2001 - 2002 Ecuador Cybercast

#18 February 17, 2002.  Quito, Ecuador.  Team II
Hello this is Ross calling from Quito, I've just put everyone on the airplane.  We had a wonderful time last night out on the town of Quito and I am sad to see everyone go.  It's been a great trip.  Thanks a lot bye.

#17 February 16, 2002.  Rio Bamba, Ecuador.  Team II
Greetings from Cow Cafe where the steaks are humongous and the cows are nervous.  Our legs are still sore but at least our bellies are full.  Last night we had a night at Rio Bamba before collapsing into a ten-hour slumber, this group never seems to stop.  What a great trip this has been, not only because of the spectacular weather and views from the volcanoes, but because of our tight-knit community.  We worked together well as a team, and there was never any fighting, except for between Leon and Luis.  We've had a lot of laughs along the way which unfortunately cannot be divulged in detail in this cybercast.  We will mention however that a suggestive platter of banana and avocado halves served to Leon, and a humiliating spoon feeding session for Jose Luis and Ross who were unable to finish their steaks.  We had a lot of great food and we are so thankful that Marga, Jose's wife, dropped everything to join us so that we were well-fed.  

There have been a lot of lessons learned.  At Chimborazo we learned the importance of respecting the tower of a mountain and being conservative (living to wuss again) On Cotopaxi we learned that perseverance and determination can help us achieve an objective that seemed impossible.  People came to this trip with a lot on their mind and people seemed to return to home with new clarity and enthusiasm for their lives back home.  The mountains have a  way of doing that.

#16 February 15, 2002.  Summit of Cotopaxi, Ecuador.  Team II
5:00am.  Jose here from 18,500 feet on Chimborazo.  The weather is excellent, clear and cold, but we have decided to turn around after encountering avalanche conditions.  The snow that covered the glacier, actually helped us by covering up the ice, but has become so deep that we are afraid of a slab avalanche.  There is snow crust covering a foot of snow which will begin to weaken as the sun comes out.

The climb however has been a n excellent learning experience for everyone.  We've been climbing steep ice up to 50 degrees, we talked about how and when to use ice screws, and a running belay system, we looked at how to manage rockfall (off which there was plenty) we talked about how to analyze the snow pack, and we ended with a final dramatic repel off of a 40 foot glacier tongue.  The sky is heavy with ash from neighboring volcano, Tungurahua, which has made the route considerably icier than in year's past.  All in all t was a great day and now we are heading to Abras Pungo Hotel for a well-deserved rest.  Thanks, bye.

#15 February 14, 2002.  Whymper Hut, Ecuador.  Team II
4:00pm.  We first want to send our St. Valentine's wishes to wives and moms from Whymper Refuge at 16,5000 feet on Chimborazo Volcano.  We are about to head to sleep after a wonderful meal in preparation for our summit bid tonight.  This morning we moved from the first refuge on Chimborazo called Refuge Carrol.  The weather so far has been gloomy and cloudy although we hope conditions improve tonight, we plan to get up at 10pm for the summit bid. 

#14 February 12, 2002.  Summit of Cotopaxi, Ecuador.  Team II
Alright here we are at the top of Cotopaxi, we had 100% success.  I want to go around the climbers and just have everyone say their names.  We worked really hard for this, it's a culmination of the entire expedition.  "Hi, my name is Paul Lariviere" "My name is John Kottos from New Hampshire," "Harry Shultz, Pennsylvania," "Leon Tokatlian from new Hampshire," "Gary Fong, Torrance, California," "Alvin Weinberg, Moorpark, CA," "Jose Luis, from Quito "Ross Wehner from Seattle,"  and "Luis Pena from Massachusetts". 

We are incredibly excited to be up here, this is right at the absolute verge of our energy and endurance levels, but we pushed it out and we made it.  The weather here is absolutely stupendous. We're giving each other high fives, and taking pictures and enjoying the beautiful view of the crater. We'll be heading down here soon, and we'll get a well-deserved rest at the La Cienega Hotel.  Here's Jose for a few words:

"Hi everybody, it's a great day for the Super Bowl Team.  Everybody's happy here, the weather is just perfect.  We are going to take some pictures here, and then we are going to start heading back down to the refuge. Que vaya bien to everybody, Goodbye."

