Thursday, February 23, 2017

2017 Ecuador Cayambe/Antisana Skills Expedition (February 10 - 24) - Dispatch 12

February 22nd Dispatch

Climbers: Michael Watson, Glenn and David Booth, Eric Safieh, Eric and Loic Vincent, Susan Mullins, Dean Doyle, James Murray, Tom Fry

Lead Guide: Jeremy Devine

(From Jeremy)

Hi everyone!

We are down in Baños de Agua Santa, now, relaxing after an exciting summit attempt.

We made our approach to Chimborazo on early Tuesday morning after a night of heavy rainfall at the Posada Urbina at 11,800 feet. We could see fresh snow on the flanks of Chimborazo in the morning and knew the whole mountain had received a new deposit. As we made our way to the south side of the mountain we could see just how far that snow had reached, coming right down to the park entrance.

Stopped on our approach to the park entrance to take pictures of Vicuñas and the mountain.

Our bus driver, Victor, did his best to make our way up the snow covered road to the hut, and we passed many other vehicles attempting the same thing without as much success – stuck on the side of the road. After getting stuck ourselves for a minute and a some repeated (and finally successful) attempts moving around very slippery corners, we made it to the lower refuge.

We had lunch and discussed our options. With the weather as bad as it was, it seemed unwise to head to a high camp; instead, we decided to stay at the refuge and make our summit attempt from there.

At dinner time it was still snowing and windy. We hoped things would change for our 9pm wake-up time, but at 9 it was still snowing, and we decided to delay another hour and hope for improvement. At 10pm the snow had stopped, and we could see towards the upper mountain and make out the ridges up high.

We all got up, dressed, and made ready for our summit attempt, and by 11pm we were heading out in the snow. It wasn't perfect by any means, but we were ready and thought we would climb the lower slopes, give it our best effort, and see what developed.

By the time we had climbed several hundred meters, things changed, and the sky lit up with lightning, with thunder following shortly thereafter. We immediately turned around and headed back to the safety of the refuge. We called it good for the evening and decided to wake up and see what the morning held.

It snowed all through the night, and there was 10cm of fresh snow at the refuge on Wednesday morning, which meant there was a lot more higher on the mountain. We used our satellite phone to call for a weather forecast to see if there was any hope things would abate in the near future. Unfortunately, the forecast only showed further stormy weather for the remainder of the week. It seems that every part of the world is experiencing inconsistencies with the local weather norms!

With this news and probable unattractive avalanche conditions higher on the upper mountain, we decided to call our attempts there and head towards Baños. But we still had a few complications to face. Because of the snow, our bus would not be able to make it to the refuge, so we loaded up the jeep that we still had at the hut with all our bags and hiked the 8km down the snow covered road to meet our bus. We were soon safely off the mountain.

Our 2.5-hour ride to Baños yielded no sun and lots of rain. It was obvious this weather was not isolated to Chimborazo, but rather a regional issue that was not going to leave anytime soon. Until next time, the mountain will wait.

I was really happy with our group's preparedness and readiness to tackle this objective, and I'm sure under better conditions we would have had an extremely good chance of success. It is a very strong team, and I congratulate them on successful summits of Cayambe and El Corazón as well as for all the new skills acquired during the trip.

It's been a great experience and I'm going to miss our team members.

Vicuñas spotted on our morning approach to Chimborazo.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

2017 Ecuador Cayambe/Antisana Skills Expedition (February 10 - 24) - Dispatch 11

February 21st Dispatch

Climbers: Michael Watson, Glenn and David Booth, Eric Safieh, Eric and Loic Vincent, Susan Mullins, Dean Doyle, James Murray, Tom Fry

Lead Guide: Jeremy Devine

Hi, this is Jeremy!

Our group is learning some valuable lessons about the mountains!

We are at the lower Chimborazo Refuge.  There was a snowstorm last night and at the moment it's snowing sideways!  On our drive to the refuge today, there was snow on the road, as well.  Our driver did an excellent job in getting us here safely, but it took a little longer than expected. 

