American Alpine Club Ecuador Expedition

9 days in Ecuador / (Skill level: Introductory)

Price per person

  • Next Available: Jul 27, 2019 - Aug 04, 2019

About this trip

In collaboration with the American Alpine Club and modeled off of our popular Ecuador Climbing School - this expedition was developed specifically for American Alpine Club members. Expedition members will work on and develop the skills to attempt a summit of Cotopaxi, the second highest peak in Ecuador. Lead guide, Jaime Avila, helped develop Alpenglow's unparalleled Ecuador program by sharing an intimate knowledge of his home mountain range and providing an in-depth glimpse into Andean culture.


  • skill level


  • Duration

    9 days

Alpenglow’s guides have been climbing and guiding in Ecuador since 1994. They believe it is an unparalleled destination for learning the essential skills of high altitude climbing. Ecuador also offers a friendly and interesting cultural experience. On this expedition we will focus on education, building technical skills, and gaining mountaineering experience on an attempt to summit Cotopaxi, the second tallest peak in Ecuador. Cotopaxi’s highest point is at 19,347 feet (5,897 meters) and it is heavily glaciated. Although geographically remote, the mountain is easily accessible. As opposed to the weeks it requires to travel to peaks in Alaska or the Himalayas, we arrive, develop skills, acclimatize, and summit Cotopaxi in a single week. The main goal of our “school” programs is to ensure that your mountain skills are up to speed. This will help you grow into a confident and active participant on present and future expeditions.

Our expedition begins in Ecuador’s capital of Quito. Four glaciated peaks surround the city, which tops out at 9,500 feet (2,896 meters). The high elevation jumpstarts your acclimatization process upon arrival. We will spend the first day exploring the old colonial center of Quito and enjoying fantastic food and hospitality. After we spend the day exploring, we’ll regroup in the evening and enjoy a team welcome dinner which is included in the expedition pricing. The next day we continue our acclimatization by taking our classroom out into the field. This entails riding the local telepherique up to 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) on Rucu Pinchincha and then hiking up to the 15,700 foot (4,785 meter) summit. If conditions allow, we will traverse a knife-edge rock ridge to the summit, implementing technical rock climbing techniques and the use of fixed lines.

After our adventures in Quito, we will travel to a luxurious refuge located in Cotopaxi National Park. The lodge features delectable food and a stunning mountain backdrop. Here we will develop and practice techniques necessary for the summit push. We will spend the afternoon of our arrival and the morning of the next day learning and practicing mountaineering skills. These include crampon and ice axe techniques, roped team travel, snow and ice anchor placement, and crevasse rescue. This training is essential for establishing your competence as a team member on Cotopaxi and future expeditions.

Upon completion of our training, we will be ready to climb. A midnight start ensures plenty of time to complete the journey. We will set out in small roped teams, each led by an Alpenglow guide. The terrain will vary from rugged hiking trails to moderately crevassed glaciers. Eventually we will reach the final, steep summit headwall. Enjoy the sensational views from the top, encompassing many of the surrounding volcanoes, miles of rolling hills, and the active crater of Cotopaxi itself. Once we’re finished, we will embark on a quick descent back to Quito, in time for a celebration dinner with the team before flying home.

Our Ecuador expeditions are guided by one or more of Alpenglow’s AMGA certified lead guides. AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) certification is the most prestigious in the world, attained only by the most experienced and dedicated guides. Our lead guides have traveled and climbed extensively throughout South America and possess intimate knowledge of Ecuadorian volcanoes. A thorough understanding of Andean culture combined with a passion for teaching others guarantees an experience you won’t soon forget.

We combine our guides’ experience with the local expertise of our close friend and expert Ecuadorian logistics operator, Jaime Avila. Jaime is one of Ecuador’s most respected guides and has also guided in Nepal, Peru, Bolivia, and Alaska. His local knowledge (of the mountains, the markets, and the salsa clubs) is essential to the experience. Our small team size and low ratio of climbers to guides (2:1) highlights an attention to detail, ensuring you’re healthy and strong enough to enjoy every aspect of the expedition.


  • Fitness

    Climbers must be in excellent physical shape to join this expedition. We cannot stress this enough -- fitness is the most important aspect of high altitude climbing. To develop the necessary level of fitness needed to climb big mountains, you must adapt a challenging, consistent exercise regime months in advance. We recommend a structured training program at a gym or with a personal trainer. Please contact us for more information on physical training.

