Climbing Rucu Pichincha
Quito Travel Blog› entry 4 of 166 › view all entries
September 22nd, 2009 – by: rem120
We got up reasonably early and had a decent breakfast, and since none of us had gone higher than Quito (2800m) before we also took some Diamox to help prevent altitude sickness along the way. In the end I think it helped, though it is hard to say how much, but I did get an annoying tingling in my toes and heels for a couple of days after that. I would probably take it again on my next high altitude hike just because the side effects are much milder than the potential annoyance of having to turn back half way up a mountain from altitude sickness.
The old way to get up to Rucu was to walk directly from Quito, but that extends the hike considerably, and to top it off you would have to start at a crime ridden suburb that is strongly warned against. Thankfully now there is a cable car called the Teleferico, or TeleferiQo, that you can take up to about 4100m altitude for a head start. We got a taxi there from Old Town for $4, and then the cable car up was $8 for tourists ($4 for locals). I had tried to research when it opened because I had read that you want to do the hike as early as possible in the day, but we couldn’t tell if it was 9am or 10am. We got there at 9:30am to discover it was actually 8am! I definitely recommend getting there at 8am as the local area in general has more clouds in the afternoon than the morning.
We got to the top of the Teleferico and had a quick look around the observation building before getting going. It is a very obvious path to start with, going along a brick road for about 200m to a church, but then a dirt path after that. The path follows along fairly straight towards the peak of Rucu Pichincha and it is a great view to see what you are aiming for, at least when the peak has a cloud-free moment. At that point we were all feeling pretty good and hadn’t had any sudden shocks that might have come from arriving at 4100m.
Not very far past the church we came across a big warning sign from the Teleferico company saying that they can not be responsible for people going past that point - fair enough. To the left was a deeply worn vehicle track and to the right was a narrower walking track.
We kept going for probably 45 minutes before we started going uphill, and not long into that I started getting really exhausted. We were all stopping a lot because you lose your breath very fast at altitude, but even still I was struggling to keep any pace up. I put the blame more on my lack of fitness than altitude because I wasn’t feeling sick. Thankfully the others kept pushing me along until I got to the top of the ridge where the path joined back with the main path we hadn’t gone along.
The ridge kept going up until you got to I suppose you would call the base of Rucu Pichincha. At that point the path led around the mountain at a much easier incline, but the path was narrow and a wrong step to the side would send you tumbling down the hill side to an unfortunate end. It sounds precarious like that but I felt safe in my footing and you would have to really not be paying attention to fall. There were a couple of spots on the path around the mountain that had given way from rock avalanche that we had to be more careful crossing over. That would have been the first bit that was technically scrambling.
After getting around the back of the mountain we were faced with the main challenge of Rucu Pichincha - the scramble up the 45 degree incline of loose sand and rock to the top.
We trudged up the sand a bit further and then Sam thought we should try scrambling up a more rocky way to the side.
The trip down the sand incline was a lot more enjoyable than the way up. We all had decent footwear on so you could use your shoes to surf your way down the slope in a slow stepping motion at a reasonable speed. It wasn’t the safest thing I’ve ever done but it was unique enough to give it a go, and we got some funny videos out of it with our digital cameras.
Once we got back to solid path it was a fast pace back to the Teleferico. We didn’t stop much and it was all now familiar so time seemed to pass quicker. Just as we got to the end Sam got hit really hard by altitude sickness, which was both unfortunate in that he was so close to making it down to the peaceful altitude of 2800m in Quito, and fortunate because if he was up the top of Rucu it would have taken the whole walk back before getting some decent relief.
It is a shame we didn't make it to the peak but we made it about as far as we safely thought we should. It was a good challenge for a non-climber and I would recommend giving it a go to those who pass by Quito and are up for something more than a basic day walk.
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