Entries from Ecuador
It is crazy to think our team has been together for over ten days now. We have accomplished much, seen a lot, bonded well and now seem more like family than strangers gathering in a hotel lobby meeting for the first time. This is the only time I can remember, on any trip, that all nine climbers arrived as individuals. There are no couples, no family groups, just adventurous souls coming to Ecuador to climb mountains and learn some skills. Until now I think things have gone quite well. Good climbing and good culture has defined the past ten days.
Now the plot thickens. Today we arrived at Chimborazo. This mountain is the highest point from the center of the earth and an overall giant of sheer prominence. Today though was great. After enjoying the latest wake up call of the journey, a nice late breakfast, a casual four hour bus ride and a home cooked meal in Chimborazo’s Refugio, this was as close to an honest rest day as we’ve had since leaving Quito. Which, after climbing two big mountains in the last four days is a good thing! This mountain is known for its challenging climbing, cold conditions and steep slopes. It will take every bit of energy to reach its 20,564 summit.
Currently the team is feeling mostly recovered from Cotopaxi and is excited to move to high camp tomorrow located at 16,400 feet high on Chimborazo’s western flanks. We will let you know how the move goes tomorrow.
Sending hugs to all those following along.
Wish us luck.
RMI Guide Adam Knoff & Team
Whoa, Hugs received. Thank you!
It’s now 3pm in California on Jan 10. I expect you are all currently resting in preparation for the early start for summit day tomorrow. That being said I don’t anticipate this message will reach you before you return from the summit but I’m super hyped for the team and the challenge you are taking on. My thoughts are with you for an amazing day of climbing.
Ha ha, I not a poet, but…......I’ve written a short poem for the team describing how I envision Chimborazo summit day. Enjoy!
Heart pounding, Lungs starving, Step. Repeat.
Beauty unimagined -
Looking forward to the summit update and your safe return.
With love and hugs
Posted by: Jacquie Byatt on 1/10/2018 at 3:12 pm
January 8, 2018
I glanced down at my watch, 11:44 PM. One minute before my alarm was to go off. I silenced it and slipped out of my bunk and flipped the light switch. It was time for our Cotopaxi (19,347’) summit day.
The team quickly got out of their sleeping bags, one of the most challenging tasks of the day, and began efficiently putting together their summit kits. After topping off water bottles and wolfing down some oatmeal and cinnamon buns we moved outside to gear-up and were greeted with light snow fall. The winds were calm and the cloud cover made for pleasant climbing temps so we set off in high spirits hoping the snow would pass for a clear sunrise on the summit.
One hour in and we stopped for our first break just shy of 17,000’ at the toe of the glacier to rope-up. The team arrived together in good style showcasing their increased acclimatization from Cayambe and immediately putting to use the skills learned in the previous day’s training. The current route is very direct but that also means gaining a lot of elevation very quickly. The next section had almost no switchbacks and was characterized by a series of steep 40+ degree pitches with very brief benches in between. The team methodically tackled these pitches where flawless technique was required not to slip-out in the steep loose snow draining valuable and limited stores of energy.
The team arrived at the final break before the summit looking tired but determined. Cotopaxi would not give up the goods too easily. The last stretch to the summit was guarded by some of the steepest sections of the climb. After forcing down some calories the snow stopped and the stars popped out shedding faint light on the summit 1,000’ above us. Restored by the calories and motivated by the opportunity for a clear summit the team set out on the final push. An hour and a half later the entire team crested the crater rim and was greeted with an alpine sunrise for the record books. A massive steam plume from the crater was bathed in pink alpenglow and the mountain shadow of Cotopaxi stretched into the western horizon. All smiles, the team embraced and congratulated each other. This summit was accomplished as much through individual grit as was through an extraordinary display of exemplary expedition behavior. When the going got tough the team propped-up and encouraged each other, just as determined to get their rope team member to the the top as themselves.
After basking in the equatorial morning glory for about 45 minutes the team descended back to the hut with no wind and clear sunny skies. After one final meal at the Refugio we boarded the bus and went to have lunch and celebrate at a local pizzeria. We just arrived at the gorgeous Hacienda La Cienega and are settling in for some well deserved afternoon naps. Tomorrow will take us to the base of Chimborazo and the start of the tallest objective of the trip. Stay Tuned!
Again! Congrats and best wishes for the whole team!!!! Beautiful pics!
Posted by: Karen Norris on 1/8/2018 at 6:53 pm
Wow, awesome acheivement team. Love the summit photo. Congratulations to all!
