Apr 28 2012

Ecuador – Part Four – Midnight Moon on Chimborazo – June 2011

 

Running short on time and seeing a weather window we quickly grabbed a cab and took the first hostel we could find after our bus ride from Banos.  With Jordan under the weather and constantly in the Bano from a meal in Banos (go figure) Ben and I pushed on heading up to the hut on Chimborazo.  We found ourselves rapidly rummaging through our packs double checking our gear list before our hired cab would arrive at 2pm.  Of course the very first time in the history of foreign cab rides our taxi was early, the one day we probably could have used an extra 15 minutes to get our gear in order.

Route we climbed on Chimborazo

Route we climbed on Chimborazo

The ride up the winding dusty road to the lower hut was masked in cold dark fog, leaving Ecuador’s highest peak shrouded in secrecy.  At the old wooden gate a bundled up man signaled for us to get out.  The wind ripped the door open as we scurried over to the little hut.  Inside a single light bulb and the sound of a statickey old radio filled the room. We filled out our paperwork for climbing and paid the gentlemen the park entrance fees totally a mere $2 per person!  Our cab continued to rattle along the dusty road as our incredibly knowledgable driver pointed at everything he could see through the fog.  He even drew us a map of the route we should take on the back of a napkin, if that doesn’t instill a thought of confidence I don’t know what does.  I mentally kept imagining Ben and I standing on a ridge at twenty-thousand feet arguing over who was holding the napkin map and which pocket we had put it in.

Photo title "Burro Battle" Local man trying to tame the stubborn burro

Photo title "Burro Battle" Local man trying to tame the stubborn burro

A sheep herder watches after her flock on the flanks of Chimborazo

A sheep herder watches after her flock on the flanks of Chimborazo

The dust swirled amongst the fog working itself deep into our pile of gear that had just been left in a foreign looking moonscape.  We decided to spend the first night at the lower hut to give our bodies one more day of rest and acclimatization.  Ben and I spent the evening sipping tea around an old fireplace chatting to a man from Switzerland who had spent some time working in Wisconsin and Minnesota for a farm equipment company.  The long day of bus transfers, cabs & frantic gear sorting would have sent most people to bed early.  Yet for me when you know that you are in place you may never return to and it seems so spectacular I can’t help but want to explore as much as I can.  So I grabbed my camera and headed out around 11pm to head up the ridge.  As the rock on the rope that weighted the door rose the moon light spilled across the old wooden floor of the hut.  The sky had cleared and the moon was casting shadows across the desolate landscape.  I spent several hours exploring the ridge and taking in the size of Chimborazo in the glowing moonlight knowing that the following night I would have my shadow cast upon her great ridge of volcanic red rock.

Star Trails behind Chimborazo with a full moon rising on the right

Star Trails behind Chimborazo with a full moon rising on the right

Night exposure of Chimborazo with clouds racing over the summit

Night exposure of Chimborazo with clouds racing over the summit

That morning we took our time gathering our gear and making our way to the upper hut, which would become our launching point later that evening.  Upon arrival around lunch time we began hydrating ourselves until we ran clear.  We also ramped up our calorie intake in anticipation of the climb.  With our last minute gear checks complete we lounged in the warm sun inspecting what we could of our route.  After awhile I began to wander from camp looking for the wildlife that was making the interesting calls we could hear from camp.  With some patience and crawling behind rocks I managed to get close enough to the pack of Vicuna.  They are basically a smaller alpaca that lives at altitudes as high as 17,000′ feet.  These particular ones that I photographed were located on the ridge to the east of camp at about 16,500′.

Vicuna at 16,500' on Chimborazo

Vicuna at 16,500

Ben boiled some water and we made another bag of freeze dried food for an early dinner as we awaited nightfall.  From camp we could here the rocks crashing down the section known as “El Corridor”.  Neither of us actually slept that afternoon.  It was more of a kindergarten nap time where no one really sleeps because as soon as you get comfortable you need to use the bathroom which in our case was outside.  Then when you finally get comfortable you are all of a sudden hungry.  As soon as you eat something you wake up thirsty and worry that you are getting dehydrated before the climb.  Next thing you know you are standing outside using the bathroom again.  This vicious cycle works its way over and over until it’s time to actually climb.  For us that time was 11pm.