  • Technical Experience

    No technical climbing experience required.

  • Altitude Experience

    No prior experience at altitude required.

    • Day 1 — Arrive in Quito

      Leave your home for Ecuador, arriving into Quito (9,500 feet/2,896 meters) in the evening. Our guides will pick you up and bring you to our hotel, a beautiful establishment rising above downtown Quito. (Saturday)

    • Day 2 — Explore Quito and Welcome Dinner

      Explore the colonial section of Quito. The old city is famous for its beautiful churches, president’s palace, and ever-present views of the glaciated peaks that surround it. After touring for half the day, we spend the afternoon preparing for our climb of Pinchincha, practicing fixed line techniques, and organizing gear.

      This evening we'll get together and have a big team dinner. This dinner is included in the pricing.

    • Day 3 — Acclimatization Climb

      After breakfast at the famed Magic Bean (a gringo-owned restaurant with strong coffee, fresh fruit smoothies, and huge pancakes—the perfect pre-climbing meal) we ride the telepherique from the center of the city to 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) on Rucu Pinchincha. Two hours of hiking brings us to the rock ridge which we climb, conditions permitting, to Pinchincha’s 15,700 foot (4,785 meter) summit. This climb is a proud peak on its own; it is also important for our acclimatization.

    • Day 4 — Move to Cotopaxi National Park

      After a lazy morning, we drive to Tambopaxi, at about 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) in Cotopaxi National Park. From the dining room we have a perfect view of our entire route on Cotopaxi. There are also countless hikes we can take for acclimatization.

    • Day 5 — Glacier Training

      Today we hike about an hour to the toe of the glacier on Cotopaxi. We spend the day practicing skills, including self arresting with an ice axe, climbing in crampons, traveling on rope teams, and crevasse rescues. We also take time scouting our summit route. After a full day, we descend back to Tambopaxi for another evening.

    • Day 6 — Skills Review

      We spend the morning reviewing any skills that need it and then check our gear and hike to the upper refuge at 15,700 feet (4,785 meters) on Cotopaxi. We spend the afternoon resting, hydrating, eating, and trying to get some sleep.

    • Day 7 — Summit Day

      Summit Day! We wake at around midnight, have a hot drink and perhaps a snack, and then begin our climb. The route takes us across scree to the glacier, and then winds up through progressively steeper slopes and heavily crevassed areas. By dawn,
      we should be below the final headwall, 800 vertical feet (250 meters) of the steepest climbing on the mountain. In daylight, we work our way up this slope until we are standing on the edge of Cotopaxi’s crater, with stunning views in every direction. After a few photos, we descend back to the refuge, and then continue our descent all the way to our hotel in Quito.

    • Day 8 — Weather Day

      Built in weather day in case we need some time to adjust our summit day.

    • Day 9 — Departure

      If we're not already in Quito, we'll travel back to the city on this day. Flights should be scheduled to depart on this day unless you are staying in Ecuador for more adventure following the expedition.

    • What is the longest day I can expect?

      Your longest, most difficult day will be summit day on Cotopaxi. We wake very early in the morning, using headlamps and warm layers. Climbing steadily through the night, we find ourselves high on the peak when the sun rises. After gaining the summit, we descend all the way back to Tambapaxi. You can expect between 12 and 15 hours of steady movement.

    • Do we sleep in a hut, or are we camping?

      For Cotopaxi, we utilize the incredible Tambopaxi Lodge as our base of operations.  The lodge features heat, running water, clean bathrooms with hot showers, an incredible kitchen to order or make food in, electricity and WiFi.

    • Do I really need to buy trip and rescue insurance?

      We strongly recommend purchasing trip insurance, and we require rescue insurance on all expeditions. Trip insurance covers issues that would cause you to cancel your trip in advance. Rescue insurance can help cover costs in the event that you decide to end your expedition early. We recommend Global Rescue for both types of insurance .

Jaime Avila

Jaime is Alpenglow Expeditions’ senior lead guide. A native Ecuadorian, Jaime has been guiding and climbing throughout South America and the world for twenty years. He has successfully led groups on challenging routes like the Southwest Ridge of Ama Dablam (Nepal), the Shield Route of Huascaran (Peru), the Polish Direct on Aconcagua (Argentina), and El Altar (Ecuador). We have been guiding, climbing, and traveling with Jaime since 1998 and the feedback from members is always the same: there is no better teammate. Whether climbing a tough ice route, humping a huge pack, or stuck in a storm, Jaime will keep you laughing, learning, and glad to be in the mountains. He is an ASEGUIM / IFMGA certified mountain guide.