Keep smiling :)
Posted by: Jacquie Byatt on 1/8/2018 at 6:25 pm
It was a beautiful morning on the northern flanks of Ecuador’s “jewel mountain” when we awoke from our fist night at Cotopaxi’s Refugio. This newly remodeled hut sits just under 16,000 feet and offers a full service kitchen along with indoor and outdoor toilets. This isn’t exactly roughing it but no matter how swanky the accommodations, waking up at this altitude always feels like a self inflicted hangover without the fun stories from the evening before. After coffee, a traditional Ecuadorean breakfast and a few Ibuprofen, we were ready for a fun day of training.
Just as we began packing for the day, a group of Germans arrived looking haggered and shell shocked after having come down from the summit. It was their first ever mountain climb and they said the route was beautiful, steep and challenging but well worth the effort. This provided promising news and gave us good optimism for tonight’s climb.
Once out the door, a steep 45 minute climb took us to a perfect training location on the glacier where we set up a top rope for ice climbing, a fixed line and fun crevasse rescue station. The weather remained nice so our attitudes stayed really positive as we all took turns doing each activity.
From above we were amazed at the hundreds of people coming and going from the hut below. The remodel has sparked new interest from locals in visiting one the this countries coolest tourist attractions.
Now it is five o clock and we are resting and preparing for the climb to come. The route is shorter than Cayambe so we have high hopes for all of us making the top.
We will report tomorrow after the ascent.
On The Map
Adam and Jordan, thanks for the informative updates and photos. Team, congrats on a good day of training. Very pleased to hear the weather treated you well and that you are all in good spirits despite the virtual hangovers. As I write this I expect you are already geared up and headed out to summit Cotopaxi. You are all in my thoughts and I wish you a safe and awesome climb. I eagerly await news and photos of your adventure on the “Jewel”. Go team! Stay strong, stay safe!!
Posted by: Jacquie Byatt on 1/8/2018 at 1:18 am
January 7, 2018
Greetings from the Cotopaxi Refugio just shy of 16,000’! The team awoke this morning extremely well rested at Hacienda Guachala. “Slept like the dead” and “I fell asleep with my book in my hand” were common conversation points during breakfast. After getting our fill of fresh fruit for the day we loaded Viktor’s trusty Hyundai bus and began our journey towards Cotopaxi.
We took a pit stop at the San Luis Mall to stretch our legs, grab some snacks, and get our last taste of the thick air at 9,000’. Another hour and a half on the bus brought us to the gates of Cotopaxi National Park. As always Viktor navigated the steep, rutted roads with ease and we soon found ourselves in the parking lot during the middle of an afternoon snow squall. As we quickly loaded our bags we enjoyed watching and listening to the joy of locals playing in the drifted snow of the parking lot. Snow rarely accumulates so low.
A 45-minute walk up switchbacks brought us to the newly remodeled Refugio. After stowing our gear and pleasantly noting the fleece sheets and pillow cases that each bed was made with we went outside for a short walk to check the route and see if we could catch some views with the lifting clouds. We were not disappointed and were treated to beautiful views of Cayambe and Antisana bathed in evening light and the mountain shadow of Cotopaxi. Grinning from ear to ear the team returned to the Refugio for some R&R before dinner. Tomorrow will take us up to ~17,000’ where we hope to get in some ice climbing and continue to sharpen our mountaineering skills. Thanks for tuning in!
January 5, 2018
I am happy to announce that our team reached the summit of Cayambe today at 7:45 this morning. Much like the driving challenges we have faced in the last few days, the mountain played the same game. With unusually high snow falls lately the mountains have been seeing few ascents. Cayambe has not seen a successful summit since before the new year. So we knew our chances were 50 50 at best.
With an 11 pm wake up call, we hit the snooze only once and soon got motivated to power down instant coffee, white bread with Nutella and some weird cheese I don’t eat if I can help it. The morning was clear and warm so our psyche was high. We left the hut at 12:15 am with hopes to make the glacier by 1:30. Walking was smooth and efficient, so we made good time on the first two stretches. It was around 17,500’ things began to change. The solid supportable crust layer which had made walking so easy down lower began to turn more into punchy post-holing making climbing extremely taxing. By 18,000’ we were literally on the fence on whether to go down or not. The temps were well below freezing and it was clear some storm clouds were building over the mountain.
With a long discussion between the guides and the mountain gods, we decide to press on. Pedro, or Peter in English, our Peruvian local guide, who’s legs are like giant pistons, broke trail up the 50 degree headwall landing us on the summit ridge just as the wind started to howl and the snow began to blow. 15 minutes after reaching the summit ridge we stood happily on top.
