We left the city in the summer heat and headed towards the Cayambe Volcano, distant; but, visible.
There are 61 volcanoes in Ecuador, a country the size of Colorado, USA. Eight of them have erupted since the Spanish arrived in 1532. Cayambe is one, having erupted in 1785. Others make the news annually.
Having climbed to the snow line on Cotopaxi (4500 meters, 14,763 feet) and descended into the Quilotoa Volcano, I was eager to go to the refuge on Cayambe ( 4600 meters, 15,091 feet) and climb higher if I could.
The highway to the town of Cayambe was in very good condition, and the traffic was light, despite it being a Saturday.
Immediately on leaving the town, we started to climb. We would continue to do so for the next 20 km, passing large stands of eucalyptus trees that filled the air with their medicinal scent; past potato fields on steep hillsides and small, impoverished farms.
The landscape was virtually treeless, bearing dry grasses and spotted only with an occasional small bush. Rocks became boulders bigger than houses; and, as we continued toward our objective, the foothills became towering, ragged cliffs.
The bad, stone filled and compressed road was loaded with potholes that could swallow a small car and became increasingly narrow. It became a trail, littered with rocks the size of basket balls. Our driver slowly and skillfully maneuvered her large, high bodied, Ford pickup
truck through maze after treacherous maze. Without such a large, powerful, four wheel drive vehicle, getting to the refuge would have been impossible. We passed abandoned vehicles whose passengers proceeded on foot. Meeting oncoming vehicles was, indeed, a challenge. One or the other had to wait at or back up to the widest possible space. At that, one would have wheels at the edge of a long drop.
Finally, reaching the shelter, built in 1994 by a mountaineering group, we were at 4600 meters (15,091 feet) altitude. Originally at the snow line, that was now a short hike away.
We didn’t waste time beginning our ascent of the nearest rock formation. Despite living in the Andes Mountains, accustomed to breathing oxygen deprived air, we tired easily and had to stop frequently to catch our breath. The climb was rough and difficult; moving, at times, on all fours in an effort to continue forward, upward movement. Having reached about 4,700 meters (15,419 feet), we turned and descended to the area of the shelter to recover and admire the view.
The top of the volcano was originally hidden by white clouds, making it difficult to distinguish cloud from snow. About an hour after our arrival, the sun broke through, and the summit was brilliant white.
A deep, wide valley originated near the bottom of the highest part of the mountain and passed directly below the refuge.
Freshly melted snow produced a steady stream downward and along the valley floor. A cold wind blew moisture, producing the arc of a rainbow” beneath us. We estimated that, from our location, we could see about 100 km ( 62 miles) distant.
The building was constructed from the surrounding rock. Visible when at ground level around it; it was almost invisible from above. Inside, were a little kitchen for heating water and boiling corn, chocolo, a local favourite, and several bench, picnic, style tables. There was also a unisex washroom with three stalls and a unisex dormitory filled with bunk beds.(Serious climbers, not us.)
Serious climbers rest early in the evening and, in full climbing gear, boots, helmets and pick axes, would set out at 2 AM to reach the summit shortly after 6 AM; returning later in the day.
After snacking on boiled corn and dried biscuits, and with mission accomplished, we made the long, treacherous trip to the town and then home to Quito.
Next, to climb the volcano that reaches the point farthest from the centre of the earth and closest to the sun, Chimborazo ???
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