With the moon high above our heads we left our headlamps off chasing our shadows that the full moon cast on the eerie red volcanic rock of Chimborazo.  The first mile was pretty easy following a dried creek bed to the base of the steep slopes and saddle we needed to gain.  As we began lifting our legs higher we both know that we were entering the “El Corridor” section.  Our boots had difficulty getting purchase on the frozen scree.  Despite the cold and seemingly frozen slope, the golfball to bowling ball sized rocks kept whizzing past making a distinct zipping noise as they attempted to reach terminal velocity.  At this point we decided to spread apart in the most active areas and go one at a time while the other watched the slope above.  Sure enough a baseball came sailing down buzzing Ben like fighter pilot showing off his skills.  Gaining the ridge at the toe of the glacier was a big relief.  It was here that the only other two climbers on the mountain caught up to us as I shot some photos on the ridge.

Ice falls in "El Corridor"

Ice falls in "El Corridor"

A 60 second exposure on the saddle between the glacier and "El Corridor"

A 60 second exposure on the saddle between the glacier and "El Corridor"

The wind ripped across the saddle blinding our eyes with tiny bits of volcanic dust.  We continued with our hand held covering our right temple to try and shelter the wind.  Reaching the toe of the glacier was a huge relief for our eyes.  With our harnesses already on we quickly tied a New Zealand coil between us and began to make progress up the glacier.  The moonlight was reflected even brighter on the snow of the glacier.  Navigating through the maze of small cracks and crevasses was a far easier task in the clear moonlight than it had been on Cotopaxi during the ice storm.  We climbed for several hours taking mandatory breaks to drink, eat and swing leads.  We ran into the group ahead of us again just as they were descending the first lower summit, Cumbre Veintimilla, which was their groups high point.  After a brief exchange and clouds beginning to roll in we decided to make a push for the true summit, Cumbre Whympher.  An additional 40 minutes of climbing led us to the final wall of the Whympher summit.  Every couple of steps at nearly 21,000′ feet required a pause and breath.  We felt good at this altitude with no signs of any altitude related sickness.  We watched the sun rise just as we topped out on Cumbre Whympher.  Unfortunately it was one of the most lack luster sun rises of the trip.  Regardless the view and feeling of standing atop Ecuador’s highest peak was phenomenal and an experience I will never forget.

Ben picking his way through the penitentes on Chimborazo

Ben picking his way through the penitentes on Chimborazo

Ben Standing atop the El Cumbre Whympher aka the true summit

Ben Standing atop the El Cumbre Whympher aka the true summit

In fitting style the short video of me on the summit turned out blurry.  Lets just say that our brains are not exactly 100% at this altitude.

Weston high on the glacial ridge of Chimborazo

Weston high on the glacial ridge of Chimborazo

After summiting the sun became intensified lending to our concerns of recrossing the “El Corridor” area any later than we absolutely had to.  Despite going down hill it seemed to be nearly as much work as going up hill with our tired legs and softening snow.  We swung leads increasing the our mandatory stops to 5 minutes for every 30 minutes of descending in order to ensure that we stayed hydrated and kept our stomachs happy.  Even with this their is only so many clif bars and goo shots with caffeine one man can consume in a day.  As we removed the rope at the toe of the glacier we could already hear the rocks hurling through “El Corridor”.  In the best interest of our noggins we both agreed to neglect our stomachs for the hour as we navigated the final pitches.  Watching out for one another we nearly jogged some sections of the corridor.  Our boots sank deep in the reddish mud that had been solid ice only hours before.  As the ground began to level we smiled and knew that we had made it, although we held off on a celebratory photo until our packs lay on the ground at the hut.  Upon arrival at the hut is was high fives and congratulatory hug.  We both deeply wished that Jordan could have joined us on our final peak in Ecuador.  Although both Ben and I had a very similar experience when in Peru, it was in Peru in which I did not make it to bathroom in time for number 2…. something I hoped wouldn’t happen until sometime after age 80.  Either way we will be back for more in this beautiful country filled with generous people whose smile was infectious.

