Saturday, February 24, 2007

Mt Cayambe

Mt Cayambe: 2/23-25/2007

Located exactly on the equator, Cayambe is place of paradox and wonder. It is the highest spot on the equator in the world. It is so strange to see such superb glaciers at a place conventionally thought tropical. This is an icy, harsh, strong, and beautiful mountain... no tropical paradise!
... although, it is a tropical paradise ...

Of all the mountains in Ecuador we have visited, to me, Cayambe is the most beautiful and magnificent. On it's north side the area is a designated an Ecological Reserve. The one road through the area winds up through high tropical forest, then into grasslands scattered with odd funky jungle plants, then stops at a view of these equatorial glaciers. We drove up to the end of the road, to some antennae on a hill, then walked further up the valley to view the north face climbing route (this photo is a view of the north face).

We decided not to climb the north route, and go tomorrow to climb the more popular southern route. But, this north side is so special, the place is awe inspiring, and the route looks really exciting. This is one of the spots we are visiting on this trip that I most certainly want to come back to and spend more time. I don't think Cayambe should be an Ecological Reserve. I think the Ecuador government is making a big mistake not making this a National Park.

The next day we drove up the rough rocky road to the refuge at the base of the south face. The wind was blowing hard and cold as we unloaded our gear from the car and set up our beds in the refuge. After a warm snack, we walked up the rocky first section of the route to the head of the glacier. It was blowing so hard it knocked me over once, and the spits of rain covered the rocks with a slippery layer of clear ice.

Back at the refuge, we ate some dinner, talked to another group of climbers there about the route and climbing strategies, then got into bed before sunset. At midnight the whole refuge was up and nosily getting ready to climb... sorting gear, eating breakfast, filling water bottles with hot water. We could hear the wind howling and gusting outside. When we went out, it was much worse than we thought. At the refuge (i.e low elevation) the wind was gusting to 60 mph, and sending missiles of frozen rain into our faces. What was happening up high?

After standing outside for about 15 minutes, discussing, evaluating, arguing, freezing, we decided not to climb. The weather was just too bad. Part of the other climbing group decided to go for it. We got back into our sleeping bags feeling a little embarrassed, a little inadequate, a little pathetic, and wondering if the bad weather would let up, and if the other group would be at the summit after a great climb while we sat eating breakfast down in the refuge.

At about 3:00 am, we were awoken by the loud boots and voices of the other group returning to the refuge. They said that the climb was horrendous. They made it to the head of the glacier, but the wind was so strong, it was blowing people over, and on slick exposed ice, that is not a situation to be in. And it was just getting worse. On the walk back to the refuge the icy rocky trail was so dangerous with the wind, they had to set up rappels. Needless to say, we guiltily felt great that we had made the right decision not to climb.

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