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An end of a trip.
This will be the last posting for our trip to Ecuador. It's been a very,
very, very long day and I'm just a little tired. So, I'll just give the
highlights of the last few days.
Our change of plans for the rest day worked out greatly. Found an
excellent hotel with very hot showers. I think the pressure from the shower
could give my power washer a run for its money.
The next morning we checked on the situation Banos and "heard" that it was
all safe. So began our adventure to find a way into the city. To make a
long story short, we skipped Banos all together and headed to the hut on
Chimborazo. But, the views of the cliffs and vallies were amazing.
When we arrived to the hut, we found some of the other guides very excited
by the days' avalanche activity off the mountain. One guide had captured a
dramatic avalanche coming off the mountain on his digital camera. Very
impressive, but not promising for planning a climb the following day. By
the way, no one summited the day we arrived because of avalanche activity.
So, we made a plan to wake up at ten pm, and begin climbing at eleven pm.
We decided that the best plan would be that if we weren't on the summit by
0630, we would turn around and head back down. Mountains are known
to be very unfriendly to humans when the snow, ice and rock warm up in the
We woke up at our planned time only to find it snowing wet and heavy snow.
Change of plans, wait an hour and see what happens. So, an hour passes
and it's still snowing. But this time, it's only snowing lightly and it
felt as if the temperature had dropped a little since our first observation.
With an optimistic attitude, but an eye towards safety and the condition
of the snow pack, we headed off. Every few hundered feet, we stopped to dig
into the snowpack to see what the mountain would tell us.
Finally, at 5,435 meters, we decided to turn around. I'm not going to get
into a scientific analysis of snowpack conditions at the time. But, what we
decided was when the sun would come up and start to rewarm the snow,
conditions would be too dangerous for safe travel. Part of a long and
successful mountaineering career is being able to walk away from an
objective and hope you get another chance at again in the future. The
mountain will always be there. But, you only have one life...
Now, Jeff and I are safe and sound back in Quito preparing to fly back to
the States in the morning. It's been a great and wonderful trip. The balance
between climbing and having enough time to enjoy Ecuadorian culture and
hospitality has been amazing. Needless to say, this has been a trip of life
time not to be missed. Hope that everyone who has been following our trip
will have a safe and enjoyable holiday season.
Onward and more summits...
11/17/2006, Never the same!
Success and Changes...
First off, I can report that all is going well and everyone is in good
health and great spirits. The climbs to reach the summits of Ilinizia
(5,126 meters/16,817 feet) and Cotopaxi (5,897 meters/19,347 feet) were
successful with no great difficulties. Our guide (Romel) is doing an
excellent job of providing local area knowledge, transportation,
coordinating lodging, and translation services. He is an excellent addition
to our team that is proving to be an invaluable asset in making my job a
whole lot easier and Jeff?? s trip much more enjoyable.
As with life anywhere, there are some things that one is unable to control
or predict. One such thing is using computers in another country. For some
reason, the photo?? s I have taken over the last few days are unable to be
attached to this letter. So, any photos will have to wait until I get to
another computer. The other one is finding out that there is a mass
demonstration protesting the governments inaction to problems in a town we
are planning to take our rest day. More on that later.
But for now, the details of our climbs and the trip so far. Ilinizia: On
the 12th, we met Romel at the Embassy Hotel in Quito and drove to a village
near the base of Ilinizia. Our original plan was to have lunch at the
Llovizna Hostel, prepare our equipment for the climb, drive to the trail
head that would lead us to a mountain hut, stay the night there and climb
Ilinizia the following morning. The weather had other plans for us
As were eating lunch and preparing our gear, weather moved over Ilinizia
dumping rain, graupel, snow and topping it off with thunder and lightninig.
Adapt to changes and make the best of it. We decided the next best option
would be to stay the night in the hostel, wake up early in the morning, then
do the climb.
The following morning greeted us to grey skies and cool temperatures. The
drive to the trailhead was 30 minute ride on a dirt and bumpy road. Once on
the trail, the hiking was easy and on a well used trail making route finding
a no brainier. We hiked for around two hours to the hut. At the hut, we
stopped to eat some food and drink some tea. Afterwards, the real work
The climb itself calls for hiking up a scree field for about an hour
followed by some easy to moderate rock scrambling. The scrambling is pretty
much straight forward and easy. We roped up to protect against any
possibilities of slipping as most of the route was covered in snow and made
the scrambling a little slippery in places. Once on the summit, all we had
time to do was snap a few photo?? s as Mother Nature gave us a warning that
we shouldn?? t be hanging around too long; thunder off in the distance.
So, when you hear thunder in the distance, the best thing to do is beat a
retreat. Hurry, hurry, and hurry. The normal descent route is the same
way one goes up. But for weather situation we took the fastest way down,
straight down a giant scree field that leads to the main trail we took up.
As we started down, the snow started falling. The snow continued until we
descend below the freezing level. Then the snow turned to rain and continued
until we reached our car.
After returning to the car, we drove back to the hostel to pick up our
stay behind bags and drove to the Tamboxi Hostel, in Cotopaxi National Park.
The weather was dumping rain everywhere in Ecuador, or so it seemed to us.
