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  ECUADOR CLIMBING TRIP – DECEMBER 2003


 (note these are great pictures make sure you look at them all!)

            December 12th, 2003 found me off on another climbing trip, and on my way from my home near Washington, D.C. via Houston, Texas, to the high altitude(9,350 feet, 2850 meters) of Quito, Ecuador, by way of some cheap airline tickets.

            This trip meant a return to South America, since I had just been climbing in Bolivia in June the previous year, had been to Chile in 1997 while using Santiago and Puenta Arenas to get to Antarctica and Mount Vinson (one of the “Seven Summits”), and had visited Argentina in 1991 to climb Aconcagua while also then visiting Peru to play tourist in Cuzco and Macchu Picchu.

            Our climbing objectives for this trip were to gain acclimatization to the altitude as swiftly as possible so we could then attempt Cayambe (18,996 ft, 5790 m), Cotopaxi (19,347 ft, 5897 m), and Chimborazo (20,701 ft, 6310 m), if the weather and conditions were willing.

            Our climbing team consisted of two main climbing guides from Quito in the persons of Jose Luis Peralvo and Jamie Avila, along with one Irish bloke now living in New York City, and eight Yanks including myself.  (More about everyone later on throughout this travel tale.)

            I had met a new friend in San Francisco, California, during the 50th Everest Anniversary dinner earlier in the year, and she had just been to Ecuador in November, and thus could give me some hints via email on how the trip went then.   She also kindly shared her diary notes with me, which has kept me straight on many details of Ecuador while writing this story. 

I learned what is meant by a “small” commuter plane, and little overhead compartment space, with the three hour flight from D.C. to Houston via one of the new and cheaper commuter flights.  Fortune smiled on me and the applicable three seat row was empty, and therefore I could fit my climbing pack underneath the small seats, versus trusting my camera’s and other breakable things to any baggage handling tortures.  (Don’t expect any real drinks or meals on these cheap flights either, since water and pretzels were the fine dining fare on this flight.)  A few hours in the Houston airport provided me with entertainment by watching travelers scurry around in an airport, and before the evening was over I was on the five hour flight to Quito.  (It pays to get aboard early, since late arriving folks lost any hope of keeping their carry-on in the main cabin by the long-gone overhead compartments already bulging with bags before the plane was half full with passengers, and no empty seat by the time we pushed-back to take off.)  I then did my normal thing of reading a book, and relaxing through a non-descript movie, before thankfully the five hours was over!

By 10 p.m. I was quickly passing through the Ecuador passport control point, “donating” a US dollar for the luggage trolley, and then waiting patiently for my climbing bags as new bags were constantly being added to the small baggage carousel for our large flight, and just as quickly falling off and jamming the carousel.  I have to say it is a far nicer airport than most though, and after keeping a watchful eye for my bags, while also “sussing out” (checking out fellow climbing clothed individuals for possible competence), my large climbing bags were found on the carousel and happily placed on my trolley.  Now a previous flight had meant a large gathering before the “lost luggage” counter so I counted myself lucky and quickly placed my luggage on the X-Ray conveyor that all bags go through before then exiting the international arrival doors.  Thankfully one of our local representatives Jamie Avila, who also turned out to be one of our guides, met me there and whisked me off to the grand Hotel Quito.

The Quito Hotel turned out to be one of the nicest in the city, and I met my roommate Todd from Oklahoma that night before we thankfully both got down to some sleep, since both of us had been flying all day to get there.  We also learned that night not to get a room across from the hotel parking lot, since the car alarms went off all night as truck traffic set them off!

Todd and I got up early and were able to partake of the breakfast buffet before walking around the lovely gardens of the hotel, and taking stock of all its services, such as a heated swimming pool and a hot tub!  We both had arrived a day early so we could get use to the altitude here, and so we took a nice walk around town to get our jet-lagged legs back in shape, along with enjoying the local sidewalks and stores.  (I also took the time to get local postcards and stamps for those family and friends from back home in the states and Australia that like them.)  Jamie  stopped by and we had an invigorating walk down to one of the local churches.  His family used to live nearby, so Jamie could convey all the local knowledge onto us as he met friends along the way.  Outside the church stands a large stone crucifix, and Jamie told us the story about friends who had been climbing it one New Years morning while not completely sober, and it had then fallen on one of his comrades.  Fortunately Jose Luis had also been there and had been able to get him to the hospital for some quick and successful care.  After this hike, and a nice soda stop to see what the local movie theater looks like, Jamie returned home while Todd and I had a nice dinner in the top floor restaurant at the hotel, and where you can easily see planes on their final approach to the airport as they fly overhead!

Sunday morning, December 14th, found us up early and at breakfast to meet the rest of the team who had arrived the previous evening.  We had Simon from across the pond, but in NYC now, Mark and Liz from California, Gary Bacon from Washington state (& with his own website), Dave from Ohio, Amanda also from California, and Brandt from Connecticut.  (Thanks go to Alpine Ascents in Seattle, Washington, for getting us all together!)  We also enjoyed the company of Jose Luis and Jamie during breakfast, and then hopped on a nice group bus for a trip down to a Basilica (large Church) for a tour of it, and a look-see at and from its highest points.  (Nothing like walking and climbing up through a church, and its rickety steps and ladders, for acclimatization!)  It was a lovely church, and view from above, before we then trooped onward downward a few blocks to the main square and the Presidential Palace.  (We all were drinking lots of water to enhance our acclimatization to the altitude, so most of us also needed a bathroom stop around here at a store!)  We took the opportunity to walk around and through the large square here, while also watching the local street mimics making fun of everyone and everything, including us.  We continued our walk to San Francisco Square and the very large and old Church there.  (I always hate to play tourist inside of a Church, since people are actually worshiping there.)  Then just in front of the Church is a large underground store, and we browsed through there checking out possible gifts once the trip was over.

