Peak(s):  Rucu Pichincha - 15407
Date Posted:  05/31/2016
Date Climbed:   05/02/2016
Author:  Tony1
 Ecuadorian Andes: Rucu Pichincha  


Rucu Pichincha
Pichincha Province, Ecuador
4696 m (15,407 ft)


Route: Southeast Ridge from TelefériQo
Roundtrip: 9.7 km (6.0 mi)
Gain: 756 m (2480 ft)
Date: 2 May 2016
Adventurers: Tony and Andy


Overview

For a spring trip, my boyfriend and I decided on South America--a first for both of us--and specifically Ecuador. Mountains for me, beaches for him, and jungle for the insane among us. There's something for everybody! Of course I had to hike something, and I decided on something both physically and logistically on the easier side.

Pichincha is a 15er volcano immediately west of the Ecuadorian capital city of Quito, and I mean immediately. Think of Green Mountain in Boulder, but taller. It has two summits: Wawa Pichincha and Rucu Pichincha. Rucu is the shorter of the two by a couple hundred feet, but is the more popular hike. Wawa is less popular, is accessed from a relatively more remote location, and contains the active part of the volcano. You can read more about it with a quick Google search.

Image
The Pichincha massif viewed from the Mariscal neighborhood. It's bigger in person.


Image
Riding up to the "trailhead." See below.


The trailhead for Rucu Pichincha is perched high on the mountainside itself at approximately 3940 m (12,927 ft). This is thanks to the tourist attraction gondola named TelefériQo, a combination of the Spanish word for gondola (teleférico) and the city's name of Quito. Clever. The gondola's base lies just above the edge of the city at 3120 m (10,236 ft), which also climbs up the mountainside. For reference, Quito's historic center sits at about 2850 m (9350 ft), and the airport lies at about 2350 m (7710 ft). This wide variation in local topography is thanks to the fact that Quito is sort of located in a high valley, just above many canyons which open up to become smaller valleys below. It's difficult to explain but easy to see for yourself with Google Maps' topo layer.

The Adventure

We left from the "trailhead" area at the top of the TelefériQo and headed northwest along an access road, toward a small chapel. After the chapel, the road became a trail as it turned to the north and ascended toward the ridge. At the ridge, there was an enclosure with a couple of mules for rent with a guide. A couple of ladies were preparing for their guided ride and passed us briefly after we hiked by.

Image
Beginning the hike. The summit can be seen on the left.


Image
Southern Quito seen from near the beginning of the hike.


Image
The mules' area upon reaching the ridge.


Out came the camera, as there was absolute beauty in every direction. The sky was still mostly clear, so we could see just about all the way around us. One of the things I noticed that was different from Colorado was the above-treeline vegetation. It was basically a prairie where grasses, mosses, and wildflowers flourished year-round. This terrain exists below the snow line (which seems to be around 16,000 feet, depending on the volcano) as long as it isn't too rocky.

Image
Across the valley.


Image
Looking north toward the next ridge over. The bump on the left, to me, seems to have a Kit Carson-like appearance.


We continued up the trail as it entered a pattern of climbing steeply up to the next bump, flattening out briefly, and then climbing steeply again. Low clouds developed seemingly by the minute, and our wide-open views started to close. It wasn't a big deal at the time, since that's just the way rainy season goes. Even though the mornings are generally nice and sunny, clouds will linger and develop early around the highest elevations.

Image
Looking toward the eastern spine of the Andes. Sloppy processing, but the original was worse, I promise.


Image
High in the sky.


Image
The mountain ahead.


Image
Looking back.


Image
It's like a rugged sea of grass.


Image
Terrace farm remnants.


Image
Just follow the ridge.


Up and up we went, following the trail as it generally stuck to the exact ridge top. We passed under some power lines and eventually reached a point that revealed a recent helicopter crash.

Image
That doesn't look good.


It was just above that point where the ladies on the mules had dismounted and began to walk a little farther to a point where they decided to call it an outing. As we got closer to the upper mountain, it began to take a more rugged and pyramidal shape, and it wasn't long before we reached a point where continuing on the ridge proper would mean rock climbing.

Image
The mules' little waiting area.


Image
At this point, the trail began a traverse across the northeast face.


Image
Some wildflowers.


The trail turned and flattened slightly to traverse the northeast face of the mountain, and it was here when the exposure started to increase. We hiked on as the trail crossed some shallow gullies and traversed under short cliffs, one of which featured a trickle of a waterfall. By this point, the clouds had thickened considerably, and we only caught brief windows of clear views to the city in the valley below.

Image
Beginning our traverse.


Image
Looking down another drainage toward the city.


