Entries from Ecuador
The last few mornings we have had would not by most standards be considered relaxing or “vacation” worthy in most people’s worlds. Although we were able to “sleep in” on Wednesday morning, there is something about being at 16,000 feet surrounded by coughing, restless climbers which is simply not conducive to quality rest. Thursday evening we were up at 11:30 pm, so this morning is a welcomed relief from those high altitude toss and turners.
With 9,000' feeling like sea level and our second 500 year old hacienda feeling like the royal Hilton, this morning was a gift for the mind, body and soul. I must confess that in our last hacienda, Dustin was convinced a ghost had visited our room floating above him making his whole body tingle, which is a legit claim considering the place’s history, but with equal haunting tales following us to our current hacienda, we slept too hard to notice if calling the ghost busters was reasonable.
After a thoroughly caffeinated breakfast we packed the van and headed south towards Chimborazo. The bus first landed us in the bustling town of Ambato where we shopped and enjoyed watching Jonny try to expand his stomach with an intimidating 20” burrito. He opted to not complete his task in the name of comfort for the remaining bus ride which ultimately brought us to my favorite hacienda called, Abraspungo, located in Riobamba, a short hour drive from Chimborazo. Here we were greeted with a lovely hot tottie and a host who speaks perfect English. Dustin and I can steer the ship with our first grade Espanol, but I would consider it equal to loosening the handle bars of a mountain bike and sendings down a hard single track. We crash a lot!
Once moved in we continued our skills training the appropriate way, with shorts, beer and a perfectly manicured lawn. Dinner followed and was superb! All in all, this is how a rest day should feel, which is good because tomorrow we start our hardest and final mountain of this wild adventure. Chimborazo is the farthest point from the center of the earth and sometimes feels like it has no end. We need to be strong, determined and ready to rock if the summit is going to be found. We will touch base from High Camp tomorrow.
January 16, 2020
I am pleased to announce that our Ecuador Seminar team successfully reached the glorious summit of Cotopaxi today at 6:45 am, a mere six hours after leaving the hut in near perfect weather. As we gathered outside preparing ourselves for launch we were greeted with a stunning view of the Southern Hemisphere’s most notable constellation, the Southern Cross, perched directly over the summit which was illuminated beautifully in half powered moonlight. With almost no wind and warm temps, our climb was a drastic contrast to the experience on Cayambe. There were certainly more climbers sharing the mountain but all in all the climbing was very manageable and the route was perfect. Along with the the great weather, we were blessed with a stunning view of night time Quito, 50 miles to the north looking like a long orange fire against the backdrops of numerous volcanoes.
Upon reaching the summit we were bummed to be missing two of our team members still struggling to overcome annoying chest infections but we took plenty of pictures to show them the crater and expansive vistas. After an almost flawless descent I provided a bit of unneeded excitement by taking the wrong trail off of the glacier resulting in steep screen sliding but we found the hut and eventually the bus, waiting patiently in the parking lot ready to zip us to showers, internet and cervesas.
As I write this I am sitting in another 400+ year old hacienda, beer in hand, showing our gracious hosts the incredible pictures of this mornings climb. All I keep saying is what a great day and climb it was. We all hope Chimborazo treats us the same way.
Our journey is well past it’s first week so we want to let all of those following the blog know we are grateful. We all miss our families and loved ones and hope you can send positive thoughts for one more climb.
Tomorrow is a rest day as we transfer south to this planet’s actual tallest mountain. Ask google why.
Adam: congrats! Your team is lucky to have you and the weather is something I hope for the next time!
Posted by: Deborah Rutter on 1/17/2020 at 6:12 am
Fantastic everyone ! Congratulations! Wishing you good weather and climb for Chimborazo.
Posted by: Linda Dempf on 1/16/2020 at 4:40 pm
January 15, 2020
Hola from 16,000 ft on the northern flanks of Ecuador’s most famous mountain, Cotopaxi. We apologize for not sending a dispatch yesterday because we were so excited to get here, we simply forgot. I assure all of you faithful followers the effects of altitude on memory are minimal, I just forget things naturally.
Once moved in last night we endured a very restless evening because apparently the workers knew we were coming and couldn’t stop painting, pounding, dragging and talking well into the night. So this morning we drank our coffee, packed our bags and headed to the glacier for some skills training unrelated to our climb. The weather is a vast improvement over the weather on Cayambe and all the teams that climbed last night made it to the top.
