The Bishop and the Man of Wind and Snow — Part Two
Team member Alex Beattie shares his experiences from our Antisana Expedition.
It was a pretty relaxing day as we all met for the first time over breakfast. There are four clients (myself, Mike, Urszula, and Liliya), three of whom are from Canada! I am the youngest, but everyone seems to come with good credentials (and good personality!). I think it will be a good team.
City view with Ossy. Alex Beattie photo
Most of the day was spent on a city tour hosted by our very enthusiastic and knowledgeable local guide Oswald (aka Ossy). We started out at the lookout underneath the Virgin of Quito, on a hilltop at the south end of Old Quito, with a great view of the surrounding city. Preparations at the site were in full swing for the annual nativity production that is put on shortly before Christmas and a huge event, drawing thousands to the hill. We then wandered around Old Quito, including a stop at the Iglesia de la Compañía. This is sometimes called the “Golden Church” because most of the interior is overlaid with gold leaf. The detail is incredible, especially considering the only rock available locally is volcanic and very difficult to work precisely. No wonder it took 160 years to finish. Finally, we made the obligatory visit to the Equator line, at a different spot than I visited last time. I have my doubts. But, we did get to see some real shrunken human heads (and not the kind you get after a visit to the psychiatrist)!
At the equator! Alex Beattie photo
Before the never-disappointing dinner at the Hacienda Rumiloma, Ossy peered into our souls and checked out our gear in preparation for the days ahead. Luckily, it seems nothing was missing, and some gear questions I had about El Altar were answered the way I had hoped — hurray, more gear I can use! The next day, the program really got started. We went on an acclimatization hike to Rucu (old) Pichincha. This is the older of the two Pichincha peaks that form the western edge of Quito (the Hacienda is located above the city in a small valley on its flanks). Rucu is inactive, but its western neighbour, Guagua Pichincha, is still active and last erupted in 1999, covering Quito in ash.
View across Quito. Alex Beattie photo
We drove to the bottom of the teleferique and rode it up to the top of the hillside at around 4000m. After hiking for a few minutes we stopped at a better spot to get a good view of the sprawling city Quito filling the valley below (it is very narrow, but very long). It was relatively clear (for Ecuador), and most of the big peaks were visible — Cotopaxi, standing tall nearby, Cayambe, the Ilinizas, and Antisana and Chimborazo peeking out of the clouds in the distance. A magnificent sight!
Hiking above Quito. Alex Beattie photo
Easy hiking (and some requisite scree) brought us to the base of the summit block. A short section of fun scrambling and we were on top of the 4700m summit! We got about 30 seconds of view before the top clouded over. After lunch, we beat a hasty retreat. As we descended, we heard thunder in the distance. Not wanting to get rained on, we made it to the teleferique in record time, and “good planning” gave us about 10 minutes of margin before the rain came.
Our group on the summit. Alex Beattie photo
In the evening, we had dinner with another large group just arriving for the start of their 15-day mountaineering school (the same one I did three years ago). So excited for them! I ended up staying up late over drinks chatting with Ossy and his family. Today we finally head out to the Illiniza hut. Tomorrow we will go for Illiniza Norte. Unfortunately, Illiniza Sur is very dry this year, and is likely not safe to climb due to rockfall hazard. We are considering some other alternatives. Word is that conditions on Antisana and El Altar are good this year. Cross your fingers that everything holds out and we get good weather!
~MM Expedition Team Member Alex Beattie