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Expedition Skills Seminar - Ecuador

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Expedition Skills Seminar - Ecuador

Expedition Skills Seminar - Ecuador

Ecuador’s remarkable concentration of high altitude volcanoes offers superb climbing and excellent opportunities for mountaineering training. Climb three of the best - Cayambe (18,997'), Antisana (18,891'), and Cotopaxi (19,348').


  • Build a solid mountaineering foundation on high altitude Ecuadorian peaks while preparing for bigger mountains such as McKinley, Aconcagua, or the Himalaya.
  • Climb with an experienced RMI Guide, benefiting from the background, training, and expertise of our guides as you venture to higher altitudes.
  • Experience the vibrant culture of Ecuador between ascents of three of the country's highest mountains.
  • Take part in an RMI adventure and see why we continue to set the standard in guiding excellence.

Our trip begins in Quito, the capitol city of Ecuador. Located fifteen miles south of the equator and at an altitude of 9,350’, it sits in a high altitude valley that is known as the "Avenue of the Volcanoes." We explore Quito’s mix of colonial and modern streets and hike in the surrounding hills to build our acclimatization.

Following two acclimatization hikes, we first venture to Cayambe (18,997’), the third highest peak in Ecuador. We base out of the Ruales Oleas Bergé climber’s hut at 15,300' and access the nearby glacier to review basic mountaineering techniques. With an early alpine start, our summit climb of Cayambe attempts the only snow capped point on earth sitting squarely on the equator.

We next turn our attention to the soaring volcano of Antisana (18,891’), arguably the country’s best kept secret. We initially make our way to a high camp at 14,900’ and then have a day on Antisana’s glaciers for more technical training, including crevasse rescue, fixed line travel, and ice climbing. With our climbing techniques refined and now feeling properly acclimatized, our summit climb threads us through Antisana’s massive glaciers with its fields of crevasses to a spectacular summit.

Our Ecuador Seminar program offers superb alpine climbing and is ideal for mountaineers looking to build their climbing skills for future climbing expeditions, climb to new elevations, and take part in the excitement of an international climbing expedition.

Now with our training and two climbs completed, climbers next tackle the iconic Ecuadorian volcano, Cotopaxi, 19,348’. The ascent weaves through an interesting maze of crevasses before ascending the final steep slopes to the summit.

Climbing Cayambe, Antisana and Cotopaxi involves moderately steep slopes and prior knowledge of roped travel, crampon techniques, and ice axe arrest is recommended; review of these basic mountaineering techniques is built into the itinerary.


Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. was established in 1969 and is one of America’s oldest and most-trusted guide services. We are the largest guide service on Mt. Rainier and Denali and leaders in guiding climbs and treks around the globe. Our years of leading mountain adventures give us the experience and knowledge to create the best possible trips and we work hard to live up to our reputation as an industry leader. Our trip preparation before departure takes care of the details for you, from hotels to airport transfers, so that you can focus on preparing for the climb instead of the distraction that comes with coordinating logistics.

Our Ecuador climbs are led by RMI’s top U.S. guides, who bring years of climbing experience in not only Ecuador but on mountains all over the world, from the Andes to the Alaska Range to the Himalayas. As you reach higher elevations and test the limits of your experience, the value of an accomplished, highly trained RMI Guide held to our standards cannot be understated. We climb in Ecuador with a 3:1 climber to RMI Guide ratio to provide the important individual attention during the training and the climbs. Additionally, joining our programs is an experienced Ecuadorian guide with whom we have partnered for many years. Jaime Avila, Freddy Tipan, and Esteban Mena are accomplished guides who have climbed around the world, from Ecuador to the Himalaya.

We use RMI's own climbing equipment brought from the U.S., ensuring that our expedition standards of safety, quality, and reliability are met. We’ve chosen our lodges and meals to keep our team comfortable, happy, and healthy throughout the climb.  We use private vehicles to travel between the different peaks, minimizing our time spent on the road and allowing us to travel more safely. Our exceptional focus on detail, our unparalleled level of climber attention, and our genuine excitement for these adventures are what make our programs truly memorable.


