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 Cayambe, the third tallest peak in Ecuador. Cayambe’s highest point is at 18,996 feet (5,790 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 Cayambe 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. 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.
We will then venture on to Otovalo and the Hacienda Pinsaqui. The journey takes you through the beautiful Mojanda volcanic lakes — a great place to stop, sightsee, and climb Fuya Fuya, which tops out at 14,000 feet (4,263 meters) in elevation. This extinct volcano offers exquisite views of the surrounding mountainside and provides for additional acclimatization. After a relaxing night at the historic Hacienda Pinsaqui, we will move up to the high refuge on Cayambe.
The refuge features excellent food, stunning mountain views, and continued altitude preparation. During our stay, we will discuss and practice climbing skills on Cayambe’s glacier. These skills include crampon and ice axe techniques, roped team travel, snow and ice anchor placement, and crevasse rescue. This education is vital for your development into a competent team member on the Cayambe mission and future expeditions.
Once we’ve mastered necessary skills, we will be ready to attempt an ascent of the mountain. We will begin our climb around midnight and complete the round-trip journey in about 7-12 hours. The views from the summit are absolutely stunning and encompass many of the surrounding volcanoes, as well as Cayambe itself.
Upon completion of our climb, we will head back down to Otavalo for some much needed rest and relaxation. Otavalo features one of the largest indigenous markets in South America on Saturdays. As this corresponds with the day of our return, there will be ample time to shop for friends back home and opportunities to experience local Otavalan culture. We will be based out of garden paradise accommodations provided by our gracious friends Frank and Margaret, making Otavalo an ideal location to rest and recover from our climb.
You have the option to head home after Otavalo. However, we encourage those who have the time to stay for summit attempts on the neighboring peaks of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. These climbs will allow you to build upon the foundation of your mountaineering knowledge. The Cotopaxi National Park encompasses Cotopaxi peak, standing at 19,347 feet (5,897 meters) in elevation. Like Cayambe, it is heavily glaciated. The climb is longer than Cayambe and complemented by an excellent icy training ground. This is ideal for increasing your familiarity with crampon and ice axe techniques.
The summit of Chimborazo reaches 20,703 feet (6,310 meters) in height, making it the tallest peak in Ecuador. It is considerably higher than any peak in North America. The altitude combined with technical challenges and a grueling summit day will put your skills to the ultimate test. An ascent of Chimborazo is the perfect conclusion to your trip and will adequately prepare you to climb other big mountains around the globe.
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 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.