November 27, 2011

Colombia Paragliding


The launch site above Bucaramanga, Colombia.

After years of threatening to visit Colombia, I finally made it. I flew from Quito yesterday, and spent the night in Bucaramanga. Buca is a mellow university town that reminds me of Mendoza, Argentina.  Needless to say, the nightlife goes off.

Colombia is well known for many things but most people don't associate it with world class paragliding. I didn't know anything about it either until I started looking around. But after spending the afternoon at one of Bucaramanga's launch sites, even a neophyte like me could tell that it is a special place.

For the next 12 days, I'll be taking a paragliding intro course here in Buca. There'll be a few days of ground-school before taking to the air around mid-week. If all goes to plan, I will never walk down another mountain again.


The flight from Bogota to Buca.


Like British Columbia but with an O instead of a U.



The local swill


The fly-site casa.


The launch site above Buca.

November 24, 2011

Climbing Chimborazo, Ecuador


A cold morning on the summit of Chimborazo.

I have a rule about not waking up before midnight to go climbing. Unfortunately, I broke this rule on Chimborazo yesterday. To ease the pain of it all, I set the alarm tone to "crickets," hoping that the pleasant sound of these tiny winged creatures would soften the waking process. But at 11 pm, even the sound of crickets is hell.

By 11:50 pm, Johann and I were out the door and on our way up the mountain. The sky was overcast for the first few minutes, but as is typical in Ecuador, by midnight it was starry and clear. We walked for almost an hour before arriving at the glacier. Chimborazo has changed a lot in the twelve years since I first climbed it. Sections that used to be easy snow walking are now dry, icy and laden with rocks. In order to avoid taking a painful rock shower  later in the day, it is a good idea to be off the mountain by 9 am. Hence the early start.

I'm not sure what time we arrived at the Ventimiila summit because it was too cold and windy to check. It must have been early though because light had just appeared in the sky. I snapped a few photos and we headed down the steep track.

From Chimbo, we drove to the town of Banos at about 5000 feet - the lowest elevation we've seen since arriving in Ecuador two weeks ago. Banos is a mellow place that styles itself the adventure capital of Ecuador and many tourists pass through here on their way to visionary experiences in the jungle. Unfortunately, the ready supply of oxygen infuses the locals with an unprecedented ability to make lots and lots of noise. They may call it music and song, but do not be fooled, it is neither music nor song. At first, the timing of the noise is tricky to predict. In reality however, the schedule is executed with Swiss-like precision. Rest assured that the moment you lay down to sleep, or pick up a book to read, or try to engage in any restful activity, the noise will begin. In Banos, the art and science of-noise making is a time honored tradition and it is treated with great awe and respect.

Despite the noise in Banos, it's been a great trip! Johann and I got lucky with the weather and conditions, and managed to scrape our way up a few classic peaks. We will return to Quito this afternoon and Johann will fly home tomorrow. I leave Ecuador the following day and will head to Colombia for a few weeks before returning to Canada to face yet another winter. 

Thanks for checking in!


A brief clearing of the mountain and the route did not inspire much confidence. It looked dry! But the route was in surprisingly good shape as long as it wasn't cooking in the sun.


Passing the many memorials on the way to the Whymper Hut on Chimbo.


Johann arriving at the Whymper Hut at 16,400 feet.


The Whymper Refugio


Cool evening light in the skies over Riobamba.


View from the Hut Keepers room at the Whymper Refugio.


Sometime around 1 am on the way up. It was still warm at this point.


Sometime around 6 am on the Ventimilla Summit. 


Johann on the cold summit of Chimborazo.


Banos

November 21, 2011

Climbing Antisana 18,875 ft and Hanging at Papallacta


Looking up at Antisana from Base Camp. Anti is the 4th highest peak in Ecuador and  is way more remote than Cayambe, Cotopaxi and Chimbo. There is no refugio on the mountain and just getting to BC requires solid 4x4 piloting.

I must admit that I have something of a love / hate relationship with Antisana. From a guiding perspective, leading a client up Antisana is significantly more involved than the other popular peaks in Ecuador. For starters, there is no cell service so if you need to call for a rescue or arrange for a date in Quito, you must do so with a SAT Phone. Furthermore, there is no refugio on the mountain so camping is necessary. And as if all this isn't enough, Antisana attracts more bad weather than neighboring Cotopaxi, is significantly more crevassed than the higher peaks, has a rugged morainal approach, and has one of those broad summit ridges that lasts forever. But here's the thing, because of all this, hardly anyone climbs the peak. The mountain is pristine, the views are second to none, the tent is a lot cleaner than the huts, and when you do manage to scrape (or more likely, break heinous trail) up the mountain, it feels pretty good. Especially when you know that you'll be spending the night at Termas de Papallacta.

Back in Quito now and enjoying a few hours of r+r before heading to Chimborazo tomorrow.


