Ecuador Climbing School

9 days in Ecuador / (Skill level: Introductory)

Price per person

$2,850.00

About this trip

Extension available for 18,714' Antisana and 20,564' Chimborazo for just $1500! See itinerary for details. Join us at our Ecuador climbing school to learn all of the skills it takes to attempt a summit of Cayambe, the third highest peak in Ecuador. Lead guide, Jaime Avila, has helped make Alpenglow's Ecuador program unparalleled by sharing an intimate knowledge of his home mountain range and an in-depth look at the wonderful Andean culture.

Overview

  • skill level

    Introductory

  • Duration

    9 days

Alpenglow’s guides have been climbing and guiding in Ecuador since 1994 and believe it is unparalleled for learning the essential skills of high altitude climbing, while also exploring a friendly and interesting culture. On this expedition we focus on education, building technical skills and experience, while our team attempts to summit Cayambe, the third tallest peak in Ecuador. At 18,996 feet (5,790 meters), it is heavily glaciated and remote yet also easily accessible. Instead of taking weeks to reach a peak in Alaska or the Himalaya, we can successfully arrive, learn and practice skills, acclimatize, and summit all in only one week! Our main goal in our “school” programs is to ensure that your mountain skills are up to speed so that you are can be a confident and active participant on this and other climbing teams moving forward.

Our expedition begins in Ecuador’s capital of Quito. The city, surrounded by 4 glaciated peaks, sits at 9,500 feet (2,896 meters), so your acclimatization begins immediately upon arrival. We spend the first day exploring the old colonial center of Quito and enjoying fantastic food and hospitality. We continue our acclimatization, now taking our classroom to the field by riding the local telepherique to 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) on Rucu Pinchincha, and then hiking to the 15,700 foot (4,785 meter)summit. If conditions allow, we will take a technical knife-edge rock ridge to this summit, learning about rock technique and the use of fixed lines.

From there we move to Otovalo and the Hacienda Pinsaqui, stopping along the way at the beautiful Mojanda volcanic lakes and a climb of Fuya Fuya (14,000’/4263m). This extinct volcano has incredible views of the surrounding mountainside and further prepares us for the altitude challenges ahead. After a relaxing night at the historic Hacienda Pinsaqui, we are ready to move to the refuge high on Cayambe.

The refuge provides excellent food, stunning views of the mountain and a perfect place to further acclimatize. Based out of the refuge, the team will discuss and practice climbing skills on Cayambe’s glacier. This education day provides vital information to becoming a competent team-member on Cayambe and future peaks. The team practices crampon and ice axe techniques, traveling on a rope team, snow and ice anchor placement, and crevasse rescue.

At this point, we are ready to utilize our new skills on our climb. We wake at around midnight for the climb, which might take 7-12 hours round trip. The views from the summit are always stunning, and encompass many of the surrounding volcanoes, as well as Cayambe itself.

After descending from the peak, we head back to Otavalo for some much needed pampering. On Saturdays, the day we will be there, Otavalo holds one of the largest indigenous markets in South America. The shopping for friends back at home is incredible, as are the opportunities to explore the local Otavalan culture. And, since we are based out of the garden paradise of our friends Frank and Margaret, it is also an ideal place to rest and recover from our climb.

Heading home after Otavalo is one option, however, we encourage those who have the time, to stay for summit attempts on Antisana and Chimborazo, where you will be able to build on and test all of the training you’ve done leading up to here. Antisana, 18,714 feet (5,704 meters), sits near Quito and is heavily glaciated. The route is longer than Cayambe, and is an excellent place to continue building comfort with crampon and ice axe techniques. Chimborazo, with a summit at 20,703 feet (6,310 meters), is the tallest peak in Ecuador, and considerably taller than any peak in North America. Its altitude, the length of the summit day, its technical challenges, and the skills you’ve learned to get there, make it a perfect final peak of the trip, and excellent preparation for big mountains anywhere in the world.

Our Ecuador Climbing Schools are guided by one or more of Alpenglow’s AMGA certified lead guides. AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) certification is the highest possible training available to guides, and only the most experienced and dedicated attain it. Our lead guides have also traveled and climbed extensively in South America and know the Ecuadorian volcanoes intimately. Their knowledge of Andean culture as well as the mountains, combined with their passion for teaching others to become competent mountaineers, guarantees that your experience will be one to remember!