Not it is 4:30 pm and the hut is busting with tourists and climbers hoping to attempt tonight as well. Everyone is in good spirits and excited to climb! We all feel our chances are good.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s dispatch.
Wishing the best climb to the Knoff led team. Mom
Posted by: Jane Knoff on 1/16/2020 at 12:30 pm
Team Knoff -
You are in the best of hands with your guide team!
Keep the “rest step” in sync and you’ll be on the summit in no time! And remember to breathe… Ahhhhh….
Most importantly, support each other and make it a trip of a lifetime, because it’s exactly that!
PS - Adam, I’ll be with Davis on Orizaba in a few days. RMI is the best!
Posted by: Tom Mulvey on 1/15/2020 at 10:20 pm
January 13, 2020
Last night as we prepared for our summit attempt, we could not get American football off of our minds. With Dustin and a couple others praying for a Seahawks win and myself along with all my Ecuadorian recruits pulling for the Packers, the howling winds, soaking mist and ominous cloud cap almost seemed to take a back seat. I say this because it was the mind frame I was in but in reality the weather was front and center. When we arrived in Ecuador, I gloated on our fortune of grand vistas and warm temperatures, but we all know how quickly things can change. And change they did.
With a 6:00 pm dinner and 7:00 pm lights out, we never learned the score but went to bed wondering. This is the main reason I didn’t sleep a single minute but my 11:00 pm alarm showed up unwelcomed anyway. As I ventured outside to inspect the winds, I was immediately greeted with a soaking mist ramming into me at 25 mph. This did not inspire me so I held off waking the group up for another hour thinking things might improve enough to warrant going up. And to my surprise it did! At 1:00 am the rain had turned to snow which made the prospect of climbing a bit more bearable, but the wind still screamed as it whistled through the Cayambe Refugio.
At 2:00 am five out of our eight climbers set off for what would be an uncertain ascent. The other three climbers stayed behind because of lingering chest illnesses they felt would improve with rest over cold, windy, snowy climbing.
It only took 15 minutes or so before our local guides began to express concern about ice covered rock and strong winds. We made the decision to go as high as we safely could, which led us through some steep rock steps and a sandy traverse back towards the glacier, which we visited a mere twelve hours previously. It was on this traverse we got the full taste of the wind’s furry. I know how strong a wind gust needs to be to blow me around and this giant fan was blowing at a constant, strong enough to have me leaning into it looking like Michael Jackson in mid performance, I’m guessing a steady 50 mph.
Shortly after passing this exposed spot it was clear our shot at the top was going to be thwarted. It wasn’t cold and the snow had even subsided a bit but the wind, through its howls, made the decision for us, we needed to turn around. This is never an easy decision to make but in the end it was the right one. Back at the hut we took a little cat nap and then woke to horrible instant coffee and some rope practice. We then packed up and headed out, back to the warmth of 8,000 feet and the fantastic burgers of Cafe LA Vaca, my favorite lunch place.
Now we are settled into one of the oldest haciendas in the country enjoying internet, a laundry service and hot showers. Our failure to reach the summit of Cayambe has only fueled the fire to get to Cotopaxi, also known as the jewel of Ecuador, tomorrow. We will keep you updated as we prepare for this 19,400' snow cone. Thanks for following.
You might recall that we got blown off Cayambe the year I was with you as well!
Posted by: Dusty Dodson on 1/13/2020 at 9:42 pm
Sorry to hear the wind kept you from summiting. But glad to hear all are well and getting psyched for Cotopaxi. Again, wishing to all the very best!
Posted by: Jill Klores on 1/13/2020 at 8:54 pm
January 12, 2020
Last night our team endured the first full night at what many would consider a serious altitude. 15,200 feet to some serious mountain people would be cause for a scoff and teenage eye roll but for us, it means lots of huffing and puffing on top of waking up with a hangover that is not alcohol induced. We look forward to that headache later but for now we are holding fast to acclimating and training.
So after shaking out the webs we ate a good breakfast, suited up and made the 1.5-hour hike to the toe of the glacier. The wind blew hard all night and did not let up during the day. This made reviewing skills a bit challenging but true-to-form everyone did great.
After returnimg to the hut we enjoyed a great lunch, some life giving cola cola and a nice power nap.