At the hostel, there are pictures hanging on the wall showing the great
views of Cotopaxi from the hostel. Our view was much different. The base
of this huge mountain rose a few hundred feet into the grey clouds dumping
rain. Not a promising picture for the prospects of climbing. So, the next
best thing besides dreading the thought of having to cancel the climb
because of weather is to have hot shower, eat a good dinner, prep your
equipment anyways and say, "We?? ll see what the mornings brings."
It?? s unfortunate I can?? t post some photo?? s because the following morning
greeted us to clear, blue skies and an unbelievable view of the mountain.
The rain we were receiving at the hostel translated into snow for the
mountain. A picture perfect representation of a snow covered mountain
rising from grass plains.
In the hostel is a telescope for viewing the mountain. I was told by some
of the other guest that you could see people nearing the summit. So, I took
a look and counted around forty some odd people slowly making their way to
the summit. The prospect of climbing seemed a whole lot better now.
After eating breakfast, we re-sorted our gear for Cotopaxi. Packed our
stay behind bags that would remain secured in the hostel and departed for the
mountain. Once at the trailhead, we hiked for about an hour to the main
mountain hut (4800 meters). After placing our sleeping bags on the bunks
where we would sleep for the night, Romel made some lunch for us then off to
bed for an afternoon nap.
After a few hours, we woke to eat dinner and discuss any final options for
the climb. During our hike up to the hut, the weather returned and was
snowing greatly. Not a good prognosis for a great climb. So, back to bed
with the plan of waking at midnight and departing around one in the morning
with the caveat of "We?? ll see what the weather is doing and make a decision
So at midnight, we woke and poked our noses out the door to feel cold
temperatures and see snow still falling. Not is great quantities, but
snowing none the less. We ate breakfast, put on our packs and headed out.
The plan was, let?? s walk to the glacier and see how it goes. While we were
walking, the snow wasn?? t that bad and the depth of the new snow was only a
few inches. Conditions were looking favorable to at least make a go for it.
Once at the glacier, we put on our crampons, rope up, pulled out our ice
axes, and began the monotonous task of placing one foot in front of the
other. Doing this under the light of your headlamp, you quickly set a rhythm
at a not too strenuous pace. Step, step, ice axe. Step, step, ice axe.
Step ice axe. This is followed by timing it with breathing so it makes
the going easier.
After a while, the internal dialogs begin: "Why am I doing this?" "Boy,
a cup of hot coffee back in the hut sure would be nice right now.", "It was
awfully warm and comfortable back in my sleeping bag in the hut", "What was
the name of that kid who sat next to me in fourth grade?" This continues
only to be interrupted by the occasional break to eat, drink, and pee until
you reach the summit.
The whole way up the mountain, we were surrounded by light snow and clouds.
White on white does not make for interesting landscape. But, watching ice
and rock formations appear out of it does.
Once we reached the summit though, the weather Gods looked kindly upon us.
As we neared the summit, the snow stopped and the clouds started to lift
allowing us to see our destination. Once on the summit, the clouds thinned
enough to allow us to view into the crater of Cotopaxi. This is an inactive
volcanoes, but the crater is still warm enough to keep it clear of snow and
ice and emits the smell of sulfur. We knew we were near the summit from the
smell of the crater.
We stayed on the summit for about 30 minutes. During that time, the
clouds continued to break allowing us view of what we had climbed the day
before (Ilinizia) and what we will climb (Chimborazo) in a few days. On the
way down, the clouds continued to break apart to make the views splendid and
allowed for some good photo opportunities. But, as we descended, the lower
clouds remained and we descended back into falling snow.
After returning to the hut, we gathered the equipment we left that we didn?? t
need for the summit (sleeping bags, extra food, ect), hiked back down to
our car and drove back to the hostel to eat some lunch and grab our stay
behind bags. This is where we learned that something?? s in our plans our out
of our hands and one has to be flexible enough to bend with them.
Romel called to confirm our hotel reservations in Baños (pronounced
"Bon-yos") for our rest day. Well, seems the town people finally got tired
of the government?? s inability to address their concerns and decide to block
all the roads leading in and out of Baños. We decided to drive there as some
of the locals told us it was okay to travel there. But when we arrived to
the city limits, police blocked the road. Romel asked them what the
situation was and how things were in the town itself. They said they didn?? t
know when it would end and gave us a shrug of the shoulders indicating they
really didn?? t care either. Given the fact that we saw soldiers in buses
sitting in a village outside of Baños, we decided we better not press the
issue of staying there.
"Never become rigid in a gaseous environment." is something I have lived by
for a long time and has proven to be excellent advice. So, after some group
discussion, reference the travel guide "Let?? s Go, Ecuador", we drove to
Ambato. We found a great hotel, had a hot shower, and ate an excellent
dinner. Then it was off to bed after starting our day at midnight, climbing
a 19,347 foot mountain, then driving for around Ecuador for about four
This morning, we enjoyed an excellent breakfast and planned out what we
will do for our rest day; light sight seeing and some gift shopping for
friends and family. That?? s about it for now. So far everything has been
excellent and we are all having a great time.
The next posting should be after I return to the States as when we finish
Chimborazo, we drive back to Quito and fly out early the next morning. So
until then, never become rigid in a gaseous environment.