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Ecuador November 2011 Private Expedition Report

with ascents of:

Rucu Pichincha (15,340′) & Antisana (18,875′)

Steve Klein
w/ Eli Helmuth and Alejo Lazzati of ClimbingLife Guides
and support by Mateo Madrinan.

Eli is returning to Quito on Dec. 3rd, 2011 with Alejo and a small group of climbers to attempt a few of the more challenging volcanoes. Our 10 day itinerary will focus on climbs of Rucu Pichincha, Antisana, and Chimborazo.  

This itinerary will include hotel, tent, and hut lodging as we tour with Eli and Alejo across the central Andes between the cities of Quito and Banos.  Our team’s  biggest goal will be an ascent of Chimborazo, the furthest point from the center of the earth and an elusive 20,565′ summit.

We have space for one more climber if you are qualified and interested in this itinerary, contact us: and check-out the trip information at ClimbingLife Guides.    It’s not too late to explore the Andes this year with a competent climbing team and two of the most experienced Ecuadorian guides.



ecuador andes climbing

Steve acclimatizing on the east ridge of Rucu Pichincha, accessed from the telepherico which rises from 10,200 to 13,000′ to make an easy approach for this one-day climb.
ecuador alpine climbing
Rucu Pichincha as viewed from the Bellavista area of Quito. The normal route to the summit traverses the ridge at left then skirts below the summit at right (north) to gain the light colored  sandy slopes cascading down from left to right from the rocky summit.

ecuador mountain climbing

Steve on third class terrain, just 30m below the summit of Rucu.
mountain climbing ecuador

Rising up the Telepherico from basecamp in our hotel in nearby (15 minutes) downtown Quito.


ecuador mountain climbing
A close-up of the paramo grasses which cover much of the landscape above 13,000′ in the highlands of Ecuador.


ecuador mountain climbing

Volcan Cayambe, just 40 miles to the northeast as viewed from Rucu Pichincha.


andean alpine flowers
Blooming chuquiraga flowers (flower of the Andes) on the slopes of the Pichinchas.


ecuador mountain climbing

A portrait by Eduardo Guayasamin, South America’s most prestigious painter and the creator of the Capilla de Hombre in Quito.


andean alpine plants
Strange club moss (lycopodium crassum) alpine plants that thrive between 13 – 15,000′ in the alpine tundra of the tropics.


antisana volcano climb

Heading up to Antisana basecamp  (14,800′) for a week in our fully loaded Toyota Landscruiser.

antisana basecamp
The pristine basecamp at 15,000′ for Antisana, the fourth highest volcano in Ecuador and the least climbed due to lack of huts and regularly climbed routes.

cotopaxi volcano

The view from basecamp of nearby Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes on the planet at 19,347′ in elevation.

antisana volcano basecamp

As the route to the central summit on Antisana had not been climbed in months, Alejo and Eli started moving equipment to high camp immediately upon our arrival and then climbed the peak on our first morning in basecamp to both find the route, assess the crevasse and avalanche risks, and mark the path for our second ascent with Steve.


antisana basecamp ecuador
Alejo ferrying loads out of basecamp to our higher camp at 16,200′.

antisana glacier
Alejo cruising up the dry glacier snout on our way to the summit on our first morning in basecamp.  Cotopaxi volcano, just 20 miles to the south, rises above the paramo.


antisana summit

The Central and South summits (L-R) of Antisana on the morning of our second day in basecamp.

Our route up the mountain roughly followed the moraine crest at right to the snout of the dry glacier, up to near the saddle of the two peaks, and then left to gain the south ridge of the central summit.  Alejo and Eli made this climb from basecamp in 5 hrs to the summit while taking time to find the route, mark hazards, enter gps waypoints, and dig-out a high camp above the firn line of the glacier.

