ecuador 2010


Volcano Mountaineering
Nov. 11-24, 2010

click on photos to enlarge

Our group of four climbers and two trekkers supported by two Ecuadorian guides enjoyed a fourteen day, custom mountaineering trip to the high volcanoes surrounding the Andean Equator in November of 2010.

Ecuador is an internationally popular area for climbers and trekkers, with most climbers visiting here from June to August when the majority of the developed world take their summer vacation. I’ve always preferred the quieter ‘off-season’ of Nov.-March when the mountains are more serene in this ‘eternal springtime’ environment.

Ecuador is a great place to experience South America’s best high altitude volcano climbing in an often demanding climate that make for great mountaineering challenges.



images-stories-ecuador10-Ecuador10-eli_trail_break Eli breaking trail through a foot of fresh snow on our near ascent of Cotopaxi- Ecuador’s second highest volcano at 19,347′. We reached a height of 19,150′ but turned back due to quickly warming snow causing higher avalanche risk.



The toe of the Cayambe Glacier has receded dramatically in the last decade and we crossed a recent rockfall path and ascended on mud-covered ice to the bare ice high up the hill. Serac danger made this a minimal warm-up for our ascent of Cayambe.

Enjoying a hot lunch in the comfortable and spacious Cayambe Hut at 15k. Eli spent his 103rd night in this ‘home away from home’ at the highest point on the Equator in the world.

Alejo, Debbie, David, and Dave checking-out the toe of the Cayambe Glacier, only meters away from the Equatorial Line.

images-stories-ecuador10-Ecuador10-img_1827_1Cobblestone roads through verdant farmland flank the approach to the volcano Cotopaxi.

The summit slopes of Rucu Pichincha (15, 413′) hover over the capital city of Quito, with an airy 3rd class scramble required to reach the lofty summit.



The quickly disintegrating toe of the Cayambe Glacier nearby the Refugio.
Debbie and Dave on the summit plateau of Cayambe with the base of Cotopaxi showing below the clouds in the distance.


Dianne and Dave approaching the summit of Cayambe as the clouds lift following an intense blizzard that turned back the other dozen guided climbers on the mountain this day.


The only summitters on Cayambe on a cloud-filled day climbing along the Equator.



Wild horses graze the paramo between Cotopaxi and the rocky old volcano Ruminahui (15,489′).


images-stories-ecuador10-Ecuador10-img_1938_1Alejo on the short approach to the climbing crag Sigsipamba, a recently developed crag just 30 minutes east of Quito in a pastoral setting.


A patriotic street in a restored section of Old Town Quito.
The main Sigsipamba crag with approx. 40 routes from 5.9-5.13 on a 30m tall x 150m wide cliff band.


The gold covered interior of the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus in Old Town Quito with approx. 220# of this precious metal thinly spread throughout the interior.

images-stories-ecuador10-Ecuador10-img_1883_1Street art in Old Town Quito.



The front door to the 42o yr. old Hacienda La Cienega nearby the entrance to Cotopaxi National Park.


Driving across the Paramo after visiting a pre-Incan hilltop settlement from the 14-15th century.


Colorful flowers in the gardens of the La Cienega Hosteria near Machachi.


The interior of La Cienega.



Off the road lunch at the straw bale restaurant La Matilde, nearby Cotopaxi National Park.



Traversing between crevasses on Cotopaxi. New snow and stormy conditions turned around many strong teams on our second attempt on Cotopaxi- with careful analyzation of the snowpack and an ability to climb through stormy conditions, our team reached the highest point on the mountain in many weeks.



Dave checking out the Cotopaxi Glacier and icefall at the base of the Anasachi Headwall. New snow and thick clouds made for challenging conditions that turned around more than 40 climbers, leaving our team alone high on the mountain breaking trail to the summit. We came up 60m short this time but with a solid effort and interesting climbing for all involved.

The menu of the day outside the entrance to the restaurant La Matilde.


Another amazing pre-climb lunch at La Matilde; spinach wrapped mashed potatoes and steak with a ‘salsa de cafe’ washed down with a bit of sugarcane punta and a club cerveza.


The fruit and pie selection at La Matilde.




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.


Alejo and Debbie descending from our highpoint on Cotopaxi as the storm clouds return to the mountain.


Debbie and Alejo weaving through ice cliffs on our descent of Cotopaxi.


A covering of new snow made for more exciting crevasse crossings as it was enough to cover many holes but not necessarily enough to hold bodyweight in many places. We stayed spread out approx. 12m apart with tight ropes for most of the day on the Cotopaxi Glacier.




Dave checking out the ladder that once covered a crevasse higher up Cotopaxi but now makes for an interesting sight being spit out of an ice cliff.



Hiking up from El Diablo waterfalls below Banos in the Pastaza River Canyon.


Alejo downclimbing the steepest section of the Anasachi Headwall just below where we turned around due to sudden sun heating of the snowpack and the threat of large, sloughing avalanches. We descended before any avalanches occurred.
An icicle covered ice cliff below the summit of Cotopaxi.


Alejo getting in a final burn at the Zoologico Vertical in Banos, Ecuador.
We plan to return in 2011 to replace some of the few bolts that were not stainless steel and to add another half dozen routes to one of Ecuador’s better rock climbing areas.

A big breakfast at the hostal El Higueron where we relaxed after our second attempt on Cotopaxi.

A perspective on the Zoologico Vertical, a sport climbing area that I established from’95-’97 at the entrance to the Pastaza Gorge on a 300′ vertical wall of river polished basalt.


Alejo on the Bat Crack (11a)- a route that I FA’d in ’97 via solo aid climbing then later free’d.

The volcano Tungurahua which sits above Banos and which started erupting again on our second night in town. We caught this view on the way out of town of the ash and pumice eruption taking place.



Eli Helmuth of ClimbingLife Guides is returning to the volcanoes of Ecuador in November and December of 2011 with trips to all of the significant volcanoes including: Rucu Pichincha, Illiniza Sur, 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 type experience.

Eli has been guiding annually in Ecuador since 1994 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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