Ecuador's Guagua Pichincha (15,728 feet)

Where: Illiniza group, Ecuadorian Andes
When: January 2005
Partners: Eiji Sugi, Brett Coval & Thomas Slease

Hiking up Guagua Pichincha

In January 2005, I made my second stop in Ecuador. Joined by my buddy Eiji Sugi from Seattle and my new friends Brett Coval and Thomas Slease, we established a fun itinerary which included ascents of Guagua Pichincha (15,728 feet), Illiniza Norte (16,818 feet), Illiniza Sur (17,267 feet), Cotopaxi (19,347 feet) and Chimborazo, at 20,561 feet, the highest mountain in Ecuador and also the highest mountain in the world (if measuring from the center of the earth).

Setting up a ride out of Quito one morning, we were dumped off at the volcano's trailhead, where a government-run hut, staffed by a friendly guy in a bright orange suit who demanded a donation from us, was a lonely sign of something resembling civilization at 15,000 feet.

Paying our dues, we hiked up the scree-covered trail, making a couple switchbacks and passing over a few false peaks, until soon enough we found ourselves on the highest point. There, we could look down into the hyperactive crater (the volcano had its last major eruption only a few years earlier, coating the entire city of Quito, a city of 9 million people, in several inches of ash) and see it belching up ash and steam.

Unfortunately, a nasty sinus infection claimed me after our ascents of Guagua Pichincha and Illiniza Norte, and conditions thwarted an attempt at Illiniza Sur. Still, a wonderful trip to the country. Brett and Eiji went on to summit Cotopaxi and Eiji was able to summit Chimborazo.
Thomas, Eiji and CP on the summit

*Top photo courtesy of Eiji Sugi/Bottom photo by Brett Coval