Jose Luis had “threatened us”, very nicely though, with having to hike up to the statue of the Virgin Mary, at 9898 ft and 3017 m, but I think he took pity on us and we all took the bus up the busy roads up to this impressive monument that overlooks the city.  Plenty of tourist stalls are around the area there, but we went straight up into the base of the statue, Jose got us tickets for entry as others were watching a soccer game on TV, and we thus got an impressive view of the statue just above us from its base, while also enjoying the view that looks down onto the city.  (Friends with Jose and Jamie, a mother and daughter from the USA, also enjoyed this day with us, along with the following day, which was very nice for all of us.)  A little rain during the day also kept our coats always nearby. 

The next stop was a very nice lunch at the “Magic Bean”.  (Whenever we would say “American” type food Jamie would always correct us and say “North American” type food, since of course we were also in “South America”, and not just take it for granted that everything was from “America”.)  Fortunately the outside cafe had an awning, since rain fell during the meal but did slack off a bit as we then went to a climbing store, “Tatoo”, to get the odds and ends we may have missed while packing for this trip.  Then it was back to the hotel to check on all our gear before dinner.

Dinner was very entertaining; with some of the best dancing I have ever seen along with fine musicians.  This was with men and women dressed in traditional clothing for Ecuador, and with usually the men “entreating” the women to dance or be with them.  The most impressive dance of the evening was that by the women with full wine bottles a-top their heads as they danced and swirled around the area.  Very nice!  (Of course when the dancers came into the audience for volunteers for the last dance we all kept very low profiles at the table before that dance was over!)  It was a fine evening before bedtime came for us all.

The following day meant checking out of the hotel and driving for an hour or two to where the Equator is, and where we stopped for a nice break and some pictures.  Those young and spry hopped a-top the cement globe that adorned the bus and truck stop.  Then it was onward for another hour to Otavalo (8448 ft , 2575 m), known for its handicraft market, where we checked into a very nice hosteria built and run by some ex-pat North Americans.   

After quickly unpacking we drove upward in our bus for a sandwich lunch beside Cuicocha Lake (10,170 ft, 3100 m), which preceded a wet hike up and around this pretty lake with three small islands.  (Simon had stayed at the hosteria due to a cold/flu along with a sprained ankle.)  The islands are believed to be old volcano cones in this very old volcano crater, and some businesses have tried their luck on them as restaurants and such.  Dave took-off at light speed around the lake as the rest of us kept changing back and forth with our rain gear as the conditions continued to change during the hike up to a small shelter at 11,368 ft or 3465 m in altitude.  (Some of the mountain “trail” turned out to be slogging through very dense vegetation, and we came to wonder where the mountains were!)  There were nice views from the shelter before we dropped down to the other side of the Lake, which made it an overall hike of 3-4 hours before coming among some farms and catching up with our bus and driver.  There was a very nice hosteria there at 10,827 ft or 3300 m, and we stopped for some refreshment before continuing on inside the bus down to Otavalo. We also could see from the upper hosteria our objective for the next day, a hike up around Cerro Cotacachi.  (While returning to town we saw our one and only clear view of Cayambe in the distance.)   

The hosteria (Ali Shungu) had a very pleasant dining area, and we enjoyed the warm and cozy fire before dinner, along with some nice and warm tea, after an even nicer hot shower, since we had all gotten wet and sweaty during the hike.  A very good meal made the day complete, and we all made it off to bed for an early evening. 

Tuesday, the 16th, found us all up early for tea and coffee beside the warm dining room fire and a nice breakfast before starting our exercise and acclimatization for the day.  We took two four wheel drive vehicles (i.e. Landcruisers) to get all of us to the start of this days hike around Cerro Cotacachi, which took us about an hour to arrive there above the local TV and radio antenna farm.  (Todd and I took the nice seats in the very back and hunkered down for the ride upward.)  The weather did not smile on us this day, and continuous wind along with fogs/clouds kept us well covered up most of this day. 

The five hour hike started at 13,041 ft, or 3975 m, amongst mostly grass on a mild incline before continuing upward and onward with gullies and rocks, with everything being slippery in the constant rain.  Then it deteriorated even further into mostly scree and gully terrain, where Simon wisely took a U-turn along with an added local fellow/guide for the day. We trudged upward on the final scree slope before halting for the day at 14,780 ft, or 4505 m, and resting there.  Now on a perfect day we would have enjoyed the view here for an hour or so and also improved our acclimatization that way, but we barely stopped for long because of the conditions before heading down at a much faster pace than we had ascended.   I do not really like going down on loose scree, so I took my time on this section and especially on the wet slabs of rock.  (Gary’s stomach was causing him discomfort, but after a little pit stop he seemed much better.)  Then it was on down to the trucks as fast as we could go over the final wet grassy slopes and gullies running with water.  It was good to finally reach the trucks, and change a bit before the bumpy ride down the four wheel drive road and onto the main road to town.  (Of course on the way down the weather is much nicer below than above where we were.)  The drive down over this road also meant passing through the local “roadblocks”, which consist of twine and rag ropes across the roads by the children.  Of course they drop the twine/rope as soon as any vehicle comes near! 

