You may have read my earlier post about taking the Teleferico up the mountain that looks over Quito. That small trip alone is worth the price of coming up by cable car. The views are stunning and only a short hike takes you into the moors of the Andes, better known here as the paramo. It is a place that is both wild and serene. We’ve seen purple-headed, white-breasted hummingbirds among the bright orange cone flowers and had caracaras try to steal our lunch. In the past we hiked high enough to see the city of Quito spread out below us yet still not be able to make out a beginning or an end of this continually growing metropolis. The city is much longer than it is wide and its length is unseeable though across its breadth we could make out our own neighborhood near the huge Parque Metropolitano. That first trip, altitude sickness brought us back down before we had made the summit. The second trip found us hiking very high but still not making it as far as we would have liked. Trip three was supposed to be the magic number.
We started early to have plenty of time. Round trip takes most hikers about 6 hours and we wanted to make sure to be back by mid-afternoon so that we could beat the heavy afternoon traffic back home. We also wanted to see gorgeous views and the earlier you hike, the better chance you have of cloud free vistas. We were blessed with views of Antisana peaking out above the clouds but only for a short time. The worst possible scenario is to hike so far only to find yourself enshrouded in clouds once you reach the top. Luckily, we hiked far enough fast enough that my son was able to see the view from the highest point of Rucu Pichincha with unimpeded views.
But I’m afraid to say I didn’t make it. Rucu Pichincha still awaits my feet on its summit. I came closer than I ever have, within a couple of kilometers. But the last bit is the steepest and the hardest. My legs were like jelly after a couple of hours of steep hiking and I was afraid if I continued further that I wouldn’t make it back to Teleferico. But the good news is that I found a nice spot with a view over the edge so that I could see the actual crater and sister peak, Guagua Pichincha, across the way. That alone was worth the hike.
And I didn’t suffer from altitude sickness. No headache, no stomachache, and only the slightest bit of stumbling. Yes, altitude can do that to a person. I warn people in every post I write about hiking at altitude because I don’t want anyone to take these mountains for granted. Be prepared and hike back down if symptoms start to show.
If you decide to try for the summit, please wear the appropriate gear. The trail is windy and cold but the sun can be bright and sunburns are possible. It means dressing for all possible weather, in layers, and to protect your face from direct rays, whether by hat or by sunscreen. Best of all, use both. Rain can happen at any time of the year. Hiking boots are a must, especially for the final ascent where light gravel covers the mountain side and every step is fought for. Hiking up on a scree field is quite possibly some of the worst hiking ever. Folks that hike in light tennis shoes have actually done more damage to the trail by slipping and sliding on the gravel, wearing it away until it is only a thin covering on a hard mountain surface, making the trail all the slipperier. Take your time going up and even more time coming down.
The final part of the trail includes rock scrambling. Though I barely made it that far, I think that gloves would be very helpful. Scraping up your hands on the final ascent is the last thing you need to do. They aren’t necessary, but if you have a pair at hand, at least you will have the choice.
And last, but not least, take lots of water. Hiking at altitude can dehydrate you quicker than hiking in a desert. And dehydration makes altitude sickness worse. If you stay hydrated, you are less likely to exhibit symptoms that will bring you back down the trail earlier than expected.