Hiking on guagua pichincha

Trip Start Jul 12, 2006
Trip End Aug 23, 2006

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Monday, July 17, 2006

Hola. I´m still in Quito taking a rest day after two days in a row of climbing Guagua Pichincha, an active (but currently dormant) volcano to the west of the city. (Uploading pictures to Snapfish took way too long last time so I´m only uploading a few to this site and putting the rest on CD. Sorry.)

The first hike was guided by a Canadian named Brad, who lives in Quito and works at the hostel. We had a group of ten ride in the hostel´s Land Rover to 4200 meters, then hike to the summit, which is at about 4900 meters. It was cloudy and extremely windy, making it pretty cold near the top. We made sure to rest and drink water often so as to avoid altitude sickness (I think it´s cerebral endema). On clear days you can see most of Quito, as well as three other volcanos in the region from the summit, but we could see all of about 10 feet into the clouds. Luckily though, the next day was clear (more on that below). Upon returning to the hostel (just before dinner), I made plans with Sylva (who is from France, and I´m only 80% sure that that is how his name is spelled) and Fen (short for Fenella, who is from Wales) to go into the New Town part of Quito (the hostel is in the Old Town), which is more touristy and has, as the name implies, newer buildings. Sylva had signed up for dinner at the hostel though, so it was just Fen and I. We ate at an Argentinian restaurant--the steak was cheap and delicious--then bounced around a few bars. The last one we went to had a sign on the sidewalk saying, ¨Cocktails--2 for 1,¨ so of course we had to check it out. The bar was above street level, and as we reached the top of the stairs, a long table of Ecuadorians stopped talking and about 20 heads turned in unison. Apparently it wasn´t a gringo bar. And apparently we were crashing some sort of private party (there were balloons), despite the sign below. Despite this we were welcomed warmly by the staff, who informed us that the cocktails were indeed 2 for 1. We drank a few really good mojitos--they were a bit weak until the last round, when we asked for more rum. We caught a cab back and that was that--a fun night altogether.

Guagua Pichincha: The Unplanned Sequel. I woke up fairly late (9:30 or so) after the late night and caught the tail-end of breakfast on the roof of the hostel, then sat around talking with some of the other hostel inhabitants (they´re mostly Brits and Australians, with a few Americans and other nationalities mixed in) trying to decide what to do. A group headed to La Mitad del Mundo (the Equator), but I wasn´t up for such a touristy day--or so I thought. But I was convinced to take a ride up the TelefériQo (cable cars), which ascend Cruz Loma, with Sylva, Fen, and Andrew (an American who now lives in Israel). Cruz Loma is a large hill with a path that runs to the summit of Guagua Pichincha, but on the opposite side of the volcano from the one I hiked the day before. I was under the impression that we would ride the cars up, hang around a few minutes and take some pictures.

As we were buying our tickets for the TelefériQo Sylva realized that his passport was gone. He decided to return to the hostel and look around (he didn´t find it--he´s pretty sure it was stolen on a bus by someone reaching under his seat). Andrew, Fen, and I rode the cable car up and took a few pictures from a scenic viewpoint of Quito. I should mention here that I was completely unprepared even for that--it was quite a bit cooler above the city than in it, and I was in shorts and a pretty thin polo. Fen let me borrow her windbreaker, but as you can imagine, it didn´t fit all that well. Anyway, we decided to walk along the path toward Guagua Pichincha for a little ways--Andrew was not in favor of this so he went back down to Quito.

Long story short, Fen and I hiked to within 25 or 30 meters of the summit on a path that was sometimes loose sand, and other times steep jagged rock--I blame her for our not turning around. This is not to say that it wasn´t worth it. It most definitely was. But as unprepared as I was for standing around taking pictures, it does not compare to how grossly unprepared for a four hour ascent. I had one Nalgene bottle of water, which I finished after about 2 hours, and I was in the clothing I mentioned before. I don´t recommend hiking like this. We finally turned around when we reached a crest below the summit, from which we could see the sun setting behind a dense cloud barrier on the other side of the volcano. It was by far one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

Our descent was much quicker--just under 2 hours, as opposed to 4--because we could slide/run/surf down the sandy parts of the trail. Fen employed the sit and slide strategy, and I did a slide sideways/sidestep kind of thing. It was good times, and the the thought that we were on the way down, towards warmth, was encouraging. We started back down just after 6 PM and the sun set behind the volcano soon thereafter, making the trail dark. Luckily we went down quickly enough that we were off of the difficult parts of the trail before it got dark. We were also lucky that I had decided to put a headlamp in the Ziploc bag that stays in my daypack. This bag also has a roll of toilet paper (it´s not in every bathroom here), a Swiss Army Knife, sunscreen, duct tape, and spare chapstick (don´t want chapped lips you know). Anyway, we probably would have gotten lost without the headlamp, but with its guiding light we found our way back to the cable car station and had some hot chocolate, soup, and water. This helped to ease the nasty dehydration headache I had on the way down. After standing in line for about 20 minutes we rode the cable car back down and caught a bus back to the hostel, arriving around 9:30. A change of clothes and a beer later, I was feeling great again.

I´m probably heading south to Latacunga tomorrow or Wednesday. I was planning on climbing Cotopaxi (just under 6000m with a glacier on top) with a guide from here, but I´m either not going to do it at all, or I will hire a guide in Latacunga, which is much closer. I might not do it at all though because it is expensive and fairly time-consuming--I´ve spent a bit too much time here in Quito and need to head south into Northern Peru by the 28th. Anyway, thanks to everyone who has emailed, and I apologize if I rambled a bit here.
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