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) will be essential to our experience. Our small team size and low ratio of climbers to guides (2:1) ensures that you stay healthy and strong, and are able to enjoy each component of your experience.

Preparation

  • Fitness

    Climbers must be in excellent physical shape to join this expedition. This is perhaps the most important aspect of high altitude climbing, and cannot be stressed enough. Regular, challenging exercise for many months in advance of departure is the only way to gain the necessary level of fitness that is needed on big peaks. We highly recommend a structured training regime with a gym or personal trainer to assist you in preparing for climbing at altitude. 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 local family-run place close to excellent restaurants and the tourist center of the city. (Saturday)

    • Day 2 — Explore Quito and Prepare for first climb

      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.

    • 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 Otavalo & Acclimatize

      We move to the town of Otavalo. Otavalo has some of the best food in Ecuador and is renowned for its local markets. We will spend part of the day climbing Fuya Fuya, a non-technical 14,000 foot peak, and then spend the evening at the Hacienda Pinsaqui, an incredible local farmhouse with excellent food, beautiful gardens and an iconic view.

    • Day 5 — Skills Practice

      After a quick grocery store stop for mountain snacks, we drive 2 hours through high altitude farmlands to the refuge on Cayambe, at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). After settling in, we hike about an hour to the toe of the glacier on Cayambe. We spend the day practicing skills, including self arresting with an ice axe, climbing in crampons, traveling on rope teams, and crevasse rescue. We also take time scouting our summit route. After a full day, we descend back to the refuge for the evening.

    • Day 6 — Skills check and Rest

      Today we'll take the morning to continue practicing our skills and letting our bodies further acclimatize before our summit push the next day. We spend the afternoon resting, hydrating, eating, and getting to bed early for the summit of Cayambe.

    • Day 7 — Summit Day

      After a midnight wake-up call, we begin our climb scrambling a rock ridge to the upper glacier. From there moderate slopes lead to another steep headwall. Often icy, this slope will require all of our climbing techniques to make it to the top. From the summit, we descend to our van and drive return to Otovalo.

    • Day 8 — Recovery Day

      Today we sleep in, eventually waking to the sound of hummingbirds and the smell of fresh coffee and waffles. The Alishungu hotel in Otavalo has some of the best food in Ecuador, and we will have earned it. When we are ready, the hectic Saturday market will be waiting for us, where we can buy everything from grilled guinea pig to hand-woven textiles to handmade silver jewelry. We return to Quito for dinner, and those flying home head to the airport for flights scheduled after 11pm or the following morning. The rest of the team spends the night in our hotel in Quito.

    • Day 9 — Depart Ecuador or Drive to Antisana

      Any remaining Cayambe-only team members depart Quito for home. After breakfast, climbers staying on for the extension head up to the flanks of Antisana and set up camp for the night.

    • Optional Extension — Antisana & Chimborazo

      Add on this 7 day extension to summit two more peaks and further cement the skills you picked up on Cayambe.

    • Day 10 — Scout Antisana, Practice Rescue Skills

      We spend the morning scouting our route, and continuing to build advanced glacier travel and rescue skills low on Antisana. In the afternoon we pack for the climb and rest.

    • Day 11 — Summit Day - Antisana

      Waking up around 1am we’ll have some coffee and set out for the summit of Antisana. This climb will use all the skills we learned on Cayambe as we travel on snow and ice up to the rim of the volcano. The final section of climbing will be the most difficult before we are rewarded with a stunning summit. After descending and packing up camp, we drive to the famed hot springs of Papallacta.

    • Day 12 — Drive to Chimborazo

      After a morning in Papallacta, we drive south to a wilderness lodge below Chimborazo. The lodge is owned by one of Ecuador’s original mountain guides – his stories, home, and excellent food will prepare us for our final climb.

    • Day 13 — Move to High Hut

      Move to a camp at the base of Chimborazo’s glacier, 2 hours hike from the car. We scout our route, and get to sleep early ready for our summit push.

