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The Alpenglow team is enjoying some down time at Papallacta, a hot springs retreat high in the Ecuadorian Andes.  It’s in a cloud forest at 11,500 feet of elevation, with lush green foliage, colorful flowers, and a damp cold mist that constantly rolls through the valley.  We spent the evening soaking in the natural hot pool 5 steps from our rustic bungalow rooms, embracing the blend of hot steam and freezing fog.  It’s yet another mind-blowingly gorgeous place we’ve visited on this trip, each one even more special than the previous.

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We’ve been in Ecuador for just over a week, and experienced everything from a vibrant city parade in the middle of Quito to horseback riding on a hacienda in Otavalo, surrounded by fields of quinoa and fig trees.  We all decided Ecuador was a top-notch destination even before we embarked on our actual purpose here: climbing and skiing volcanos, which is where it becomes a bit interesting.  

Our two objectives were Cotopaxi and Cayambe, two volcanoes standing around 19,000 feet tall.  The crew arrived with uncontainable stoke and motivation to get after it, but we soon learned that Cotopaxi was spewing sulfur and threatening a potential eruption.  Climbers from previous weeks had taken to wearing gas masks on their summit bids, and rumors of closing the park entirely were swirling.  The park did not end up closing, but we were advised against climbing due to the unusual activity.  We turned our attention toward Cayambe…..

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We spent the last few days at the Cayambe hut, with high hopes of a glorious summit and ski decent.   But as we have already learned many times, the mountains don’t always abide by our plans.  We experienced bad weather in every form – hammering rain and snow accompanied by 100km winds that threatened to lift us from the earth and toss us.  We used one day to hunker down in the hut and dive into learning some big mountain skills.  Everything from basic knot tying to crevasse rescue practices were covered, and despite the grim conditions everyone was excited to learn some new skills.  The following day was perhaps worse than the day before, only maybe a bit less precip and a bit more wind.  We ventured outside anyway to ease our cabin fever and get a bit of exercise, but made it less than a mile in the pounding winds.  The gusts were strong enough to knock us off our feet, and the rain blew sideways, making its way through all our gore-tex layers and soaking us to the bone.

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So here we are, escaping the elements for a few days and hoping for a small bit of relief so we can do what we came here to do.  That may or may not happen, and that’s just a part of playing in these mountains.  Sometimes you get lucky and they let you pass unscathed, other times they shut you down without mercy.  I think it’s best to listen to those signs and abide accordingly.  Alas, we’ve experienced some bad luck, but overall Ecuador has been a total treat.  The landscape, food, and people make the trip down here worth it, with or without a summit.

Words by Alpenglow ambassador Emily Harrington; photos by Ian Boyer, whom Alpenglow is ecstatic to have back on board.