With the current conditions and our delayed start, we have decided not to continue on to the high camp tonight, as planned.  We will stay at the lower Chimborazo Refuge this evening, and if the weather is good enough, we will leave at 10:00 pm to begin our long ascent.  If we are not successful, we will stay at the refuge tomorrow night and try again in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

Our group is doing very well, especially considering this change in plans.  We've had such beautiful weather on Cayambe and Corazón, it's a little disappointing to be facing more challenging weather conditions now.  However, this provides a great opportunity to discuss the ways we are humbled by the mountains and it puts the relative scales of humans and mountains into perspective.  We may have joined this trip to learn about climbing, but we are learning so much more than how to climb!

We'll call again tomorrow to let you know how it goes.


Monday, February 20, 2017

2017 Ecuador Cayambe/Antisana Skills Expedition (February 10 - 24) - Dispatch 10

February 20th Dispatch

Climbers: Michael Watson, Glenn and David Booth, Eric Safieh, Eric and Loic Vincent, Susan Mullins, Dean Doyle, James Murray, Tom Fry

Lead Guide: Jeremy Devine

(From Jeremy)

Hello, again, from Ecuador!

This afternoon we arrived at Posada del Tren in Urbina.  We’ve had a few clouds, but it’s very pretty and mild.   Folks are out on the porch taking in the views, and some are playing chess.

It’s a low-key afternoon.  The wood truck just showed up to deliver firewood.  A couple of young puppies are here, playing on the grass.  They’re showing us their boundless energy and we’re demonstrating our skills in relaxation.

That’s been the defining quality of the day.  We are being sure to develop clear contrasts with our hard workdays – our days of ascent.  I don’t think I mentioned it, but today we didn’t meet until 11 am to give team members a relaxing morning.  That allowed each person to go about their morning rituals with no rush.   “Slow coffee” was the word.

Yesterday’s climb of Corazon was moderate in length and strenuousness, but it started with a very early morning and gave us a great workout at altitude.  People were understandably tired and enjoyed having a restful night and easy morning.

We left Quito in the late morning and drove a couple of hours to the provincial capital of Ambato where we had lunch.  We chose a Mexican restaurant, which we found to be of super high quality.

After lunch, we drove 45 minutes up onto the flanks of Chimborazo to Urbina.  A lot of us got in 45-minute siestas – it will happen, with full bellies and a gently moving vehicle.

We’re going to have dinner at 7:30.   The dish of the night is quinoa stew and judging by the aromas already coming from the kitchen, it’s going to be good!

Tomorrow morning, we will move on to Chimborazo and prepare for our ascent on Wednesday or Thursday.   The traditional approach doesn’t have enough snow on it for our preference right now, so we’re using an alternative route that avoids the lower slopes that can be subject to rock fall when they aren’t covered well by snow.

We won’t stay at the hut on Chimborazo but will set up a high camp instead.   After meeting the other guides who will be joining us for the ascent at around 11 am at the entrance to the park, we’ll drive to the hut for lunch, then hike about two-and-a-half hours to the high camp.   We’ll have porters help us by carrying all the tents, stoves, fuel, and food, while we carry our sleeping bags, pads, and all of our personal gear.

Whoa!  Now we’re getting a shower of hail!  It’s pea-sized.   We have an imposing, single cloud passing by, trying to impress us.

OK, that’s the evening news.  We’ll give you an update tomorrow after we get to our camp.


2017 Ecuador Cayambe/Antisana Skills Expedition (February 10 - 24) - Dispatch 9

February 20th Dispatch

Climbers: Michael Watson, Glenn and David Booth, Eric Safieh, Eric and Loic Vincent, Susan Mullins, Dean Doyle, James Murray, Tom Fry

Lead Guide: Jeremy Devine

(From Jeremy)

Hi everyone,

We had a stunning day on our ascent of El Corazon yesterday.  We woke at 1:30am to have some light food and prepare to depart. We left camp at 2:30am for a 15-minute drive to our trailhead.  The weather looked really good, and we were excited to be on our way.

The route started as a dirt road for the first hour before we turned off onto a narrow path through the paramo.  From there it was a somewhat rolly terrain and gradual ascent through the beautiful open grasslands.

We arrived at the mountain’s technical rock ridge just before sunrise and donned our helmets and harnesses there as we waited for the sunrise.  The weather was just brilliant, with a low lying cloud layer and stunning views of Cotopaxi, Rumanahui, Tungaragua, Chimborazo, and the Illinizas.

