Monday, January 3, 2011

A mini-epic?

This update covers Pichincha Rucu, New Years in Quito, and the mini-epic of Volcan Corazon.

I met up with a crew from SAE on Wednesday night for pub trivia. One of the other members there, Jim Spark, and I struck up a conversation and learned he was a seasoned climber. He has done Kiliminjaro, Aconcagua, Denali, Everest, and Cho Oyu, among many other mountains. After talking to him for about three hours, our team went on to win the trivia challenge!

The next morning I met up with two Americans, Dave and Jeb, and their Ecuadorian friend Belang. We went up these trolly carts on the city limits to Cruz Loma, the starting point for the ascent of Pichincha Rucu (4627m).

We bumped into Jim on his way back; he had just done what is supposed to be a 2 - 3 hour ascent in an hour and 19 minutes! We continued on our way but were forced to turn back from the summit base as clouds and rain moved in; Dave and Jeb's bags had been lost by the airline, so they didn't have any of their shells with them.

Though we were frustrated, we had a great time. Belang's mother invited me over for dinner at their house, were they were all staying, and cooked an awesome meal that put a great finish to the day.

The next day New Years eve, so I hung with Dave and Jeb while Belang visited family. We went into Old Town Quito and had a great time walking around and seeing the sites. We even got off onto some side streets, giving us the chance to see lots of Ecuadorians in their pre-festive shopping. Unfortunately, on the ride back we were pick-pocketed. Thankfully they only got both of our phones, but still it was frustrating. It was ironic because as we had gotten on the trolley, I told them: "If there is anywhere where you will be be pick-pocketed, it's going to be on this bus, so watch your stuff!" We did good till the last second, as we had to take our hands off our pockets to fight our way off the bus.

That night was another adventure in itself. Traditional New Years festivities in Quito are a bit unique as far as I've heard. They build effigies of people from the year past, and then the men dress up as the widows, dancing in the street begging for money for the effigies' funeral. Well low and behold, Belang gets Dave, Jeb, and I dressed up in some of her outfits and had us dance in the streets for money! It was a very... unique experience, but I don't think I will ever want to do something like that again! After we embarrassed ourselves, we went to SAE and enjoy bringing in the New Year with the other members. We played some games, ate grapes (another tradition), and then burned and jumped over the effigies. As this all wrapped up around 1 am, Jeb and Dave went home while Belang and I went out clubbing with some of her local friends. We had a good time, but I didn't get back to the hostal until 6 am. And then found someone else sleeping in my bed!

The next day I met a group of Canadians and spent the day around Quito with them. We had a good afternoon walking around the giant statue of the Virgin Mary overlooking Old Town. However, after a rough ride back to the hostal I started feeling very ill. A hot cup of tea, all of my climbing fleeces and base layers, and Motrin made the world feel alright though. Went out to dinner with the Canadians before an early bedtime.

Woke up the next morning at 6 am and met with Dave, Jeb, and Belang for our train to Aloasi. We arrived at about 10:15 am, intending on climbing Volcan Corazon (4788m) after leaving from the station, what is supposed to be a 9 - 11 hour hike. We left some stuff at the haciendo (farmhouse-style hotel) before starting our hike at 10:30 am, with the wind carrying the haciendo's owner's voice saying we were crazy to start so late in the day for the summit. Undeterred, we made great progress initially. We past the first landmark and followed a very rough dirt road higher and higher up the face. We took a short cut, following a direct route instead of some switch backs, but we lost time with a long lunch and recovery spell. We finally made it past the switch backs and then went cross-country through some underbrush to the mountain's saddle. At this point it was about 3:45 and we were concerned about night fall (regularly about 6:30), but we decided to push on. I used my trekking poles to mark the sand with arrows and stacked rocks, all meant to aid our descent. As we made it from the saddle to the actual summit pyramid, we found the climb increasingly difficult. We were on lots of harsh grade three and even some grade four for very short spells. Belang was hesitant at first, but she quickly grew to like the scrambling. At one point we were on the Eastern ridge, looking straight down a 200-300 m drop. We made our way aside from the ridge, not wanting the unnecessary exposure. While we bumped into two climbers at about 4:05 who said we were only an hour from the summit, by 4:30 we decided we had to turn back. The clouds were thickening, and we thought we had heard thunder. Not wanting to push our luck, we reached the second and last false summit (maybe 50 m below actual summit and 500 m horizontally away) before we turned back. The moment we started back, however, it began hailing. For most of the hail, it was very tiny stuff, only as large as the 'o' in this font. We worked our way down, luckly having no trouble following our markers out back. However, after about 20 min, as we got lower the hail turned to rain. We all had our hard shells on, but it was pretty rough going. After we got off the cross-country trail back to the road, we found the roads nothing more then a giant muddy slip and slide. At about 6:30 it finally grew too dark and we had to all put on our headlamps (I cannot stress enough how lucky we were to all have brought them, even though we all thought we'd be done by 4 or 5). We got back to the haciendo at 7:30 pm, 9 hours after our start and just caked in mud.

Though we were frustrated with our failure to summit, we were proud of our effort. We tried hard and failed for no fault of our own. Indeed, we could have pushed on for the summit, only 30 minutes away, but with the way the weather went, it could have been an even more dangerous descent. As is, we stripped at the haciendo, took warm showers (it never felt so good to put on clean, dry clothes), and had an AMAZING dinner. The haciendo served us a fixed menu, offering a course of cheese empanadas, a cauliflower/carrot soup with fried egg pieces (a real highlight), a selection of beef, pork, or chicken all served with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli (they made me a cheese omelet in place of the meats), and then some sort of bread cake. All in all, the best meal I've had in a long, long time. We then passed out!

After another great meal at the haciendo, we got a ride back to Quito. Before we left though, I found a snake in my boot! Not really though, it was just a scorpian in my clothes!

Rest and recovery is on the menu today, and maybe another stab by myself at Pinincha Rucu tomorrow?

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