countin' the days

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Landslides and Glacier Climbs

Eventually it became abundantly clear that it was time to get back to the mountains. Lauren and I formulated a new plan that would, slowly but surely, get us to a particularly heralded stretch of mountains a couple hours south of Quito where we could spend a few days hiking. When we arrived at the Quevedo terminal to transfer buses, we were shocked to find that it was not possible to get where we wanted to go. Why? A massive landslide, not surprising consider it´s the rainy season and we´d already driven past several in our many kilometers of travel. So we sat in the sticky bus station, opened up our Lonely Planets, and being the fantastic and efficient travel buddies that we were, rapidly formulated a new plan. Go back to Quito, and leave the next day for a different adventure. But on the bus back to Quito, we suddenly came to a complete stop and were delayed for nearly 2 hours as yet another landslide blocked our path! It could have been worse, we decided, and in the midst of waiting I struck up a conversation in Spanish with our neighbors. They asked me, "How do you like Ecuador?" I responded sarcastically, "Right at this moment?...", and was greeted with a chorus of giggles from half of the bus.

Our plans began to change. We made it to Quito, though quite late at night. Thus, leaving the next day became out of the question. Instead, we went rock climbing here in the city at the Rocódromo. As luck would have it, we ended up meeting some great locals. One such local, Andrés, invited us out that night for drinks and dancing at some funky bars, and suddenly leaving the next day became out of the question as well. We ended up staying in Quito all week long, and enjoyed the city in a whole new light as Andrés showed us a good time via exquisite desserts, salsa dancing, independent movies, and epic city vistas.

When the weekend rolled around, Lauren and I parted ways so she could join newly-arrived Ari for some romance, and I went off with Andrés and his mountaineering club to Volcán Cayambe to try my hand at ice climbing. All the experience I´d racked up climbing rocks in Asia was irrelevant -- ice climbing is a whole different story and I was a complete novice. Fortunately, it was the perfect weekend for me to learn, as the club was up there just to practice and not to reach a summit. Mostly we stayed on the same little stretch of glacier, practicing walking up and down in only our boots, handling the ice pick, using the deadly-looking crampons, and ascending and descending vertical shafts of ice. I even practiced doing a rescue -- the kind of thing that would happen only in the very worst of the worst situations. It was one of the hardest damn things I´ve ever done, but I sure learned a thing or two about knots, safety, and the dire importance of working quickly.

I´d seen plenty of glaciers in my time, but never had I been actually on top of one.It was an amazing feeling. No less spectacular were the views from the mountain early in the morning, down and across hundreds of kilometers of the Andes, with the enormous peaks of Antisana and Cotopaxi popping up through the clouds. It was one of the most physically demanding things I´ve ever done, and the following Monday my thighs were so ridiculously rocked that it was hard to walk on even the tiniest steps. But with my confidence boosted and a little experience under my belt, I can´t wait to try it again.


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