    • Day 14 — Summit Day - Chimborazo

      Our final, and most challenging, climb. The route quickly climbs the glacier, on which the ice is often broken by many crevasses as well as almost vertical ice steps. Eventually we reach the ridge and follow it over moderate ground to the summit. After taking photos and enjoying the views from the tallest point in Ecuador, we descend to our van and return to Quito for a final celebration dinner.

    • Day 15 — Weather Day

      Built in weather day. Due to the unpredictable nature of mountain weather in Ecuador, we build in an extra day into our itinerary.

    • Day 16 — Depart for Home

      Depart Quito for home. Flights are generally late the night before (after 11pm) or early in
      the morning.

      • Head

      • Smith I/O goggles

        These will be worn on stormy or windy days. Make sure you are getting a snug fit with lenses that are appropriate for bright and low-light conditions. Ventilation and anti-fog features are recommended.

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      • Kaenon Klay sunglasses

        Must have dark lenses. Minimal light should come in below, above, or around the sides of the lenses.“Wrap” style is best. Ventilation is important and a retainer strap recommended (Chums or Croakies).

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      • SmartWool Balaclava

        We recommend a tight-fitting balaclava that is worn under your hat. Make sure that it covers as much skin as possible and yet still comfy.

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      • Patagonia Lined Beanie

        A comfortable, warm well-fitting hat that covers your ears. Make sure that your beanie fits under a helmet. We also recommend the Marmot Summit Hat.

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      • Marmot PreCip Baseball Hat

        A great hat to help keep the sun out of your eyes and keep you cool on warm days.

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      • Hands

      • Black Diamond guide glove

        These gloves should be full GORE-TEX®, with a removable fleece liner (so you can take the liner out and dry it at night). The warmer the liner the better.

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      • Marmot Windstopper glove

        You will rarely take these gloves off.  They should be snug-fitting, and have some sort of reinforced palm.

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      • Feet

      • LaSportiva Batura

        Boots should have a stiff sole and accept a step-in crampon. The boots should be comfortable, have adequate wiggle room for your toes, and your heel should not lift more than 1/8th of an inch when walking.

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      • LaSportiva Bushido hiking shoe

        These light to mid-weight shoes are for every day use. The ideal shoe is comfortable to wear for multiple days and scrambles decently on rock. A Gore-tex lined shoe stays drier when hiking in rain or snow. High top hiking boots are heavy and unnecessary.

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      • Darn Tough 1/4 cushion hiking sock

        These are your every day sock, good for day hikes, trekking and town days.

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      • Darn Tough Cushion boot sock

        Your go-to mountain sock. It is very important to dial in your boot/ sock combo, as everyone will have a slightly different fit in their boots. Merino wool has become a guides favorite, and we have found these socks to be a solid performer.  NO COTTON.

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      • Upper Body

      • Icebreaker long sleeve Top

        A merino or poly-pro base layer that you will wear often. Fitted, light-weight and quick drying.

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      • Marmot Greenland Jacket

        A puffy jacket with a hood that will keep you warm during the coldest of conditions. The higher the quality down, the better (800-fill is best). However, be sure the jacket is still lightweight.

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      • Marmot Minimalist Jacket

        A lightweight, waterproof and breathable jacket WITH A HOOD that can withstand extreme weather conditions. Make sure you have pit-zips and if you are using an old jacket, re-waterproof it. PacLite® is preferred for lightweight.

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      • Marmot ROM softshell jacket

        While this item isn’t required, we know that those who don’t have one wish they did! More breathable than Gore-tex, these jackets block wind and light precipitation.

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      • Patagonia Nanopuff jacket

        Warmer than your expedition weight top, but not as extreme as your big puffy jacket. Full zip is recommended.

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      • Patagonia R1 hoody

        A poly-pro mid-layer that you will wear often. Fitted, light-weight and quick drying. Make sure it is long enough to tuck-in and we recommend zipper collars for more ventilation.

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      • Patagonia tropic comfort hoody

        This lite weight hoody has become a guide favorite for almost every day spent in the mountains. This layer can be worn on hot or cold days, and shields you from the sun during long hours spent outside.

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      • Icebreaker Tech Lite shirt

        Light base layer that effectively wicks moisture away from your body and is breathable. Quick-dry is important as well. One light colored shirt is recommended for extremely sunny days.  We have found that merino wool is the superior material for base layers, as they regulate body temperature very well, and are extremely odor resistant.

