Ecuador: Mountaineering – Jan 2018

Ecuador stands for high altitude mountain climbing. Although the mountains are not the highest in the world – due to the bulge of the earth at the equator – they are bringing you closer to the moon than even the mountains in the Himalaya.

In order to acclimatize Ursula and I undertook a number of mountain hikes before we planned to ascend the Cotopaxi (5.897m). One of the preparation hikes lead us to the Iliniza Norte (5.126m), located some 40 km south of Quito. The Iliniza Norte and the more difficult Iliniza Sur are the remnants of an ancient volcano which collapsed long ago. Heavy snowfall some days prior to our ascend made the tour a bit more difficult than usual. We therefore hired Fran Sabata (+593 994 747 708), an experienced mountain guide from a nearby village. Pictures of this blog were taken by Ursula and myself.

The tour usually is done in two days. From the parking at 4,000 m it is a three-hour walk to a small refugio (4,700m) where we stayed overnight. The ascend route to the summit follows the mountain ridge while the descend is over the shoulder of the mountain. Shortly before the refugio we were caught by a snowfall.

Looking back at the refugio from the ridge. In the far distance behind Ursula and myself one can see the cone of the Cotopaxi (5,897m).

Following the ridge, the climb never gets more difficult then grade 3 with some exposed sections like the “Paso de la Muerte” (“the Step of Death”).

After three hours we eventually reached the summit of the Iliniza Norte at 5,126m.

Blessed with great weather we had a clear view at the Summit of the Iliniza Sur (5,263m), the Cotopaxi (5,897m), and the Chimborazo (6,263m).

Descend over the shoulder of the Iliniza Norte.

The Cotopaxi (5,897m) is Ecuador´s second highest mountain and the highest active volcano in the world. The last eruption took place August 2015 to January 2016 and for security reason only since October 2017 it is again permitted to climb to the summit. See the mountain – a perfect cone -  from various angles.

The Cotopaxi is located in the Cotopaxi National Park. At the entrance gate there is a sign informing visitors to be properly equipped. Take note of the gender-stereotypes in the poster: Women below 5,000m, men above 5,000m 😊

One can drive by car until 4,500m from where it is an easy walk to the Refugio Jose Rivas (4,864m), a popular destination for tourists. For the ascend to the summit we chose the route on the left side.

Ursula and I had decided to hire two mountain guides in order to avoid that both of us have to turn back if one gets too exhausted to make it to the summit. Edgar Parra (+593 999 807 189) who fluently speaks Spanish, English, Russian and German has worked several times for the Austrian expedition company Bergspechte. Together with his brother Secundo he successfully guided us to the summit. We really can recommend both as very experienced guides in case you want to do high altitude climbing in Ecuador. You can reach them via

Mountaineering in Ecuador means to get up early. In the tropics it is practice to ascend the summit during the night as during the day the snow gets sticky and the snow bridges over the crevasses become weak. We therefore started our tour at 00.15 midnight walking most of the time with torches. Particular the last 200m of altitude were quite step and exhausting.

Finally at 07.30 we reached the summit. The bright weather permitted a clear view in all directions.

Only when walking down we became aware of the many crevasses we had passed-by during the night.