Now we are packing for the summit climb hoping the wind will die down just a bit. Right now it is blowing a steady 25 miles per hour making the thought of 19,000 feet a little cold.
So wish us luck as we climb through the night tonight. We will let you know tomorrow how it goes.
RMI Guide Adam Knoff
On The Map
So excited for you all. Mike G. Is a friend from our church. Hoping and praying that you will continue to the top & be able to tell friends and family all about this wonderful climb.
Posted by: Janet Robb on 1/13/2020 at 1:07 pm
January 12, 2020
After a relaxing evening enjoying traditionally prepared foods at La Casa Sol, we awoke to a peaceful morning. Most of the team spent some time prior to breakfast drinking coffee and appreciating our perch above Otavalo. Following breakfast we loaded the bus and headed into town to experience one of Ecuador's finest craft markets.
The market in Otavalo is full of traditional goods: alpaca garments, woven bags, various other textiles, chocolate (Ecuador is famous for artisan chocolate) and coffee amongst a variety of other goods. Some team members spent most of their time sipping artisan coffee. Others used a combination of broken Spanish and hand signals to haggle with vendors. Once we all reconvened the bus drove us to our rendezvous with the 4x4 trucks that would take us to the refuge on Cayambe.
We are now moved in and situated for the next two days. Sunday will consist of basic mountaineering skills training review. The plan is to wrap up early and wake up during the night to climb Cayambe. The entire team is getting acclimated and itching to give our first big objective a go!
RMI Guide Adam Knoff
Great news that all are enjoying the culture and ready to roll up Cayambe. Best to all of the team! Keep the pics and news coming!
Posted by: Jill Klores on 1/12/2020 at 8:48 pm
Packers are winning! Safe travels uphill to the team! Sending love ❤️
Posted by: Christine Hoag on 1/12/2020 at 6:36 pm
January 11, 2020
Today is the day we finally pack up our chubby duffel bags, steal some chocolate filled croissants from our top notch breakfast buffet and hit the road. Quito is a beautiful city, home to an incredible history and architecture but it is also home to 3 million people. Buses here burp massive diesel fumes imitating tiny volcanoes and the horns are not quite a song bird, so after a few days, the country is calling.
On this note, our team all proved they are a timely bunch being packed and ready by 7:30, so we loaded Victor’s magic bus and headed toward our second acclimatization mountain, Fuya Fuya. If you strapped a gps on crow and flew it to the mountain it would only fly 85 miles or so but on the ground, that distance took three hours or cover. Upon arriving in the small town of Otavalo, our bus head upward into the hills on old cobble stone roads, similar to what you would find in Europe. Halfway to the trailhead we were stopped by a child no older that seven who had a rope tied across the road. In a fantastic show of entrepreneurship, he engaged those tiny arms, pulled the rope tight and forced the bus to a surprised halt. Out of pure respect for the hustling toll collector we paid him his asking price and off we went.
Where the road ends, there is a beautiful crater lake formed by the sinking of the volcano in its last eruption. We parked, shouldered our light packs and made the two hour hike through interesting native fauna and steep grassy slopes to the summit of this 14,000 foot peak. Being an adventurous crew, we then traversed west along a skinny ridge to Fuya’s neighbor peak providing some fourth class rock scrambling and enjoyable steep movements. Unfortunately the clouds decided to join the party and occlude our grand vista of surrounding peaks and the deep blue lake but overall the weather stayed dry and warm.
An hour long descent brought as back to the bus and another hour, back to town. Our toll collector did not greet us on the trip down but his encounter certainly provide a laugh for the rest of the evening.
After a nice lunch we landed at La Casa Sol or the sun house, in English, where we practiced some knots, ate dinner and enjoyed a good nights rest. Tomorrow we move up to Cayambe where things begin to get a bit colder and more real!
More to come.
January 9, 2020
It is a rare blessing here in the highlands of Ecuador if we see the snow-capped summits of Cayambe, Cotopaxi and Antisana two days in a row. Heck, I’d bet my son’s favorite LEGO set on the odds of that happening even once. But due to abnormally clear skies, warm temps and some cashed in Karma points, we have received that blessing.