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      • Lower Body

      • Arc'teryx Atom LT insulated pants

        Full-length side zippers are recommended, for throwing on top of all of your layers.

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      • Marmot Minimalist Pant

        Your waterproof bottom layer for extreme weather days. Make sure you have water-resistant zippers, crampon patches + good pockets.

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      • Marmot Scree Pant

        You will spend most of your days in these pants. Choose Schoeller® or a soft-shell equivalent. Breathable + water-resistant. These pants should have an ankle zip so they will accommodate your mountain boot.

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      • Patagonia expedition weight bottoms

        Fitted, light-weight and quick drying. The mid-weight will be a base-layer that will get you through a wide range of temperatures.

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      • Icebreaker long underwear

        Fitted, light-weight and quick drying. This base-layer will get you through a wide range of temperatures. NO COTTON.

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      • Patagonia Shorts

        Throw these on under other layers for when the sun begins to beat, or you have a sudden urge to jump in a glacial lake. Lightweight, durable and comfortable. NO COTTON.

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      • Equipment

      • Black Diamond HotWire Carabiner

        Lightweight, non-locking carabiner.

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      • Black Diamond VaporLock Screwgate Carabiner

        Lightweight, locking carabiner.

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      • Black Diamond ATC-XP belay device

        Light, easy to use + simple. Should have teeth/grooves for skinny ropes.

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      • Black Diamond Raven Ultra ice axe

        Non-technical ice tool, 50-60 cm long. Make sure axe has a comfortable hold, and is lightweight.

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      • Nalgene 1 liter water bottle

        Two Lexan 1 liter, wide mouth bottles.

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      • Black Diamond Trekking Poles

        Must be collapsible poles. Make sure that they are durable, lightweight + easily adjustable. You must have at least one, but we recommend 2.

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      • Black Diamond Serac crampon

        Steel crampons with anti-balling plates are required (so that snow does not build-up in the base of your foot). Make sure that crampons have a heel bail. * crampons are also available to rent at no charge from Alpenglow expeditions on a first come, first serve basis.

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      • Petzl Sitta harness

        Must have belay loop, gear loops and adjustable or stretchable leg loops so that you can layer up underneath it. Easy to pack, lightweight + comfortable. *Harnesses are also available to rent at no charge from Alpenglow expeditions on a first come, first serve basis.

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      • Black Diamond Spot Headlamp

        L.E.D. headlamps are required.. Make sure they have 3+ bulbs. Bring extra batteries. We highly recommend a tilting lamp.

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      • Marmot Col sleeping bag

        Rated to -20º F. Choose an 800+ Fill Premium Goose Down bag. Make certain that the sleeping bag is the right length. DON’T FORGET A COMPRESSION SACK FOR THE SLEEPING BAG. Many climbers also like a silk liner. Recommended: Granite Gear Compression Sack.

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      • Therm-a-rest NeoAir Therm sleeping pad

        72 inch long inflatable pad required. Make sure you also purchase and bring a repair kit + bag for the sleeping pad.

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      • Marmot Long Hauler Duffel

        These bags should be extremely durable, waterproof, and big! You should feel comfortable leaving it in a puddle for several hours. Remember dry clothes are hot commodities in the mountains! Large enough to fit everything you own, plus what you anticipate buying.

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      • Black Diamond Speed 50 pack

        Internal frame pack that is between 50 and 60 liters. This pack should be comfortable, lightweight and fitted to your body.

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      • Black Diamond Bullet pack

        A small pack for city days and trekking. Streamlined, neat and lightweight (10-20 liters). This pack is also great to use for your carry on luggage.

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      • Black Diamond Vapor Helmet

        Easily adjustable lightweight helmet that fits with hat and Balaclava. Make sure this is a climbing-specific helmet. *Climbing helmets are also available to rent at no charge from Alpenglow expeditions on a first come, first serve basis.

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    • Do I have enough experience for this trip?

      Yes! The Ecuador Climbing School is an entry level program, designed to teach you all the skills you need to begin your mountain climbing career. While you do need excellent general fitness, no climbing experience is necessary.

    • Will this trip give me the necessary experience to climb bigger, more challenging peaks?

