I get to Quito, Ecuador a couple days before I’m to start climbing.  Quito is at 9,500ft, so I am acclimatizing while I’m hanging out in town and sitting in a hotel room.  I came in late in the day and am on my own.  I met some climbers in the lobby, but they had already eaten, so I head out for pizza and beer.  When I get back to the hotel at 11pm the city is just awakening.  The city of Quito is celebrating a week long anniversary, not that I knew that then, I just wanted to sleep and that was clearly going to be difficult.

The next day I have off and so I walk the city a bit and read a bit.  I am alone and bored and feeling the altitude.  I have soup for lunch and for dinner to elevate my liquid intake and settle my stomach.  I feel good when I finally get to meet my climbing partners Conor and Mark and guide Abraham.  Conor has had some gear stolen in Quito, Mark needs a couple items.  This is when I discover that I did not read the gear list very carefully, I have a full 90L expedition pack and a 30L summit pack and they wanted me to bring a 50L pack.  Whooops.  I can’t find a pack I like, so I’ll figure it out with the gear I have.

Finally, we go for a climb on Pasochoa at about 14,000ft.  We actually climb twin peaks on this mountain connected by a ridge.  The climbing is easy except for a couple of exposed areas where a fall would be fatal.  I feel slow in comparison to Mark and Conor pushes to keep up with him.  Conor pays for that over enthusiasm later back at the hotel by throwing up, but feels much better after.  Most of the way down is in thick meadow where you can’t see the ground, very slippery and a good chance to twist an ankle.  Back at the hotel we head out for an authentic Ecuadorian dinner and beers.  I am now rooming with Mark.

The second day we deviate from the schedule to go to Gua Pichincha (instead of Rucu Pichincha), just under 16,000ft.  Mark sets a blistering pace, Conor does his best to keep up and I take a more leisurely pace with Abraham.  The clouds encompass the mountain before we reach the summit and the temperature warrants a winter hat.  Conor borrows my light glove liners as he still hasn’t gotten all the equipment he needs.  Going down is fast and easy scree sliding.  Back in the city Mark and Conor head out for a walk and Mass, neither of which is interesting me.  Further, I’m just not enjoying this vacation and I put a heating pad on my re-injured pulled groin.  While I’m sitting there I decide that I’m not going to climb anymore, I’m going to find something else to do.  I figure I’ll just go to Banos where there is horseback riding, waterfalls, hot springs and massages.  The climbers will be there for 2 nights in a couple days and I could always rejoin them then.  We go out for another Ecuadorian cuisine dinner consisting of tamales and churrasco (spiced steak with eggs) and beer.  I tell Conor and Mark of my decision and motivation and they tell me Banos has been evacuated due to the nearby volcano erupting.  After dinner we head to a bar/club for more beer and at that point it comes to me that I’m going to try to go straight to the Galapagos Islands. 

The next morning I see off Conor and Mark and give Conor some mittens and glacier glasses.  After breakfast I contact my Galapagos travel agent in Ecuador, Lilian at GalapagosIslands.com, and we change the flight so that I leave the next morning.  We discuss hotels but she doesn’t book anything and tells me to go there and decide what I like.  She says that this is not high season yet and with the global recession that there will be rooms at any hotel or hostel that I want, from $15/night to $600.  I go to Isabella at High Summits to change my hotel plans and hopefully get a bit of a refund, but there isn’t much coming in the way of a refund...this change is going to cost me.  So I pack up my climbing gear and put it in storage in the hotel (to be picked up on the return) and get my camera gear out of hotel security.  I go out on my own for another churrasco dinner and beers and go to sleep early, I have to get up early for my flight.

When I return from the Galapagos Islands, Conor has left my gear at the hotel for me with a beer.  I have to stay one night before my flight home and I have churrasco again but this time it was not very good.  The one night after being at sea level gives me a mild headache and I’m happy to leave.  I run into Conor at the airport and he buys me another beer in Miami while we catch up with each others adventures.  I found out that Mark had been climbing on Dexamethasone (a catabolic steroid which is used to help revive people at high altitude because it breaks down fat storage to provide extra energy).  I’ve never heard of a climber juicing before and find it very odd from someone who said he was trying to push himself and find his limits.  I guess the climbing mentality is changing but I find it dishonest.

Climbing Ecuador

December 2, 2010

The value of our life is not solely measured by its length, but also by the depth of our hearts.

And breadth of our experiences.  And indeed the heights that we achieve.