Volcanoes of Ecuador
- Summit four of Ecuador's highest peaks: Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Cayambe and Cotocachi
- Develop your climbing skills on heavily-crevassed and glaciated slopes
- Explore the rich and ancient culture of Ecuador
Join us for an incredible climbing adventure to four of Ecuador's highest peaks.
Ecuador, Jewel of the Andes, presents a relatively untraveled paradise for the beginning climber. Perhaps nowhere else on earth does the combination of high mountains and easy accessibility exist in such close proximity. In fourteen days, we will attempt to summit four of Ecuador's highest peaks: Chimborazo (20,701ft/6,310m), Cotopaxi (19,347ft/5,897m), Cayambe (18,996ft/5,790m) and the smaller Cotocachi (16,203ft/4,944m). Great effort is required to summit all four of these in a relatively short period of time, yet it provides the beginning climber a definitive place to test altitude and fitness limits. Alpine Ascents' Ecuador expedition combines ascents, short acclimatization trips and skill development with a chance to experience one of South America's ancient and rich cultures.
Cotocachi, an acclimatization climb, offers beautiful views of both the Eastern and Western Cordillera ranges in the Andes. Cayambe proffers heavily crevassed glaciated slopes while its notoriously changeable weather provides its own challenges. Cotopaxi, reputed by some to be the world's highest active volcano, is beautifully symmetrical and heavily glaciated. And finally Chimborazo, the highest summit in Ecuador, demands we climb moderate slopes to the base of the glacier and snow covered glaciated terrain to almost 350 in steepness. With this amount of varied climbing and high altitude, Alpine Ascents' Ecuador expedition promises a challenging and rewarding experience. The logical 'next-step' for our Mountaineering School graduates, over 200 former students have enjoyed climbing at the center of the world. Ecuador is such an interesting country and near perfect for the aspiring climber with its wealth of challenging high-altitude climbs.
For those wishing to participate, we require some prior mountaineering experience including knowledge of the ice axe and moving on snow. During the course, we will spend some time on skills review including: glacier travel, route finding, rope technique, safe travel, snow climbing and advanced ice axe techniques. Here is a chance to truly develop your alpine mountaineering skills.
This program of four high altitude ascents is unsurpassed for those interested in a unique climbing experience or those seeking to gain experience for other high altitude climbing objectives.
- All in country transportation
- Hotels in Quito
- All hut fees
- All group climbing gear
- All meals while climbing
- Park fees and permits
- $25 wire transfer fee (if applicable)
- International round-trip airfare USA-Ecuador
- Personal gear
- Alcoholic beverages and bottled drinks
- Excess baggage charges and airport taxes
- Personal items
- Charges incurred as a result of delays beyond Alpine Ascents' control- including extra hotels if climbers choose to opt out of any climbing portions
- All expenses incurred in the event of early departure (evac fees, transport, extra hotel nights, etc)
- Trip cancellation insurance
Day by Day Itinerary
Arrival to the capital city of Quito: It lies on a long and narrow Andean valley surrounded by high volcanoes at an elevation of 2,850 meters/ 9,350 ft. Our guide will be waiting for you at the airport and will take you to the hotel.
We will spend the day sightseeing in Quito. Quito is considered to be one of the most beautiful of all South American capital cities with its well preserved colonial architecture and mild climate. We will visit the old town of Quito which has been declared a World Heritage by the UNESCO given its beautiful Colonial Architecture. We will start acclimating to the altitude while taking an easy walk through narrow streets and historical squares, admiring the old colonial churches, buildings and houses. Before returning to our hotel we will enjoy a great view of Quito from the top of the El Panecillo hill. This day constitutes an important foundation for our acclimatization. We also have a thorough equipment check and orientation including discussion of Leave No Trace practices. Briefing and welcome dinner in the evening. Overnight stay in Quito.
On the second day of our acclimatization process we will drive towards Pasochoa (4,200 m / 13,779 ft). We will follow the direct route up the north side of the mountain. It takes approximately 3 hours to hike to the summit from the car park. Once there we can look into the old crater whose vertical walls preserve some of the last of the original forest that once covered the whole area. Pasochoa is also one of the few volcanoes in Ecuador where it is still possible to see condors, the largest flying birds. After descending, we will drive back to Quito to spend the night.
Easy access from Quito using the brand new cable car makes Ruco Pichincha (4,698 m/15,413 ft) a great acclimatization hike. The gondola will take us up to an altitude of 3,966 m/13,012 ft from where we will have a first glance of three of the highest snow-capped Ecuadorian mountains. Cotopaxi, Antizana and Cayambe. From there we will start our hike, which will take us to the top of this ancient volcano in three hours. Two hours later we will be back in Quito and drive to the beautifully restored hacienda Guachala (2,800 m/9,186 ft), the oldest one in Ecuador where we will spend the night.
After breakfast, we will drive up to 4,286 m/14,062 ft on Cayambe. Our acclimatization goal will be to hike up to the hut and farther on to the beginning of the glacier (4.877 m/16,000 ft). It is worth mentioning that sometimes condors can be seen here flying above the Paramo land or the area around the refuge. In the afternoon our private transport will take us back to Guachala honoring the adage "Climb high; sleep low".
