Ecuador Climbing School

9 days in Ecuador / (Skill level: Introductory)

Price per person


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.


  • skill level


  • 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 Cotopaxi and Chimborazo, where you will be able to build on and test all of the training you’ve done leading up to here. Cotopaxi, 19,347 feet (5,897 meters), sits in the Cotopaxi National Park 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.


  • 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 Cotopaxi

      Any remaining Cayambe-only team members depart Quito for home. After breakfast, climbers staying on for the extension head up to the flanks of Cotopaxi and prepare for their climb in the coming days.

    • 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 Cotopaxi, Practice Rescue Skills

      We spend the morning scouting our route, and continuing to build advanced glacier travel and rescue skills low on Cotopaxi. 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 Cotopaxi. 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, 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.

    • 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 Cotopaxi, and we establish a camp while climbing Chimborazo. The huts feature heat, running water and electricity, and are strategically located near the glaciers.

    • 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. 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

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

Logan Talbott

director of operations / chief guide

Logan has been guiding professionally for over a decade 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 daughter Maggie.

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

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    Ecuador Climbing School