had to turn around and head back. David didn’t say anything, but I could tell he was mad. Back at camp, we crawled into the tents and slept. We woke up around 7 or 8ish I think. Hung out at the cook tent and ate some pizza and salami wraps. We waiting at camp a bit for Rappi and his client to return, but they were still up on the mountain. We then packed up our gear and headed down. Juliana and I talked a lot about other peaks to climb, and what to do the next time so I don’t get sick. I think I need to bring better food, salami, museli and milk, protein powder, whatever I can to get a bunch of calories in me the night before and the morning of the climb.
That day was a mountain bike race from above the Refugio hut to the national park entrance. Pablo was supposed to be racing it. We saw a bunch of racers and bikes at the trailhead, but it didn’t look like the race had started, and we didn’t see Pablo anywhere. We stopped at the Park entrance for some souvenir shopping, but they didn’t have anything. Along the drive we saw Vicunas, stunning animals native only to Chimborazo Wildlife Preserve and in Peru.
We drove through the country side and stopped in town for lunch. I had shrimp with large potato french fries and a salad. Juliana and I shared a large avocado and veggie salad. David had pizza and a beer. We then drove back to Quito and the hostel. I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry, so just ate some leftover camp food and went to bed.
Day 11 – Monday 12.16
The usual breakfast in the Quito Hostel, then Juliana arrived with Joshua and Charlote to do some rock climbing. David decided to sleep in and rest. Joshua is a guide from Ecuador but has been living in the states for the past few years, currently in Albuquerque. He mostly guides internationally in the Alps. Really nice guy, he also teaches course for the AMGA, we chatted a bunch about the guide courses, and what makes sense for us CMC instructors. Both Joshua and Juli suggested we take the Rock Guide Course. Charlote is from France and is travelling around South America. We took the same Gondola to 13,000’, walked a bit along the trail and down to the small rock cliff. One wall had two routes, the other wall had about 10-15 routes. Nothing exceptional, but still fun climbing. I lead two of the routes, probably 5.6 and 5.7. Juli brought two pairs of her climbing shoes that were way too small for me. I used Joshua’s but they were still extremely tight, and my feet were already sore and blistered from my boots. The next two climbs were more 5.8/5.10 and I just used Juli’s approach shoes instead. Struggled a bit on the 5.10, but oh well. It was a fun day, and it was nice talking to other people in English as both Charlote and Joshua were fluent. We took the gondola back down, and drove into town for lunch. We had some traditional Ecuadorian cold soups. Mine was a yummy fish soup, Juliana had shrimp. She REALLY enjoys food and eating! I also ordered an empanada and this odd bolon, cheese ball that Charlote was telling me about. Basically, dough made from corn, with cheese inside and lightly fried. Pretty good, but she said it was a breakfast food, kind of an odd breakfast item. We then waiting for David to meet us at the restaurant and drove to a suit store owned by a friend of Juli’s. David needed suits for work and they’re way cheaper here than in the States. He picked out two and they took measurements to tailor. We then drove back to the hostel and had a beer. Juliana had a conference call meeting and we hung out at the hostel. After she left I walked down to find some dinner. Went to Hueka Guarandena la Gasca which was absoulty delicious. I had this chicken and lintel thing with plantains and veggies, beer and a sort of pot pie appetizer for $9. I then walked back to the hostel and went to bed.
Day 12 – Tuesday 12.17
Site seeing day! Woke up in Quito, breakfast of granola and yogurt, lunch meat ham and cheese, bread and jelly, really good orange fresh fruit juice. Hard boiled egg. Dave was tired and stayed at the hotel, so I decided to see the sites around Quito. First I took an uber to the Bascilica in Old Town. It is a very beautiful gothic style cathedral, paid $2 to walk inside. Then another $2 to climb the two bell towers. Pretty unique to this cathedral, you can walk along the spine of the church above the vaults and climb above the dome. Some sketchy metal stairs took you to the top of the dome, with incredible views of the whole city and valley. It was a beautiful sunny hot day and the sky was so clear.
After the cathedral, I took an uber to the Virgin Mary statue which sits on top of the hillside overlooking the old town. Since the city has grown much larger, Mary’s back faces the south part of town, which locals say is cursed because of this. Ironically the south part of town is more povershed that the rest of Quito. Walking around the Virgin statue was pretty neat, the views were incredible, you could see the whole city as it stretches north through the valley. Paid one dollar to go inside the statue and walk halfway up, which wasn’t all that interesting. I just hung out and enjoyed the views, there were a few tourist stands selling things but not much activity. The plan was to meet Juliana for lunch, but I had no word from her, so decided to walk back down and explore the Old Town more. The walk down was quite lovely on small steps and switchbacks, soon enough I was back in the heart of the Old Town. I stopped at a desert shop and had a huge crepe with Nutella, crème and fruit while sitting on the patio and people watching. I walked to Plaza Grande which was bustling with people, then continued on. So many people were hawking and trying to sell things that it soon became too annoying to hang around. I did the big walk back towards the cathedral, all uphill in the heat!! I then took a cab back to the restaurants near the hostel. The one I ate at last night Hueka Guarandena was fantastic, so I decided to try one next door. It has great reviews online, but was nothing special. Bland soup, chicken, rice and some whimpy veggies with fruit juice. But it only cost $2.50!
After lunch I took an uber to the outdoor gear store Tatoo. Immediately walking in it felt just like an REI, honestly I wonder if REI owns this brand. As per usual, it had mostly clothes and not a lot of climbing gear, but still fun to check out. Most prices were and extra $50 compared to buying it in America. They did however have a bunch of tshirts of the local peaks. And they actually had an El Altar one! Really cool! I then took an uber back to the hostel. Rested for a bit, then David showed up about 30min later with his suits. We packed our gear into all the duffels to get ready for the airport.
Julia had messaged that she was giving a lecture about mountaineering at the university and invited us to join. David left the hotel to do his own thing so I took a cab over to the university. Walked around the building for a while trying to find the room. There were about 20-30 people there. They had four presenters, Juliana spoked for about 20min about the ASEGUIM association. The whole presentation was in Spanish so it was nearly impossible to follow, but still interesting. I mostly researched Colorado Springs Spanish classes on my phone. You can tell that Juliana has a strong passion for the guiding community, and that everyone respects her. We took a cab together back to the hostel, and talked about the guiding industry and her challenges in Ecuador. It was really inspiring and part of me wants to quit architecture and become a guide. We met back with David at the hotel, and the hotel owner drove us to the airport. One long line at the Delta counter to check in, then the three of us ate dinner at a sushi restaurant. We said our goodbyes, then went to security and waited for our flights home.
rip report here...
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