Safety has always been RMI’s top priority and we strive to create the safest mountain experience possible. RMI’s experienced team of guides focus on leading a fun and successful climb without compromising safety. We apply the same standards of safety we bring to Alaska and the Himalayas to our climbs of Ecuador’s Volcanoes. Careful planning, precise ascent profiles, daily weather forecasts, and diligent attention are taken as we venture to high altitudes. Comprehensive medical kits, rescue equipment, and radio and satellite communication equipment are carried with the team throughout the trip.

As you prepare for your upcoming adventure please feel free to contact our office and speak directly to one of our experienced guides regarding equipment, conditioning, the route, or any other questions you may have about our programs. We are available Monday thru Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at (888) 89-CLIMB or info@rmiguides.com.

Climber Reviews

Filter By
The itinerary is well planned in terms of acclimatization, sight-seeing, and sequencing of the main climbing objectives.
Justin S.

Great guide, team, country...acclimatization climbs were very cool. The main climbing was rough due to the weather (not so enjoyable in the moment) but I learned a lot about climbing/technical, myself and climbing/safety limits.
Joseph H.

The in-country experience and the team approach and the skills learned
David K.

I think the whole trip was a blast. We had some hard time and some good times but it overall was a epic trip.
Gary B.

Camaraderie within team, including guides, both RMI and local. Combination of challenging climbing with somewhat cushy off-mountain experiences (hot springs, hacienda stays, etc.) This trip found the balance between pushing our physical limits in the mountain environment and spoiling us when we were done.
David C.

Casey and Topo had great synergy working together, moved quick preparing training scenarios and made it fun even though it was had work most of the time. I had fun climbing with both guides.
Fatima W.

The challenge and the comradery with like-minded people.
Justin J.

Everything was excellent. Your guides are fantastic and the organization of the entire trip was superb.
Don S.

  • Upcoming Climbs

    • Please call our offices at 1-888-892-5462 to inquire about availability.
  • Price
    14 days
    Level 3
Table of Contents

Day 1


Depart U.S.A. Most flights arrive in Quito (UIO) in the late evening. Your guide will meet you at the airport and transfer with you to our hotel. Overnight at Hotel Mercure Alameda in Quito.

Day 2


We meet in the hotel lobby for an orientation meeting and our first team breakfast. The day is spent exploring Colonial Quito with a local tour guide. We visit Independence Square, church of La Compania (1605) and the church and monastery of San Francisco (1535). We will also travel 15 minutes north of Quito to the Equatorial Line where we can jump from the northern to the southern hemisphere. There is also time in the afternoon to relax and recover from our flights. Overnight at Hotel Mercure Alameda in Quito. (B)


Day 3


After breakfast we take a short drive from Quito to the teleférico (gondola) which will carry us to approximately 13,500’. From there we stretch our legs and lungs with an acclimatization hike on Rucu Pichincha (15,696’). The hike is beautiful, with views of Quito and most of the snow covered volcanoes in Ecuador, including Cotopaxi and Cayambe. We return to the hotel and the afternoon is free to explore the city and organize our gear for our departure from Quito the following morning. Overnight at Hotel Mercure Alameda in Quito. (B)


Day 4


Leaving Quito we travel north toward the town of Tabacundo. As the cobblestone streets end we make our way to the trail head of Cerro Fuya Fuya (13,986’). The trail takes us through knee-high grass vegetation and achupallas (andean tall pineapples). The climb gradually becomes steeper as we gain altitude. The trail ends at the saddle between Fuya Fuya's two summits. We continue on toward the eastern summit which includes an easy scramble. We return to the vehicle and transfer to Otavalo where we spend the night. Hiking time is approximately 3 - 3 ½ hours. (B)