Ben and Weston after climbing 20,730' Chimborazo of Ecuador

Ben and Weston after climbing 20,730

Looking back at Chimborazo

Looking back at Chimborazo

We shouldered our packs for one more time to hike back down the trail.  Thankfully our cab driver we had arranged for was sitting there waiting for us.  He crammed our packs into the trunk.  The engine sputtered and was soon rattling its way back down the mountain side.  Back in town the three of us went out for dinner and celebrated our incredible trip over a few beers.  Upon our return to our hostel we watched a fiery sunset set behind Chimborazo.  It was a bitter sweet ending to our trip.  South America remains my favorite place to travel and is one of the few places I could move to and spend several years exploring.  Ecuador was a great country filled with some of the most generous people I have ever met.

Fiery sunset on Chimborazo as seen from Riobamba

Fiery sunset on Chimborazo as seen from Riobamba

Apr 27 2012

Torreys Peak 14,267′

Torreys Peak 14,267

Torreys Peak 14,267

Torreys Peak 14,267′

April 10th, 2012

Ascent & snowboard descent of the Dead Dog Coulior

Climbed with Ben Lysdahl & Kris Serbousek

Video Trip Report:

Written Word & Photograph Report:

Grays & Torreys Peak as seen from Frisco & Lake Dillon

Grays & Torreys Peak as seen from Frisco & Lake Dillon

Despite a near record low snow pack for this winter here in Colorado we still managed to ski some fun lines.  Knowing it would be an easy day we got a later start leaving the house around 7am and pulling into the trailhead parking lot just after 8am.  We were able to drive all the way up to the summer trailhead, the road had melted out already (no plowing, yes we had that bad a year).  With a good freeze we managed to skin about 80% of the way to the base of Torreys, only walking the rolling couple hills just before reaching the climb.  With the three of us swinging leads we made very quick time in our ascent topping out around 11am.

Ben and Kris hiking the summer trail to Torreys

Ben and Kris hiking the summer trail to Torreys

Kris hiking over the last hill with Dead Dog lookers right of the Summit of Torreys

Kris hiking over the last hill with Dead Dog lookers right of the Summit of Torreys

Ben & Kris getting the blood flowing up the Dead Dog Coulior

Ben & Kris getting the blood flowing up the Dead Dog Coulior

The sun had done it’s job as we made our first turns on nice soft 50 degree corn off the summit.  We traversed after our initial turns standing atop the Dead Dog Coulior.  The descent from here was a bit mixed.  The left side along the rocks was rotten in spots and the far right tucked in the shade held a couple sections of nasty ice.  Sluff and scraps depending on the turn led down to a perfect corned apron where it soon became a big GS course around the rocks that had tumbled down the coulior previously.  With our stomachs growling from the abrupt morning rush of physical activity we headed back to the truck and switched into sandals for a bit.  Since the ski hill was still open we figured we would double down on the corn and head up Vail for some bonus lift accessed turns for the remainder of the day.  The hill was sloppy towards the bottom but an excellent bonus to an already great spring day.

Apr 27 2012

Mount Democrat Video Trip Report

Mount Democrat 14,148' Slider

Mount Democrat 14,148' Slider

Mount Democrat 14,148′

April 4th, 2012

Solo ascent of the Southeast Ridge

Snowboard descent of Emma Chutes

Dec 26 2011

Ecuador – Part 3.5 – A Bano Break in Banos – June 2011

A photo essay &  short break from climbing trip reports.

With some time to burn and the weather outlook being 50/50 for our final peak, Chimbarazo, it was time to hit the hot springs of Banos.  The photos will tell the rest with the exception of a short paragraph on letting 3 gringos loose in rural Ecuador driving rented mini dune buggies.

