I needed to return to Ecuador to clean up my climbing resume and get some serious high altitude training you just can’t find in the states. Problem being, I didn’t really have the time. My Vacation time was cut short due to training and other fuckery, and I had a mountain of responsibilities pilling up on all sides. Not excepting defeat, I called my old guide David, explained the situation, and like a quarterback on prom night we started jackhammering away.
Leaving on a monday morning after a very generous thumbs up from my boss, I jumped on a plane and 9 hours later I was in David’s car heading for camp. 5 Mountains were planned in 7 days, with me actually having to be on a plane for the states (and work that night) on the 7th. Mt Pasochoa was the first target. At only 13,780 feet, it was a good test to see if all the meds I’d been taking a week prior for the altitude would pay off. And they almost did. For this, and almost every climb I’ll be listing, I was devoid of oxygen, completely out of breath with each step. However, I was never sick from altitude, no HAPE, no HACE, not even a headache. David, now convinced I could keep going after chugging up this mountain with him (albeit incredibly slowly, and breathing very loudly), decided on continuing with the plan.
For Day two, David insisted I take a small breather and acclimate. I did so by doing some running on local trails near the hacienda I was staying at, the same as a year prior.
Day three began with the above photo, the Corazon Volcano at 15,720 feet. This was the second highest mountain I had ever climbed up until that point, but then quickly took a back seat as this story continues. A bit of real rock climbing at the top began to test my coordination at elevation, and I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. All of these mountains are boring when compared to the next mountain on this list.
Iliniza Norte, standing at an astounding 16,818 feet, this was one of the three I was looking forward to. Almost all rock climbing above 4800 meters, this is a brutal mountain. Hot and arid, (above photo), no one was worried about the weather. I wasn’t at least, as I was sucking wind pretty hard from the beginning. Climbing at altitude is like doing anything after running real hard. Your lungs are at capacity, clambering for any air they can get. Now try walking upward with a heavy pack. You’re making mistakes you’d never normally make, your footing is all over the place, you’re fucked. Or at least I was.
We made it to the refuge at around 4700 meters, only to find bits of trash and food everywhere strewn about the place. The tracks left in the coffee grounds led us to believe it was Andean Wolves (barely coyotes, more like a fox). With some bad clouds moving in David says to me, “We can make the summit, but we must be constant, No breaks”. Already visibly breathing hard I thought he was a little crazy, but whatever, I roped in and followed this fucker up the mountain. Wind began to pick up considerably at the higher altitude, and with it came a light snow. This high up, the snow comes down in small white orbs like Dipn Dots. Shortly after the snow began, it started really hitting us, and with thunder off in the distance, we had some pep in our step.
Making the summit was a beautiful feeling. I was so winded the entire time, I was happy my guide didn’t toss me over the edge. Not nearly out of the woods, a strange phenomena had occurred. As I hang next to the metal cross on the summit, it began to hiss at me. Like a fucking snake, but almost like a high pitched humming type of sound. I asked David if the fucking cross was possessed or something to the effect. He replied by telling me it was severe static and we need to leave immediately. Not even midway through the sentence of “You gotta be fucking kidding me” a massive thunderclap hit real fucking close to our position, scaring the fuck out of all of us. My lungs out of gas from the climb up, I struggled to get down with any real speed. A clumsy bear, slipping on the new snow and loose rock, getting of the mountain was a messy affair. I stopped briefly, next to David and could hear the same hissing/humming noise again, only this time it came from the climbing poles attached to David’s bag. No longer with a carefree attitude, he turns to me and says “If we don’t get down soon, we gonna fry”. So, the choice was made to haul ass as fast as we could, thinking a broken leg was better than a human BBQ.
And we made it. Once out of the bad weather, we looked up at the thunderstorm attempting to catch a photo of some weird snow lightning, but managed to just take photos of clouds. For ten minuetes we enjoyed the decent, knowing we’d just made it out of a really dangerous situation.
Until this group of fuckos came into view. Fifteen (15) Bulls in all, this wild pack of Fuck No was right in the middle of us and freedom, or at least another 2 hours of walking downhill. Loyal readers (none of you) will remember my last trip to Ecuador and how my guide warned of wild bulls while climbing Mt Fuya Fuya, and for the life of me I never took him seriously. For the next 30 minutes we made as much noise as we could, yelling, smashing rocks, anything that would get them to move. Nothing seemed to work, so David proposed we climb up and around them. As we began this tactic, a fog began to roll in, and we really didn’t climb high enough, as one of them came only about 20 feet away as we passed. But if you’re reading this, I must have made it out fine, and I did.
Final Day. Cotopaxi. Jewel of the Andes. One of the highest active volcanoes on earth. 6 or 7 feet higher than Kilimanjaro and my highest peak to date. After a day spent reaching the refuge far below, Dave and I woke around 11PM for a nighttime push to the top. Incredibly steep inclines and icy crevasses littered the landscape with temps hovering around 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Dave and I being the only souls attempting that night, we had to rely on each other in the event a mishap occurred. Avalanches could be heard on the far side of the mountain, my first time hearing such a thing, and Dave assured me this was normal. As sunrise began creeping on the horizon I’d already been climbing for 6.5 hours and was running low on gas.
Coasting in on fumes, I was happy to have made it on top. The air so thin and my body so poorly acclimated, Dave and I couldn’t stay very long. With the sun coming up, the risk of snow dangers would only increase, so getting down safely became a priority. Walking down the same way we came up, and with light finally in full bloom, I begun to see how dangerous a climb we had undertaken under the ignorant cover of darkness. Small mistakes last night would have turned into monumental fuckshows seeing the terrain in the daylight.
In the end I’m happy I climbed the bastard. The trip expanded my resume a bit, gave me solid experience and scratched the adrenaline itch I get from time to time. There was an attempt at Chimborazo, the highest in Ecuador, but I couldn’t partake. Bad weather moved in and I just didn’t have the kind of time to deal with it. Breaking new trail through heavy snow was not on my list of things to accomplish in the worn out, heavily beaten shape I was already in. Even if it was perfect conditions, I was in such bad shape at this point that I don’t know if I could have made it. All this up and down had taken a heavy toll on my aging system, so I choose to sit the climb out. The results from this trip were already pretty outstanding, so I’m not really disappointed. It just gives me another reason to make a trip back in the future.