Ecuador Volcanoes 2009

Andean Volcano Mountaineering

Nov. 9-19, 2009

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We enjoyed a ten day, custom mountaineering trip to the extraordinary volcanoes surrounding the Andean Equator in November of 2009.  Ecuador is an internationally popular area for climbers and trekkers, with most climbers visiting  here from November to February when the weather is considered most dry in this often cloudy, rainy, and very green landscape. This is a comfortable environment to experience South America’s greatest high altitude volcano climbing, for the beginner to advanced alpinist.


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Volcan Cayambe (18,996′) was our acclimatization peak and although we did not go for the summit on this trip, these large equatorial glaciers served as a great training ground and our climb to 17.5k helped immensely with preparation for later climbs.

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The slopes leading to the summit of the dormant volcano Rucu Pichincha (15,413′); our first acclimatization climb which involved a 2.4k elevation gain from the top of the tram, and includes 3rd class climbing to gain this striking summit above Quito.


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The Teleferiqo (tram) in Quito is just five years old and makes for a nice, easy ride from 10k-13k  to the start of our climb of Rucu Pichincha.
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These colorful club moss (lycopodium crassum) dot the slopes high on Rucu Pichincha.


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Climbing up the slopes of Pichincha on the Teleferiqo above the modern and pre-colonial capital city of Quito, with a population of approx. 1.5 million inhabitants.

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The grass covered ridge which traverses from the top of the tram to the summit ridge of Rucu, offering excellent views of the Quito plateau.

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Steve climbing the final slopes to the summit spire finish of Rucu Pichincha- an 8 hr. round trip from our hotel in Quito.rucu pichincha ecuador
Steve traversing a rocky slope on the way to the summit of Rucu Pichincha.

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Volcan Cayambe (18,996′)  shining in the morning sun on a rare cloudless day  on the equator.

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The lower glacier on the south face of  Cayambe.  Although this glacier has receded significantly in the last 16 years that I have been climbing in Ecuador, it is still a perfect training ground for practicing cramponing on glacial ice.
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A cloudy sunset on Cayambe.

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Steve on the final approach to the upper entrance to the Cayambe glacier.

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Steve descending from the upper Cayambe glacier on 2nd and 3rd class terrain that rises from 15k for 600′ to the glacier entrance.


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Looking south from Cayambe with the volcanoes Cotopaxi (19,347′) and Chimborazo (20,565′) rising  above the Altiplano.
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The lower glacial slopes of Cayambe, with the equatorial line running across these slopes to make this the only glacier that sits on the equator.bouldering cayambe ecuador
Eli enjoying some outstanding bouldering at 15k, just a few minutes from the Cayambe hut.ecuador landscape ecuador
Looking east towards the Amazon Basin from the slopes of Cayambe.  Weather moves from east to west at these latitudes and so we were constantly looking towards the Amazon to see what kind of weather might be coming our way.

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An interesting alpine plant; Equisetum, on the slopes of Cayambe.

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Steve on the final scramble to the Cayambe Glacier.

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Steve near our high point at 17.5k on the Cayambe Glacier.

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Taking a break on the lower, dry (not snow covered) glacier on the south face of Cayambe.

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Enjoying the Tambopaxi hut, with a photo of one of the outbuildings and Cotopaxi on a clear day, rising 5k above the hut and the surrounding Altiplano landscape.
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One of the lodges on the Tambopaxi grounds.  This one has five private rooms with attached bathrooms and a communal sitting area.tambopaxi hut ecuador
Our driver and co-guide, IFMGA licensed mountain guide Alejo Lazzati and Steve enjoying a tasty meal of soup, grilled trout, and an incredible flan in the Tambopaxi lodge.

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The Tambopaxi huts are straw bale construction buildings- here the ‘truth window’ of the main hut is framed by a couple of decorative bottles.

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Steve finishing the final pack preparation before our departure from Tambopaxi to the trailhead where we started our climb to the Cotopaxi high hut.

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Alejo discussing conditions on the mountain with the manager of the Cotopaxi hut.  This comfortable hut is  situated at 15,800′ on the slopes of this large and somewhat active volcano.

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Looking south again from Cayambe with (L-R):  Antisana (18,874′), Chimborazo (furthest away) and Cotopaxi.  Including Cayambe, these are Ecuador’s four highest peaks.

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Hikers enjoying the views from the lower grass covered  slopes of Rucu Pichincha.

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Eli talking on Skype and doing a bit of Facebooking from the comfortable lobby of the Swissotel in downtown Quito, Ecuador.

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One of the many interesting alpine plants growing above 14k in Ecuador.  These ‘Bog Plants’ (plantago rigido) cover the ground in large groups on the sand covered slopes of these (some) active and dormant volcanoes.


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One of the many vases of roses decorating the lobby of the Swissotel, where we recuperated from our climbing days in Ecuador.  Roses are Ecuador’s third biggest export, following oil and bananas.

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A close-up of the icefall on the lower Cayambe Glacier.

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Eli enjoying some high quality bouldering above 15k on the lower slopes of Cayambe.


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The  north face of Cotopaxi ( 19,347′) mostly covered in clouds prior to our ascent on Nov. 18th, 2009.  We climbed through an all night snowstorm and with no more than 100′ visibility for our entire time on this, Ecuador’s most famous volcano.



Eli Helmuth of ClimbingLife Guides is returning to the volcanoes of Ecuador in October and November of 2010 with trips to all of the significant peaks including:  Rucu Pichincha, Illiniza Sur and Norte, Antisana, Cayambe, Cotopaxi, and Chimborazo.  Ten day and two week itineraries will offer both comfortable hotel, hacienda, and hut based lodging as well as tent-based climbing trips for those looking for a more wilderness based experience. Eli has 16 years of experience in Ecuador and he is one of the few Spanish speaking and knowledgeable U.S. based guides that specializes in climbing trips to this inspiring Andean country.

Please call with questions or to book your next backcountry skiing, mountaineering, or rock climbing trip:

970.744.4898 or contact us at:  This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


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ClimbingLife Guides is an authorized permittee of Rocky Mountain National Park, Eldorado Canyon State Park, Denali National Park, and the Boulder Mountain Open Space.

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