Climbing the Pichincha Volcano in Quito, Ecuador

Quito

The city of Quito is the government and cultural capital of Ecuador. It is located smack in the middle of the Andes Mountains and was built over the remains of an Ancient Inca city. It is the perfect base for the outdoor junkie with its nearby volcanoes, rivers, and miles and miles of mountain ranges.

It was the first city in the world to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Spanish colonized the area in the 1500’s after strong resistance from the Inca. Much of the city’s colonial era architecture is still intact after being built in 1534, when it was rebuilt after the Inca General Rumiñahui  burned the city to the ground in refusal to surrender it to the Spanish.

For hikers and climbers the surrounding ranges are not only amazing, but can offer quite a challenge.

Quito

The TeleferiQo –

One of the city’s main nearby attractions is the TeleferiQo, a cable care that ascends the from the base of 9, 515 feet (2,900 meters) to the top of 13, 450 feet (4,100 meters).  At the top you can find a café and restaurants, where you can chill out and try the local drink Canelaz0, a warm alcoholic drink that is drunk in the High Andes.

Cost: $8.50 round trip for foreigners and $4.75 with Ecuadorian ID or visa

Hours: Monday – Friday 9:00- 18:00 & Saturday -Sunday 9:00 – 20:00

How to Get There: Taxis are very affordable in Quito with a 15 minute taxi ride usually costing around $2. Just say the “Teleferico” and they will know where you mean.

Climb the Pichincha Volcano-

For the more adventurous types a big attraction is to climb the Ruca Pichincha Volcano peak at 15,696 feet (4,784 meters) . Before continuing here is a few warnings –

  • Difficulty: The climb is not as easy as it looks. There is a trail, but many times it is wet and eroding and the last bit to the peak requires minor rock climbing skills.
  • Altitude: The altitude will destroy you if you do not acclimate first. Do not jump into the climb your first few days or two in the Andes. For us locals we can still get the headaches, light-headed, and the feeling that you can’t catch your breathe. Expect your climb to move slow as your body needs rest due to lack of oxygen.
  • Weather: You can have four seasons in an hour. We have done this climb where we started it with sunny clear skies and within an hour we had rain that turned into hail and back to sunshine.
  • Duration: It will take you about 3-5 hours to reach the peak and quicker coming back down. Start early, because like clockwork the clouds and weather begin to move in during the late afternoon hours.
pichincha-volcano

View from the trail.

We started our climb late around 11: 00 am which is not advised. From the Teleferico the trail is obvious and you can usually just follow the crowds.

We traveled light with a small backpack with water and lunch. As we began our hike upwards we began noticing that most people were heading in the other direction as they started early in the morning. The people passing seemed to be a mix of nationalities, Germans, Venezuelans, US school students etc.

The higher you climb the more amazing the views become. The back side of the mountain range consists of steep drops of high grass fields and blooming Andes flowers. We spotted a few rabbits that scurried through the grass and a variety of birds.

As you enter the backside of the mountain the terrain turns more into cliffs. Here is where the trail becomes a bit hairy. There is some rock erosion, so watch your footing. Next comes a steep sandy incline. At this point even locals will begin to feel the altitude. What was once 20 steps and pause now becomes 5 and pause to catch your breath. This seemed to be the point where most people were dropping out. We had a chat with a Ukrainian fellow that told us to tell his climbing partner that had gone ahead that he would be waiting in that spot. He explained that it was his second day in Quito which again is not recommended due to acclimatization time needed to climb.

last-climb

The sandy incline.

The last bit of the climb is on a rocky peak. This is literally a climb with your arms and legs. It is not a difficult climb, but made us nervous as we were dizzy from the altitude and the stunning view and the cliffs on either side reminded us why we definitely didn’t want to trip up. As we finally climbed onto the small flat peak we realized we were the only ones there (one benefit of being late). We sat down and enjoyed the view just as the fog rolled in and enveloped the peak. Surrounded by fog we felt as if we were floating in the clouds. All we could see was the ground of the small peak and the edge into nothing. An ominous bird floated above us keeping an eye out for dinner. We decided to eat lunch, but soon gave up finding out how hard it is to eat when you can hardly breathe.

peak

The peak with the fog.

As we descended we realized why we should have come earlier. Climbing down a rocky peak when you can’t see the route ahead, enhances the adrenaline of the experience a bit. We were relieved when we finally got back to the trail. Thunderstorms and lightning moved in as we followed the trail back. It was definitely an experience being in the clouds during the storm.

Overall,  the climb up was quite peaceful and had great views. The fog and thunderstorms could have destroyed our journey, but for us it made it more of an adventure and a challenge. Facing the powerful Andes and what they could throw at us. It is definitely a great beginners climb for those that would like conquer more difficult mountains in the future.

Gear to bring-

  • Water for the day
  • Lunch
  • Raingear
  • Backpack
  • Flashlight
  • Good hiking boots
  • Cell phone in case of emergency
  • Sunscreen – You will burn within in minutes
  • Chocolate and/or Coca-leaves for the altitude symptoms
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