Thursday, October 21, 2010

Las Ilinizas: October 9

My translator was gone.  I was on my own.  It was time to see if I could navigate this country solo.  Cab to the bus station: easy.  Bus to Machachi: stressful but got it done.  Now where is the bus for El Chaupi?  Fortunately the people of Ecuador are the nicest people ever.  I must have looked out of place because I was getting plenty of unsolicited help.  

Along came a bus straight from Imagination-land: bumping music, brightly painted, tassels on the curtains, license plate that said "Fresh", and there were dice in the mir'.

If anything I could say that this bus was rare, but I thought, nah, forget it, yo home's, to El Chaupi!  

The ride set me back $0.41 but I would have paid $0.45, so I was feeling pretty good about myself.  The hostel was only a few blocks uphill from the town square.  I had booked a private room at the Illovizno and opted to include dinner and breakfast ($25 all in).  This place is a climber's hangout.  Stickers from climbing stores from all over the world plaster the windows around the entrance.  Flags and old climbing gear fill the mantel over the fire place. The main food staples in this part of the country are chicken and potatoes and plenty of them. Dessert was tomate de arbol (tree tomato).  It was sweetened, baked, and served warm. Fantastic. My room was drafty but the covers were heavy.  Perfect sleeping weather.

The Hostel

The owner, Bladimir (with a B) Gallo arranged for a 5 AM wake-up, breakfast, and a ride up the 10K cobblestone road into the park to the trailhead.  He also insisted that I borrow a climbing helmet and gave me a 2-way radio in case I ran into trouble.  See, these Ecuadorians are awesome.  

The trail starts at 12,800'.  It starts gradually climbing through what feels like high desert.  The elevation (altura) wasted now time kicking my ass.  I had left my fancy watch back in Quito so I was unsure of the elevations for the entire hike.  

Sur on the Left, Norte on the Right

I had planned on climbing the North Peak, but I was on a sub-ridge heading towards the South. The gully separating the two was deep and narrow. This didn't feel right, but I didn't have the energy to do anything except slog on up the trail. Closer and closer to the wrong mountain, but as long as the pass was above me, I wasn't going to worry about it. Finally the trail took a hard right and headed towards the pass.  The hut came into view; I had chosen the correct route. Phew!  The hut costs $15 a night and has a propane stove.  They sell beer ($1.50) and other hot and cold drinks for about $1.  

The Refugio (15,400')

The South peak has plenty of ice and requires technical gear. It blocks the weather for the North; so no ice on the North. So North to the future. I gained the ridge and was making good time.  

The Route to the North (16, 818')

The South

Eventually you need to get off the ridge and traverse onto the face via El Paso de la Muerte.  With a name liked that, I assumed this would be the crux.  I breathed a sigh of relief on the other side even though it was only 3rd class.  At this point you need to trascend across the face until you are under the 2nd (higher) summit.  This was considerably more difficult than the Pass of Death.  There were some low 5th class moves and the sun was starting to change the frozen mud into slickery mud.  Where is Vonnegut's Ice Nine when you need it?  Careful placement kept my feet on the rocks and my shoes dry.  The hedgehog could smell the summit. 

The last 100' vert is an awesome super juggy 4th class chimney. Prefect hold after perfect hold, near vertical and then no more. An iron cross marks the summit, well that and thick clouds. No visibility, but that was fine. Ain't nothing going to break my stride, nobody's gonna slow me down.  I rested and after about 5 minutes the clouds broke.  First some valleys, then the South Peak, and then Cotopaxi! I lingered trying in vain to take it all in.  No words to describe it. Poetry. They should've sent a poet.
Cotopaxi from Iliniza Norte

On the way up I sussed a big time short cut.  Send it right down the East Face, all scree.  No Death Pass, no mud, just 2,000 vert of beautiful scree.  Hallelujah!  This I know.  4 hours up, 2 hours down.  "Blad, come and get me, over, copy, 10-9, come again, roger!" 

It was my highest peak ever.  The elevation didn't crush me as much as I expected, but Cotopaxi concerned me.  Its 2,500' higher, glaciated, and looked terrifying from Las Ilinizas.  There'll be time to worry about that later, now it was time to negotiate buses and taxis and pick-ups.  I needed to get back to Quito to meet my translator for beers.  


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