Sangay: a remote and living volcanoe

A REMOTE AND LIVING VOLCANO
Upon the few occasions that we saw it (Sangay), there were outrushes of steam at intervals of twenty to thirty minutes which shot up with immense rapidity five or six thousand above the top of the mountain.

Edward Whimper, 1892.

In many ways, Sangay is the most exciting and dangerous mountain to be climbed in Ecuador. It is said to be the most continuously active volcano in South America. It is also situated in a very remote region and several days of hard hikes are required to reach its base.

Altar inside crater
Suggested itinerary:

Day 1. We will depart from Quito in the direction of Riobamba, driving until we reach the village of
Alao and later the Indian community of Eten, where we will set up our campsite. Dinner will be
served.
Day 2. After breakfast we will pack our backpacks onto mules and start our trek following the edges of
Quebrada Azashuaycu. It will take us about seven hours to reach our next campsite in an area known as Escaleras. Dinner will be served.
Day 3. It will be a very active day hiking along a very up and down trailess way, and constantly climbing rises and crossing rivers, until we reach a flat low area known as Plazabamba, where we will set up our campsite. Dinner will be served.
Day 4. Today we will head southeast on a terrain that becomes increasingly rugged and difficult. Late in the afternoon we will reach a place called La Playa, where there is a red lava flow flanked by streams where we will set up our camps. Dinner.
Day 5. Ascent to the summit which will take us about eight hours. At the beginning the vegetation is thick then slowly changes into a sandy and snowy slope, which will take us to the summit. Return to the campsite and dinner.
Day 6  to 8 The next three days will take us along the same route taken to reach La Playa.
If the stars are with us we will reach Eten by the third day.
Day 9. Breakfast and departure from Eten. There are several Indian markets which may be possible to visit. Late in the afternoon we will be in Quito.

The flight of the Condor

THE FLIGHT OF THE CONDOR
The length of the lava-stream of Antisanilla can hardly be less than seven to eight miles. I clambered to the top, and got little reward, for the farther side, as well as its upper and lower extremities, were lost in mist. Its red colouring is probably superficial, and the nucleus of the mass, I conjecture, is a very dark and compact lava, specimens of which were broken out with some labour.

Edward Whimper, 1892.

From Antisana it is a 3 day trip southeast towards Sincholagua and Cotopaxi’s Volcanoes.

A Condor flying free
Suggested itinerary:

Day 1. Departure from Quito to the east on a road enriched by a spectacular landscape, we will cross a 4,100 m (13,452 ft) pass and immediately descend to Papallacta village, where we will set up our
campsite. There will be some time to enjoy natural hot springs, the best in Ecuador. Dinner will be served.
Day 2. After breakfast we will pack our gear onto horses, then we will head southeast towards Rio Tambo, until we arrive at Laguna Volcan, where we will set up our campsite. Dinner will be served.
Day 3. The day will begin with a rather long uphill hike, bringing us to the western flanks of Antizana. A wide variety of wild flowers and plants as well as birds including The Great Condor can be seen. Campsite by a fresh water stream, dinner.
Day 4. Today we will continue southeast on a gentle trail, towards Sincholahua peak. Some birds of prey as well as large herds of sheeps will be seen. Campsite and dinner.
Day 5. After breakfast we break down our campsite and prepare ourselves to hike up in the direction of the saddle betwen Sincholahua and Cerro Chico and immediately descend to the shores of Rio Pita. After crossing Pita River we will reach Cotopaxi National Park, where our vehicles will be waiting for us to bring us to the José Ribas Refuge (4,800 m – 15,749 ft) where we will spend the night. Dinner will be served.
Day 6. Midnight Breakfast. Following the standard route it will take us about six hours to reach the summit. From the summit on a clear day we’ll be able to see its crater and most of the peaks over 5,000 m (16,405 ft) in Ecuador. Down to the refuge it will take us about three hours. In the afternoon we will be back in Quito.

Cotopaxi: the way of the condor

THE WAY OF THE CONDOR 
… As there is not much probablility of considerable error in any of the determinations, it would seem that Cotopaxi has materially increased its elevation in the course of the last century and a half.

Edward Whimper, 1892.

The history of Cotopaxi’s activity is the most dramatic in Ecuador, it has caused the most death and destruction. Records of its eruptions date back to 1534, 1742, 1743, 1744, 1766, 1768, 1853 and the last one in 1877.

