|The Ecuadorian Andes present exciting challenges for climbers of all levels. Many of the high peaks are volcanoes, several are extinct but some are active and a few are very active! The first people to climb these mountains for fun was Edward Whymper and the Carel brothers in 1879-1880 and since then all of the summits and most of the rock faces have been conquered.
I’m yet to climb to the summit of any of the high peaks so I’m afraid there are no personal accounts or recommendations on this page. This information is based on other sources I have read.
At the bottom of this page is a guide to the mountains in height order. The heights are mind boggling if you live close to sea level but remember that Quito is 2800 metres up and Riobamba over 4000m. You will be acclimatising to altitude every day you spend in the highlands. You should also consider that some mountains are much more technically difficult than others. Before you pick your mountain read the things to remember.
|Ecuador’s High Peaks
|For skilled climbers
For skilled climbers
Things to remember
Weather conditions can change very quickly and are particularly hard to predict in the Ecuadorian Andes. All mountains are near or on the equator. Weather can come in from the rainforest to the east or the Pacific to the west. The clearest months are generally July and August but different mountains have different variations in weather conditions. There’s not a month when you can’t climb and there’s no time you can guarantee that the weather will allow you to get to the summit.
Altitude affects every individual differently. Living at altitude in another part of the world isn’t a guarantee that you won’t be affected by it in the Andes. Living at sea level and taking diamox isn’t a guarantee either. The best thing you can do is be very well-prepared physically before you arrive and then spend several days above 2500m and also do some altitude treks, then moderate climbs.
When you’re climbing a mountain you are entering a hostile environment which our bodies are generally not designed to withstand very well. With good preparation and fortune you can get to the summit and down again. However you’ve also got to be able to recognise when the dangers of continuing are too great and turn back. This is never easy for a person to recognise in themselves so it is important to climb with colleagues or a guide you can trust and respect enough to do what they’re telling you.
Choosing a guide
It’s best to hire a guide to climb almost all the mountains listed above. You will either need them for technical assistance, route-finding, knowledge of local conditions or all of the above. Guides can be contacted independently but many also work for the climbing companies. Your guide should be affiliated to ASEGUIM, the Ecuadorian Mountain Guides Association. Check his experience and if possible, recommendations from previous clients. (English) language skills are also a bonus, especially if you going to make a more technical ascent.
Climbing companies generally offer use of boots, crampons and other mountaineering equipment in the price of a trip. This equipment can also be hired in Quito but not so easily elsewhere. If you want to buy anything that is imported it is likely to cost you more here and again you need to look for it in Quito.
Here are some points to note about Ecuadorian mountains in general:
A three season sleeping bag should be sufficient on most climbs as long as you use a sleeping mat and clothes.
There are refuges on several mountains so you often don’t need to use a tent. When you do, it needs to waterproof and windproof.
Refuges have stoves. Otherwise you need to carry one. Gas stoves cartridges can be found in the major cities (even Guayaquil!) but can’t be taken on planes. Kerosene is also available.
Ecuadorians do not have big feet so if you are larger than a size 10/42 then finding the right boots in a shop could prove tricky (definitely bring your socks which are light to pack in any case). You only need double plastic boots (and crampons which fit) for the glaciated peaks and even then in most cases you’re not on the mountain for many days so you could do it in insulated leather boots. It’s best to have heavy boots for the rock scrambles.
You need to use glacier sun cream and goggles on the high peaks. These can be obtained in Quito. Most other general travel equipment can be easily obtained in Ecuador and a recommended list can be found in the Before You Travel section.