We continued along the rock scramble ridge, taking our time to make sure climbers moved securely.  We spotted and coached climbers on a couple short sections, but otherwise the ascent went without complication.

We arrived at the summit just after 7:30am with amazing views of all the major peaks of Ecuador. In addition to the peaks we saw earlier, we now also could see Cayambe, Antisana, and El Altar. These were by far the best views I've ever had in Ecuador.  From each of the big peaks you can see most of the country’s major summits, but I’d never seen them all from a single vantage point as we did on Corazon.

We enjoyed the summit for about a half an hour and started our descent. We took the down-climbing very slowly to make sure everyone moved securely and used the rope to belay a short down-climbing section. After an hour we were back onto non-technical (unexposed) terrain and could move more quickly and comfortably.

We arrived back at the trailhead just after 11:00am and headed to our camp. We had some delicious scrambled eggs and very nice Ecuadorian coffee before loading up the bus for our ride back to Quito. We arrived in the city around 1:30pm, and everyone was excited to relax or catch up on sleep after an early morning and a good workout.

We are planning to meet at 11:00am today for our drive south towards Chimborazo. It’s going to be an easy travel and recovery day, which is well earned after another successful summit by the whole team.  We'll give you another update later this afternoon to let you know how our day has been.

Talk to you soon!

Group on the summit of El Corazón. Illinizas in the background. 
Chimborazo and El Altar far away on the left.

Llamas on the return hike down from El Corazón. 

Sunrise with Cotopaxi. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

2017 Ecuador Cayambe/Antisana Skills Expedition (February 10 - 24) - Dispatch 8

February 18th Dispatch

Climbers: Michael Watson, Glenn and David Booth, Eric Safieh, Eric and Loic Vincent, Susan Mullins, Dean Doyle, James Murray, Tom Fry

Lead Guide: Jeremy Devine

(From Jeremy):

We had a very interesting day, including some wild weather that forced us to make alternate plans.

This morning was very nice at the Hacienda Guáytara with sun overhead, but threatening clouds to the East, the direction of Antisana.  We left the Hacienda at 11:00am and headed into the Antisana Ecological Reserve.  While we were completing our entrance paperwork we could see Antisana being hit with rain, snow, and lightning.  The thunder was audible from our location. 

We got into our rain gear in preparation for what we were heading into and started our drive toward camp.  About 3km from camp we encountered snow and graupel on the dirt and grass road.  Calling it a road is giving it a little too much credit as it is only utilized occasionally by climbers, and it is more grass than anything.  This made for very slick conditions, and the bus and SUV couldn't make any progress, despite our persistent attempts to make passage.

The other guides and I held a meeting to discuss our options.  Camping at our location and making a summit attempt from there really didn't seem like a reasonable choice, as adding 3km to the approach would add too much to an already very big day. 

We thought of alternate objectives and considered Illiniza Norte and El Corazón, both non-glaciated climbs with some technical rock scrambling.  We presented our options to the group to see what most interested everyone. 

A unanimous decision was made to try to do El Corazón because we could easily do it in the same time frame as Antisana, whereas Illiniza Norte would require taking a day out of our Chimborazo schedule and potentially decreasing our chances of success on that major objective.  So with a new plan chosen, we made arrangements to stay at Chuquiragua Lodge below El Corazón and go for it in the very early morning tomorrow.

We then headed back towards the Pan American Highway and to the southwest to Chuquiragua Lodge.  We enjoyed a Chinese food style dinner of sweet-and-sour chicken and fried rice. 

Our plan is to leave at 2:30am for our climb of El Corazón, which should give us the best chance of good weather early in the day.  With the conditions across the region today of rain and thunderstorms, we think this is our best possible schedule.  This should put us on the summit sometime just after dawn and back down and on our way to Quito around noon.  We'll let you all know how it goes!

Cheers from all of us,


Saturday, February 18, 2017

2017 Ecuador Cayambe/Antisana Skills Expedition (February 10 - 24) - Dispatch 7

February 17th Dispatch

Climbers: Michael Watson, Glenn and David Booth, Eric Safieh, Eric and Loic Vincent, Susan Mullins, Dean Doyle, James Murray, Tom Fry

Lead Guide: Jeremy Devine

Hello, this is Jeremy!