 

Near to the summit of Cotopaxi
Suggested itinerary:

Day 1. We leave Quito early in the morning and arrive at a recreation area within Cotopaxi National Park
called “El Boliche”. From this point we will start to hike upwards towards a ridge which we will follow until the base of Rumiñahui. Here we will take a brief lunch break and afterwards turn south along a gentle ridge and eventually reach our camp where we will spend the night.
Dinner will be served.
Day 2. After breakfast we will cross over flat plains for approximately 3 hours. We will arrive at some
archeological ruins called Pucara Salitre where the guides will give a description of the ruins. Lunch will be served, and from this point we will drive up to the parking lot (4,600 m –
15,093 ft) and start to hike up to the José Ribas Refuge (4,800 m – 15,749 ft) which will take approximatly one hour. Dinner will be served, and a brief explanation about what we will do the next day will be given by our guides.
Day 3. Summit attempt. Midnight Breakfast. Following the standard route it will take us about six hours to reach the summit. On a clear day we will be able to see the spectacular crater of Cotopaxi and most of the Ecuadorian peaks above 5,000 m (16,405 ft). It will take us about three hours to return to the refuge. In the afternoon we will be back in Quito.

The Condor hike

A HIKE BETWEEN
ANTIZANA-SINCHOLAGUA-COTOPAXI
Sincholagua rises on the eastern side of this river (Rio Pita), and forms the culminating point of a long ridge running northwards from Cotopaxi, which dies out in the basin of Chillo, and in a manner may be said to extend to the east and north-east until it meets the western slopes of Antisana.

Edward Whimper, 1892.

The paramo near Antisana is more varied than usual. Flowering PUYA plants are plentiful, providing nectar to the many hummingbirds, and there are even some rather subdued looking FRAILEJONES. Animals such as the Tailed Deer, Mountain Tapir, Puma, and Spectaled Bear have been sighted in this area. Antisana itself is a splendid sight with its four peaks covered with blue glaciers.

Antizana area
Suggested itinerary:

Day 1. Departure from Quito to the east on a road enriched by a spectacular landscape, we will cross a 4,100 m (13,452 ft) pass and immediately descend to Papallacta village, where we will set up our
campsite. There will be some time to enjoy its natural hot springs, the best in Ecuador. Dinner
will be served.
Day 2. After breakfast we will pack our gear onto horses, then we will head southeast following the flanks of Rio Tambo on a boggy trail, until we arrive at Laguna Volcan, where we will set up our campsite.
Dinner will be served.
Day 3. The day will begin with a rather long, interesting uphill hike, until we reach a long flat area on
the western flanks of Antizana. A wide variety of wild flowers and plants as well as birds including The Great Condor can be seen. Campsite by a fresh water stream, dinner.
Day 4. Today we will continue southeast on a gentle trail, towards Sincholahua peak. Both Antizana and
Cotopaxi will catch our attention showing us its best profiles. Some birds of pray as well as large herds of sheeps will be seen. Campsite and dinner.
Day 5. After breakfast we break down our campsite and prepare ourselves to hike up in the direction of the saddle betwen Sincholagua and Cerro Chico and immediately descend to the shores of Rio Pita, where we will set up our campsite.
Day 6. Breakfast. After crossing Pita River we will reach Cotopaxi National Park, at which point we will head soutwest to Limpios’ Valley where our vehicles will be waiting for us to take us back to Quito.

Altar: a world apart

A WORLD APART
The mountain is an extinct Volcano, having a crater in the form of a horse-shoe (larger than that of Cotopaxi), open towards the west; with an irregular rim, carrying some of the finest rock peaks in Ecuador … The walls of the cirque are exceedingly rugged, with much snow, and the floor is occupied by a glacier, which is largely fed by falls from ‘hanging-glaciers’ on the surrounding slopes and cliffs.

Edward Whimper, 1892.

Etymology: CAPAC-URCO means ‘Great Mountain’, CAPAC means Hill and URCO means mountain.

El Altar, situated at 170 km south of Quito, is an extinct volcano which at one time was probably higher than Cotopaxi until a huge ancient eruption almost completely destroyed the cone, leaving a steep-sided and jagged crater of 3 km in diameter. For mountaneers, El Altar undoubtedly involves the most technical climbing and has one of the longest approaches.

Altar, Obispo peak
Suggested itinerary:

Day 1. We will depart from Quito in the morning, heading south towards Ambato and Baños. Before reaching Baños, we will turn towards Penipe and then head up to a small village called Candelaria. At this point we will walk through a rural village towards Hacienda Releche. Here dinner will be served, and we will spend the night.
Day 2. After an early breakfast, mules will be packed to carry our gear to our camping site. We will begin
walking with daypacks towards the campsite and stop halfway for a lunch break. Dinner will be
served.
Day 3. Breakfast. From our campsite we will hike up towards the crater walking along a waterfall and through brushland. When we reach the crater we will descend to the Laguna Amarilla, where we will have lunch before heading back to camp. Dinner will be served.
Day 4. After breakfast, we will head back towards the Hacienda where our car will be waiting. Return to Baños or Quito.

