Ice Climbing on Cayambe and Back to Quito

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of Ecuador  , Cotopaxi,
Tuesday, November 22, 2011

So onto the final section of the preparation and this was us hitting the hard stuff – we were donning the gear and heading to ice school on Cayambe. Cayambe is the the third highest volcano in Ecuador at 4690m and At 4,690 m (15,387 ft) on its south slope is the highest point in the world crossed by the Equator and the only point on the Equator with snow cover.

In order to get to Cayambe we had to transfer to 4X4 vehicles for an hours drive up to the refuge at 4600m. Well it was meant to be an hour's drive – it’s just no-one told the driver of the car I was in. I was with Anne, John and Brian and we had the ride of our lives. Our driver decided that this was a race and that he needed to get up there in 45 minutes. I was in the back in the middle without a seat belt and the words stomach churning do not come close. We also had to endure not only the very bumpy road and his driving but also some hardcore dance music followed by a reggae mix from the 80’s and 90’s. I could never stand 'I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You’ by UB40 before this – now it has become the thing of nightmares.

So when we arrived at the refuge (we had to wait 20 mins for the others) it was not quite as warm as 1200m below. We transfered to the refuge, bagged a bunk and had a bit of lunch. After lunch we were to head out and start our ice skills programme. You have never seen anything quite like the sight of all of us trying to get our kit on. It was the first time most of us had ever contented with crampons and harnesses, even getting on pairs of waterproof trousers and gaiters was proving to be a struggle.

So we all trudged outside and precariously onto the glacier. We had a totally entertaining couple of hours playing in the snow and ice, practicing going up very steep slopes, ice climbing and descending and the brilliant ice arrrest. This involves being thrown down a hill and then trying to get your ice axe into the ice as quickly as you can to stop your fall. Some proved more successful at this than others. It seemed that the heavier you were, the more successful you were – so that’s going to be my excuse for why I was utterly hopeless at this and spent the entire time hurtling rapidly down the hill.

We had to come in for tea and it was getting dark and plus John and Laurence were going to be attempting to climb to the summit that night. Both are experienced climbers so they had hired a guide and were attempting an ascent. The rest of us were going to be getting up at 4am to get an early start so we could practice walking in the dark the next day and trying to get above 5000m. We all headed to bed nice and early (pretty much due to the fact that they turn off all the lights at 8.30pm) to get some rest and to allow John and Laurence the chance to get some sleep as they were rising at midnight. Some people did manage to get some sleep but most of the group just lay there, struggling with the altitude and the weirdness of being in a room of 15 others. There was the sounds of gentle snoring and Tim’s not so quiet dismounts from the top bunk every hour or so. Blatantly there was much trepidation about the midnight hour – not because it was the time for John and Laurence to rise but because it was the time that everyone would have the opportunity to get up and pop down to the toilet ! At midnight when a couple of alarms went up there was a sudden movement from most of the group as we all embraced the opportunity to get up and go. Following that we all managed a little bit of sleep but at 4am there wasn’t too much enthusiasm to get out of the warm sleeping backs and get the kit back on. So at 5.30am (we did have breakfast but it had taken a while to get kitted out) we all trudged outside (it was meant to be dark – but by the time we actually made it!) to start our final acclimatisation climb. The first hour was on scree so we were just in our mountaineering boots. Then we arrived on the glacier and it was time to be roped up.

So we were split into three groups. There were only two guides with us so Jim was put in charge of a group with me, Tim and Brian in it. We just had to start heading up the hill making sure the rope wasn’t too tight or too slack. As we were doing this there was quite a storm so we were caught up in quite a bit of snow. Basically you were just all tied up so that whatever one member of the group needed to do (Tim!), the rest of the group was going to have to be with them (I was actually completely oblivious to Tim’s creation of yellow snow features). We managed to get up to 5000m before the weather got to bad. After a bit more ice arresting practice (still useless) we trudged back down the refuge, then another 4X4 trip (I was so tired I fell asleep on Louise for that one). The great news was that Laurence was successful (did we expect anything less) in getting to the summit of Cayambe.

So following on from this we headed back to Quito for a well earned rest. Most of us had not got much sleep the night before and we were going to have a rest day (Wednesday) before we headed off to Cotapaxi on the Thursday. It really was important at this stage to get lots of rest and relaxation and drink lots of water in order to prepare the best way for the upcoming ascent. So we went out for some food, yes did have a little wine (well half a bottle) with dinner and then the plan was to head back to the hotel for a final beer and some well earned rest. We had that beer and then then the hotel ran out of beer. At this stage there was only five of us left still up (me, Jim, Tim, Tracy and Caroline) so one would expect at this point for those five, having not had much sleep and being very tired, and being very much aware of the upcoming days, would think this would be an ideal opportunity to call it a night and head off to bed. Except these five were very much affected by altitude and at this stage thought of a different plan. At midnight we jumped into a cab and went clubbing. We were dropped off at this club with banging dance/salsa grooves going down (yes I know I sound old but it’s the only way I can describe it. We were all dressed in outdoor gear and looked completely out of place compared to the rest of the club who were in their late teens, early 20’s. Lets just say for most of us (will keep you out of this one Tim), our 20’s were a bit of a distant memory. So the plan was just to have a couple of beers and then to head back. Three hours later and having wowed the club with our moves we headed back in a taxi to the hotel. All I can say is thank God for the rest day on Wednesday. I tell you what – coming down from altitude doesn’t half give you a headache and a bitof nausea.
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Angela on

Looks like your having an amazing time!!!! We all say hello especcially William who sends you a big wet kiss!
Lake care love

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