To celebrate the success of our first 3 peaks we took a break in Banos & went out for dinner and drinks.  Unfortunately Jordan got a bad taco and ended up on the Bano in Banos.  For the next three days Jordan would battle a stomach bug with full courses of medication and some disgusting rehydration salts to try and get back on course for our final peak.

Nothing like a 2 hour bus ride turning into 5 hours courtesy of a land slide only a couple miles from our final destination

Nothing like a 2 hour bus ride turning into 5 hours courtesy of a land slide only a couple miles from our final destination

Jordan riding with the gear on our way to Banos

Jordan riding with the gear on our way to Banos

Banos sits on the shoulder of the active volcano Tungurahua 16,480'

Banos sits on the shoulder of the active volcano Tungurahua 16,480'

This is what we came for, climbing these smoking mountains

This is what we came for, climbing these smoking mountains

Ben sipping on a fresh cracked coconut

Ben sipping on a fresh cracked coconut

Interesting plants that grow in massive clusters

Interesting plants that grow in massive clusters

The city of Banos

The city of Banos

An old Land Rover that has seen better days on the streets of Banos Ecuador

An old Land Rover that has seen better days on the streets of Banos Ecuador

 What happens when you give a couple cowboys from Colorado more than one horse?  

During our down time in Banos we decided to rent some of these “street legal” dune buggies.  For around $5 an hour including gas we found ourselves tearing around the rural Ecuadorian hillsides.  These dune buggies were a bit slow for our liking going up hill, but on the flats or going down hill we could go around 40-45 miles per hour.  In the open cockpit it was a frenzy of flying dirt and splashing puddles from who ever was in front.  Jordan seemed to have a slightly higher performance machine which he took full advantage of whipping huge donuts and blasting down the rocky slopes.

Our tour took us high up the hillsides through green pastures and waterfalls around every corner pouring through the soupy mix of clouds.  As cowboys will be cowboys on the open road,  a bit of friendly racing soon ensued.  Our buggies suspension rattled and strained as we forced it to its limit around the tight corners.  Our faces covered in mud from spraying one another and avoiding the dry sections.  The motor roared to life in my buggy inching me closer as I buzzed the back of Jordan’s Blue Beast.  I dipped right and snuck past on the inside corner briefly exchanging a glance with Jordan.  He stayed hot on my tail buzzing me through the next corner and probably would have reclaimed his position in front except for the narrowing rough pathway we were on.  The next corner came as a surprise for both of us.

Taking up 110% of our already narrow road way was a beat up blue pickup truck filled with farming equipment.  The sound of the motor was immediately drowned out by the sound of gravel being thrown everywhere as the buggy’s locked up brakes skidded right into the home-made solid steel brush guard.  A split second later Jordan came skidding into my buggy sideways.  Ben managed to avoid the three car pileup by locking up the brakes and mowing a little bit of the brush alongside the road.  To our surprise our buggy’s motors were still running and the driver of the farm truck seemed just as surprised.  After a brief exchange of seeing if everyone was all right we got out of their faster than we had come in. We wanted to limit the opportunity for the police or anyone else for that matter, in extorting us for some gringo cash.

We returned our buggy’s hardly raising an eyebrow as they already had plenty of cosmetic problems before.  We figured from here on out we would stick with the climbing.

Team Photo - Ben and Weston standing, Jordan in the drivers seat

Team Photo - Ben and Weston standing, Jordan in the drivers seat

Racing along the back roads of Ecuador

Racing along the back roads of Ecuador

Rural back roads near Banos Ecuador

Rural back roads near Banos Ecuador

Huge waterfalls in rural Ecuador

Huge waterfalls in rural Ecuador

Jordan ripping donuts in the Blue Beast Buggy

Jordan ripping donuts in the Blue Beast Buggy

Dec 19 2011

Ecuador – Part Three – Ice Storm on Cotopaxi – June 2011

With the weather seemingly in our favor we wasted no time in our return from Illiniza.  To warm up from our cold showers we celebrated with a couple bottles of ice cold beer.  Every piece of gear was removed from our packs and inspected, inventoried, and separated into piles.  Each pile represented a meal or equipment for a specific portion of our next climb and was divided equally by weight amongst our packs.  The remainder of the evening was spent looking at maps discussing strategy and possible scenarios we might encounter over the following days.  Part of our adventure in Ecuador was being our own guides, porters and translators. Every minor detail is left up to us which in turn can make transporting 500lbs of gear from climb to climb without incident a successful and rewarding day.