Crater of Pichincha: descending into a living crater

DESCENDING INTO A LIVING CRATER
This however, no doubt, is a crater of Pichincha. Its depth, reckoning from the highest point of the mountain, is probably not less than two thousand feet; its breadth is fully as much, and the length of the part we saw was at least a mile. It had none of the symmetry of the crater of Cotopaxi.

Edward Whimper, 1892.

The Pichinchas are two volcanoes known as Guagua and Rucu located some 10 km due west of Quito and easily visible from the capital. This is a good trek to do in order to be in good shape before trying some of the higher mountains.

Guaguas crater
Suggested itinerary:

Day 1. Departure from Quito early in the morning. After passing a little village placed in a beautiful valley, both of which are called Lloa, we will drive up a dirt road until we reach a place called “La
Ensillada”. From this point we will hike until we reach the Defensa Civil Refuge (4,600 m – 15,093 ft). Here we will have lunch and later try for the Guagua’s summit (4,874 m, 12,380 ft), two hours round trip. Dinner will be served, and a brief explanation about what we will do the next day will be given by our guides.
Day 2. After breakfast we will descend into the crater of Guagua Pichincha where we can observe its
activity. We will walk around the crater where we will feel the force of the earth. Lunch will be served, and we will return to the refuge to spend the night. Dinner will be served.
Day 3. After an early breakfast we will leave the refuge. First, we will follow an old trail which will
lead us to “Padre Encantado”, from which point we will hike up to the Rucu’s summit (4,787 m, 12,159 ft). From the Rucu we will go down hill to a place called Cruz Loma the where our car will be waiting to take us down to Quito.

Cotopaxi: hiking between 3,600 & 4,200 metres high

HIKING BETWEEN 3,600 & 4,200 METRES
Cotopaxi shows no signs of approaching decrepitude, and for many centuries yet to come it may remain the highest active volcano in the world; or perchance the imprisoned forces may find an easier outlet, through barriers offering less resistance, and either Sangai, Tungurahua, or Pichincha may become the premier volcano of the Equator.

Edward Whimper, 1892.

Cotopaxi, is the centerpiece of the Cotopaxi National Park, which lies about 55 km south of Quito and whose symmetrical cone can often be seen from the capital on a clear day. Within its borders, the park has an administrative centre and museum. There are also picnic areas, camping sites, huts, and a refuge. Inside
this national park are smaller peaks such as Rumiñahui (4,712 m, 11,968 ft) and Morurco (4,840 m, 12,294 ft)
which offer excellent hiking and camping opportunities.

Cotopaxi trek
Suggested itinerary:

Day 1. We leave Quito early in the morning and arrive at a recreation area within Cotapaxi National Park called “El Boliche”. From this point we will start to hike upwards towards a ridge which
we will follow until the base of Rumiñahui. Here we will take a brief lunch break and afterwards turn south along a gentle ridge and eventually reach our camp where we will spend the night. Dinner will be served.
Day 2. After breakfast we will cross over flat plains for approximately 3 hours. We will arrive at some archeological ruins called Pucara Salitre where the guides will give a description of the
ruins. Lunch will be served, and we will return to Quito by early evening.

Pichinchas: hiking at 4.500 metres high

HIKING AT 4,500 METRES HIGH
I found that the summit of Guagua Pichincha was a ridge of lava about one hundred and fifty paces long, mainly firm rock, though strewn with loose, decomposing blocks, amongst which there were a number of lumps of pumice, up to a foot or rather more in diameter.

Edward Whimper, 1892.

The Pichinchas are two volcanoes known as Guagua and Rucu located some 10 km due west of Quito and easily visible from the capital. This is a good trek to do in order to be in good shape before trying some of the higher mountains.

Pichincha's eruption
Suggested itinerary:

Day 1. Departure from Quito early in the morning. After passing a little village placed in a beautiful valley, both of which are called Lloa, we will drive up a dirt road until we reach a place called “La Ensillada”. From this point we will hike until we reach the Defensa Civil Refuge (4,600 m – 15,093 ft). Here we will have lunch and later try for the Guagua’s summit (4,874 m, 12,380 ft), two hours round trip. Dinner will be served, and a brief explanation about what we will do the next day will be given by our guides.
Day 2. After an early breakfast we will leave the refuge.  First, we will follow an old trail which will
lead us to “Padre Encantado”, from which point we will hike up to the Rucu’s summit (4,787 m, 12,159 ft). From the Rucu we will go down hill to a place called Cruz Loma the where our car will be waiting to take us down to Quito.