Another evening then of long hot showers, tea beside the warm fire, and a fine meal was our final task and enjoyment for the night.  It was another very pleasurable way to complete the day of activities with the evening then spent at the Ali Shungu Hosteria. 

The following day meant tea by the fire in the dining room for our group, along with breakfast, before taking our bus to the famous, within Ecuador, Jose Cotacachi weaving shop to view the weaving along with shopping through the fine Alpaca clothing there.  (Not to mention viewing their guinea pig “herd” in one building, which is a food delicacy in South America.)  Next we headed off to the very large main market of stalls with every conceivable type of woven fabric.  Its an amazing place and we spent part of the morning just going up and down the lanes with the stalls and trying to find Christmas presents for our families and friends back home.  We also stopped into a local internet cafe and caught-up very quickly with our email accounts, although the very slow modem speeds throughout Ecuador makes it very tough to do much emailing.  

It was a short walk back to the hosteria, and a cheeseburger lunch for all, before packing up the bus for our two hour long ride to the hut on Cayambe.  It was a decent but bumpy road, and the driver took his time on it before having to stop at 13,911 ft or 4240 m.  By then the road was too bumpy for the bus, and Jose Luis “portered” the food and climbing gear loads on up to the hut via his Landcruiser while we started our walk up in the wind and falling rain. Nothing like wind and driving rain right in the face to get one invigorated, and Dave took off on upward, along with Gary, while we took our time getting there. 

Our destination turned out to be the “Refugio Ruals-Oleas-Berge” hut at 14,993 ft or 4570 m, which was quite a jump in altitude from where we had been sleeping so far.  We all arrived at the hut in good shape, along with our food and gear via the two trips from the Landcruiser, and we proceeded to get settled in the large dormitory in the top floor, along with one of the kitchens on the second floor. We all hydrated with hot drinks while unpacking everything, and talked to the only other climber at the large hut.  He was just back from a successful climb of Cotopaxi, but here near Cayambe had lost two tents (dining and personal) to the local fierce wind just the day before, and like us was hoping for good weather soon on Cayambe itself. 

Jose Luis had kindly brought his wife Marga along to assist us with the cooking duties, and it turned out to be a fine choice since she was and is an outstanding cook, along with a very pleasant personality!  Jose and Jamie helped us test our knot and prussik skills prior to an outstanding dinner of soup, chips, and spaghetti followed by chocolate.  (I obviously was not going to lose any weight on this climbing trip like I usually do!)  The downside was the constant hammering on the walls of the hut from the high winds, which did not augur well for any climbing the next day. 

I cannot forget the fine toilet at this hut, with running water, which was a big change from most huts I have seen and experienced around the world!  It was so nice, although chilly and breezy, that I did not even bother to use a pee bottle this night, and instead trudged down to the first floor each time throughout the night when the bladder needed emptying. 

Except for Gary, who had taken Diamox the day before and was acclimatizing well, the rest of us seemed to spend the whole night either peeing or having trouble sleeping at the new higher altitude.  (Although the locals Jose and Marga, along with Jamie, slept soundly!)  So overall most people did not have a peaceful night. 

December 18th, Thursday, dawned cold and very windy, and my stomach picked this time to be a little queasy, but fortunately my head was fine with no headache unlike the majority of the group.  After a few drinks of hot cocoa a few of us tried “table climbing” to kill some time in the poor weather, and Jamie successfully went from on-top to underneath to on-top one of the tables side-ways.  Dave followed that with success, while I was an abject failure at it, and the repeated attempts resulted in the worst bruises I have ever gotten in my life, and the dark splotch went from crotch to knee on my left inner thigh!  Some more practice on belaying people from the ceiling carabiner, which Jamie had placed up there, along with more knot work followed, before some nice soup for lunch. 

Most of us then decided to nap in the afternoon to improve our acclimatization, which usually always helps me too, but in this case I was the worst-for-wear after a nap with a not-so-nice headache.  I rooted around in my gear for my Advil and popped a few in my mouth before we took a hike behind the leeward side of the nearest hill at about 5 p.m.  It was nice to get out and up about a hundred meters in the growing darkness and the wind, at least on that side of the hill, was diminishing.  Marga then outdid herself with shrimp stuffed avocado’s, which are really good in Ecuador, soup, and a really fine roasted turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, and boiled vegetables, wow!  I cannot even remember what dessert was before drifting off to a blissful sleep throughout the night! 

