Saturday, January 8, 2011

FTA Ecuador Volcanoes Jan 2011: Rucu Pichincha summited!

From Eric
In Quito, Ecuador

We had another early rise this morning for our second acclimitization hike, this time it was up Rucu Pichincha. Rucu is one of three peaks making up the Pichincha massif that lies to the west of Quito and is the most prominent ridge seen from city. In 1999, Gugua Pichincha to the south, erupted and covered Quito in a layer of ash causing chaos until the massive plume cleared. Guagua is still active and last year on another FTA trip to the Ecuador Volcanoes, we got to look into the crater from it´s ridge to see smoking fumaroles spewing sulfur gas into the air.

Our driver Victor, gave us a quick ride to the west end of the relatively narrow city that fills the valley floor 20 miles north/south and only a few miles east/west. We arrived at the Telefurico gondola which is inside a small amusement park filled with go carts, carnival rides and a discoteque that was in it´s prime at least 20 years ago. We took the 6 passenger gondola to the top and stepped out at an elevation of 13,451´, close to the elevation of Pasachoa which we hiked the day before. The wheather was mostly cloudy with a slight breeze and cool temps, which equals perfect conditions for a hike.

The group started up the trail following a broad ridge through rolling green hills that got steeper towards the base of the large rock pyramid which makes up the summit. As we climbed, we were all feeling good and were very chatty which has become the norm for this group. The first ones to reach a small cave on the side of the mountain found some snow from a recent storm and were able to pleasantly surprise the rest of the group who had no idea they were walking into a hellstorm of snowballs given we were only 30 miles from the equator.

As we skirted north around the base of the peak, the dirt trail turned to crumbly rock and got steeper quickly. We were completely in the clouds from this point on but could occasionally see the looming peak above us. Because it was a Saturday, there were many locals and hikers from Michigan, Germany and Australia who were making a dash for the summit as well. Happily, we were all able to join them at the summit and for many members of this FTA trip, Rucu Pichincha was a personal record for elevation coming in at 15,459´.

After snacks of chocolate, juice, oreos and a bite of a sandwich, we checked our oxygen saturations (perecentage of oxygen in blood) using a simple finger device most people have seen at the hospital. This is fairly common practice for high altitude climbing because as you gain elevation, the air pressure decreases and therefore there is a smaller percent of oxygen in every breath taken. For most healthy people, 02 saturations are in the high 90´s or 100%. At 15,459´ most of us were in the mid to upper 80´s! Starting at low elevations and slowly getting higher over many days will help in the acclimatization process and by checking our 02 saturations, we can measure the progress being made

After a quick hike down and a stop at the super marcado, we made a delicous dinner back at the hostel consisting of fried empanadas, a salad (arugala, tomato, onion, mozzarella cheese, cilantro), mango salsa, fried fish and pastries for dessert. It was a welcome break from the craziness of the city and eating out! Tomorrow, a 1/2 day in the city and than moving towards the base of the Illinizas, our next Ecuadorian volcano!

Everyone will be sleeping well fact, some already are!


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