Day 5


We visit the Otavalo Market to experience the local culture, purchase fresh snacks and souvenirs. In the afternoon, we drive to the hut at the base of Cayambe. Hiking time is approximately 1 - 2 hours. Overnight at the climber's hut (15,300'). (B, D)


Day 6


In the morning we hike out to the toe of the glacier to focus on reviewing basic mountaineering skills and techniques. We use the remainder of the day to learn knots and other rope skills back at the hut. Overnight at the climber's hut (15,300'). (B, D)


Day 7


Summit day on Cayambe (18,997')! With an early alpine start for the summit, our route begins by climbing through some low rock outcroppings before stepping onto a spectacularly crevassed glacier. Once on the glacier, the route climbs directly to the upper reaches of the mountain, where a challenging final push to the summit awaits us. We return to the hut and transfer to Papallacta, a traditional Ecuadorian town with amazing hot springs, surrounded by beautiful forests and located near the base of Antisana. Overnight at Papallacta (10,800’). (B)


Day 8


We drive to our Base Camp on Antisana and spend the afternoon preparing and training to climb Antisana. Overnight at Base Camp (13,400’). (B, D)


Day 9


We use the spectacular glacial terrain of Antisana for our technical training, including crevasse rescue, ice climbing, and fixed line travel techniques. We settle in early in anticipation of our summit attempt. Overnight in tents. (B, D)


Day 10


Summit Day on Antisana (18,891’)! Antisana’s glaciers are challenging, reminiscent of the more remote routes of Mt. Rainier, and we will negotiate several steeper steps in order to attain the summit. At the end of the day, we will descend to Base Camp, and then travel via vehicle to Chilcabamba on the north edge of Cotopaxi National Park. Overnight at Chilcabamba Eco Lodge. (B, D)

Day 11


After breakfast, a short drive takes us to the end of the road below Cotopaxi. A 45 minute hike leads to the Jose Ribas Refugio at 16,000'. Overnight at Jose Ribas Refugio. (B, D)


Day 12


Summit day on Cotopaxi (19,348')! With an early alpine start, we use the first hour to approach the glacier. A long, initial pitch gains access to an interesting maze of crevasses on the lower slopes of this beautiful volcano. The ascent then weaves through impressive crevasse fields before ascending the final steep slopes to the summit. The deep, sheer-walled volcanic crater is an incredibly impressive sight. After celebrating on the summit, we descend back to the hut. Upon reaching the vehicles, we leave the mountains and travel back to our lodge. Climbing time is approximately 10 - 12 hours. Overnight at Hosteria La Cienega. (B, D)


Day 13


After several long days of climbing, we enjoy a leisurely morning before returning to Quito for our celebration dinner. This day can also be used as a contingency day in case weather disrupts our climb at any point. Overnight at Hotel Mercure Alameda in Quito. (B)


Day 14


Early morning transfer to the airport for our outbound flights.




Key: B, L, D = Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner included.



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What You’ll Need

The following is a list of required equipment. We may encounter a variety of weather conditions throughout our climb, including rain, wind, snow, sleet and extreme heat. Skimping on equipment can jeopardize your safety and success, so we want you to think carefully about any changes or substitutions you are considering. If you have questions regarding the equipment needed for your upcoming climb, give us a call and speak directly to one of our experienced guides.

Most of the required equipment is available for rent or purchase from our affiliate Whittaker Mountaineering. RMI climbers receive a 10% discount on new clothing and equipment items ordered from Whittaker Mountaineering. This offer excludes sale items.

  • RMI Climbers Get 10% Off
    All New Equipment At
    Whittaker Mountaineering

Shop Your Equipment List // Rent new equipment for your climb

Equipment List

    • ICE AXE

      The length of your axe depends on your height. Use the following general mountaineering formula: up to 5'8", use a 65 cm axe; 5'8" to 6'2", use a 70 cm axe; and taller, use a 75 cm axe. If you hold the axe so that it hangs comfortably at your side, the spike of the axe should still be a few inches above the ground.