Image
It looks like moss, but it's actually very dense, small leafy plants, whose leaves feel very tough.


Image
The tiniest waterfall.


Image
I managed to kind-of capture a shot of this hummingbird.


As we continued up and across the northeast face, we encountered short brush trees resembling piney versions of the alpine willows of Colorado, and a couple of light scrambling obstacles. At about 4500 m (14,764 ft), the terrain steepened again, and since Andy isn't the best with exposure, he decided to wait on a grassy bench and enjoy the intermittent views while I went for the summit.

Image
Steep wildflowers.


Image
Looking back, a bit before Andy's grassy bench.


I continued up and through another shallow gully to a directional sign, and looked at what lied ahead as the trail made a 90-degree turn to the left, now southwest. A tall and wide sand slope awaited my attempt at a smooth ascent. I went for it, sinking and sliding back half of each step I took. The slope lasted for approximately 80 vertical meters (262 ft) between about 4540 and 4620 meters in altitude.

Image
Looking back from the base of the sand slope.


Image
Looking up from a little bit above the previous location.


At the top of the sand slope, the surrounding terrain at my elevation had become extremely rugged, and I knew I was close. From that location, the last several tens of meters to the summit was continuous class 2+, adding a little spice to the finish. I moved upward, adrenaline rushing, and even though I knew I must have passed the 15,000 foot mark by then, my breathing and energy levels would have given the impression I had yet to reach 13,000 feet.

Image
Almost like home, but more foggy.


Image
Clearer. Cool mountain!


I took two last steps upward and saw the sign. Literally. There it was to my right, facing away from me, but thanks to pictures on the internet (way to spoil the surprise, right?), I already knew it spelled a warm welcome. The clouds parted to the northeast just enough to get a wide view of the flanks of the mountain in that direction, but unfortunately not low enough to see the city.

Image
The welcoming summit sign.


Image
Looking down the southwest face of the mountain.


Image
Amazing how the ridge acts as a clear dividing line.


Image
The best panorama I could get.


As I played photographer on the summit, I began to hear thunder off to what I thought was the southwest (but turned out to be the southeast, where we'd came from). I took one last moment to enjoy the summit and began my quick descent through the rugged tip of the mountain. I reached the sandy slope, audibly apologized to Pichincha for the abuse it was about to take, and plunge-stepped down the sand until I reached the normal trail.

Image
Descending the sandy slope.


Image
One last little diverse flower field.


I promptly returned to Andy's spot, took a quick breather, and began together the descent across the northeast face. As we returned to the ridge, the view opened up and we discovered that we were being greeted with an incoming storm, the beginning of which I must have heard while on the summit. We started down the trail along the ridge, and the trail's run along the top of it became a curse rather than a blessing. My assumption about the storms down here couldn't have been more wrong, as we got caught in a rainstorm the day before while exploring Quito, and the whole thing was rather tame. Hardly any thunder, a quick downpour, and then it was gone. Well...this one was different. Lightning struck everywhere, small hail fell as it moved over us, and by the time it passed, another one was up ahead.

Image
Making our way down through the rain and low clouds.


Of course, we weren't the only ones to get caught, and the second storm stayed stationary up ahead over the city, giving us time to return to the shelter of the trailhead. In its wake, the storm left a hail-covered Rucu Pichincha, so it was pretty cool to get a different view of the summit than a few hours earlier.

Image
The city seemed to have plenty of sunlight, while another storm loomed over Pichincha's eastern flanks.


Image
Rucu Pichincha with a fresh coating of small hail, and maybe some graupel.


Image
Our remaining route to the TelefériQo from the same spot as the previous picture.


We made it back to the food court at the top of the TelefériQo and took a rest break before riding down and catching a cab back to the Mariscal neighborhood, where we waited for the aforementioned second downpour to finish under the canopy of a supermarket before venturing out for some food and beer.

Closing

I highly recommend this hike for anyone vising the area; it's great both as a climb of its own and as a training climb for something larger, such as Chimborazo. During the rainy season, you'll want to accept that you may get rained on. Due to the operating hours of the TelefériQo (which vary, depending on season), you can only start so early. We started as early as possible and it still happened, so keep it in mind.

Image
A quick sketch of the route. Imagery from Google.


Personally, this was a special day for me. Before Rucu Pichincha, the highest I had brought myself was the summit of Mount Elbert. What an incredible experience it was to "break the Elbert record" on a seemingly-random peak in a completely different land, creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Thanks for reading!

~Tony



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40


 Comments or Questions
FireOnTheMountain

you had me at
06/01/2016 08:06
think boulder's green mountain. cool outing, thanks for sharing.



   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here


Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.




© 2021 14ers.com®, 14ers Inc.