Ten Days in Ecuador

&

Volcán Cotopaxi


A Photo Journal

w/ photography by TJ David, Adam Moszynski and Joaquin Andino


Volcán Cotopaxi (19,347 ft)

It’s been almost a month since I returned to Argentina from Ecuador and I’m still completely absorbed in thoughts from the trip. Even though the novelty of skiing one of the country’s highest peaks, one of the world’s highest and most active volcanoes is slowly fading with the changing of the seasons here, I’m still lost in thoughts about the country’s mountains, its culture and people. As time moves forward, I think for both Adam and myself, this trip will end up serving as just a stepping stone, an entry-move into further, deeper and greater interest in all that Ecuador has to offer. Not just in terms of skiable, high-altitude peaks, but in building relationships with the greater climbing community through commonalities that transend nationality, culture, and geographical locations.

The city of Quito, Ecuador
The mountains seemed to follower us everywhere in Quito. A constant presence.
The mountains seemed to follower us everywhere in Quito. A constant presence.
Asociacion Ecuatoriana de Guias de Montaña
Hand selected donations from countries as far as Australia. #Jointheflight
Hand selected donations from countries as far as Australia. #Jointheflight

Everything from down puff jackets to mid layers, hats and mittens.
Everything from down puff jackets to mid layers, hats and mittens.
Our group. Jaime, Sara, Juliana, TJ David, Adam Moszynski

After finishing the Corbeaux donation to ASEGUIM we decided to enjoy an afternoon above Quito.

We rode the city’s Teleferico up to 13,000 feet and headed out to stretch our legs and spend a few hours at a higher altitude. What was planned to be just an hour or two or hiking turned into four or more as we became captivated by the landscape. Here, we decided to focus the next 7 days on preparing for a ski descent of Cotopaxi, the country’s second highest peak at 19,347 ft.

The weather had the potential to create real problems for us in our attempt to reach the summit and even acclimatize for our attempt.

 

Evening acclimatization with Adam Moszynski above the Teleférico and the city of Quito.
Evening acclimatization with Adam Moszynski above the Teleférico and the city of Quito.
Ecuadorian Mountains are almost always veiled in afternoon clouds, rain and snow. Is there actually a dry season here?
Ecuadorian Mountains are almost always veiled in afternoon clouds, rain and snow. Is there actually a dry season here?
Cool signage around the mountains.
Gauchos on the trail
Gauchos on the trail
TJ David above Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Adam Moszynski
Quito, Ecuador.
Quito, Ecuador.
Evening sunset overlooking Quito, Ecuador.

Things moved quickly for Adam and I following our first day in Ecuador, as we immediately connected with ASEGUIM certified guide Joaquin Andino and set up our game plan for the remainder of our time on the afternoon of our second day. As the weather was threatening our hopes to climb and ski Ecuador’s three highest peaks, we centered our focus on Cotopaxi. Cotopaxi, at 19,347ft, has the best weather and most defined route. Allowing the mountain to be summited even in bad weather. With that in mind and our main goal to do a little skiing while in Ecuador, we hit the old city to see some of what Quito is all about. A little relaxation before four all-out days at high altitude.

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Amazing old Architecture.
Plaza San Francisco.
The streets of the old city.
Plaza San Francisco and sleepy dogs.
Local musicians and Ecuadorian culture.
Passion.
Plaza San Francisco, Old City, Quito.
Quito, Ecuador.
The streets of Quito stretch as far as the eye can see.

The contrast between the new and the old in Quito is most apparent from just above the city. The streets of the old city, established in the late 1500s culminate in the largest basílica and tallest building in Quito, built in the lat 1800s. From there, it is modern streets, office buildings and homes for as far as the eye can see. The city seems to have no end and no beginning, backed by the mountains we’d soon be climbing.

We chose an interesting ridge traverse on Rucu Pichincha (15,400 ft) for our first acclimatization climb. A little rope work, some practice working as a team. Views of quito always present over our shoulders.

Our guide, Joaquin Anindo.
“El Paso de la Muerte,” Rucu Pichincha, Ecuador.
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Through the clouds to the Summit. Rucu Pichinicha, Ecuador.
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Adam Moszynski, Rucu Pichincha, Ecuador.
Descending toward “El Paso de al Muerte,” Ecuador. Photo by Adam Moszynski
Our guide, Joaquin Andino, descending toward “El Paso de la Muerte.”
Adam Moszynski above Quito, Ecuador.
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Joaquin Andino leading us toward the summit of Rucu Pichincha, Ecuador.
Photo by Adam Moszynski
Definitely needed the ropes here!
Summit of Rucu Pichincha, (15,400 ft)

Moving from the City of Quito we headed into the countryside. Setting ourselves up for our next acclimatization on Iliniza Norte (16,818 ft).