The following day found the conditions improving somewhat with the wind, but the warmer and above freezing night temperatures, and the rain, spelled trouble out on any glacier nearby (i.e. wet snow and bad avalanche conditions).  Gary and I were up early and we talked with Jose and Jamie about the prevailing conditions here, along with whether or not it was worth spending more time here waiting for the weather to improve, or to pack up and head towards Cotopaxi.  Now in the world of cell phones (yes, they are almost everywhere now), Jose and Jamie were able to pull on their resources of guides within Ecuador to checkout the conditions presently on Cotopaxi.  The weather was better on Cotopaxi, but not great, and thus Jose and Jamie decided to check-out the glacier here on Cayambe before making a decision about moving on to Cotopaxi right away.

A lovely breakfast of French toast with syrup, another of my favorites, was a fine way to start the morning before gearing up for a trip up to the glacier for a look-see.  Although on this trip Amanda would stay behind because she was not feeling all too well, possibly from the flu which Simon may have also been suffering from. 

So from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. we hiked up the nearby hill, the first obstacle on the way to the glacier, which meant mainly switchback hiking except for a few rock steps up one section.  Then it was on-to the saddle with a pretty lagoon below, before going up another rock section and scramble on the right side of it, and then hitting the glacier on the upper side of the slope.  We had also passed-by a flat section where folks sometimes place a high camp before attempting Cayambe.  We stepped inside a melted cave within the glacier at 16,076 ft, or 4900 m, to check on its conditions, and the constant melt-water within it told us basically the story we saw from the surface of the glacier.  All this meant that the temperatures at night, and certainly during the day, were not low enough for the glacier and  the snow on top to be stable and hard.  Thus the avalanche conditions on it, and the obvious snow slides and avalanches that could be plainly seen above our point.  Overall it was just too wet and unstable to climb on and upward, and thus our reconnaissance was successful in that we found out the present conditions higher up would not warrant an attempt on this peak in the foreseeable future.  Therefore we turned around without even some practice on the slopes and began the quick descent downward to the hut.  The first section, down the side of the first rock steps, was flowing with water and kept us vigilant against slipping on these slopes.  Then it was back across the saddle and down the rock slope and switchbacks, with a few downward shortcuts, before reaching the short scramble on the rocky section.   

We were then back to the hut for some soup, popcorn, and chips, before heading out once again for some glacier practice, and this time with our climbing gear on.  Thus 3 p.m. found us lower down on the glacier and meeting folks who had just arrived now ferrying one of their own back to the hut with an injured foot during some ice climbing.  We took our time and did some practice with our crampons on and ice axes before getting back to the hut and drying off.  (A short trudge through some mud kept us all too aware of the previous rain and the clouds all around us.)  The folks that had just arrived, and with the injured companion, had already left the hut in their vehicle, as had the American earlier in the day who had lost the two tents in the recent wind storms.  

 So we packed up our gear, knowing conditions would need to improve here for a successful attempt, and started walking down to the bus which Jose had arranged.  (Via cell phone Jose had arranged the transportation, along with our change of plan to leave Cayambe now and work towards Cotopaxi early.)  The sky was clearing, but the temperatures were still much too high for the snow conditions, and we hiked back down to our original starting place on this road while Jose and Marga ferried our leftover food and gear back to the bus.  Darkness overtook us as the bus descended back down towards Otavalo, and we then took the road southward towards the Hacienda Guachala (9154 ft, 2790 m) on a back road.  In the darkness we could not see too much of the place, except for unpacking the bus, getting clean with hot showers, and having a nice meal before reaching bedtime about 10 p.m. 

The new day found us in a lovely hacienda in the woods, with a swimming pool behind the room that Todd and I stayed, along with a grass and wooded lawn outside the facility.  Todd and I also checked out the large courtyard before breakfast, along with the attached church which told the story in pictures concerning one of the assassinated Presidents of Ecuador many years ago.  We all enjoyed a pleasant breakfast before packing up the bus once again and continuing our journey now to Cotopaxi.

Marga had left us that night to return to Quito for some more provisions, and we met her and the rest of Jose’s family at a service station along the way.  Unfortunately she would no longer be with us, and we missed her and her cooking during the rest of the trip.  We had also waited at another service station for an additional guide, Juan Epinoza, who would be with us during the rest of the trip.   

In a couple hours of riding the bus we were within the Cotopaxi National Park, which is quiet stark at its lower altitudes with sparse vegetation and kind of a “moonscape” (it has been a volcano), before ascending the bumpy road to the parking lot (i.e. flat spot) at 4500 meters.  There we donned our climbing and foul weather gear and began the trudge up the scree slope to the Jose Rivas hut at 15,748 ft, 4800 m.  (What is amazing is some folks stop and hike up to the hut as a daytrip, come rain or shine, with their families.  More about this later.)  After the one hour hike to the hut we stopped for tea and a short rest, while noting that the hut even had a working Bell South telephone.  Then it was up on the switchbacks for a little while before hitting snow, then putting on our crampons, before then reaching the lower glacier at 16,404 ft, or 5000 m.  Good to get the altitude, and to see decent weather around us and colder temperatures, before then descending back down to the hut.  We stowed our climbing gear at the hut, along with some provisions, and then hurried down the snow slope to the parking lot and the bus before the trip down to a very nice chalet at 13,700 ft, or 3695 m. 

This chalet, called Tombopaxi, is a lovely place and even houses some folks that attempt to climb the mountain from here with a very early start. (One’s that left this night for the mountain returned early, and their local guide said the folks had not wanted to continue through the upper crevasse field.  Others had continued up on the upper headwall and been successful reaching the summit from the Rivas hut.)   For us it meant a clean and dry place to eat and sleep, along with hot showers, and where we spent a peaceful night after a nice dinner. 