#13 February 11, 2002.  Cotopaxi Hut, Ecuador.  Team II
3:00pm  Ross and Jose here from Cotopaxi Hut at 16,000 feet.  Our bellies are very full from all of the laughing of the last two days, after a wonderful sleep at Hacienda Guathala, our group got into the spirit of Carnival, where Ecuadorians throw buckets of water onto each other in the spirit of fun.  Driving through the packed streets of Machachi. John Kottos participated in this tradition by squirting his water bottle at attractive young passersby.  He was having a lot of fun until he received a water balloon squarely in the face.

Beforehand we had a raucous lunch at Cow Cafe, where we stuffed ourselves with milkshakes and steaks in preparation for Cotopaxi.  This dinner was also a farewell to Michael, who has a medical condition that warrants attention in the United States He was an integral part of our expedition and we will miss him.

This morning we awoke at Cambopaxi, a Swiss-style chalet at the foot of Cotopaxi.  The clouds slowly rolled back, and with the help of a telescope we were able to see two climbers on our route. Cotopaxi is a huge white snow dome that rises up and up from the grayish green, rock plains that around it.

We learned a great deal this morning about the infinitely complex and free flowing family structure of the Llamas.  Many of our members captured the "llama love in" on their video cameras and hope to sell this intriguing footage to the Discovery Channel.  We will send our next message from hopefully, the summit of Cotopaxi. Bye.

#12 February 9, 2002.  Summit of Cayambe, Ecuador.  Team II
Hi this is Jose Luis, calling from the summit of Cayambe, the third highest mountain in Ecuador.  Well the weather is just perfect, we can see Antisana the fourth highest mountain and Cotopaxi our next goal. We are very happy to be here.  Ross is next to me, John, Gary, and Terry too. The others are already going back down to the refuge.  All of us are safe and looking forward to the next climbs.  We are going to be in Guathala, the whole team this afternoon and we want to say hello to everyone in the U.S. and also Ecuador right now. Ross wants to say a few words.

Ross: "No I don't (laughter). Jose did a great job, we'll call from Cotopaxi next, thanks."

#11 February 8, 2002.  Cayambe Hut, Ecuador.  Team II
6:30pm.  Jose and Ross here, watching the sunset.  The whole crew is asleep.  Weather looks real good for our summit bid tonight.  We will leave the hut at midnight and hopefully summit at around 8am.  Everyone seems to be in great shape, we had a spectacular day of ice climbing. We top roped two separate ice cliffs and we also did fixed line ascension today, so we'll call from the summit. Bye.

#10 February 7, 2002.  Cayambe Hut, Ecuador.  Team II
5:15pm.  Tuna au gratin, gouda cheese, nectarines, roasted oven crackers and chicken soup were among the delicacies that awaited us as we returned to the Cayambe Hut in driving rain.  Today we practiced movement with crampons, self belay and self-arrest before roping up and heading on to the glacier.  We reached 16,500 feet before heading back, which will help us acclimatize for our summit attempt on Friday. Tomorrow we will rest and top rope a nearby ice wall.

We have so much enjoyed the food prepared by Marga, Jose's wife.  Last night we had potato soup with avocado and cheese (An Ecuadorian specialty) and tortellini with Bolognese sauce.  Tonight we are having Llapingachos (A sautéed potato cheese pancake), with chicken fillets and chocolate mousse for dessert.  This meal will surely reap additional havoc on Alvin's already gurgling gastrointestinal system.  What weight we lose during the day we gain at night.

We want to say a special and heartfelt adios to Dave, who left the expedition early this morning after experiencing medical issues with high altitude. Dave's sense of humor will be greatly missed.