The descent was fairly uneventful with the storm clouds offering welcomed shade from the intense sun that can cook your nose in a matter of minutes if you let it.
By noon we were loading the trucks and making our way down to the warmth and comforts of Hacienda Guachala. Ecuador’s oldest operating hotel.
Tonight, we will enjoy a nice meal, get some clothes washed and prepare for our next adventure which begins tomorrow. Wish us luck as we move to 16,000’ on the flanks of Cotopaxi.
RMI Guide Adam Knoff & Team
Sweet adventure, congrats on summit. Thank God for Pedro Piston pumps! (Loved that description)
Posted by: Patrick on 1/6/2018 at 8:39 am
Amazing! Bravo! I hope Cotopaxi goes well! Great blog update! Thanks!
Posted by: Susan Mulvey on 1/6/2018 at 7:47 am
January 4, 2018
Yesterday the team started the day with a leisurely breakfast at La Casa Sol followed by a trip to the Otavalo Market to do a little shopping. The market was full of color and everyone was able to find a few souvenirs to bring home. In the afternoon it was time to head to the climber’s hut on Cayambe. The heavy rains down low brought a significant amount of snow to the mountain. So, again we had to rent 4x4 trucks and see how high they could take us. Our packs were loaded heavy, and we were ready for a long hike. One by one our trucks pushed snow out of our path. Thanks to our adventurous drivers, this left is with only abut 20 minutes of hiking to get to the hut. A lot further than most of us thought! By mid-afternoon we were settled into the hut. We spent the rest of our evening relaxing and going over more knots. We had our first restless night’s sleep as we are all getting used to life above 15,000’.
This morning we were treated to an excellent breakfast prepared by our Cayambe Hut staff before starting our training day. In all the times I have visited this hut, I have never seen so much snow! With crampons on we headed out to the toe of the glacier to refresh our mountaineering skills. The new snow made for great glacier travel and setting anchors. Everyone did a great job! We are back at the hut now listening to the thunder, lightning, and light rain. It is an 11pm wake up call for us. The summit awaits!
Wish us luck!
RMI Guide Adam Knoff & Team
Glad to hear you are now truly on your way now, good luck to all of you.,Rogan I bet you can’t wait for the snow? It’s boiling at home, Mel and kids having fun at the river. All return from holidays on Monday, agh, more traffic!
Keep going upwards, it’s the only way to go.
Love , mom
Posted by: Daphne Carew on 1/4/2018 at 10:26 pm
Wishing best of luck to the whole team. We in Boston are getting pounded by snow! LaLa
Posted by: Karen Norris on 1/4/2018 at 2:42 pm
January 2, 2018
Hello from Expedition Skills Seminar Ecuador.
Today we finally packed our duffels, checked out of our nice hotel and headed for the mountains. It may sound a bit confusing that we stood in ankle-deep snow yesterday at 15,200 feet but weren’t actually “in the mountains”. Strangely enough, yesterday’s mountain took ten minutes by taxi to get to followed by two hours of hiking. Not exactly the adventure one thinks of when breaking the 15,000-foot barrier.
Today was a different story. By 8:00am, we were packed and ready to load all 22 duffel bags into Victor’s magic bus, point that thing north and drive for three hours toward a large concentration of volcanoes which includes the 19,000-foot Cayambe, famous for being the only location on the actual equator to hold year-round snow. Things started smoothly, picking our way slowly through heavy Quito morning traffic. By 11am we had reached our turn off in the renowned market town of Otavalo. From the main road our plan was to turn off and head up a large extinct volcano to a beautiful crater lake and then hike 2,000’ to the sharp summit of Fuya Fuya.
Two miles up the road we ran head on into a sign that read Detour! We quickly asked another driver what the road was like and he responded by saying no big buses could make it to the lake. With some quick phone calls, a bit of luck and some willing participants, we hired two 4x4 trucks, loaded them full of 12 climbers and powered upward. Thirty minutes later we arrived at Laguna Mojando. From the lake, two hours of strenuous hiking brought us to our first Ecuadorian summit. We had light rain and distant thunder but overall very pleasant hiking conditions.
The team did great sticking together reaching the summit in very good style. Although this summit was only 14,000’, we still felt the strain and know it will play an important role in preparation for our bigger objective starting tomorrow.
After the hike our trucks returned and carted us back to town where Victor and all of our things were waiting.
Once regrouped, we drove directly to the “House of Sun” or Casa Sol, where we enjoyed learning knots by the fire and had a fabulous traditional Ecuadorian dinner.
