Journal: Ecuador Mountaineering - January 2013

In 2013, I went to Ecuador with my friend Andrew and students from Johns Hopkins University in hopes of doing some high altitude mountaineering. Prior to the trip the highest I had ever been was 11,542 feet when crossing over Hoosier Pass on my cross country bike trip in 2009, and the only "mountaineering" I had done was a winter ascent of Mount Washington the year before.

Over the course of our 10 day trip we spent time volunteering in a school, exploring around Quito and Otavalo, and hiking up mountains. The first few days were all about acclimatizing to altitude, because altitude does weird things to your body. I found myself drinking liters of water in my sleep while staying in our apartment in Quito, and when we stayed in the huts at higher altitudes my problem solving abilities waned and I grew irritable quickly. Fortunately, I didn't experience any extreme forms of acute mountain sickness and was able to complete all three of our target peaks: Rucu Pinchincha (15,696 feet) as our acclimatization hike, followed by Cayambe (18,996 feet) on which we crossed the Equator as part of our summit ascent, and finally our highest mountain, a glacier covered volcano named Cotopaxi (19,347 feet). 

I don't have a ton of photos from our hikes as the majority of our two glacier ascents were completed in total darkness to avoid the possibility of avalanches. Our guides kept us going at steady pace and there wouldn't have been much time to stop and take photos even if it had been daylight. I have no photos of Cayambe at all because I was entirely too focused on not dying; the summit was entirely socked in anyway, so I could literally take photos in a snow covered field on a foggy day and they'd probably look exactly the same as the summit did. I do have a couple photos of Cotopaxi, but most of them didn't come out great thanks to being on the mountain right at sunrise and being cold and exhausted while trying to handhold the camera in low light conditions. Regardless of the lack of photographic evidence, summiting glacier covered mountains at altitude was a once in a lifetime experience I'll never forget.

All photos from the trip are by me, except the one photo of me on top of Cotopaxi, and taken with a Canon 5D Mark II and 40mm f/2.8 STM lens.

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Andean Mountains, Andean fox, Andes, Cotopaxi, Ecuador, Nutella, base camp, camera, canid, canine, carnivore, fox, girl, habituated, mammal, mountaineering, nuisance, photographer, tourist, wildlife, photo

A girl snaps a photo of an Andean fox hovering near her hut at Cotopaxi base camp in Ecuador's Andean Mountains. Foxes such as this one become habituated to humans and people food, feeding off of scraps left by careless or ignorant hikers and tourists traveling up the mountain. While cute at first, they can become a nuisance quickly.

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Andean Mountains, Andes, Cotopaxi, Ecuador, South America, base camp, building, cabin, hut, landscape, lodge, mountaineering, mountains, panorama, panoramic, scenic, shelter, photo

Cotopaxi Base Camp

A panoramic view of the base camp of Cotopaxi shows the surrounding Andean Mountain Range in Ecuador. These mountains are popular among novice mountaineers for their accessibility.

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Bringing Home the Awesome

A rope team from Johns Hopkins University led by Ecuadorian guide Robinson approach the summit of Cotopaxi just before sunrise. Part of the Andean Mountain Range, Cotopaxi is one of Ecuador's most popular mountains and it attracts mountaineering expeditions from all over the world. It's high elevation but fairly non-technical slopes make it an ideal climb for beginning and experienced climbers alike hoping to summit a high altitude peak. The summit rises to 5,897 meters or 19,347 feet in height and has more clear summit days than any of Ecuador's other glacier covered volcanic mountains.