We hope no one minds a few personal messages.  Alvin sends his love to Lisa Allenson (?); Luis Pena: "da un beso a Bea (?), Claudia y Anna; Leon (who has already lost five pounds) sends his love to his family; Michael says hi to Wanda and family; Gary wishes Patty, Ashley, Amber and Brandon "Gung Hay Fat Choy" and misses them;  John says hi to Michael and Athena, and to all his friends from AMC and NGM;  Ross sends his love to Frisky; And Ross, Jose Luis and Marga, send a special Abrazo to Neil.  Thanks, bye. 

#9 February 6, 2002.  Cayambe Hut, Ecuador.  Team II
6:30pm.  Ross here, standing with the whole crew outside of Cayambe Hut.  There is the most beautiful sunset, radiating off a floor of clouds at our feet.  The cloud floor is pink, the sun is streaked bright yellow, and above is a deep orange.   Behind us, the great blue hulk of Cayambe stand out, every detail accentuated by the evening light and the azure sky.  The route itself looks to be in good shape.  There is dry glacier until 17,000 feet and then firm neve snow up until the summit at 18,993 feet.  There has been little or no snowfall recently on Cayambe though  the neighboring Antisana Volcano is covered from head to foot with snow.

Today we spent time in the Otavalo Indian market, shopping, before fattening up with a final restaurant meal in Cayambe.  Tomorrow we do snow school, ice climbing and cramponing in preparation for our summit bid Friday night. As I stand here writing this, the sun gets richer and richer a show that never stops. 

#8 February 5, 2002.  Otavalo, Ecuador.  Team II
Greetings from Ross and Jose Luis and the rest of the "Super Bowl" expedition. as this great American sports tradition coincided with the first night of our expedition, we forewent the usual banquet for a simpler, carbo-rich diet of take out pizza and beer in front of the hotel tele in Quito. As five of the nine climbers (Luis, Leon, Paul, David and John) are from New England, there was quite a bit of rejoicing after the Patriot's victory. Their Bostonian accents are offset by the "terrible trio" from California, Alvin, Michael and Gary, workplace friends from outside of Los Angeles. The only non affiliated climber, Terry from Pennsylvania, has thrown in his cards with Jose and I, though these coalitions are already becoming blurred as friendships form.

There have been few mishaps, except for the near suitcase avalanche that threatened to bury Alvin in the bus and a nasty run in with a literally mad cow at Lake Cuicocha yesterday. A mishap was averted through the deft use of ski poles, which sent the bovine intruder clattering downslope towards fresher pastures.

Today we furthered our acclimatization by hiking near the summit of Mt. Cotocachi, a dormant volcano of brown rock that hosted a glacier (and a local ice industry before the age of refrigerators) until the 1960s. Like many small Andean glaciers, Cotocachi disappeared, a victim of global warming. The view from the top, as some pointed out, is reminiscent of Hawaii's big Island: the yellowish upper slopes give way to bright greens and finally cloud forest before the whole things ends in a 300 meter crater lake, to which there is no outlet. Even farther below stretches the patchwork of potato and corn fields of the valley floor, interrupted only by the Indian town of Otovalo where we are staying. It rained throughout our hike to high point at 14,600 feet but no one seemed to notice (or complain). Next stop: Cayambe!

#7 January 26, 2002.  Rio Bamba, Ecuador.
It's 8:30am, this is Ross here from Abras Pungo Hostel in Rio Bamba, where everyone has met for breakfast after a good night's rest.  Yesterday's retreat from Chimborazo was complicated by strong , moist winds that evolved into a "viellento blanco" storm.  We quickly became coated with ice, but were able to exit the summit plateau and descend to 16,000 feet out of the lenticular clouds blanketing the summit.  We took our time descending the steep ice and managing the rockfall danger on the final corridor section.  Dennis did an excellent job of moving forward and maintaining composure during this exhausting 15 hour summit bid.  The guards at the hut believe we are the first climbers this season to navigate the penitents field to the Whymper summit of Chimborazo.

This has been a fabulous trip and we have been blessed with a great community, beautiful mountains and (mostly) stellar weather.  We will have our final celebration at the bar before flying home early Sunday morning. Thanks to everyone for a great trip.