After asking around we caught wind that the large hut located on the northern flank of Cotopaxi was pretty full.  We opted to bring our tent instead and hike above the hut closer to the start of the glacier.  Turns out we made the right call as the hut was over flowing with other climbers as we passed it, although the three of us in our tent is also technically over flowing.  At least in our tent you know who to yell at when you get a foot in the face.  As to be expected in South America our ride to the mountain was late.  With the late ride we were just barely able to establish camp in the fierce winds in time for dark further.  The winds wrecked havoc on our tents guylines because we couldn’t find rocks heavy enough to secure the load.  We were surrounded by basketball sized chunks of lava rock weighing almost nothing.  It was more akin to a Hollywood movie set.  We could throw a basketball sized “heavy” rock for thirty feet.  It took nearly 100′ of guyline to secure our tent to the side of Cotopaxi.

Ben on the approach to camp

Ben on the approach to camp

100' of guyline and our tent was secured to the side of Cotopaxi

100' of guyline and our tent was secured to the side of Cotopaxi

The tent shuttered violently with the sound of small rocks and accelerated dust particles slamming into us.  The three of use crammed into the tent in an attempt to get comfortable and catch a few hours of sleep before our midnight start time.  Soon we realized that sleep would only be something we dreamed of.  I gave up first grabbing my camera to try and capture a few night shots despite the wind.  Jordan seemed the most comfortable and quite, if you could even call it that.  Ben seemed right at home as he always seems to be on big mountains.  Either that or he had snuck a bag of beef jerky into his sleeping bag again.  He usually avoids eating the loud and crunchy pub mix as not to attract the attention of the others in the tent who might be looking to infringe on his share.

Our tent holding steady as clouds rip across the summit of Cotopaxi

Our tent holding steady as clouds rip across the summit of Cotopaxi

The lights of Quito reflected in the low clouds as seen from camp on Cotopaxi

The lights of Quito reflected in the low clouds as seen from camp on Cotopaxi

Their was no need for an alarm clock for our midnight start.  Sleep never came, only a brief chance to lay down. This was made more uncomfortable either because of the altitude or the fact that I might have been laying slightly down hill.  The stove roared to life turning the dirty unleaded gasoline from Quito into piping hot cups of tea and meals in a bag.  We tucked our hot bags of food into our jackets to let them “cook”.  The warmth radiated against our stomach as we did our final double checks on equipment.  The stars would come and go overhead as our equipment clanged loudly on our harnesses in the wind.  We climbed with our heads hung low avoiding as much of the dust laden wind as possible.  The visibility worsened at toe of the glacier as we stopped to don crampons and rope up.

Weston and Jordan Winters part way up Cotopaxi at 2 am, the weather would get worse before it got better

Weston and Jordan Winters part way up Cotopaxi at 2 am, the weather would get worse before it got better

The bottom portion of the glacier was a rat race with the other climbing teams.  Our objective was to be ahead of most of the 80 or so other people (we found out how many started at the hut the following day) before the route narrowed into the labyrinth of crevasses towering glaciers and seracs.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to shoot nearly as many photos as I had hoped in the more exciting parts of the route due to the weather.  The weather had turned into a wind hammering ice storm.  The ice would cling to anything in sight, building up to an inch thick on much of our equipment rendering some of it useless.  Our jackets, packs and faces became weighted with the heavy ice buildup.  Each time we stopped for a snack and water we would crack off as much ice as possible from each others equipment to lessen our work load at nearly 19,000′.

