Runner's Footprints

Runner's Footprints

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ruco Pichincha Summit 15,413'

The Andes Mountains are filled with volcanoes and peaks for the elevation seeking soul. Quito, the capital of Ecuador, sits nestled inside the Andes at 9,000' with several volcanoes relatively nearby to choose to ascend. A few to play with are:

Ruco Pichincha 
Guagua Pichincha
Los Illinizas

My first visit to Quito was at the age of nine when my mom was finally granted US Residency; she happily then brought us to Ecuador to visit our extended family for the first time. It was then as a child that I fell in love with the mountains. My mom is from very humble beginnings in the countryside Loja where we would need to trek at least one mile for running water to them camel buckets back home. I ran around the Andes hills unknowingly that the love was deeply planted then. 

I usually visit Ecuador once every three years on average to 'play' in the mountains and visit family. This time, I came to celebrate some pre-birthday activities with my father. I had my eye on Ruco Pichincha to start as eventually my dream is summit to 19,000 and beyond. I did my research and was a little nervous about summiting my first foreign major summit. But we all need to start somewhere. 

Getting to Ruco:
From Quito, the best method to reach Ruco is take an inexpensive taxi ride (about $2-4 USD) to the base of el TeleferiQo, the highest tram ride in the world. Opening in 2005, it travels about 20 minutes taking you from the base in Cruz Loma at 10,000' altitude to 12,900' altitude, the top of el TeleferiQo. It runs 9am-7pm daily at $4.50 per Ecuadorian resident or $8.50 for foreigners. Make sure to bring your passport or any government ID. I used my CA Driver's License. 

Year-round Quito holds relatively the same weather pattern at the equator: 50s Fahrenheit during the day / 40s Fahrenheit at night with varying wind patterns and thunderstorms. It's mountain weather at 9000'. So time your summit attempt when Quito has really great weather. The sunrises at approximately 6am and sets at 6pm year-round. We were very lucky Quito had a 'warm' day in the 60s and clear sunshine. Thunderstorms or heavy cloud cover usually roll in at higher elevations in the late afternoon so you don't want to be at the summit 2-3pm or later. The later it is, the more risk you take as you descend the rocky scrambling terrain. Recently at the time of this writing, a couple separate groups of locals and foreigners got lost near the summit being found the next days hypothermic. Never take summiting higher elevation lightly. Mountain weather dictates your summit and safety. 

Our summit:
We started relatively late at 11:30am so I calculated a hard turn around point at 3pm: we turn around no matter what wherever we are. I was determined for the peak, but also nervous my dad wouldn't make it due to a stomach virus he was fighting for a week prior. So I packed his nutrition and hydration filled with high density calories and coca tea. I also made him pack in layers. With unpredictable mountain weather you always want to have a base tech layer, 1-2 insulating layers, and a wind proof/waterproof outer layer. My dad tends to run cold so I made him pack extra. We were fortunate to have good weather in the high 40s and mild 15-20mph gusts. That was challenging for my dad, but something I was accustomed to fortunately. 

We began our trek at the top of el TeleferiQo at 12,800' elevation. Thin beautiful marshmallow cloud filled sky. Taking it one step at a time, my dad and I aimed for the summit. He set the pace and I watched him cautiously making sure he was drinking and eating. The best way to handle altitude is do what you can to avoid the early signs of altitude sickness: headaches, dizziness, nausea, light headedness. Keep hydrating before your thirsty. Keep snacking as caloric expenditure is higher at higher elevations. Surprisingly, my dad was on a mission. He held a brisk pace and I followed trotting behind carrying extra food and layers just in case anything was needed for us. 

As we neared the peak, I gazed around and tears began to gather in my eyes. Grateful. Happy. To be right where I was. Climbing in such a beautiful landscape and bringing my dad along to get a taste of what I love so much about the mountain tops. I cried because it had taken so long for me to become grateful to be where I am currently. Three years ago, my life drastically changed leaving me very lost. I didn't know who I was anymore. I didn't want to live anymore. I didn't understand how one's heart can hurt so much with such a deep pain inside. Losing something that defines us, something that becomes a part of us, feels like darkness. During times of severe hardship or drastic loss, some resort to self-destructive behavior: drugs, abuse, or worse suicide. Because we are confused with pain. Pain that seems will never go away. What did I do? Resort to the mountains. I couldn't understand what had I done so wrong to feel so much pain. I couldn't understand why everything seemed to be at the height of my life then lose the most meaningful things in my life. But now I know. To learn. To learn to value what you have because you never know what you have until you lose it. Three years ago, I made some major changes in my life and sold almost everything of high monetary value that I owned and only kept my laptop, car, and my two precious companions: Max and Bruno. I needed to redefine myself. To help myself find value again on what is important within me. As my 32nd birthday approaches, I have battled a cancer scare in solitude, divorce, heartbreak, infertility, betrayal, and I know there is still so much to learn. On the bright side, I have my freedom, my ability to climb mountains, my precious dogs, and my inner fire reignited again to seek my life goals. That was what I lost. But I have found it again and even if I needed to start again, I know now I am strong enough to try again. I know I rather die adventurously than live miserably. 

We approached 15,000' altitude, the first time I had every broken that mark. I took a moment to take a deep breath in. And out. Beauty exists around the world; we need to take the moment to exhale and experience it. I looked above and ahead and saw what I had read about and what my dad had feared: the last 500' of scramble to the top. The beautiful mountain landscape had turned into a daunting, dark rocky terrain that towered over our heads. We climbed on all fours grasping for dear life and breathe. Our pace slowed as each exhale I felt I was becoming more and more lightheaded. My dad lead the entire way and he continued to do so on the scramble. I would lose sight of him around the rocks and he would shout: Cachito! I'm right here, I'm coming. Truth was, I was very nervous. To get hurt, fall, or get seriously injured. Suddenly I hear my dad yell ecstatically: Cachito we made it!! The summit is here! My desperate face for air turned into a wide grin as I forgot I was scared and quickly crawled to the top. I stood there with my dad smiling. He took his first video as he narrated it climb. Tears gathered in his eyes as I saw behind his reading glasses. My old man made it and I knew what it meant to him. I knew what this meant to me. Gratefulness. Gratitude to be alive to be experiencing this exact moment with my father. We made it. 

The greatest of all evils is: comparison. If you find yourself comparing yourself to what others have, you will not have the time to value what you have. To have the time to nurture what you have. We can look at our situation and be disappointed or we can try to work on the areas that need working on. This is how I wanted to celebrate life. Inhaling the beauty. Exhaling the negativity. One day at a time. 


Ruco Pichincha 15,413'
Moving time (1:48)
Total time (2:30)

Round Trip
Moving time (2:57)
Total time (4:15)

Calories Consumed:
Breakfast - smoothie, yogurt with granola & fruit (500)
Mile 0 - tamale (300)
Mile 3 - banana, almond butter, kimbolito (500)
Summit - granola (200)
Finish - trail mix (200)
Total (1700)

Route Details:
Mile 0 - 12,800 
Mile 1 - 13,500 -- 700' gain
Mile 2 - 14,200 -- 700' gain
Mile 3 - 15,000 - 800' gain
Mile 3.3 - 15,500 -- 500' gain 
Total route 6.5mi, 3000' gain

12,000 altitude
13,000 altitude
15,000 altitude
15,413' summit


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