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An Exciting Day on Cotocachi

Two mountaineers navigating a glacier on a Gasherbrum II Expedition

Our Ecuador Expedition started off on all cylinders this week. After a day in Quito and a quick trip up the new telepherique on Rucu Pinchincha (a seven minute ride takes you from the city to almost 14,000 feet on a local peak – ideal acclimatization) we headed to our first mountain of the trip, the 16,204 foot Cotocachi. Since its summit pyramid is very technical, Cotocachi is rarely visited by climbers. In fact, neither Jaime nor I had summited the peak, so the route was new for us as well as our group.

And it turned out to be a hefty challenge for us. We woke up to a full whiteout at the base of the peak, with sporadic rain as we began the climb. By the time we reached the technical climbing (at 15,500 feet) we in calf-deep snow on top of loose, icy rock. The next hour and a half brought us to just 100 meters below the summit, still in a white out and worried about an approaching storm. The group made a wise decision to make this our high point and run for the safety of our jeep and warm showers, great food, and cards in front of the fire.

And while we were disappointed to not reach the true summit, we were very happy to have reached the jeep when lightning started crashing around us. Since the entire peak is above treeline, it is a very bad place to be in thunderstorms. We bumped down the four wheel drive road with smiles on our faces.

And now, we are enjoying strong coffee and big breakfasts in Otovalo, on our way to our next peak, Antisana (18,711 feet). We will be on the mountain working on skills, acclimatizing, and attempting the summit over the next five days. Look for tales from the mountain after the weekend!

-Adrian Ballinger