Climbing Rucu Pichincha

Quito Travel Blog

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Starting up the Teleferico
Quito is situated alongside Volcan Pichincha, which has the two prominent peaks Guagua (4800m) and Rucu (4700m). The climb up Rucu Pichincha is easily accessible from Quito so we decided to do that as our first test of altitude and stamina.

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.
Looking back at Quito going up the Teleferico


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.
Looking up Pichincha going up the Teleferico


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.
Ryan and Sam on the Teleferico
We decided to go left but realised later on that going to the right is a much better option. Going down the left is still fine but you arent on a flat track for a while because of the vehicle wheel grooves in the ground, and you don’t get as nice views that you get from the ridge you walk over on the right. So go right if you are climbing Rucu!

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.
Me and Liz on the Teleferico
By then I think I had pushed through the pain wall and was feeling a lot better about continuing up.

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.
Quito from the Teleferico
For experienced climbers this was probably a walk in the park but for us first-timers to altitude or scrambling it certainly was not! It was a slow slow march up with every step being both exhausting and demoralising as you would slip back a step from the loose sand for every two or three you took up. We were in the middle of one of our many breaks when fairly rapidly the clouds came in directly at us. It quickly became a very different experience as visibility dropped to about 20 metres, it got a lot colder, and just a general sense of surrealism came over us that we were perched on a steep incline of loose sand on a volcano in Ecuador at about 4500m above sea level. Not an average day for me to say the least.

We trudged up the sand a bit further and then Sam thought we should try scrambling up a more rocky way to the side.
In hindsight I don't think we should have done this, and instead just scrambled all the way up the sand. It was easier this way but not by much and we were all starting to get really exhausted from the whole hike. Sam had more stamina than the rest of us and powered up ahead beyond our visibility from the clouds and we waited for him to let us know if we were going the right way. We could just hear him as he was making progress and yelling out. Meanwhile myself, Ryan and Liz were perched on a big rock getting very tired and cold, and sure enough a very light drizzle of rain started falling, along with bits of hail here and there. Sam couldn’t see where to go, and with visibility nearly gone we had no real idea how far the summit was. I’d guess it was probably about 50m altitude higher than where Sam got, which was about another 50m for the rest of us.
At this point we had been going for about 5 hours. We were probably close, but with the expectation that rain was coming and we were already exhausted and precariously cold, we had to turn back.

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.
Teleferico observatory on the left, and Rucu Pichincha on the right
After we got down the cable car we got a taxi back to the hostel at about late afternoon and slept through the whole night.

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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Starting up the Teleferico
Starting up the Teleferico
Looking back at Quito going up the…
Looking back at Quito going up th…
Looking up Pichincha going up the …
Looking up Pichincha going up the…
Ryan and Sam on the Teleferico
Ryan and Sam on the Teleferico
Me and Liz on the Teleferico
Me and Liz on the Teleferico
Quito from the Teleferico
Quito from the Teleferico
Teleferico observatory on the left…
Teleferico observatory on the lef…
I like how scared the kid is in th…
I like how scared the kid is in t…
Me pointing at Rucu Pichincha
Me pointing at Rucu Pichincha
Liz and Ryan pointing at the summi…
Liz and Ryan pointing at the summ…
Sam handily pointing out the Rucu …
Sam handily pointing out the Rucu…
Look back at Quito from the start …
Look back at Quito from the start…
Warning sign that we went left of.…
Warning sign that we went left of…
Heading along the worn path down t…
Heading along the worn path down …
Taking a break on the way to Rucu …
Taking a break on the way to Rucu…
The walk ahead
The walk ahead
Liz resting as we get to the top o…
Liz resting as we get to the top …
Finishing off a break
Finishing off a break
The ridge path before going around…
The ridge path before going aroun…
Catching my breath at the top of t…
Catching my breath at the top of …
The gang
The gang
The summit ahead
The summit ahead
Some local wildlife at high altitu…
Some local wildlife at high altit…
Postcard shot
Postcard shot
Myself and Liz taking a standing b…
Myself and Liz taking a standing …
More of the gang
More of the gang
Looking up at the sharply rising r…
Looking up at the sharply rising …
Admiring the views down the valley…
Admiring the views down the valle…
Heading up the sandy incline
Heading up the sandy incline
The clouds reduced visibility shar…
The clouds reduced visibility sha…
Looking down the sand incline on R…
Looking down the sand incline on …
Heading back along the ridge towar…
Heading back along the ridge towa…
The march back
The march back
Quito
photo by: Bluetraveler