Taking advantage of the good weather, team Ecuador Seminar enjoyed a great breakfast, packed our bags and headed out of Quito to our first “real” mountain, Pichincha Rucu. Please keep in mind when I say “headed out”, I’m referring to a 15-minute bus ride and when I say “real”, I’m referring to a ho-hum 15,400 foot extinct volcano. These two realities shine light on another of Ecuador’s overlooked blessings, the ability to go really high really quickly. Not to mention a cable car which whisked us from 10,000 to 13,000 feet in a matter of minutes, making sure our unacclimatized bodies got the full effect.
With the surreal summits still scraping the sky far off, we all hit the trail huffing and puffing but enjoying the warm sun and beautiful conditions. Two and a half hours of steady hiking put us at the summit around 12:30 in the afternoon. Here the temperatures changed to jackets and light gloves but not unpleasant by any stretch. After 20 minutes on top, we headed down.
Just as our team crushed the city tour yesterday, our first mountain was no exception. Solid performances from every member proved we should be ready, when the time comes, to take on one of the high ones.
Once back at the hotel everybody was set free to explore, rest, eat a guinea pig or go shopping. We will reconvene for dinner and prepare for another mountain tomorrow.
January 8, 2020
Day one of our long awaited Ecuadorian adventure has officially begun. All of the grueling training with unthinkably heavy packs, sweat burned eyes and crippling soreness is finally over and world’s finest mountain climbing team is ready. It’s been a long time coming, a year at least, for this elite team from Chicago, Minneapolis, San Fransico, Philadelphia and other mountain meccas to unite.
Today in Quito, Ecuador our team took an incredible tour of this ancient city impressing the locals with powerful, athletic bus riding skills, strong gravitational resistance and uncanny focus. This is no joke. Our first stop was 20 miles north of downtown Quito at a mysterious place known as… “The Equator”. This unique place has exhibits which make water spin in opposite directions twenty feet from the painted red line, make a seemingly simple DUI test almost impossible and miraculously provide magic nails that somehow can balance an egg, the long way, on their tiny heads. Fortunately, I was able to choose who would be climbing on my rope by each person’s performance and strength. Those who got an egg diploma, didn’t fall sideways to the south and had the strongest upward pull against our guide’s superhuman strength, passed the test.
After our interactive visit to the center of the world, we flexed our bus muscles once again and proceeded 25 miles back into the heart of Quito. The entire ride we were blessed with very rare views of Cayambe, Cotopaxi and Anitsana, three of Ecuadors highest peaks, two of which we are going to climb on this trip. Thankfully I saw no fear in the eyes of my group indicating nerves of steel and complete readiness.
After two hours of enjoying grand vistas of the bustling city, visiting beautiful churches and walking the old town streets, the team made it back to the hotel, not even winded, ready for a power nap. I can’t wait to get on a mountain with them!
For now, all is well, the group is healthy and excited so we will sign off until tomorrow.
In the midst of a great trip with a wonderful group, one of the hardest parts of a guides job is to make the decision to turn a group around and head back to the hut, knowing some climbers will continue up and likely summit.
Last night we woke to a thin cloud and light snow at 15,874’. The group got ready and was optimistic due to the warm air and fresh snow that would make walking the first 1.5 hours on rocky trail easier. However, we had a similar experience on Cayambe that resulted in an electrical storm.
With over 70 people setting out from the hut to climb we got out mid pack and made our way to the toe of the glacier to put crampons on. During this first stretch the moon was bright, reflecting moonlight off the white snow so headlamps didn’t have to be turned on.
As we ascended the glacier, the new snow accumulation had increased from 3” at the hut to 1 foot + at 17,800’. As we pulled into our second break the guides had begun chatting about snow stability and while at the break dug 2 snow pits to better assess what we were traveling on top of. The results were a foot of new snow overnight on top of a 2 inch consolidated snow layer that moved with enough energy early on in the test to reconsider climbing higher. There had been a meter of new snow in the last week without much sun or heat to help consolidate the snowpack.
The terrain above us consisted of larger crevasses and steeper slopes, when combined with new snow avalanche conditions this made for hazards that we could not safely manage. We showed the group a second test and explained our concerns. The guides and climbers are naturally disappointed to have missed another summit and safety has to take precedent. In talking with the Ecuadorean guides, this month has been wetter with more unstable weather patterns then historically seen in December.
We are currently heading back to Quito for showers, packing and flights later tonight. We’ll wrap up a fun trip in that new friends were made, we saw lots of beautiful scenery and spent time in the mountains. We’ll also look forward to the unfinished summits of Cayambe and Cotopaxi on another trip. Thanks for following along.