Chimborazo (20,703 feet/6310 meters)
The summit of Chimborazo is the furthest point from the centre of the earth due to the earth’s equatorial bulge. It’s not technically difficult but the height and glaciers have to be respected. There are several routes up. To get to the Whymper summit, get transport from the Panamericana highway to a refuge at about 16,000 feet from where you must ascend feet by foot to the Refugio Whymper. You rest there and then start climbing again about midnight when the snow is harder. First you ascend a loose scree slope to reach the main glacier. It takes about 8-10 hours to reach Chimborazo's summit and about 4 hours to descend.
|Cotopaxi (19,348 feet/5897 meters)
Cotapaxi is a beautiful mountain in a beautiful national park. Its perfect snow-capped volcanic cone is one of the most photographed sights in Ecuador and it also receives the most attempts on its summit. Cotapaxi is active but not smoking. It is not technically difficult but, like Chimborazo, the height and glaciers have to be respected.
A long access road from the Panamericana leads up to a parking area directly below the Jose Ribas Hut. It’s an hour’s climb and there will be lots of other climbers and possibly day-trippers. You leave again at midnight for the climb to the summit which takes about 6-8 hours and involves traversing a rapidly receding glacier.
Cayambe (18,997 feet/5790 meters)
This massive, glaciated volcano is north-east of Quito, and far from the main road. You should have experience to climb Cayambe because it has steep slopes and a lot of crevasses.
Antisana (18,715 feet/5704 meters)
Although the glaciar is receding rapidly on Antisana, the crevasses still make it a difficult climb, requiring experience. It is located east of Quito.
El Altar (5320 meters)
Located in Sangay National Park, Altar has nine separate peaks which all have religiously-inpsired names (El Obispo, Fraile Grande, Monja Chica) and are all technically difficult. They surround an emerald green lake. It is easiest to travel from Riobamba to the village of Candelaria. From there it is a long days walk or you can hire horses.
Iliniza Norte (16,818 feet/5126 meters) and Sur (17,268 feet/5263 meters)
These mountains are situated west of Cotapaxi. Illiniza Norte is a tough rock scramble and frequently used as an acclimatisation day climb. Illinza Sur´s peak is covered in snow and ice and much more technically challenging.
Carihuairazo (16,470 feet/5020 meters)
Carihuairazo is very close to Chimborazo and so is often chosen as an acclimatization climb or ignored completely. The ascent is not difficult but the scenery is beautiful.
Tungurahua (16,452 feet/5016 meters)
Tungurahua is an active volcano close to Baños. It is currently far too active to think about climbing it, but from the other side of the Pastaza valley you get a great view of it´s glowing peak at night.
Cotacachi (16,205 feet/4939 meters)
Cotacachi is just north of Otavalo. It is possible to climb it in one long day or you can camp near an antenna station about half way up. It is not technically difficult and the surrounding scenery is beautiful, especially Lake Cuicocha at the foot of the volcano.
El Corazón 4788 m
Many people climb El Corazón as an acclimatisation. It is only a hike but a very long one and you have to ascend more than 1000m which makes it a challenging day trip.
Rucu Pichincha (15,706 feet/4787 meters)
This mountain rises up above Quito to the west. It takes a day to climb and is good for acclimatising. It is safer and easier to take the teleferico up to 4000m first.
Rumiñahui has three peaks. You can hike up to Central, scramble up Norte, or climb the harder Sur peak. You´ll need to use ropes for the latter two options. You can begin your climb from Lago Limpiopungo inside Cotapaxi National Park or from off the Panamericana on the other side of the mountain.
Imbabura (15,122 feet/4609 meters)
Imbabura is dormant and quite green to look at. You can climb it from Lago de San Pablo on the road to Otavalo, or you can start from the north, at the village of La Esperanza, south of Ibarra. The access to the latter is a little more complicated but the ascent is more straightforward. It is a walk up, but for most a 10 hour round trip so leave lots of time.
Other peaks which are less accessible include Sara Urcu and Cerro Hermoso in the eastern cordillera and El Reventador and Sumaco in the Oriente.
A little south of Otavalo are the peaks of Fuya Fuya (4263m) and Yanaurco (4259m) which can be accessed from the Lagunas de Mojanda.