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Quito Up, Up and Away

Joanne 2006-12-16

Quito is 2855 meters (9367 ft) above sea level. As mentioned in a previous blog this unto itself proves to be a little challenging for the body to adjust to. Being out of breath, having a small headache and the overall feeling of fatigue all correct themselves within 3-4 days of arriving.

Quito is located in the Sierra Region. It is home to almost half of all Ecuadorians. The high mountain region of the Sierra stretches the length of the country, north to south.

When exploring Quito, what can be seen when looking up to either side from almost any street are soaring mountains with wide-open grassland areas, patchwork fields separated by bursts of small forested areas, homes dispersed throughout the lower lands, and lush clouds which often look as though they are swallowing the mountains up above.

While the view from down below is beautiful, Paul and I would like a closer look. We would also like to know what the view is like from up top.

Ecuador is home to some exceptional high altitude climbing, with 10 mountains over 5000 meters (16404 ft). One of the most famous, Cotopaxi at 5897 meters (19374 ft), is reputedly the highest active volcano in the world. To conquer this would be quite a feat, one which we are considering taking on.

We stopped in at an outdoor adventure tour company to find out how to properly go and discover Cotopaxi and other glaciated mountain tops for ourselves.

We found out how to properly train ourselves to be able to safely handle the increase in altitude. This is done through acclimatization which involves climbing to a higher altitude during the day and returning to a lower altitude at night. The good news is being surrounded by such vast mountains that are quite easily accessible makes this possible for us. Being on the equator also makes it possible all year round.

Photo: CIMG5032 (2006/12/10 10:34)
Photo: CIMG5034 (2006/12/10 11:54)
Photo: CIMG5049 (2006/12/10 13:55)

Want more photos? See the whole Quito December 2006 set on flickr or see it as a slideshow

Our first test: Pichincha Gral Mountain, 4703 meters (15430 ft). The guideline given to us was if we could summit it in less than 3 hours than we could tackle a higher mountain progressing our way to the peak of Cotopaxi.

We took the Teleferiqo, which is like a ski lift but without the snow, or oxygen to 4000 meters (13123 ft). On the way up, we saw a clear view of Quito and the Sierra's farmlands filled with crops and livestock.

At this altitude, the mountain was bursting with people enjoying their Sunday afternoon. As we climbed there were fewer and fewer people to say "buenas tardes" to.

The climb was challenging, not technically but physically because of the lack of oxygen. We found it difficult to exchange more than a few words to each other and yet there was not the typical burn that one would expect to feel in your legs while being so out of breath.

We had read about the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness before setting out on this climb to ensure our safety. Some of these symptoms were noticed. Paul had a dull headache that persisted but did not worsen. I was experiencing some stomach upset but also not worsening. Both were expected effects of altitude acclimatization.

While huffing and puffing our way up, we kept a close watch on our symptoms and were hoping that they would not worsen, forcing us to turn around before reaching the summit. If we could make it up in under 3 hours, well that would just be a bonus!

We reached the summit of 4703 meters (15430 ft) in 2 hours and 5 minutes, high-fived each other and then enjoyed a much deserved lunch while enveloped in the clouds.

It was a little chilly at the top, and there was nothing to see but clouds, so shortly afterwards we headed back down. The first part of the descent was almost vertical and quite technical, we were very cautious with our hand and foot placement. Slowly but surely the clouds were left above and the breathtaking scenery returned.

Paul's headache disappeared and mine came on. By the time we reached the base, we had definitely had enough altitude training for one day.

As usual Paul slept the night away falling asleep just before his head hit the pillow. I had a bit of a restless night because my body was still adjusting to the change in altitude.

In the morning we were both more groggy than usual, a little dehydrated and very satisfied with our experience.

We are definitely not ready for Cotopaxi just yet, but are enjoying the journey in getting there.


Permalink by Karen Lazarovitz   |  December 16, 2006 06:55 AM

Hi Joey,
I hate to break it to you but whatever it was that you just wrote came back completely jibberish.
I miss ya and will write more to your personal email. Paul, great job with the last blog about the jungle. I loved it.

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