      The 10 to 12 point adjustable crampons designed for general mountaineering are ideal. We highly recommend anti-bot plates to prevent snow from balling up underfoot. Rigid frame crampons designed for technical ice climbing are not recommended.


      A digital transceiver is preferred; analog will work as well. If you rent a transceiver, one set of new batteries will be provided.


      You will need protective sunglasses, either dark-lensed with side shields or full wrap-around frames. Almost all sunglasses block UV-A, UV-B and infrared rays adequately. Pay attention to the visible light transmission. The darkest lenses (glacier glasses) only allow approx. 6% visible light to get through, while lighter lenses (driving glasses) let in as much as 20+ %. A good rule of thumb is that if you can see the wearer’s pupils through the lenses, they are too light for sun protection at altitude.


      Be sure to begin the program with fresh batteries.

    • Each glove layer is worn separately as conditions change during the climb.


      Wind/water resistant, insulated gloves. These also serve as emergency back-ups if you drop or lose a glove.

    • We recommend a minimum of five upper body layers, all of which can be used in conjunction with each other. Two of these should be insulating layers, one light and one medium, that fit well together. Today there are many different layering systems to choose from, including fleece, soft-shell, down and synthetic options.


      This expedition-style heavy parka should extend below the waist and must have an insulated hood. While the parka is worn primarily at rest breaks on summit day, it serves as an emergency garment if needed. We recommend down rather than synthetic fill as down weighs less. The parka does not have to be waterproof, though that is a nice feature.

    • We recommend a system of four layers, all of which can be used in conjunction with each other. Products which combine several layers into one garment, such as traditional ski pants, don’t work well as they don’t offer the versatility of a layering system.


      A simple, lightweight shoe for wearing around huts and camps. A common tennis shoe or sneaker works well.


      We recommend small tubes of SPF 15 or higher, which can be carried in pockets for easy access and to prevent freezing.

    • MEALS

      See the Food tab for suggestions and quantities.


      Hard-sided, screw-top, one-liter water bottles with wide mouths are required. Plastics made with high post-consumer recycled content and BPA-Free are recommended.

    • 2 - 3 GARBAGE BAGS (LARGE)

      We recommend lining your backpack with garbage bags to keep items in your backpack completely dry.


      For avalanche transceiver.


      For your duffel bags. Must be TSA approved.

    • CAMERA
    • 4 SHIRTS

      For hotel dinners and while traveling.


      Pee bottle should be 1 to 1 1/2 quart size.


      Broad spectrum antibiotics for Traveler's Diarrhea.

    • TYLENOL #3

      Tylenol 3 for pain


      For Altitude Illness

    • iPOD

      Valid for six months beyond your return date.


      The first two pages of your passport.

    • Purchase travel insurance.

    • Purchase airplane tickets.

    • Reserve rental equipment.

    • Be in the Best Shape of Your Life!

Provided Equipment

RMI provides the following equipment for your program: huts, stoves, group cooking equipment, fuel, climbing ropes, climbing anchors,  avalanche probes, shovels, and blue bags (for solid waste disposal).

Every guide on your climb will carry rescue equipment and a first aid kit. Each climb has two-way radios and a satellite phone for emergency contact.

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Is it safe to travel in Ecuador?

We hold the perspective that travel to Ecuador (and any developing nation) includes risk, but not high risk. In order to safeguard our trips:

  • We have hired a professional tour operator to coordinate our in-country logistics.
  • We hire local guides familiar with the language, roads, customs, etc.
  • We follow popular tourist thoroughfares, using private vehicles (not public transportation).
  • We travel in groups and have tourist safety protocols in place (not flashing cash, not wearing expensive jewelry, etc.).
  • Our guides are well-versed with our program and are accustomed to travel in a foreign country.

