Friday, October 28, 2011
After an hour and a half I got to the head of the valley, where it closed into a rocky defile with a waterfall. This was the way through. Good thing I'm a skinny dude with a small pack.
Above, the valley opened back up. Now I was at about 12,500'. The actual Inca Trail, remains of the Incas' road from Cusco to Quito, followed on contour about halfway up the mountain on the right. I followed cowpaths in the dell below and met up with the real trail a few miles farther along, near the mountain you can see in the distance.
At the valley head there was a small lake with beautiful red algae (pictures didn't come out well; I wished I had John Warner's talent) where I got water. Then the trail climbed up to this saddle, complete with cairn.
From there it climbed to a ridge at about 14,500' with stunning views on both sides and a fierce wind from the east.
The clouds spit a bit as I hiked, but never properly rained until late in the night. By that time I was camped in a little sheltered bowl on the side of the mountain. It was freezing cold. The rain froze into a sheet on my tarp, but I stayed warm enough in my super-lightweight sleeping bag to sleep through most of the night, barely. I can attest that sleeping in cold weather at high altitude makes for some crazy dreams.
The view from my camping spot in the morning. The sun couldn't arrive fast enough! The lake in the distance was called Little Serpents.
Soon after hiking past Little Serpents Lake I arrived at these Incan ruins. The stonework looks ramshackle compared to the famous photos of Macchu Picchu, but inside there were beautifully crafted niches in the walls for storing what-have-you.
Soon after this photo it started to rain again and I put away the camera. I hiked for about three hours in the rain, through more páramo (moors), past ingenious acequias (aqueducts dug into hillsides), and then on dirt roads through a lightly settled area until I finally arrived at the ruins of Ingapirca, totally spent. 40 km in two days at high altitude with one bad night of sleep = serious fatigue. The ruins cost $6, it was still raining, and there was a bus leaving for Cuenca immediately, so for me the choice was obvious: time to be a bad tourist yet again. I skipped the ruins, catching only a glimpse through the bus window as it pulled out, bound for a hot shower and a bed.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Patricio. Not addled.
Once again, looking far more put-together than I felt, although my eyes do show a bit of the desperation that distracted me from appreciating the stunning sunrise. That lump in the background is the true summit, where the previous two pictures were taken.
The start of the way back down. Looks like the end of the world, doesn't it? Our route led straight down this drop-off and eventually we ended up on the tiny ridge you can see, about 2,500' or 3,000' down. Patricio's advice: "walk normally." Right. Note the mountain's shadow.
Chimborazo was a worthwhile sojourn into mountaineering, but in the end I think I'll stick to rock climbing, hiking, and other less masochistic pursuits.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
The mountain on the right was my objective. The left one is Iliniza Sur, possible only with crampons and an ice axe.
Is morning alpenglow also called alpenglow?
I was up on the páramo by this point, after 2 or so hours of hiking. The route up Iliniza norte follows its left (southeast) ridge. The descent is down the orangey loose stuff in the middle.
I made it to the refugio in 3 1/2 hours, despite the estimates I'd read that it should take 5-7. And I'd caught up with the Europeans! I was assured a ride down. I rested for a while, chatting with the refugio caretaker, who works 8 days on the mountain, 8 days off. Hiking and cell phone games are his antidote to boredom.
The Europeans and their guide making their way along the ridge. I eventually passed them, and then had trouble finding the route. I ended up climbing up the north side too early, past several pitons, knowing it was way too steep to be the proper trail. But I never left my comfort zone. Nor did the altitude make me headachey or dizzy. I was just plain having a blast.
I had the summit, marked by this doodad-bedizened cross, to myself for a half hour or so. There couldn't have been better weather for this hike. Clear views in all directions except the west, where a layer of cloud several thousand feet below obscured the forests on their way to the Pacific. The snow peaks of Cayambe, Antisana, Cotopaxi, and Chimborazo were all crisply visible, not to mention Iliniza Sur right in my face. This last view reminded me of surmising Hozomeen from Desolation Peak in the North Cascades.
Seen behind this perky little fellow is the trail down from the summit.
Monday, October 17, 2011
The bus driver let me off at an intersection and pointed me in the right direction. I walked a few kilometers and then caught a couple of brief rides through country that looks like this.
Eventually I got to this town, called Mariscal Sucre. A lady sold me three bananas and a bottle of water. They were head and shoulders above any bananas I'd ever had, simply the best. She said the guide for the reserve, José, lived up the hill a bit. I walked on and found his house, but he'd already gone up to the reserve. However, his friend Antonio helped me find a ride on the back of a motorcycle farther up the mountain. The driver was José's nephew Carlos.
This is José (picture taken the next day).
After 5 km of jolting along cobblestone roads, Carlos stopped the motorcycle and pointed the way up a trail. I soon found myself in cloud forest enshrouded in mist. After a half mile or so José appeared out of nowhere and declared himself a kidnapper before giving me a warm handshake. The jokester. I liked him right off the bat, as soon as I knew he wasn't really going to kidnap me.
The house was a funky structure with plenty of bunks and blankets. Besides José there was Rocia, the cook; Nina, a lovelorn Finnish volunteer who was relieved to speak English with someone; two law students from Quito; the dog Beethoven; and a cat. Rocia's dinner was delicious, and afterwards José and the two students taught me the card game of cuarenta.
The next morning I donned a pair of borrowed rubber boots and charged up the mountain with Beethoven as hiking partner.
The cloud forest was spooky and beautiful, with tons of Guandera trees, with roots that grow from the upper branches, and myriad epiphytes.
After an hour and a half or so, having climbed from 10,800' to 12,500', we suddenly popped out into the open páramo.
There were frailejone plants as far as the eye could see (which wasn't all that far, because of the clouds).
I don't know very much about the páramo, but apparently it is a delicate high-altitude type of landscape that provides most of the water for urban areas in the Andes.
It was great to have an enthusiastic hiking partner. And I was pleased with how well my lungs and legs did up to 12,500'! That's the highest I've ever been!
After getting back down I showered, ate another delicious meal cooked by Rocia, walked back down the mountain, and hitchhiked to Quito. What a day!