w/ photography by TJ David, Adam Moszynski and Joaquin Andino
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.
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.
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.
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.
Moving from the City of Quito we headed into the countryside. Setting ourselves up for our next acclimatization on Iliniza Norte (16,818 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.
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.
The terrain got more complex and we proceeded one at a time, avoiding crevasses and making steep turns above an incredible Ecuadorian landscape.