There is no other feeling like being in top of a mountain, it’s hard to explain in words. But I’ll try. For myself, its one of the closest and greatest connections that humans can have with nature. Every mountain is different with it’s own beauty and although making it to a summit might be challenging, the reward it’s surreal. It’s a moment of peace, a combination of joy and frustration, it’s a moment of greatness. There is no other feeling like that.
I started climbing mountains just two months ago and I do regret not climbing before in life but it’s never too late to do it. I’m lucky to live in Quito, located in the highlands and surrounded by many beautiful Andes mountains that are relatively close and easily accessible.
It never really crossed my mind what I was aiming for but my first mountain experience was at Ruco Pichincha. I will not go into details of my previous summits and weekly cardio training but it included climbing El Corazon, Pasochoa, Ruminahui (all of these mountains between 4200 m and 4700 m) and the glacier school in Cayambe. I would recommend to summit a 5000 m mountain like Illiniza Norte for acclimatization before attempting Cayambe. Drinking plenty of water the days before for hydration is always a good idea before climbing.
The day to face my biggest mountain yet, finally came. On August 21st of 2016, I was going to climb Cayambe. My friends and I reached the refuge or base camp at 7:30 pm and is about a 2.5-hour drive away from Quito. Our guide was already there with other groups of maybe 15 people. We cooked some pasta and tried to get some rest. It was a bad idea to sleep outside in a tent as it was super windy and I really managed to get zero sleep. A night at the refuge with food included is $30 USD.
At 11:30pm we started getting ready, putting on our equipment, harness, boots, etc. I had some hot tea with coconut cookies. Personally, I don’t recommend eating too much food before going up but that depends how your metabolism works and after putting our helmets on with headlights, we were all set to begin. Cayambe is a one-day climb, so you can carry only the essentials in your backpack (water, snacks like granola bars or fruits, extra gloves/jacket). There is about 45 minutes of hiking up until you reach the glacier so the crampons were not necessary from the beginning.
When we started hiking up, I felt confident and not really tired even though I did not get any rest. The night was pretty yet windy, filled with stars and with some moon light. As I kept walking and slowly getting tired, I started having different thoughts; that I could be home sleeping or questioning why I was doing this. But those thoughts, I tried to keep away from my head with some Bonobo and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs songs playing in my head.
We made it to the glacier and it was time to put our crampons on. It’s a very good idea to set them up with the right measures to your boots before departure so that you don’t waste too much time in the cold doing this. Our guide and three of us were in one group secured with ropes in our harnesses and I was the last one in line.
The climb continued and hiking up in snow and ice can be more tiring and challenging than the normal hiking. In front of me, as the night was still young, I could only see the lights of my fellow group members and two groups way ahead of us. 2 hours passed, 3 hours passed and in between a couple of short breaks for hydration. The altitude started having an effect. My chest was making more effort and overall, I was getting more and more tired. One step at a time, I thought. Keep climbing and I’ll make the summit in no time. 4 hours passed and for certain moments, I thought about giving up. At this point, we were passing by large crevasses that looked beautiful yet potentially deadly. We were lucky enough to climb through a safe route that did not demanded great technical challenges for us.
At 5 hours, the sun started to rise. It gave me hope to know that we were so close yet far away. The last hour of climbing was the hardest. A perfectly shaped triangle shadow formed in front of us. With some light, we finally started to see the morning beauty of going up a mountain.
At certain moments, I felt that I could have trained more but I kept going, step by step. By now, our lights were turned off and it was time to put on our sunglasses. When I heard screams of joy from the first groups that made it to the summit, I felt relieve. I knew we were there.
My body and mind were too tired to fully process this moment, I hugged our guide and my friends. We just climbed Ecuador’s third highest mountain at 5790 m or 19000 ft. I knew that by far, this was one of the hardest things that I’ve done in my entire life. But it was definitely worth it, so worth it. I sat for a bit to take some breath. The day was clear and perfect and I contemplated the “Avenue of the Volcanos” for a while. I could see in front of me; Antisana, Cotopaxi and further away, the mighty Chimborazo. On the other side, Reventador volcano was in action. It was surreal, it was one of the best moments that I’ve ever experience in my 26 years of life.