Sunday, December 21st, found us packing our city gear to leave at the chalet and only taking our climbing gear and clothing for the next few days.  After a quick breakfast we took the bus up towards the parking area, and fortunately stopped along the way for a “bathroom” stop, since we all were very hydrated for the trip upward.  (Its a little more difficult for the gals then the boys for this type of bathroom break, and Liz and Amanda fortunately found a nearby shallow ravine to stop at.)  When we reached the parking lot it was raining and sleeting, and of course there was no limit to the number of day trippers with families hiking up to the hut for tea!  We took our time and reached the Rivas hut in good time, found empty bunks on the top floor for our naps this evening before climbing, and then had a leisurely lunch of drinks, snacks, and sandwiches.  Most then napped this afternoon, but Amanda and I stayed up to chat with Jose and Jamie while also fixing our crampons for the wet snow we might encounter on the way down from the summit tomorrow. 

As people left the hut during the day even nicer bunks became available, and Mark & Liz, Brandt, along with myself, then changed to the quieter back room.  Before long it was 5 p.m. and we all had a nice dinner of soup and also tortellini before we all settled down for some quick shut-eye.  (We were all happy when Jose decided not to lead us on a short hike this afternoon, since the rain kept our day tripper friends arriving in a soaked condition at the hut.) 

Let me just say here that the hut system in Ecuador seems to be excellent, with the one on Cayambe very nice, and this one on Cotopaxi even bigger.  (Of course Cotopaxi is the most popular climbing mountain in Ecuador.)  The Jose Rivas hut has been built on a very stable rock platform, although its location does mean a few rocks do tumble down from the scree slope behind it to its large back patio, and is in excellent shape.  The main floor houses two kitchens for people to use, with adjacent tables and seating areas.  The upstairs contains 50 plus metal bunks with sleeping pads, with some even three tier in height.  At the very end of the two rooms on the second floor for sleeping is the guides room, with some sleeping mats on the floor.  The outhouse contained three flush toilets (you pour water from a large bucket down the hole to flush the toilet), along with a pee trough. 

Amanda woke up and left early, at around 11 p.m., since she had not been feeling well with the flu and Jose had arranged another guide (Carlos) to be with her.  (An earlier start would let her keep her own pace.)  Then it was our turn to get up out of the bunks, and dress and prepare for our attempt on the mountain.  Even in the protected hut it took a long while to boil lots of water for our drinks, and oatmeal, so we did not get really started well past our planned start time of midnight. (I took the added time to partake of the fine “Sara Lee” lemon cake!)  So the early morning hours of 22 December found us exiting the back door of the hut at 12:48 a.m., and stretching and warming our legs in unison, led by Jose, before heading up the switchbacks behind the hut at 12:56 p.m. 

We took our time, with Jose in the lead, as we retraced our steps from the previous day up through the scree slopes via switchbacks towards the start of the glacier.  Like before we had to don crampons for our boots before very long and quickly reached the start of the glacier (snow & ice) portion of the climb.  (What seemed warm to us then changed to colder once we got higher and into the wind.)  We started with three roped teams, with Jose, Jamie, and Juan, in the leads, as we started to meander up through the glacier and its crevasses.  The route was mainly good firm snow, with some short sections of hard ice, along with snow bridges over the major crevasses.  Our first obstacle was a short and narrow traverse, which of course we termed the “Death Traverse” in the dark.  We had to shuffle hunkered down, either sideways or face-first, over this ledge while not letting the bulging nature of the ice there push you off into a short drop-off and crevasse.  We all encouraged each other while we crossed it one at a time, and before long we were all across and continuing up a short icy section with steps.  (Yes, the climbing parties from the previous day had picked a good route, which we followed.)  Then it was time for crossing some other crevasses via narrow and thin snow bridges, which meant some “soft” steps on them, or a quick hop or two across them.  We made a short stop here to make sure that everyone was okay, along with taking a hot drink and eating a candy bar.  Gary’s headlamp failed shortly after this stop, and he and Jose quickly got it back into working order. 

What followed was a short and steep snowy traverse upwards towards a rather large crevasse, and that meant a further traverse down and to the right before quickly crossing over a snow bridge there before continuing on up left to the other side of the crevasse. (Amanda and Carlos were resting at this section as we continued up.) Then the terrain became steeper and we took our time up this section before resting at a snow filled crevasse, with the Sun starting to peak through the clouds and up on the horizon.  (Just a few groups were on the mountain on this day.)  Once we restarted and got above this steep bit Juan and Todd turned back since Todd was not feeling well, but had far surpassed his previous altitude record.  Then it was up-and-over a steep “knob” of snow that turned out to really be an old lip of a crevasse.  We then descended down into the old crevasse and ascended its upper side.  (Going down and up such sections means the climbing and team ropes get slack or tight very quickly, and as I was descending the one section I needed to play “Spiderman” on the short cliff since Gary was quickly ascending the other side of the crevasse and pulled the rope too tight rather quickly!)  Now we had gained a bit of a saddle on the route and slowly climbed up to protection of a tall serac, although the howling wind did not make it seem very “protected” much.  (The whole area also had a “mushroom” looking texture to the snow, which seemed to come from the constant wind in that area.) 