We had an excellent travel day and are now resting/recreating at a nice hacienda. There are billiard and foosball tables here, and our team members are busy playing games!

This morning we left the Cayambe region and drove south towards the Antisana Reserve.

The first highlight of our trip was stopping at a local coffee and chocolate factory! Jaime, one of our Ecuadorian guides, is friends with the owner of Velez Coffee, located very close to the Equator. We were lucky enough to tour the whole factory! We saw the giant coffee roasting floor, watched the chocolate being made, and fortunately also had the opportunity to purchase the delicious Ecuadorian coffee and chocolate to bring home.

After Velez Coffee, we visited the Equator and continued on to the Antisana region. We stopped at a great place for lunch where a lot of us ordered meat sandwiches "a la piedra" (on the rock), literally sandwiches that had been cooked on hot rocks. They were very reminiscent of fajitas and tasted delicious!

We made a couple stops en route, one at an ATM and another at a pharmacy so folks could pick up a few small items like ibuprofen and sunscreen.

Now we are relaxing at the hacienda before dinner, and we're all really looking forward to the fresh, locally grown food, here! The cooks just walked by on their way to the lake to catch the trout for our meal, and the steak is from cows raised on the farm outside the hacienda. Pretty spectacular!

Everyone on the trip is doing really well. We're all still thrilled about summitingCayambe yesterday! Three people were not feeling 100% before the climb, but they all still felt good enough to make the ascent and are now doing much better.

It's fun to have such a big group on this trip, and I'm excited that each of them is staying for the five-day extension to climb Chimborazo too! Everyone works really well together. Great team!
They're still busy playing foosball and pool, so we'll ask someone to say "hello" in the next report.

We had nice weather today. We've been enjoying a nice mix of sun with light clouds that pass by or dissipate after only a couple minutes.

We leave tomorrow for the Antisana base camp and will call again, soon.


Friday, February 17, 2017

2017 Ecuador Cayambe/Antisana Skills Expedition (February 10 - 24) - Dispatch 6

February 16th Dispatch

Climbers: Michael Watson, Glenn and David Booth, Eric Safieh, Eric and Loic Vincent, Susan Mullins, Dean Doyle, James Murray, Tom Fry

Lead Guide: Jeremy Devine

From Jeremy:

We did it! We had an amazing summit day today, culminating with the entire team being rewarded with amazing views and warm sun at the top of Cayambe (18,996 ft / 5790 m). But let's start at the beginning...

We woke at 11:00pm and everyone started about their chores of getting dressed, finishing packing, and eating some light breakfast food. We departed just after midnight from the Refugio in very light fog, and made our way up the familiar approach trail to the glacier. It began to snow lightly as we put on our crampons and roped up, but the snow dissipated quickly as we gained elevation on the Glacier Hermoso ("beautiful glacier").

Temperatures were cool but manageable with light layering and soft shells. As the twilight gave way to dawn we could tell our good weather was going to hold for the remainder of our ascent.

Our teams maintained similar pacing throughout the climb and we all tackled the final steep pitch, one jutting serac (ridge of ice) after another. All teams summited between 6:30 and 7:15am during our first direct sunlight of the day. We had great views of the massive mountains, Cotopaxi and Antisana, as well as peaks of bits of rural countryside through the clouds below us. It was a truly exceptional climb and summit experience for everyone!

As is normal, our descent took a fraction of the time as our ascent, with all teams arriving back at the Refugio by 10:30am. We had some soup and packed our things for the ride down the mountain road. We said goodbye to the hut caretakers and took off at 11:30am for Hacienda Guachala.

We arrived and settled into our rooms, then ate lunch outside near the courtyard because the weather was so nice. Lots of sunshine made for great afternoon napping conditions! Everyone was very pleased to have rested and then prepare for our next objective, Antisana. But for now, we are enjoying our recent success.

We're looking forward to visiting the Equator tomorrow, and traveling to the Antisana province. We'll update everyone, again, soon!

Descending next to the toe of the Glacier Hermoso after our skills day.

Eric and Loic Vincent on the summit.

Eric and Loic Vincent with guide Jaime Avila on the summit.

Left to right. David, Tom, Jeremy, Glenn, Jimmy, Mike, and Estalin.  Summit photo.