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Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Last Climb? - Page 3

Written by Peter J Levine
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Our first acclimatization hike, on Pasochoa, started out inauspiciously, with Nacho arriving an hour late without a clear explanation -­ a harbinger of things to come.  Skip was now taking his blood pressure medication and had a semi-green light from the doctors, to proceed with the climbs.


The mountain, an extinct volcano located an hour and half from Quito, at 13,776 ft was a perfect next step to convince our lungs and hearts to get with the program. The hike itself was uneventful except for our guide’s curious habit of sprinting hundreds of yards ahead of us, rather than moving at our pace. For significant periods we could not see or hear him, but the path was well trodden, so we didn’t say anything when we eventually found him on a ledge near the summit having already finished his lunch. A curious and inauspicious beginning for our guide-client relationship.


Day two of our acclimatization began with another harbinger: Skip announced that his pulse was high again and that he wouldn’t be doing the climb of Guagua Pichincha (15,700 ft). I began to think that I had led my oldest friend to a place where he shouldn’t be.  But, he was safe in the hotel a few blocks from the hospital, so I grabbed my gear and joined Nacho.


The immediate area surrounding Guagua Pichincha is very fertile, and in December, when we were there, green and lush. But the mountain itself is an active volcano, having most recently erupted in 2004. So, much of the hike and climb was on volcanic scree.  And the final 1,000 vertical feet was pretty steep, with sliding volcanic ash under foot and occasional outcroppings of hardened magma providing welcome handgrips.


But my private tour became a solo climb as Nacho again sprinted to the top for an early lunch.   Nonetheless, I got to the top without difficulty, though my trekking poles inexplicably slipped off of my day pack and descended into Guagua Pichincha’s crater without me (thankfully). On the descent, my knees began to remind me that there is a limited “window” of pain?free movement between cortisone shots and other injectables used to keep aging body parts functioning. Upon returning to the hotel, I slapped on a “Flector” patch to each knee.


Glacier Training


On the way to our third mountain, Cayambe, we visited the market town of Otavalo, a standard part of most visits to Quito for trekkers, climbers and tourists of all stripes. I had visited the market on a trip to Ecuador many years ago, and much of the indigenous crafts are now available in Quito. But a visit to Otavalo is a chance to see a smaller colonial town and perhaps pick up a bargain or two.


We spent the night in a hacienda near Otavalo.  The morning brought another adjustment to the trip: after a bad night’s sleep, and missing the second acclimatization climb, Skip decided he did not want to attempt the ascent of Cayambe or even take the glacier training, and instead would head home. I tried to dissuade him from leaving, but this was selfish on my part as his high blood pressure was real, and the coming days would bring us at ever higher altitudes, challenging for even younger climbers. The buddy trip was over.


Cayambe, like many of Ecuador’s mountains, has a climbing “hut” or refuge – a dormitory- like structure with triple level bunk beds, kitchen facilities, and more-or-less functioning toilets. A very bumpy ride in a four-wheel drive vehicle brings you to Cayambe’s hut at 15,090 ft. Here, the effects of global warming are clearly apparent: when the hut was built in 1981, it was astride the Glacier Hermoso. Now, climbers must scramble for an hour (or more at my age) up a rocky ridgeline wearing double plastic boots, before donning crampons, and shifting from using hands and/or trekking poles to using an ice axe. 


(Page 3 of 6)
Last modified on Wednesday, 31 December 2014

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