Antisana put on one of the more memorable evening light shows I've seen in a while. Of course, my camera managed to break down during this time and I missed most of it. After throwing a small tantrum, the camera came back to life for a few shots. Sadly, no amount of aggressive tapping or swearing could get it to work on summit day.


Antisana from our camp.


Johann at camp with Cotopaxi in the distance.


Evening light on Cotopaxi.


Low down on the mountain. Notice the red picket sticking out of my pack. This is one of the newer Yates designs that I found to be practically worthless in the snicy conditions typical in places like Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. The pickets works great in snow, but I'm going to stick with the classic Coyote or SMC designs in the southern hemisphere. Johann M photo.


Looking out at Coto, Cayambe El Altar and Sangay reminded me of the rolling blue hills of a Cormac Mccarthy novel - interspersed with occassional 5000 and 6000 meter peaks. Johann M Photo.


Johann on the summit after almost 6.5 hours on the go. Our next climb, Chimborazo (20,560 feet), can be seen in the background.


Three hours after returning to Base Camo, we found ourselves here @ Termas de Papallacta.


Papallacta should be on everyone's tour of the Avenidas de Volcanes.


Pools range from hot to cold. This one was hot.


The main building at Papallacta.


Cool doors.


This may look like breakfast but it was actually a midnight snack.


A much more civilized view of Antisana.

November 18, 2011

Climbing the Illinizas, Ecuador



Looking up at the Illinizas from the town of Chaupi.

After three days climbing Illiniza Norte and Sur, Johann and I are back in Quito. We spent one night in the town of Chaupi and then moved up to the Illiniza Refugio at 4800 meters / 15,750 feet. The Refugio has been slightly renovated since my last trip in 2007. The key word here is slightly. If you're looking for a 5 star mountain experience, the Illiniza Refugio might not be for you. But if you're looking for a good place to climb and acclimate near Quito, the Illinizas are tough to beat.

In 1999-2000, during a ten-week stay in Ecuador, I took a bus from Quito to Machachi and hired a camionetta to take me to the Illinizas trailhead. The following day, I climbed Norte and Sur and returned to Quito that evening. The interesting thing is that the route I climbed in 2000 on Sur - La Rampa - no longer exists. Or more accurately, the route has completely melted out. This is too bad because it was a really good route! The standard approach to Sur has also changed. Instead of following the high trail from the hut that is marked "Sur," Johann and I took the path to the Norte Col, then traversed to a low entrance on Sur's  prominent ridge. This seemed to work better than the marked approach because we didn't have to gain and lose as much elevation. The regular route on Sur is currently in pretty good shape. A few pitches of 50 degree snow and ice take you to a flat bench with a steep exit on the left. From here, a final ramp leads to the summit. We had perfect weather for the climb and were treated to awesome views of our next objectives -  Antisana and Chimbo. 


Rene piloting the ship during our second acclimatization hike


I found an old Patagonia fleece that I sold on Ebay ten years ago


The Illinizas from Chaupi


Johann acquires the knowledge


The local swill


Looking up at Illiniza Norte (16,870 feet) from the Refugio


Evening light from the Illiniza Refugio


Good view of Antisana and Cotopaxi


Johann standing in front of Illiniza Sur


On the way down from Illiniza Norte


Still descending Illiniza Norte


Near the summit on Illiniza Sur


Summit Ridge


Johann pats Cotopaxi from the summit of Illiniza Sur

November 13, 2011

Rucu Pichincha 15,413 ft / 4698 m



The hike up Rucu Pichincha used to be famous for armed gunmen and violent robberies. Today, thanks to the addition of a gondola that soars over the sketchy barrio,  the climb is better known for horses and great vistas.

Johann and I got lucky today. After three days of cloudy skies and rain, the sun finally broke through. After a civilized start that included lots of coffee and a cab ride to the new TelepheriQo, we climbed above the low lying clouds and were treated to a spectacular view of La Avenida de los Volcanes that included: Cayambe, Antisana, the Illinizas, Cotopaxi, and Chimborazo. After a leisurely stroll that lasted a few hours, we topped out at almost 15,500 feet, had lunch and dozed in the rarified air. 

For tomorrow's hike, we'll climb Rucu's neighbor - Guagua Pichincha, and then drive to la Llovizna at the base of the Illiniza's.  From there, we'll spend two nights at the Illiniza Hut perched at just under 15,500 feet.  So for now we're just doing our best to get well acclimated.



The climbing wall in Quito. Not sure if they're trying to keep the public out or the climbers in?


Quito artwork


Topping out in the TelepheriQo.



This is what happens to bad kids.


Above the clouds on Rucu Pichincha.


Looking down at Quito.


Flower of the mountaineers.


Signage


If you look close, you can see Cotopaxi.


This shot is all about the shirt FC PBR



Cumbre!



The ever present llama.