Life on the upswing in Quito

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

Life on the upswing in Quito
October 29, 1996

Quito, Ecuador
Spanish classes are going great and I can now begin to understand the raving DJs on the radio. We will probably finish out the week here and then take a week or two to travel around Ecuador before heading down to Tierra del Fuego. We still haven't decided how to get there from Santiago, but I think we'll wait to see then. We would love to take the ferry, though.

We moved yesterday to a new habitacion in the same neighborhood, La Floresta. The new situation is more like a boarding house with about seven other gringos there, but we have a great room with lots of light and a fantastic view out over the canyon on the east side of Quito. Our other situation in our "concrete cell-box" became unbearable with the guard dogs next door barking and howling all night, the motorcycle revving outside our window at midnight and our lack of interaction with our "family." We feel much better.

This past weekend we went to Cayambe, the third highest mountain in Ecuador and the highest point in the world through which the equator directly passes. It's about a three-hour drive north of Quito through majestic winding mountain roads with sheer drops of 1,000 meters into the valley below.

Cayambe, the third highest mountain in Ecuador
On the way to the mountain we passed through the town of Cayambe, which is the home of Nestle in Ecuador. Nestle is a giant here and I doubt a day goes by when an Ecuadorean doesn't consume one of their products. The town itself is not unlike a little Switzerland with its tidy and clean streets and bucolic Nestle billboards. Past Cayambe we traveled through progressively smaller towns, occasionally stopping to pay pickaxe-wielding workers a "toll" for traveling the road. Our hired bus could only strain so much up the tortuous road and finally dropped us about an hour's walk from the climber's refuge — a huge building perched on the edge of the valley looking out to hourly avalanches over La Glacier Hermosa or the "beautiful glacier."

We trekked about an hour farther up the route and camped on a rocky flat about 15 minutes from the start of the glacier route. The views out to Cayambe were magnificent in the full moonlight. We started up at 1 a.m. and climbed with little difficulty to the upper heavily crevassed area of the mountain. Here the route-finding became more complex as we wound our way around and over crevasses and towering seracs dripping stalactites of tropical icicles.

We returned from the summit
and made it back to the tents around 10 a.m.
The weather began to worsen as the clouds moved in from the Amazon Basin less than an hour to our east and snow began to fall. We contemplated turning back, as Cayambe is notorious in Ecuador for its rapidly moving storms and subsequent whiteouts. With the summit less than an hour and a half away, we decided to continue on over the last major obstacle, a 100-meter, 65-degree wall of snow and ice. The effort of front-pointing on our crampons at 18,500 feet drained us completely, but we made it up to the gently sloping summit ridge and onto the summit at 19,000 feet.

It was 7:30 and the ascent had taken six and a half hours. We were moving a little slow, but much faster than the 8-10 hours stated by the guidebook. We made a hasty decent as the weather proceeded to get worse and negotiated the ramp and the top of the route in total whiteout. One of our members feel into a crevasse, but thankfully was caught only waist-deep and was able to extract himself. The rest of the descent was without incident and we made it back to the tents around 10 a.m.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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