Although the route is very climbable from basecamp, we chose to make a higher camp to increase Steve’s acclimatization and potential for summiting, which paid-off with a smooth summit day despite almost white-out conditions causing low visibility.


antisana mountain climbing

antisana mountain climbing
Alejo and Eli had been on Antisana many times over the last few decades and this was by far the best weather either of us had ever experienced on this often cloud covered volcano.  The technical, multi-pitch ice routes to the south summit and the easiest line up the central summit were all in perfect neve and alpine ice conditions.  Eli spent a total of a month in Ecuador and with only one day of rain in this time, it was an ideal moon for alpine climbing.

cotopaxi volcano

cotopaxi volcano
Two views of Cotopaxi from highcamp on Antisana- the regular routes on this most climbed peak in Ecuador roughly follows the right-hand skyline.


antisana high camp

ice climbing ecuador
Highcamp at 16,000′ was chosen for it’s protection from seracs high on the peak.  Being protected from the potential winds was a bonus and the adjacent ice climbing a huge perk for training and acclimatizing in camp.


antisana high camp

high camp ice climbing antisana
Alejo in the kitchen/bedroom/office space at high camp and Eli enjoying some ice cragging at 16k.


antisana summit
The view from high camp of the central summit of Antisana at sunset.


crevasse antisana volcano

alejo lazzati antisana
(L) A large crevasse with an ash layer showing black about 15m below the surface, likely the result of the most recent eruptions of Guagua Pichincha in 2001.

(R)  Alejo leading the way around the ice cliffs and seracs that guard the central summit plateau.


antisana mountain climbing

eli helmuth antisana
(L) Alejo cresting a ridge with a recently released D2, R2-3 slab on a ridge of the south summit, above an unsupported slope.   (R) 30-50cm slab release (new snow and wind) and point release (recent heat) avalanche activity on a lee slope of the north ridge of the south summit of Antisana.

This fourth highest volcano in Ecuador is known for having more avalanche deaths and crevasse risks than the other principal peaks of Ecuador.  There was evidence of widespread slab avi activity (30cm deep) from the most recent snowfall in late October.  This slope pictured, was clearly unsupported due to the large bergschrund crevasse at its base and with some lee loaded from the prevailing east to west winds at this elevation (17,000+), and a prime suspect with slope angles in the upper 30’s to low 40’s.


antisana summit climb

antisana summit
(L) Below the summit plateau.  (R) On the final south ridge of Antisana, central summit.


summit antisana ecuador

avalanche activity antisana
Eli, Steve, and Alejo on the central summit of Antisana. (R) Eli taking a sandwich break at 18,000′ on an overcast but relatively calm summit day the first time up.


cotopaxi volcano ecuador

Following our trip to Antisana,  Joanne Helmuth joined Eli for a quick climb up the 19,347′ active volcano of Cotopaxi where we were treated to excellent climbing and weather conditions for Joanne’s first summit above 15,500′.


cotopaxi crater ecuador

cotopaxi summit ecuador

A view from the summit of Cotopaxi into the steaming crater.  Joanne enjoys some quiet summit time with Chimborazo standing out 40 miles to the south.


ecuador rock climbing banos

ecuador rock climbing

We also enjoyed some days of rock climbing and a visit to the Amazon Basin in the first week of November.  (L) Eli on the FA of a 6a at Zoologico Vertical outside Banos and (R) on Bongoso (6b) at the Cuyuja Crag nearby Papallacta Hot Springs.


ecuador rock climbing sigsipampa

Afternoon sun on the basalt crags of Sigsipampa, just 40 minutes outside of downtown Quito.
This is the best sport climbing destination close to the capitol city and well worth a few visits.  Set in a picturesque and quiet valley with easy access (expect to pay $1 entrance fee to the Campesina) and a range of routes from 5.8-5.13,  this compact area is steep with mostly solid rock and positive-type holds.

Eli has been climbing and guiding annually  in Ecuador since 1994 and he is one of the few IFMGA Licensed and Spanish speaking  guides specializing in climbing trips to the Andes of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile

Call with questions or to book your next international expedition, backcountry skiing,  avalanche safety, 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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