Rock-climbing Ecuadorean-style

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

Rock-climbing Ecuadorean-style
October 12, 1996

"Further down the Tumbaco road, all the way past Pifo, is another small area for climbing," Rob Rachowiecki writes in his book Climbing and Hiking in Ecuador. "I mention it here," he continues, "only to warn against making the effort, in the event someone tries to tell you there's good rock climbing in Pifo."

These words of caution are ringing in my head as I negotiate past the pigsty to the base of an ugly-looking crack. We are in Pifo.

Our adventure began some nights before, when Nancy and I attended the weekly meeting of the Club de Andinistas at the Universidad La Catolica. As the meeting began we soon lost track of the rapid-fire Spanish ... something about Cotopaxi and Pifo, a word that was lost on me. Quite suddenly a vote was called and, being closest to the speaker, we were the first to be asked our choice. Nancy looked at me befuddled. I was lost. Someone offered an explanation in broken English. "They want to know you go Cotopaxi or Pifo."

Cotopaxi, almost 20,000 feet high, is a magnet for climbers in Ecuador. We were quite surprised to be so suddenly offered a trip to this magnificent mountain. Cotopaxi was our obvious choice.

Campo Base, located at Veintimilla 858 in Quito, is a great restaurant and information source for climbers.

As it turned out, Cotopaxi was ruled out for us because we had only been in Ecuador for four days and where stilled challenged by the thin air in Quito. So it was Pifo. Juan, a young, flamboyant Quiteño with a surprising command of English, would lead the trip.

"I only have a rope, shoes, and harness," I warned.

"Don't worry," he replied. "That's more than most people have. You help lead the trip."

So it was that we found ourselves, a motley group of six, on the outskirts of Pifo, in a backyard pigsty staring up an awful-looking off-width crack.

Dan — an exchange student from Portland who had cut his teeth on Smith Rocks' dubious cracks — and I looked at each other. It didn't look promising. Between all the members of the group we had maybe one piece of protection large enough for the crack. Juan tried to rally us.

"Perhaps I will begin," he said, grabbing his shoes, "and you will be inspired to follow."

It was then that we learned he had no previous experience lead-climbing. Foreseeing certain disaster, Dan I and warned him off, and after an hour or so of bushwhacking near the top of the cliff we decided to call it off and head back to a roadside crag outside Quito. We retrieved Juan, who was wandering around the top of the cliff trying to convince us that he should rappel down a loose brush-choked gully to set up a top-rope. Finally he assented and we left the pigs to their business and hitched back to the junction to catch the return bus to Quito.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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