The Ilinizas, Norte and Sur, as seen from our hotel.
Heading into the Ecuadorian countryside.
Heading into the Ecuadorian countryside.

Ecuadorian farms surround the volcanic mountains throughout this region.
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Iliniza’s Trailhead
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Trailhead Signage.
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Joaquin and Adam heading out in the beautiful morning sunshine.
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Getting a little direction from Joaquin as we continued toward the refugio on Iliniza.
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As the sign says…
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The incredible landscape, the always present clouds within these high-altitude mountains.
Clouds, wind and snow moving in as we continued to climb.
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Incumbent weather and a break in the refugio.
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Full Service!
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Tea time!
We harnessed up and continued toward the summit.
The fog, wind and snow continued to create some difficulties. Photo by Adam Moszynski
Through the ice and rime toward the summit.
Through the ice and rime toward the summit.
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One of the more fun sections before we roped up and put the cameras away for the final push to the summit.
Adam and I on the summit of Iliniza Norte.
Summit of Iliniza Norte (16,816 ft)
Summit of Iliniza Norte (16,816 ft)

Slowly, the weather was improving with longer windows during the nights and early mornings. Since we’d be climbing during the night to reach the summit of Cotopaxi, and skiing roughly around 8am, we knew we only needed a small window, about 10-12 hours of good weather, to get up and down. As the trend was suggesting we could have that window the following day, we suited up, packed our bags and in a light rain headed for the refugio on Cotopaxi, to setup for our evening climb.

A very active, Volcán Cotopaxi.
Joaquin Andino and I on the approach toward the refugio at Volcán Cotopaxi. Photo by Adam Moszynski
Joaquin Andino and I with the valley beneath us. Photo by Adam Moszynski
Joaquin looking happy as the clouds started to disappear as we approached the refugio at Volcán Cotopaxi.
Arriving at the refugio. Photo by Adam Moszynski
Cotopaxi in the Clouds. Photo by Adam Moszynski
Refugio at Volcán Cotopaxi.
Adam stoked! Couldn't be happier to have an opportunity to ski Cotopaxi after so many days of bad weather.
Adam stoked! Couldn’t be happier to have an opportunity to ski Cotopaxi after so many days of bad weather.
Quinoa soup for an early dinner!
Inside the refugio.
The only Skis in the Refugio.
Next level bunk beds, three stories high. Photo by Adam Moszynski

We spent the remainder of the evening chatting, enjoying the sunset and preparing for our alpine start. The refugio was full of people from all parts of the world and the other groups were huge. With this in mind and having had a really great acclimatization on the peaks before Cotopaxi, we opted for a later start time of 1:30/1:45 AM so we would be able to climb freely to the summit.

Early start, 1:45 AM, roped up and moving forward on the glacier. Photo by Adam Moszynski
Climb higher! Photo by Adam Moszynski
Amazing early morning light, glowing volcanic fumes. Photo by Adam Moszynski
Quick break in the early morning light. Photo by Adam Moszynski
A team of three descending from the summit of Cotopaxi. Photo by Adam Moszynski
The shadow of Cotopaxi. Photo by Adam Moszynski
Adam Moszynski and our guide Joaquin Andino taking in the summit crater and an abundance of sulfuric acid. Photo TJ David
Taking in the view, TJ David and Joaquin Andino. Photo by Adam Moszynski
We dropped in off the summit in tandem. Photo by Joaquin Andino
The terrain got more complex and we proceeded one at a time, avoiding crevasses and making steep turns above an incredible Ecuadorian landscape.
Adam Moszynski in a steep, complex section of snow below the summit of Cotopaxi.

The terrain got more complex and we proceeded one at a time, avoiding crevasses and making steep turns above an incredible Ecuadorian landscape.


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Beautiful formations. Photo by TJ David
Joaquin descending by foot.
Adam Moszynski above a crevasse.
Rest the legs. Photo Joaquin Andino
I got to open up some turns in this section of glacier. Photo by Adam Moszynski
Wide open turns.
Wide open turns. Adam Moszynski takes advantage! Photo TJ David
More incredible turns on the lower half of Cotopaxi. Photo TJ David
Joaquin watches Adam fine the chalk on the lower section of glacier. Photo TJ David
Joaquin watches Adam fine the chalk on the lower section of glacier. Photo TJ David
Coming off the glacier in a sea of clouds. We had our weather window! Photo Joaquin Andino
This great group of local kids greeted us as we arrived back to the refugio, they were pretty curious about our equipment. Photo Joaquin Andino
Thank you Cotopaxi!