Most airlines from Europe will arrive on the evening of this day.
An orientation tour of the old colonial city is included in the trip, prior to or following the trip briefing by the tour leader (weather dependent). Quito is probably the most attractive of all the colonial capitals of South America - its old centre is small by South American standards, and it is easy to wander around the streets of the colonial part without getting hopelessly lost or put off by the distances involved. As the city is at an altitude of approx 2850m, you should take it easy on the first day. Today we will also do the main briefing and check everyone's mountaineering equipment for the later parts of the trip. We will need a list of any required equipment for rental at least 2 weeks before arrival to prepare it for you.
We head north from Quito along the Pan American Highway and after two and a half hours will reach Cuicocha Lake. This beautiful caldera (volcanic crater) is about 2 miles wide (3 km) and was formed about 3100 years ago by a massive volcanic explosion. The undulating trek around this lake will take about 5 hours and at approx 3050m - 3500m altitude it provides excellent acclimatisation. We then head on northwards to Pantavi where we overnight in a stunning converted hacienda at the much more comfortable altitude of 2050m
Please note that occasionally, we walk the Pinan Trek in the opposite direction when we know that another group is scheduled to walk the trek in the regular direction at the same time. From a small village at 2,500m we start our first walk towards the next village at 2,900m. An easy path leads us to our campsite, where we should have the opportunity to meet some of the local population. Today's walk is around 3-4 hours and a packed lunch is included.
Today our path goes uphill and soon leaves civilisation behind. We pass through beautiful, moss-clad polylepis mountain forests and paramo landscape. With a bit of luck we may even spot a condor. After 6-7 hours we should have walked over the pass at 4000m and gained the view down to our lakeside campsite with Mount Yanaurco towering behind. Overnight at Yanacocha Lake at 3930m.
Today we start our 6-7 hour trek to the top of the extinct volcano of Yanaurco. We pass very interesting sections with unique highland vegetation. The ascent is relatively easy but rather steep with a little light scambling near the top. The final part is a rocky ridge and the summit (4,535m) is a striking natural garden with a pre-Inca altar. We descend towards the south and continue around the mountain towards the next campsite at 4000m.
From our camp at the Cucharo crater we walk over an oasis at 3960m to drop down to a valley. We trek through forest and continue descending to the next villages, passing through farmland. The final altitude of our trek is about 2500m at the lovely medicinal hot springs of Chachimbiro where we can relax and soothe any aching limbs. Here, our bus will meet us for the drive to the small village of Tumbabiro and our hacienda. The hiking will take 7-8 hours, most of which is a long and steady descent.
We'll have a leisurely start at our hacienda this morning and then drive to Otavalo (about 90 minutes) where we will have free time at the famous and busy Saturday market here to explore, shop or just relax at a café. We'll then continue onto another coverted hacienda just outside of town with free time today to rest.
An early start as we drive back south to the cloudforest and farms at the foot of the Imbabura Volcano. This 4,630m peak towers over the city of Ibarra and the peak can occasionally be snowclad. Nonetheless, the ascent is straightforward and only involves a scramble towards the top where it becomes rocky. Our target is the North Peak at 4600m, seperated from the slighty higher South Peak by a dramatic, jagged caldera ridgeline. After the ascent we return to our hacienda just outside Otavalo. Total hiking time is approximately 8 hours.
We'll have breakfast at the hacienda before driving in the late morning to Cayambe Volcano. This 5,790m extinct volcano is Ecuador's 3rd highest peak and while a little lower than Cotopaxi, the climb is considerably more dangerous due to the very active glaciers. We spend the afternoon hiking up to the lower glaciers (if the weather is reasonable) on which we start honing our ice-skills. We'll be practicing on the ice at about 4700m and this combined with spending the night at the refuge (about 4,650m) will give our lungs a good test and provide excellent acclimatisation.
After breakfast in the refuge, we'll head back out onto the ice to continue to practice ice-skills and explore a little of the peak's beautiful glaciers. If we accomplished our practice yesterday, the plan will be to walk up to about 5,000m on the glacier today, rehearsing for Cotopaxi. We'll then walk back down to the refuge for lunch and afterwards descend and drive back to Quito and the comparatively low altitude of a mere 2,850m! After a tough couple of days at nearly 5000m, this will give our bodies time to rest, recover and prepare for the final push in a couple of days. For those with prior mountaineering knowledge and experience a guided attempt at an ascent of Cayambe can be organised for this day, at extra cost. This climb starts shortly after midnight and returns to the lodge in time for lunch with the group before returning to Quito. Please advise us in advance if you would like to take this climbing option so that we can organise the guides - payment is made locally.
Today is a free day in Quito. There are many possible optional day excursions in and around the city, please speak to your guide earlier in the trip for advice on the possibilities, but the museums, cathedrals and old town can easily keep you occupied inside the city, or you may want to consider trips to the equator line or the cloud forest reserves (these will require prior organisation with your leader).
We drive south to Cotopaxi National Park today. From the Cotopaxi Plateau on a clear day the mountain is clearly visible, and with binoculars we can pick out the route of the climb. We drive up to the end of the vehicle track at 4,600m, after which an approximately one-hour walk brings us to the Cotopaxi refuge at 4,800m. We have some final time to practice walking on the glacier for any who still feel they need it, then return to Jose Rivas Hut, for supper and an early night! Any clients choosing not to climb will accompany the climbing group until the afternoon and then walk down to the hut and transfer to the lower and more comfortable Tambopaxi Mountain Lodge.
We start around 0h30 a.m. after a light breakfast and begin the 6-8 hour climb to the summit (5897 metres). The first hour is on scree, after which we climb onto the glacier itself, probably the most difficult part. It is then a long, steep slog on snow, with the final 200m becoming more steep and challenging. There are some impressive crevasses on the way, and a massive rock face known as Yanasacha, around which the trail bends. After a short (and often very cold) stay on the summit to admire the remarkable views into the 500-metre-wide smouldering crater and out across the highlands, it takes about 3-4 hours to descend to the hut. We rejoin our vehicle and drive down the mountain to Quito. Any clients who chose not to climb will have a guided hike amongst the beautiful scenery and lakes of Cotopaxi National Park at the foot of the volcano before returning to Quito with the group.
Group flights depart Quito today. Land only clients are free to make onward arrangements at any time today.