#6 January 25, 2002.  Summit of Chimborazo, Ecuador.
It is 9am, this is Ross, Jose Luis and Dennis from the Whymper summit of Chimborazo, (20,700 feet), exhausted but happy to make the trip's final objective.  Our other team was unfortunately turned back by steep ice.  We have a few messages from the team,  Dennis wants Brenda to know that he misses her and will see her soon, David sends his love to Sarah, and Xavier sends his love to "those who matter."

The route was steep and icy at places but hardest by far were the penitents (ice towers) that we had to cross in order to reach the true summit.  Going through these towers was grueling.  The clouds are rolling in and we have already spent 1 and a half hours at over 20,000 feet, so we are going to make a hasty retreat.  We will file a final cybercast once we are down.

#5 January 24, 2002.  Refugio Carrol, Chimborazo, Ecuador.
Greetings from the "Carbo-loaders Team" (Formerly know as Duraki) at Refugio Carrol, (15,800 feet) where we slept last night. Tonight we will make our final summit bid on Ecuador's highest volcano, Chimborazo (20,700 feet).  Today we will ascend to the Whymper Hut (16,500 feet) power some serious carbs, rest a few hours, and leave at midnight.  We will climb until 17,160 feet on scree, rope up and put on crampons as we ascend onto the glacier via a fixed ladder.  First we must traverse the rock covered glacial tongue known as "The Corridor" and then we ascend up the NW side of the glacier toward a hug rock formation known as "El Castillos" the Castle, (17,900 feet).  We will then climb the ridge as quickly and efficiently as possible up and over two steeper sections (45-50 degrees) until the ridge broadens and flattens at 19,140 feet.  From there it is a easy though agonizing trudge to the secondary summit, called Veintemilla, at 20,400 feet.  Because of ash ejected by nearby volcanoes, the glacier on top of he broad volcano has melted erratically into a maze of penitents, ten foot ice towers, that make navigation extremely difficult.  We will make the decision tomorrow as to whether to cross the penitents field in order to reach the true Whymper summit (20,700 feet)

As of 6am this morning, the weather was clear and cold though there was a lenticular cloud indicating strong winds at the summit.  Because of the heat differences between the Amazon Basin and the mountains in this part of Ecuador, strong winds at dawn are common.  What is especially dreaded is the "Blanco Viellento", which are strong winds combined with frozen Amazon moisture that leaves a rime ice coating on whatever it touches.

Our goal is to get up early and climb fast so that we are within reach of the summit before these wind starts.  We have established a turnaround time of 9am in order to pass through the corridor early.  After this, sun heating increases the danger of rockfall on this exposed section. 

Our group is in excellent shape after recuperating at the luxurious Hostel Cienega after the Cotopaxi climb.  Yesterday on the  way to Chimborazo, we stuffed our bellies with roasted Cui (guinea pig) and Conejo (rabbit).  We hope to leave another message from the summit.

#4 January 22, 2002.  Summit of Cotopaxi, Ecuador.
This is Ross calling from the summit of Cotopaxi (19,330 feet).  A most extraordinary thing has happened:  across the way, a neighboring volcano has exploded, sending up a mushroom cloud of smoke and ash.  It's not at all dangerous, it's just a beautiful sight to look at.  The volcano is called, Gungurahua.  It's the most incredibly beautiful thing, it's about 80 miles away I would estimate.  We summited Cotopaxi this morning, we got here at 7:30 in the morning, as planned.  We are departing the mountain at 8:15, right now.  Conditions were excellent, we had some winds at dawn, cold temperatures, but all in all, everyone's movement was excellent, the whole crew did a great job.  We'll call again before Chimborazo, thanks, bye.

