MK flag on the summits of the three highest super volcanoes in Ecuador!!!
January 16, 2015
Chimborazo @ 20,701ft, Cotopaxi @ 19,347ft and Cayambe @ 18,996ft!!! What an expedition to the three highest volcanoes in Ecuador!!! Our trip began in Quito the capital and from here onwards we spent two weeks acclimatising to get us prepared for our first summit attempt. Our original goal was to climb Antisana, a remote volcano thats heavily crevassed near its summit and stands at 18,891ft. The weather had been bad for a few days and after preparing on the volcano with some high altitude ice climbing, we prepared for our summit bid. We set off that night, but were soon turned around by strong winds and cold temperatures and so were forced to retreat back to our camp.
We then continued on our journey towards our next goal Cotopaxi , the highest active volcano in the world, within the Cotopaxi national park and the second highest in Ecuador. Here we encountered llamas, herds of wild horses and varying zones of vegetation. A really spectacular place! Again the weather was looking ominous, as Cotopaxi was enveloped within huge lenticular clouds and high winds that we'd seen for a week. Luckily though, when it came to our summit night, the winds subdued radically and gave us the chance for a summit attempt. We set off into the night, up the steep slopes of the volcano and were treated to a magnifient sun rise just below the summit! On top, we had an incredible view down into the active crater and the smell of sulphur was quite intense. I then had the incredible opportunity to descend down into the crater itself and circumnavigate around the rim. This was a whole experience in itself, to drop down into the heart of a live volcano and be surrounded by fumeroles at such a close distance! Tired and happy, we descended back to camp and then towards our next goal, the highest volcano in Ecuador.
Now that we were acclimatised, we got ourselves prepared for the biggest of our goals, Chimborazo. Chimborazo is an extinct volcano and its summit is the furthest point from the center of the earth, in its own way making it the tallest mountain on the planet! We made our high camp at the Stubel camp at 16,567ft and from here we made our preparations for our summit bid. We set off early into the night following the Stubel Glacier until it joined the Castle saddle, which was a safer route in order to avoid rock fall hazard. It was a long summit night with some occasional thunder activity fairly close by which we kept an eye on, but eventually as day light broke, we arrived to the Whymper summit @ 20,701ft, to get magnificent views back over to Cotopaxi, Antisana and watched as Sangay volcano was erupting its plumes far away, high up into the atmosphere!
With some time spare and being super acclimatised at this point, Jose Luis and I decided to attempt one more volcano, the third highest in Ecuador! Cayambe is a massive glaciated extinct volcano located 65km northeast of Quito. Not only is it Ecuador's third highest peak but its the third highest peak in the America's north of the Equator. It also has the distinction of being the highest point on the Earth's surface through which the Equator directly passes. Cayambe is rather dangerous due to very active glaciers, crevasses and avalanches, so we knew this was a mountain we had be particularly careful on. We made our way up to the high refuge for a few hours of rest. As we were lying in our sleeping bags, we could hear the rain and thunder and then snow storms outside of the refuge. Our original plan was to get up at midnight and start climbing, but the weather was terrible. Finally on our third attempt at waking up at 3.00am, we poked our heads outside the door and miraculously the weather had subsided and the stars were beginning to poke through! We scrambled our things together and headed out. It turned into a beautiful summit night. Our main obstacles as expected were trying to navigate around huge crevasses and snow bridges up high, but we safely accomplished this by some careful exploring, re-tracing our route back down in sections and then having to re-ascend up a different way. The final climb was up a steep 50 degree ice pitch near the summit, but then we were on top of this beauty! We didn't stay long however as the weather was too unpredictable and the cloud was piling in, so we made a swift descent!