      Yes! The primary goal of our climbing schools is to give our guests the needed skills and experience to tackle bigger objectives all over the world.

    • What is the longest day I can expect?

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

    • I don’t have all the required equipment. Do you rent gear?

      Yes, we provide the following gear at no charge for our climbing schools. Helmet, harness, crampons, ice axe, boots and carabiners/ cord. Please note- this equipment is available on a first come, first served basis, so please make your reservations early!

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

      For the Ecuador Climbing School, we utilize mountain huts while on Cayambe and Chimborazo, and we establish a camp while climbing Antisana. The huts feature heat, running water and electricity, and are strategically located near the glaciers.

    • I hear that there is a volcano erupting in Ecuador right now. Should I be concerned?

      Indeed, Cotopaxi has become active again. We have stopped climbing on that peak, and we are continuously monitoring the situation around the mountain. So far, there has been little to no impact on the mountains we are currently climbing, and we have been experiencing excellent climbing conditions. Safety is our primary concern, and If there is any doubt about the safety of the team, we will adjust our plans accordingly.

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

      We strongly recommend purchasing both types of insurance. 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 purchasing Travel Guard and Global Rescue. You can find links to both of these insurance companies by heading over to our Partners page.

Esteban “Topo” Mena

Topo’s formal name is Esteban Mena, but he goes by his nickname. Topo 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. 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
  • ASEGUIM
  • IVBV IFMGA UIAGM - Mountain Guide

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 certified mountain guide.

 

Guide Certifications
  • ASEGUIM

Logan Talbott

Director of Operations / mountain guide

Logan has been guiding professionally for over 10 years in the disciplines of Rock, Alpine and Ski Mountaineering. When not out guiding, Logan keeps things running smoothly as the director of operations at Alpenglow Expeditions. From one day ascents of El Capitan to big Alpine climbs in the Himalaya, from ski descents on Denali to backyard ski tours in Lake Tahoe, he can’t help but smile when out running around the hills. Logan is a fully certified AMGA/IFMGA mountain guide, an Avalanche course leader with AIARE, as well as a wilderness EMT. In addition to guiding, Logan has extensive experience in mountain rescue, having worked for rescue teams in both Yosemite and Denali National Parks, and volunteering locally for Tahoe Nordic SAR. When not out in the hills, he lives in Truckee, CA with his lovely wife Lynette and spotted dog Arlo.

Guide Certifications
  • AMGA - American Mountain Guide
  • IVBV IFMGA UIAGM - Mountain Guide

Zeb Blais

From bushwhacking miles of Manzanita in ski boots to traversing huge glaciers in exotic ranges, adventure draws Zeb in. Originally from Vermont, Zeb has been hooked on big mountains since his first ski tour in Jackson Hole and has pursued skiing, climbing and exploring ever since. Zeb has climbed and guided in the Himalaya, Alaska, Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador and Asia among others and he’s working hard to keep that list growing. Working as a mountain guide allows Zeb to share his passion for human powered movement in the mountains and to pass along what he’s learned along the way.

Zeb has successfully guided Mt Everest [29,029′], Mt Cho Oyu [26,906′] including a ski descent from the summit, Lobuche East [20,075′],  and four expeditions on Denali [20,320’], including a ski descent from the summit. He has completed 64 summits of Mount Rainier [14,410’]. Additional credentials include 12 summits of Mount Shasta [14,179’]; 5 summits of Mount Shuksan [9,100’]; 3 summits via Mount Baker [10,678’], including one ski descent from the summit, and two ski descents via the North Ridge; 2 summits of Aconcagua [22,841’]; 1 summit of Cotopaxi and 1 summit of Cayabme; 2 summits of Ixtacihuatl in Mexico; 3 summits of Orizaba in Mexico, including a ski descent from the summit; and numerous rock, alpine and ski summits from the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, Coast ranges and Rockies.

Zeb is an AMGA certified ski guide.

Guide Certifications
  • AMGA Certified Ski Guide

Gaspar Navarrete

Gaspar Navarrete

ASEGUIM Certified Mountain Guide

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.

Guide Certifications
  • ASEGUIM
  • IVBV IFMGA UIAGM - Mountain Guide

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    Ecuador Climbing School