#3 January 21, 2002.  Hacienda Guathala, Ecuador.
Last night we arrived in the rain and the dark at Cambopaxi, (12,500 feet), a a thatched hut on the way to Cotopaxi Volcano.  Morning is dawning bright and clear to reveal the huge white pyramid of Cotopaxi rising out of the barren endless dull green caramo that surrounds it.  The only forms of life are a few grazing llamas, but with the help of a telescope we can see climbers on our route, which appears to be in good shape.  It does have recent glacier movement.  The bergschrund (the large uppermost crevasse) has apparently narrowed, making a ladder crossing unnecessary. Today we will hike up to the Cotopaxi Hut, (15,750 feet), rest a few hours and then begin ascending the scree slope above the hut around 12:30am.  After ascending 900 vertical feet of sand and snow covered rock, we will arrive at the till of the north-facing glacier and will don crampons and break into rope teams.  After climbing over a series of flat sections punctuated with steep bulges, we begin a steeper (45 degree) traverse at 17,325 feet that crosses a large crevasse.  The route then flattens out, providing a good resting spot, before hitting approximately 200 feet of 50 degree snow leading up to the bergschrund.  We will probably place a series of anchors to protect the exposed crossing of the bergschrund, before gaining the gentler slope leading to the summit (19,460 feet)  We hope to arrive by 7:30am in order to descend the route before the snow softens.  The barometer is rising, but the weather is stable.

The crew is in excellent shape after a wonderful 24 hours of eating and resting at Hacienda Guathala, which has played a central role in Ecuador's history since it was first built by conquistador Pedro martin in the 16th century.  The chapel which has a beautiful (though decomposing) fresco, is built on ancient ruins and dates to 1580.  The food, served alongside the cobblestone plaza, was excellent, as were the plastered white washed rooms with 15-foot ceilings. The Hacienda was bought in 1890 by the Bonifaz family, and third generation Diego Bonifaz entertained us with endless stories of coups, revolution and other political intrigues that were hatched inside the Haciendas walls.  He is also the mayo of the nearby town of Cayambe and was gracious enough to invite Ross on a horseback tour of the Hacienda where the principal crops are eucalyptus trees and night lilies.  The food on this trip has been so excellent that some of the climbers have decided to go on a diet!  That's it, we'll leave a very brief message from the summit, bye.

#2 January 20, 2002.  Summit of Cayambe, Ecuador.
Greetings from Buraki Team at the summit of Volcano Cayambe, which means "Road to Morning"  We feel pretty exhilarated to have everyone here with us at just shy of 19,000 feet.  We left this morning at 12:30, climbed 400 feet of scree, 300 feet of dry glacier and the rest on hard firn.  The crust was a 40 degree slope which we did in running belay.  Every single climber made it to the top.  The view is spectacular.  Ocean clouds moving in from the Amazon Basin to the East, to the south we can see every major volcano in Ecuador, including Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and Antisana.

Especially happy is Dennis Tweedy who was in Ecuador last year but was trapped inside the hut by high winds.  This year fortunately he made it to the top, he wants to thank Brenda.  One down two to go.  Now we must descend and head down to Hacienda Huacahala, for a deserved rest before trying Cotopaxi.  Thanks a lot, bye, bye.

#1 January 17, 2002.  Refugio Cayambe, Ecuador.
Ross Wehner: Greetings from Refugio Cayambe, (15,070 feet).  From Joe Luis and wife Marga, Ross, and Climbers Dennis, David, Xavier and Mikhail.  We are gradually getting used to the altitude after acclimatization hikes around Lago Quicocha (11,550 feet) on Monday and then a partial ascent of Volcano Cotacachi, (15,050 feet) on Tuesday.  We are enjoying the "civilized" climbing of Ecuador where it is possible to climb over 20,000 feet from Refugios that offer bunks, full kitchens and fireplaces. So far this trip has been more of a gastronomical tour than a climbing expedition.  We have enjoyed gourmet Italian and Ecuadorian cuisine in Quito and the pleasant town of Otovalo.

Today we climbed to 15,840 feet and practiced movement, self-belay, self-arrest, and crampon techniques.  With time left over and plenty of enthusiasm, despite a hailstorm we top-roped a 20-foot ice wall.  Tomorrow we shall break into ropes teams and practice glacier navigation and crevasse rescue before heading for the summit at midnight. There had been little snowfall but the route is in good shape, weather has been stable with expected cloud cover moving in by mid-morning.  Everyone is quite fit and in good spirits.  Since both Xavier and Mikhail speak Russian, we have named our expedition The "Buraki" though nobody seems to know whether this is insulting or not.  We'll call you in about two days.

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