Gary was not feeling all too well by this time, so Jose elected to have him shelter there as the rest of us went up the headwall.  This next section is the crux of the climb, and recent information indicated that only within the last day had anyone been able to break through this area to the summit above.  So we traversed steeply up to the right and then left, with Jamie putting in snow stakes for a running belay, since the exposure on this section meant a long fall if one were to slip and fall here.  (Gary even got some video of us as we made it up this section.)  After huffing and puffing up this section the wind died down a bit, and some of the clouds dispersed.  (Two successful teams also had descended by now, and passed on the conditions of the upper slopes.)  We took a short break here before needing to traverse left and almost straight-up a section to the summit.  (A nearby askew metal ladder also indicated the way up in past years.)   We were careful here with these kicked-in steps and slope before the slope gradually flattened with the summit just ahead. 

Josie and Jamie were very happy to gain the summit and rushed us up there, or so it seemed to those at the end of the two remaining rope teams (Dave & I)!  The morning views were outstanding and we congratulated each other, along with taking numerous pictures, and taking some liquid refreshment along with snack bars.  Its an interesting summit, since it also consists of a circular volcanic cone.  Also near-by, or it seemed that way from the summit, we could see Tungurahua erupting a mushroom cloud of ash which was a tremendous sight. Jose insisted on taking a picture of me with the eruption taking place in the background, and I finally acquiesced even though I normally do not like taking “people” pictures on the mountains.  (“Nature” called while we were on the summit, and the others thankfully looked at the mountain erupting as I took care of business.)   All too soon it was time to turn around and head down before the temperatures rose and made the snow bridges over the crevasses too soft for safety.  It was really great to be there at 19,347 ft, or 5897 meters, just before 9 a.m. that morning!  (A nice British couple also shared the summit with us in a short while, along with their local guide, with the husband putting his wife up on his shoulders to get “higher”.) 

We then started the quick descent back down the headwall and across to the serac, with Josie taking out the snow stakes along the way.  We consolidated our gear a bit here, since I think we were all “over” warm by then, before continuing on down the way we had come.  By the time we reached where Todd had turned around meant another layer off in the warming Sun.  (Not to mention some more sunscreen and lip protection!)  Then down the main slope we went, with the taped crampon shields working wonders at keeping the snow from balling up underneath the crampons.  The main crevasse area turned out to be painful, since the fog and heat took its toll there and made it seem much hotter than it really was.  We did take our time over this section, and both our groups also took their time going back over the Death Traverse, with Jamie and then Josie really knocking off large sections of the protruding ice that made it difficult to cross.  Then it was down only a short section before reaching the end of the glacier, and where we could take our crampons and climbing harness’s off.  We all then carefully trudged down this snow and scree slope, and I took my  time descending and enjoying being the last on the mountain on this day. 

I could see Todd waiting for us down at the patio of the hut, and it was great to see that he was okay, along with Amanda, once I reached the hut.  Then it was time to ring the hut bell at its entrance, which is a tradition for summiteers of the mountain. (I felt really good doing that!)  Once inside we all packed up our sleeping gear, while leaving the food for the hut warden, and hydrated a bit (Jose kindly got me a Gatorade and a Coke from the hut store.)  The rest of the team beat me out of the hut before Jose and I could then slide down the scree slope together down to our waiting bus and our kindly and proficient driver.  (Mark and I had used the bathroom facilities at the hut very wisely before starting the hike downward!)  I think it was about 1 p.m. when we started the drive down to the Tombopaxi chalet, and the hour went by quickly before disembarking and taking our climbing boots off before entering the very clean chalet. 

We then unpacked our gear and clothing before commencing some serious hurt on the beer, soda, and french fries (chips to some), while also taking turns at the hot showers.  Todd earned the moment as the funniest person, since while I bought everyone a round from the “bar” Todd made sure to offer them to anyone walking in the place.  (Nice guy!)  We did hold off space in our stomachs for supper, since Marga and Jose had planned ahead and had brought all the fixings for real pizza’s!  The pepperoni, ham, and Hawaiian, style pizza’s were absolutely delicious and a perfect way to end the day, along with a nice and warm fire in the “cooking stove” out in the dining room.  (The next day Amanda reported over four people snoring in our large room of eight wooden beds, but of course that could not have included me.)  

A pretty morning started our day, and most people slept in or just relaxed and watched climbers on the mountain via a telescope down in the dining room.  We all enjoyed things like tea, juice, bread & butter, along with eggs in any style, while afterward some us worked on the cybercast to relate the climb. (Amanda kindly had assisted Jose and Jamie for the previous cybercasts.)  All I can say is that the adage “too many chefs spoil the broth” pretty much explains how painful and tortured this writing process was with way too many of us adding our two cents to what had happened on summit day.  Nor what some wrongly perceive to be “correct” English grammar.  Most of us then packed before lunch, with some of us choosing “turkey” which I swear was really ham. 