Route finding in the labyrinth of glaciers on Cotopaxi

Route finding in the labyrinth of glaciers on Cotopaxi

Worthless gear from an ice storm on Cotopaxi

Worthless gear from an ice storm on Cotopaxi

The sun rose but we never actually saw it.  The clouds engulfed us in a pink hue as the wind kept up its relentless push.  With first light we soon realized that only one set of tracks was ahead of us, a team of two just beyond our sight.  Our efforts down low had paid off giving us quick passage through the bottleneck areas of the route.  We climbed higher above the clouds giving us a surreal feeling of being high above everything else around us.

Jordan catching the first rays of sunlight at nearly 19,000' on Cotopaxi

Jordan catching the first rays of sunlight at nearly 19,000' on Cotopaxi

Ben high above the clouds

Ben high above the clouds

Just below the summit of Cotopaxi

Just below the summit of Cotopaxi

Ben covered in ice on cotopaxi

Ben covered in ice on cotopaxi

The summit had been much anticipated by all of us as it sits on the rim of a smoking volcano.  Unfortunately the clouds obscured our view but the excitement of making the summit overshadowed the weather on this day.  We spent about twenty minutes on top exchanging photos and had shakes before preparing ourselves for our descent.

Team Cabelleros de Colorado on the summit of 19,347' Cotopaxi

Team Cabelleros de Colorado on the summit of 19,347' Cotopaxi

Weston celebrating on the summit of Cotopaxi

Weston celebrating on the summit of Cotopaxi

Our descent was tiring and complicated by heavy cloud cover.  At times we had to rely on finding our next bamboo wand with neon orange tape to safely navigate through the heavily crevassed areas.  Our somewhat slow descent was then compounded by the lower slopes becoming soft.  The final pitches felt like we were hiking on sand.  The only upside of the softened snow, a mile long glissade on the apron until we hit the dirt path leading back to our camp.  The only casualty was Ben’s rear end that seems to always be a magnet for hidden rocks during glissades.

Upon return to camp I was overwhelmed with contradicting feelings.  I was starving yet felt like I wanted to vomit.  I wanted to sleep yet I could not get comfortable until the my starvation/vomit feelings had been resolved.  Everything was also complicated by the fact that we still had to pack up camp, hike out & find a ride all before the park gates closed.  In the end food & water seemed to be the cure all.  I laid in my sleeping bag on a rock eating snickers bars & pub mix until my belly could handle no more.  As my jaw grew sore from my feverish pace of consumption sleep finally won out.  A short 30 minute snooze and it was time to finish what we had started.  We packed up camp and hustled down the trail back to the end of the road in search of a ride.  Lucky for us a man in a white pickup had room in the back.  A true adventure always incorporates riding the back of a vehicle off-road and following local driving customs rather than laws.

Weston and Ben hitching a 2 hour ride back to our hostel (Photo Jordan Winters)

Weston and Ben hitching a 2 hour ride back to our hostel (Photo Jordan Winters)

Still starving I asked our driver if he had a favorite restaurant along the Pan American Highway.  He replied that his favorite was the Illiniza Restaurant.  I then asked him if he would take us there, in exchange we would buy him dinner.  He could hardly believe what he was hearing.  Before we knew it we were walking into the equivalent of a Wisconsin supper club packed to the brim with locals for Sunday dinner.  Needless to say we got some looks.  Three haggard looking gringo climbers still wearing our outerwear accompanied by our taxi driver.  We enjoyed a local three course meal including a fantastic appetizer of corn and cheese, both of which came from the land behind the restaurant.  By the time we returned to our hostel we had been up for about 42 hours staright and had successfully climbed Cotopaxi at 19,347′, needless to say celebration would have to wait.

With 3 of 4 objectives completed and not a single weather day used we had some extra time to explore and give Ben’s rump a rest.  It was time to hit the hot springs of Banos along with an unexpected adventure of three competitive guys driving rental buggies at high speeds on Ecuadors rural mountain roads.

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