Guide Certifications
  • IVBV IFMGA UIAGM - Mountain Guide

Gaspar Navarrete

Gaspar hails from Ecuador, and has been guiding for over 18 years, and climbing since he was 12. He has extensive experience in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Patagonia, Aconcagua, the Himalaya, the Cascades, the Alps and the Pyrenees. Gaspar has established new routes in both Ecuador and Bolivia. As an active instructor with the Ecuadorian School for Mountain Guides, he has trained in Ecuador, Bolivia and France. He is a Wilderness First Responder, and has spent a great deal of time working at high altitude.

Gaspar joined one of Quito’s oldest climbing clubs at a young age, which gave him the opportunity to mentor under very experienced climbers. He considers the Andes, including Patagonia, his home, and he love to share his enthusiasm for the mountains, the Andean traditions, food and culture with his guests.

Gaspar is an ASEGUIM/IFMGA mountain guide

Guide Certifications
  • IVBV IFMGA UIAGM - Mountain Guide

Esteban “Topo” Mena

Topo’s formal name is Esteban Mena, but he goes by his nickname. Esteban Topo Mena is 28 years old and began his guiding career at 19, when he climbed Aconcagua’s South Face and became the youngest person to accomplish this difficult climb. Topo began guiding in Ecuador and Peru. In 2012, Topo summited Manaslu and in 2013, he summited Everest – both without using supplementary oxygen. Topo again summited Everest in 2016 while supporting his wonderful partner Carla as she successfully summited without supplemental oxygen. In 2018 Topo summited both Cho Oyu and Everest with clients in under 30 days. An incredible achievement that only the best guides in the word could attempt. He also has climbed challenging new routes in Kyrgyzstan and China and one of his climbs (Kyzyl Asker) has been nominated for the Piolet d’Or (as part of an Ecuadorian team).

Guide Certifications
  • IVBV IFMGA UIAGM - Mountain Guide

Carla Perez

Carla has been on the pursuit of her climbing dreams for most of her life, she started climbing as a teenager and her love to the mountains took her to the french Alps, where she studied geology and got a masters degree on geochemistry. In 2007 she decided to become a full time climber, which also put her the path of becoming a mountain guide. Carla has trained with and is pursuing UIAGM/IFMGA certification with the ASEGUIM (the Ecuadorian mountain guides association).

In 2016 she became the sixth women in history to climb Everest without oxygen (first latin american), she also climbed Cho Oyu and Manaslu without oxygen, her resumee includes the South Face of Aconcagua and various 7000m peaks in central Asia among many other climb in south america.
In 2008 she did a biking trip from Ecuador to Argentina and had the opportunity to understand and learn more about her home: the Andes.

Today she splits her time between speaking about her climbing experiences all around the world, chasing new missions with her parter “Topo” and guiding big mountains.

Guide Certifications

Ignacio “Nacho” Espinosa Andrade

Nacho was born in Ecuador and started to climb at the age of 12. After that Nacho climbed continuously in Ecuador leading expeditions and people to the summit of the Ecuadorian Andes for the last 15 years. He is a very active guide in the Cordillera Blanca range of the Peruvian Andes where he has been an active guide for the past 10 years.

He started his formal mountain guide training with the Ecuadorian Mountain Guide Association where he received the ASEGUIM certification. After that he continued his process in Bolivia where, with the support of the alpinism French school ENSA,  he received the UIAGM/IFMGA certification. He is also a WFR certified guide and for 5 years has been an instructor for the ESGUIM, the local mountain guide school.

Among his long list of climbs the biggest highlights are ascents in Peru like the South Face of Piramide de Garcilazo, South Face of Caraz I, West Face of Cayesh, and the South Face of Chacraraju Este. He also has notable climbs in  Bolivia like the West Face of Huayna Potosi in 4 hours and 30 minutes and the British Route of Hallomen in the Condoriri Masiff.

Guide Certifications
  • IVBV IFMGA UIAGM - Mountain Guide

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    American Alpine Club Ecuador Expedition