Then we were off on another bus trip down through the southern end of the Park, and we could see hikers and mountain bikers while on this dirt road.  Back to the south we went on the Pan American Highway, a busy two lane sealed road, with Josie and Jamie checking for a cyber cafe along the way without success.  Before too long we reached the beautiful La Cienga hosteria, with its long wooded lane leading to the hosteria and its large and pretty rooms.  We checked in quickly and then most of us took a further bus trip to Latacunga and visited some cyber cafes for a while along with some shopping.  I enjoyed just walking around the town too. 

The evenings entertainment was excellent, with some talented folks on guitars and also a flute type instrument.  All too soon it was time for bed, and I barely remember the fine garlic shrimp, filet mignon, and finally the banana split. 

Christmas Eve meant a leisurely breakfast before a short bus trip to Hacienda San Agustin De Callo, where we inspected the former Inca palace of Emperor Tupac Yupangui.  (Thanks to Gary and his notes for this information.)  The stone building is quite unique, and you can easily see the difference between the fine Inca crafted stone walls and those built later on by the Spanish.  The owners allowed us to look through the fine and pricey four guest hotel rooms, while we also enjoyed a simple meal in the main den or study of the complex.  (The room would be outstanding for writing a book from, with its simple but fine decor along with great views outside of Cotopaxi.)   Liz also found out during our stop here, and during a close encounter with an Alpaca, what their spitting at you truly means. 

Jamie’s wife had arrived the night before with their children, and it was great to see their excitement the next morning as they showed off their gifts to us all.    

All too soon it was back on the bus and onward towards Chimborazo, with the roads taking us past some views of the erupting Tungurahua in the distance.  It had a very impressive ash cloud reaching far into the sky, and we felt for those folks living near there. Then it was back around the mountain towards our dwelling for the night called “Chimborazo Base Camp” at 9843 ft, or 3000 m altitude.  Its a very new place, with a central chalet for the kitchen and dining, and two other chalets with four rooms a piece and two beds for each room, along with a bathroom on each floor for two rooms.  Nice!  This was also a great choice by Jose to spend Christmas Eve versus a cold and darkened hut on the mountain itself.    

In the evening Jose presented us all with special woolen caps from the Otavalo market, while Jose, Jamie, and Juan also exchanged gifts since they have known each other for years.  It was quite special to share the evening with them, along with the fine meal of lasagna with champagne.  The downside of the evening was the continuing cough of Dave that only seemed to be getting worse. 

Christmas morning found the weather changed to blowing rain, which was not the sort of present we wanted from Santa.  We organized our gear (what to keep there and what to take on the mountain with us) and had a very quiet breakfast at the main chalet.  Dave had certainly gotten worse during the night, so Jose and Jamie along with the bus driver drove back towards Quito with him to the nearest medical assistance.  This meant a long morning for them, since in Ecuador people come out on the streets to have parades on Christmas, and that caused that further delay in getting Dave taken care of and for returning to the Base camp chalets.  Fortunately they did find a Doctor, got him taken care of and safely in a hacienda, and that got back to the chalets by 2-3 p.m.  We were all glad that Dave would be okay, and then hustled up to load the bus for our trip up the mountain. 

In continuing blowing rain we drove on up to the Carrel Hut (15, 912 ft, 4850 m) parking lot in the mist, loaded ourselves up with our gear and food, and trudged up the path (past some gravestones) to the Whymper Hut (16,404 ft, 5000 m).  Once again we met some day trippers enjoying the mountains, along with some Austrians who were just visiting the upper hut for the day.  Less than an hour of hiking found us at the upper hut, and we could chose any bunk in the empty second story bunk rooms.  (Although Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador it is not really visited by the main throng of hikers or climbers.)  Amanda was also not feeling well again and returned to the bus and hacienda then that evening, which was a shame.  We found this hut to be the smallest so far, and fairly dark inside with two small kitchens and one main dinning room, but it did have a generator to lighten the place after nightfall, and propane to keep the stoves working.  (The bathroom contained two toilets that you flushed via a bucket of water.)  By 6 p.m. we ate our soup and pasta before heading up to the bunks for some rest before starting our climb at 11 p.m. 

The recent weather, and ash from the volcano, had melted all the surface snow from this climb and left it pretty much an all ice climb.  Time would not permit running belays or placing ice screws (protection) throughout the ascent and descent, so after thinking it through during the evening I decided not to attempt this ascent.  (Also knowing that one cannot self arrest during a fall on an all ice climb, and I would not want to hurt anyone if I should fall and thus take them with me.)  Brandt, Todd, and Gary were not well and wisely decided not to ascend, so that left Jose, Jamie, and Juan, working with Liz and Mark along with Simon and another guide.  (The higher than freezing temperatures throughout the night also did not bode well for the attempt, since the ice would also not be hard or firm for the attempt.) 

The group left the hut about 11 p.m. and went up through the tough steep scree slopes, and lower part of the glacier, before reaching the icy portion of the route along with lighting in the distance, a falling ash cloud, and the smell of sulfur from Tungurahua.  The main group turned back at this point, noting the unstable nature of the slopes (rocks precariously frozen onto the ice, and ready to fall with any higher temperatures), while Jamie and the other guide moved up a bit further with Simon.  So by 2:30 a.m. the main group was back and I went down and greeted them back in my breezy underwear, since it was good to see them back safely.  We shared some drinks, and stories of the climb and life (with the one from Juan and his younger years very interesting!), before trundling off to bed.  The last group of Jamie and Simon with the other guide arrived back just after we had turned in to our sleeping bags. 

