Thursday, January 6, 2011

Succesful Guagua Pichincha Summit

After the early defeats, it feels great to make some summits! Tuesday evening, after the successful Rucu summit, I met Paulo Roberto, aka Parofes. He is a very famous Brazilian climber, know for his solo climbs on many of Latin America's highest and hardest peaks. He had just returned from an unsuccessful attempt at Cotopaxi (the weather is shit there right now; snow, snow, and more snow). After that frustrating defeat, he was eager to get a summit. That night, we discussed options for climbing Guagua, about 20 km away from central Quito and is the partner mountain of Rucu. It is much harder to get to, requiring either a traverse from Rucu, which is a long day or more likely a two day affair, or a hike from nearby Lloa.

The next morning we awoke to gray skies. We ate breakfast before running down to the internet cafe, trying to find out what the weather had in store for us. On our way out, we met another American, Danni, and invited him along. The weather forecast did not look good, but we said to hell with it and decided we would try. Lo and behold, as we took a taxi to Lloa the clouds started to burn off. Traditionally, to do Guagua, you either hike from Lloa or take a 4W truck up the road to a parking lot at 4050m. We had planned on the hike, but it's a heck of one: over 6 hours with a 1800m elevation gain. However, when we got to Lloa our taxi driver offered to find out about the chance of us getting a ride up further, as we were short on time. We stop in the center of town in front of the police station and the taxi driver runs in. He comes out in about 3 minutes with a man in a nice suit, who is introduced as 'el jefe de la policia,' or the chief of police. After introductions, he immediately begins bargaining with us for a ride up the road! A few moments later and its agreed, and off we go! We get up to about 3800m before a landslide blocked the road, forcing us out of the car.

We hiked along the road, all making good pace. Parofes was taking his time, enjoying the view (clouds had cleared up and we were getting great views of the valley around us) while Danni and I kept a strong and steady pace. We quickly made it to the parking lot and then on to the refuge, following the switchback road. The refuge sits at 4550m, and from there we had two options: follow the easy, clear trail to the left up to the crater's rim before following the rim to the summit, or traverse the base of the summit pyramid and then follow scree up. We opted for the later, working our way up along the fresh snow that was sporadically present. We reached a ridge line and then quickly followed that to the summit. The summit push was 30 degree hike, nothing too serious. The summit was awesome, marked by a large pillar that, when held, allowed to lean over the lip of the crater and peer down into the active volcano. Unfortunately, we could only see steam and fog, but we sure smelled the sulfur! Time to summit, 3850m to 4776m: 2 hours even.

We were joined at the summit by three Spaniards, seen below traversing the rim.

Notes on Guagua: Equipment was insufficient; very cold and windy at summit. In addition to base, thin soft shell, and hard shell, thicker soft shell was needed. Clear path to refuge, and from refuge to rim. If taking traverse, follow higher where scree is more stable. Avoid the direct path up the scree, as this is the descent path and is very tiring to try to hike up. No altitude effects. Drank 1 L of H20. Boots were still damp at start, but dried quickly.

Photos shared with permission from Paulo Roberto, aka Parofes. See more at

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