Sunday, 16 November 2008

Ecuador 2008

Here is Mike's report on his trip to Ecuador – Oct/Nov 2008

I recently returned from a trip to Ecuador organised by Jagged globe and led by Dave Walsh, who has, among many other things, climbed the 7-summits, ie highest peaks on every continent.

After and to aid acclimatisation, the first couple of days were centred in Quito and these two days included a trip to the equator and a city tour. We observed such wonders as the “plughole experiment” where locals tried to convince us that the Earth’s rotation influences direction of rotation of a stream of water as it exits a plughole at and on each side of the equator!. We also saw changing of the guard with the president of Ecuador looking on and visited various churches, one of which required climbing some steep and rickety steel ladders to get up the clock-tower – I have done easier via ferrata routes!! Who said that there is no cultural interest on my trips?

Following these two rest/recovery days, we then attempted to climb Pichincha Rucu (4,698m, PD). However, an electrical storm necessitated a retreat about 100m from the summit, followed by a long descent along a step, muddy and very wet path with the odd waterfall crossing as the teleferique was not operating.

Next few days saw us in Cotopaxi National Park where we spent some time acclimatising and also training on Cotopaxi up to just below 5000m.

We then headed for Virgen Camp (around 3900m) prior to ascending Illiniza North (5,126m, PD). Frustratingly, we were again forced to retreat about 10 or 20m from summit because of an electrical storm and static build-up on summit. Two of our team were zapped by a static discharge from rocky summit, but were fortunately unscathed. Our local guides considered that there was too high a risk of lightning strike to hang around!

The remaining days of the trip also required a change of plan. Our original objective, Antisana was deemed to be unclimbable because of deep snow and potential avalanche risks so we headed for Cayambe (third highest mt in Ecuador, 5790m, PD) as this was our best chance to reach a summit. We spent the first day ice climbing on the glacier (three routes, estimated to be around Grade IV), with some challenging bulges and overhangs to negotiate.

The following day, an alpine start saw us on our way at 0100hrs on a bright, clear night. The thin crust of snow supported our weights well and we were hopeful when we reached about 5,300m. However, examination of snow pits revealed non-cohesively bound snow layers higher on the mountain. Yet again, we forced to descend due to the high risk of avalanches once the sun rose.

Also of interest were some bird and mammal sightings – Andean condor, llamas, paramo wolf (sort of mid-way between a fox and wolf, as we know them), carunculated caracara and turkey vulture.

All in all it was a good trip, despite zero summits achieved out of several attempts on high mts.