We all got up at about 8 a.m. and had something to drink and eat for breakfast before packing our gear and descending the slope back down to the Carrel Hut and its parking lot in the usual mist and fog.  We met some folks hiking up to the Whymper Hut and advised them of the mountains conditions, while also taking some pictures down at the memorials just above the Carrel Hut.  So by 10 a.m. we had the bus packed and were descending down the road, after some of the group helped push-start the additional guides truck, and reached the Chimborazo Base Camp for our bags in good time.  Once the bus was packed we headed down the mountain roads to Riobamba and the Abraspungo Hosteria (9,022 ft, 2750 m) that turned out to have a very large courtyard, large rooms, and very hot water for the showers. 

Todd and I enjoyed the room while unpacking a bit and cleaning up, eating a nice lunch, and generally relaxing before a trip into town along with a stop at an internet cafe with more rain around.  (It seemed that wherever we went we ran across the towns main courtyard.)  Once back at the hosteria I skipped dinner and had one of the most blissful nights of sleep during the whole trip.  Little did I know that some of my quiet and bashful buddies on the trip would pick this night to go out bar hopping, karaoke singing, and to be greeted with tear gas at one night spot. 

December 27th, Saturday, found us on the road after breakfast for the four plus hour bus trip back to Quito, while also stopping at a fine roadside restaurant with cheeseburgers and milkshakes as their specialties.  At the same time I cannot forget the quick side trip to test roast guinea pig, with roasted rabbit staring at you too!  Like the rest I tried it, but it just tasted greasy to me.  Its at a prime price of $18 US per pig, which makes it the most expensive meat and/or meal in Ecuador.  By 5 p.m. we were back at our Hotel Quito and getting clean and repacking, since most of the group were leaving on 8 a.m. flights the following morning back to the States. 

We spent the evening at a lovely restaurant overlooking the city, and enjoyed the company of each other for one last time on this trip.  Overall it was a pleasant, although sad, time that night.  All too soon we were back at the hotel asleep, except for a few of the lads who wanted to go bar hopping one last time before leaving.  We also gave money to each of the guides as personal tips. 

I spent my last day in Quito relaxing and walking around before making one final shopping trip down to San Francisco square with Josie, which we was kind enough to humor me with.  It was good to see the city and places before leaving. 

Early morning on the 28th found Liz & Mark, along with myself, getting a ride at 6 a.m. to the airport from Josie in mostly deserted streets.  We thanked Josie for the ride and worked our way through the airport drill (security, check-in, final shopping at the stalls there, passport control, and one final security check before boarding), with Liz & Mark flying to Miami and then California, and my flying through Bogotá, Colombia, and Newark, N.J. before hitting home near Dulles Airport outside of Washington, D.C.   

My flights consisted of about one hour to Bogotá, a very thorough check of the plane, and then a five hour flight to Newark.  (I just tried not to get too bored on this flight, and there was plenty of room for me to move around on this portion of the flight.)  Once at Newark I got tagged for a further passport check, that trip through Bogotá must not have been a good idea, but once I reached the front of this queue (for illegal aliens?) I was quickly shuffled onward.  (The passport agent wanted to know why I was even in this new line, and I respectfully passed on to him that I had been placed there by the original passport control official.)  Now I am thinking I might wanted to have shaved before this trip back to the States.  Then it was about a 45 minute wait for the bags before I then got tagged and directed for a baggage search, which meant it was not being a good day for me.  Once I arrived in the front of this queue the lady asked why I was there, and I was thinking something about day-ja-uve.  Then she checked with her supervisor, a guy wearing more clips of ammo on his belt than a Mexican bandit I think, and once he asked me the same question (“why are you in this line?) I was then asked to move on and out of the area thankfully.   A couple of hours perusing the inside of the Newark Airport, not to mention going through security again to get to the domestic flights, passed the time away before my evening flight to Dulles in the tiny plane again.  (Of course they did not let me carry my bag on the plane, and then proceeded to throw the bag around and break a Christmas gift, a Nativity Scene, to my Mother.)  Alas before the night was completely done I was at my car and on the way home. 

Overall it was a great trip and I enjoyed experiencing Ecuador with its culture and people.  It is obviously more prosperous than a lot of other countries in South America.  Josie and Jamie were great to all of us, with Josie doing yeoman duty with all the logistics and reservations, along with all of the food preparation while away from the hosteria’s.  (He certainly knows where to pick to stay anywhere that we visited, and never complained or was in less than a good mood.)  I just hope we kept our promise to Josie Luis and Jamie and never left them with a beer tab/bill during the trip!  It also really goes without saying that Josie and Jamie, along with Juan, were outstanding climbers too.

Paul H. Morrow

January 2004

Warrenton, Virginia

Below is some of the other articles Paul has submitted to EverestNews.com over time... Paul is also a member of the Seven Summits club

Everest Summiter Paul Morrow Trip report from Muztag Ata, China

Muztag Ata, China Picture show

Paul Morrow on EverestHistory.com

Paul Morrow's 1999 Autumn Shishapangma Expedition Report

American Himalayan Foundations 50th Anniversary Celebration of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa's Ascent of Everest

 
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