Success on Illiniza Norte (16,818 feet) & A No-Go on Illiniza Sur (17,267 feet)

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

Thomas and CP heading up Illiniza Norte

On a two week trip to Ecuador in January 2005, myself, Eiji Sugi, Brett Coval and Thomas Slease managed to climb a couple of big volcanos before a sinus infection did me in and the high altitude got the best of Thomas. My partners went on to great success.

After a warm-up hike up the high 15er, Guagua Pichincha, we received transport to the trailhead for the Illinizas, a pair of large volcanoes an hour or so outside of Quito. Sur, the higher of the Illinizas, is a glaciated peak that is known for horrible weather. Norte, slightly lower, is a more benign mountain...or usually is.
CP and Brett at Paso de la Muerte

Making the 3-hour hike up to the awful hut we'd sleep in, storm clouds moved in and the temperature dropped. Still, with fingers crossed that we'd be able to make an attempt at Illiniza Sur the next morning, we set out in the gloom to get onto the glacier and wand the route for the next morning's climb.

Leaving a few wands, we returned to the hut, which by now was full of local hikers, many of whom were women who got a thrill out of meeting the Americanos. They hung out for an hour, taking many pictures with us.

Eventually, we settled in to bed. But during the night, Eiji got up to pee and saw that several inches of snow had fallen and visibility was still poor. And when I woke up for the climb, I had a fever and sore throat and Thomas was in the grips of altitude sickness.

Still, we donned our packs and headed off...for Illiniza Norte, an easier climb.

Norte, as it turned out, was covered in snow by now and the normally trivial ascent featured quite a lot of exposed scrambling on snow-covered ledges, including the very exposed Paso de la Muerte, where a guided group ahead of us had fixed lines for safer passage.
Cotopaxi (19,347 feet), Ecuador's 2nd highest, in the distance

Despite not feeling well, Thomas and I both summited the peak, arriving under clearing skies and impressive views of Illiniza Sur to the south. It wasn't long before we decided to head down, bail on Sur, and return to a warm bed so that I might heal up and be ready for Cotopaxi in a couple days.

It wasn't to be...

*Photos courtesy of Eiji Sugi