Take some time to visit the consular and travel warning pages at the U.S. Department of State. These pages offer good information and should be revisited occasionally as trip departure dates approach.

How does RMI approach these climbs differently from others so as to maximize the probability of reaching the summit?

We approach the climbs in three notably different ways:

  1. Our tried and true "ascent profile" (i.e., our incremental increase in sleeping altitudes over time to allow for proper acclimatization) is a good match for the length of our trip. This allows the group to be in the best possible condition to go for the summit.
  2. We plan an appropriate amount of climbing and culture for the length of a trip.
  3. Our world-class guides: their leadership and experience make a huge difference and are the primary reason we have so many repeat customers. Check out the RMI Difference on the Description page.

Are there distinctions between climbing in Ecuador in November/February versus June/July?

There are few distinctions. The dates we offer attempt to take advantage of both the best weather and the best snowpack for climbing in Ecuador. You will find that, regardless of the time of year, Cayambe and Antisana are substantially more challenging objectives than Cotopaxi due to weather influences from both the Upper Amazon and the Pacific Ocean. Uniquely, of all the major volcanoes, Cotopaxi sits in the central highlands zone and receives the greatest number of clear and climbable days per year.

What is the food like on the mountain?

Our mountain meals are hearty and include fresh local fare where possible. Please see our Food details for an example of meals while on the mountain.

Is the water okay to drink?

We strongly advise against drinking tap water in Ecuador. Both bottled and boiled water are readily available and should be used for drinking water. Personal water filters or water treatment tablets are not needed.

How much weight am I carrying in my pack?

Most days, backpacks should weigh approximately 20 to 25 lbs as we only carry the day's snacks, water, clothing, etc. as needed on our acclimating hikes or summit climbs. The approaches to high huts/camps are the only exceptions. Then we may carry up to 60 lbs depending on the amount of group gear needed for the summit attempt.

What is the pace like?

We use an easy to moderate pace throughout the trip, depending on whether we are on an acclimating hike or on a summit climb. While the distances we cover on a daily basis are relatively short, the altitudes to which we travel are very high and the days of hiking and climbing are still challenging. Overall, our guides set a reasonable pace - at the appropriate speed to cover the distance we need that day without going too quickly or too slowly.

What are the huts like?

The Refugio Ruales Oleas Bergé at 15,100' on Cayambe and the Refugio José Ribas at 16,000' on Cotopaxi are both set in spectacular locations, directly at the start of the climbing routes. They are relatively spacious, have nice cooking areas/kitchens, as well as latrines away from the main sleeping quarters. The Cotopaxi hut is comprised of larger dormitory style rooms, with multiple bunks per room, while the Cayambe hut is comprised of smaller, separated rooms, also with bunk arrangements.

What are the toilets like?

Basic pit-toilets are available near the huts on Cayambe and Cotopaxi. On our acclimating hikes and summit climbs, where no toilets exist, we use bio-bags to collect our solid waste so that it may be transported off of the mountain. We recommend that you bring hand sanitizer to use after visiting the toilets.

How will I be able to stay connected with those at home?

We suggest bringing a smart phone or a WIFI-enabled device and using it where WIFI and internet services are available, as in Quito. On the climbs, however, WIFI access is not available. Cell service is widely available across most of Ecuador, see below.

Should I bring a cell phone?

Sure, cell phone coverage is generally available in and around towns. Check with your cell phone carrier to see if they offer international coverage in Ecuador and make sure you have the appropriate international plans and understand the associated rates.

RMI carries a satellite phone with the group through the entire trip for emergency use.

Do iPhones function well at high altitude?

Yes. However, the cold can impact the battery life making it necessary for it to be charged a few times on the trip.

Is a Kindle or Nook practical on this trip?

Yes, but if you wish to take it up on the mountain you will likely need to recharge it once in a while. We recommend downloading all of your desired books before arriving in Ecuador.

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