After hearing about the cablecar running up the mountain from Quito, I studied the options, to discover that it is possible to actually climb Rucu Pichincha, part of the Pichincha volcano that is still active, and has spread a layer of ash over the Ecuadorian capital on several occasions. I make sure to arrive at the cablecar station ahead of its opening time, and after warming up in the sunshine with a group of serious-looking hikers, I ride a car up the mountain. The day before, I was still under sea level, and I am now whisked from 2900 to just over 4000 metres. I am not worried about the climb itself, but I wonder how I will cope with the altitude. Indeed, after enjoying the views over Quito, with rays of sunlight shining through a layer of clouds, I feel some light dizziness as I climb the first stairs to the trail. Two young women ahead of me seem to be going too fast for me, and I remember the important adagium: take regular rests, and don't go too fast. When I arrive at the swing which, right at the edge of the plateau, makes for great pictures, I am the only one, so I continue working my way up without a picture of me hanging upside down with Quito in the background.
Looking ahead, I can clearly see the trail on the rugged terrain, but the top of Rucu Pichincha is covered in clouds. I hike though paramo landscape now, shrubs and flowers, with views on the flanks of Pichincha. There are few other hikers, and at one point, I am overtaken by a guy who is running up the mountain. My body holds, and I am able to continue in a steady pace, with short stops only for taking pictures, but running up would be madness for me, without any acclimatisation. The clouds seem to be moving in on the mountain, and I am waiting for rain to fall from the thick clouds above and around me. I see sunshine shining through the clouds on the brown slopes below me. There are now short sections which involve some rock climbing, and after a while, a steep sandy slope, where my feet gilde a little down after every step. I have overtaken the girls, and since I still feel OK with the altitude, I attack the last section, which involves some more rock climbing, where I have to use hands and feet to scramble up Rucu Pichincha. I am happy with my wind-proof gloves now: it is around freezing temperature here.
When I hear voices just above me, and cheering, I know I am only a few steps away from reaching the top at 4698m, in under two hours. When I get my backpack off, the clouds are blown away, and I am presented with overwhelming views in all directions. Towards the west lies Guagua Picihncha, which holds the crater of the volcano: rising from a sea of clouds at lower altitudes. Even though Guagua Pichincha is slightly higher than Rucu, the name means baby, while Rucu means old man. I explore the ridge at the summit: the east side offers views over much of Quito, which fills up much of the valley below. Unfortunately, there are too many clouds to see the Chimborazo and Cotopaxi volcanoes towards the south. After enjoying the views from the mountain top, I make my way down again, to find the area around the cablecar station swarming with people. I need to queue for the cablecar back to the city. While on a cab back to my hotel, through the city traffic of the Ecuadorian capital, it seems incredible I was hiking a 4698m-high-mountain just before.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Rucu Pichincha (Ecuador). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Rucu Pichincha. Read more about this site.