Reports keep coming in from the higher mountains of deep snow and abnormally bad road conditions. We have plans around these challenges but it should keep things interesting. Stay tuned for what’s to come…...
Everyone sends their best to loved ones back home.
RMI Guide Adam Knoff
This morning we awoke to steady rain in Quito. Despite the conditions and the midnight fireworks disrupting slumber, the team rallied in the lobby of Hotel Mercure excited for our first acclimatization trek up Rucu Pinchincha (15,700ft). As we loaded up on coffee and croissants the rain began to taper to a drizzle and we embarked on a short taxi ride to the Teleferico, a gondola that carried us high above the city to 13,000 feet. We began our trek towards the summit with a light rain and snow mix and good visibility. We may not have had bluebird skies but we did get the unique experience of undercast clouds wafting in out of the peaks around Quito. The team cruised the rolling alpine meadow ridge that makes up the first half of the climb, showing their prowess at the high elevation by chatting the whole way. We stopped to take a break just before the route changes character and shifts to steeper, rockier traversing leading around the spiny pinnacle to a saddle just before the final ridge scramble. As we entered this more challenging terrain we encountered snow that had managed to accumulate, a rare occurrence on Pinchincha. As we continued the snow deepened to about 6”, increasing the challenge of the already demanding terrain. The team took these obstacles in stride and made it to the saddle just shy of 15,300’ in style. We decided to make this our high point having accomplished our goal of acclimatization and not wanting to risk the decreased friction on the third-class scramble to the summit. The wet snow and muddy ground demanded our attention on the descent, but we made it back to the Teleferico in good time with only a few muddy hands and backsides. After some much deserved rest we’re off to explore the local cuisine of Quito. Tomorrow will take us up Cerro Fuya Fuya for another round of acclimatization then our first big one, Cayambe!
December 31, 2017
Happy New Year from Quito, Ecuador. I am happy to report the entire Expedition Skills Seminar team has arrived safely and is ready for a fun evening enjoying local culture and spirits. Our fiesta will come on the heels of a great day which involved a number of interesting and fun activities.
To begin our first official day together we met after breakfast going through a quick team introduction and itinerary overview. At 9 am the streets outside were already filling with eager New Year’s enthusiasts, some dressing in drag and some wearing colorful wigs, but we passed on joining them and loaded onto our tour bus bound for the middle of the world. Once at the equator, we observed fun physical anomalies only present on the actual equatorial line. Much of our group earned their “Egg Master” awards, balancing an egg on a nail, while others tried to shut their eyes and walk the line without tipping over. Why an egg will balance on a nail but a human can’t balance with their eyes closed is beyond me but proves to be the case.
Outside of the museum, the team encountered a group of locals partaking in the local custom of burning large dolls supposedly filled with the year’s bad energy. As it burns you are supposed to make a wish for better things to come, then leap over the burning pile to make that wish come true. Stephanie showed no fear in giving her wish the best chance.
From the equator we traveled south into the old town of Quito where we gained beautiful vistas of this 40 mile long city atop a hill called El Panacillo. Unfortunately, there were no views of our snow capped peaks but we know they are out there. After this we descended into the old town where we toured some traditional shops and streets then finished in the main square of Quito directly across from the presidential palace.
Despite most of the team feeling a bit tired from traveling and jumping straight to 9000’, we left time to have a late lunch at a great little micro-brewery trying it’s best to replicated those in the states. Although the IPA needs a bit more hoppiness, the stout proved our favorite.
Tomorrow we gear up for our first acclimation hike. Stay tuned to see if a few in the group break their previous altitude high points. Late night or not, I have high hopes…..
Happy New Year once more. Salud.
RMI Guide Adam Knoff
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that certainly sounds like my Stephanie! Happy climbing and be SAFE! Love Mom xxxooo
Posted by: Karen Norris on 1/1/2018 at 11:33 pm
December 14, 2017
We did it! The team stood on top of 19,347ft Cotopaxi this morning at 7:30am. The team climbed brilliantly through bitterly cold temperatures and the ever-present lack of oxygen to check the active volcano off their bucket lists. We were treated to clear skies all day long and it wasn’t until we were finally driving away that the mountain fell back into it’s usual cloak of dark clouds. Oh and we had another birthday today! Happy Birthday to Kris Vargas! And what a way to spend it climbing one of Ecuador’s finest volcanoes on a truly spectacular day. We’re all back at Tambopaxi packing our things for the drive back to Quito where we will enjoy one last dinner as a team before most of us depart back to the States later this evening. Thanks to everyone for following along. This will be the last blog post of our trip! Until next time!