We will drive back up to the hut on Cayambe to start reviewing mountaineering skills on the nearest glacier, including self arrest, basic cramponing techniques, self rescue and crevasse rescue. We will return to the hut to spend our first night at 4,630 m/15,190 ft. The Cayambe hut is located on the south-west flank of the mountain and is the nicest mountain refuge in the country. The views of the volcano and its surrounding from there are outstanding.
We will come back to the nearest glacier to reinforce what we reviewed the previous day. We will have lunch at the hut and afterwards prepare our climbing gear and packs for the climb early the next day.
With 5,789 m/18,993 ft, Cayambe is the third highest mountain in the Andes of Ecuador. It is also the highest point on earth through which the Equator line passes. Cayambe is located on the eastern cordillera, some 65 km north-east of Quito. This heavily glaciated volcano is considered active. According to some people the meaning of the word Cayambe is: "water, the source of life".
We will start the climb at about midnight. From the refuge, we will ascend the rocky ridge up to the beginning of the glacier. Once on the glacier we will aim to the rock outcrop known as Jarrin peaks. From the top part of this rocky feature we will head towards the summit. From the top we can admire the subsidiary north and east summits of Cayambe as well as big mountains such as Cotopaxi and Antizana in the south.The ascent takes seven hours and the descent three to four hours. After the climb we pack up and travel to Hacienda Guachala, to rest and relax before heading off to our next objective.
Travel by bus to Cotopaxi: The region around Cotopaxi has the highest number of clear days per year in the Ecuadorian Andes. This exquisite mountain rises in Cotopaxi National Park, the showpiece national park in all of mainland Ecuador. On our drive, we pass through several vegetative zones and anticipate encountering llamas, herds of wild horses, foxes, Cara-Cara falcons, eagles, Andean gulls, lapwings, etc and interesting paramo vegetation. We will stay at Tambopaxi (3,766 m/12,356 ft). This rustic but elegant lodge offers great views of the north face of Cotopaxi. There is a telescope so that we can have a closer look of the normal route up the mountain. Today will be dedicated to rest and recover strength for the upcoming climb.
After breakfast, our transport will take us to the park land on the northern slopes of Cotopaxi (4600 meters / 15,100 feet). From there, we will have to hike for approximately an hour to the Jose Ribas Refuge (4,800 m / 15,750 ft). Once at the hut, we will prepare the climb of the most coveted Ecuadorian mountain: Cotopaxi.
Alexander von Humboldt said: "Cotopaxi's shape is the most beautiful and regular of all the colossal peaks in the high Andes. It is a perfect cone covered by a thick blanket of snow...". We will begin the climb at about one in the morning. An early start allows us to take advantage of the better snow conditions and thus travel more quickly and safely. The normal route is technically not challenging but physically demanding. It involves climbing on moderate glaciated slopes (generally 30º- 45º). After approximately seven hours of climbing we will reach the top where we can enjoy magnificent views of the gigantic crater and of mountains such as Antizana, Cayambe and Chimborazo. After the summit climb, we descend Cotopaxi and head to the historic La Cienega Hostelry for rest and recovering.
On our way to Chimborazo we will visit San Augustin de Callo. This hacienda was built on the site of an Inca palace. It constitutes one of the two most important archeological sites in Ecuador, and the point furthest from Cuzco of Imperial style construction. Besides the farmhouse has a unique blend of architectural styles: 15th century Inca, 16th century Colonial and 19th century Republican. After visiting this interesting place, we will travel by bus to the Chimborazo Basecamp lodge (3,950 m/12,959 ft) located at the foothills of the highest volcano in Ecuador. This cozy accommodation in a spectacular setting will give us another opportunity to rest before our most demanding climb. There will be several opportunities to spot vicuñas once we reach the foothills of Chimborazo. These camelids together with the other members of their family: alpacas and llamas are the biggest native South American mammals.
Chimborazo is with 6,310 metres/20,702 feet the highest mountain in Ecuador. This old volcano is considered extinct although some recent studies show that it might still be considered active. Its main summit has the distinction of being the farthest point from the centre of the earth making Chimborazo somehow the tallest mountain in the world. It does not matter from which side you look at Chimborazo, it will impress you by its size and beauty. Today we will travel by bus to the Carrel hut (4,862 m/15,951 ft). From there, it will take us between thirty and forty five minutes to walk to the Whymper refuge (5,047 m/16,558 ft) where we will spend the afternoon preparing for the climb the next day.
We will start the climb at about midnight following the El Castillo route. This route is considered the normal way up the mountain because it is objectively the safest one at the moment. It normally takes eight hours to get to the Whymper summit from where you will enjoy one of the best views in Ecuador. To the east and south-east: part of the Amazon rain forest, El Altar which is the most difficult mountain to climb in Ecuador and the active volcanoes Tungurahua and Sangay. To the north and north-east: mountains like the Ilinizas, Antizana and the famous Cotopaxi. The descent to the Whymper hut takes between three and four hours. After returning to the hut, we pack and descend to Riobamba town. The Abraspungo Hostelry will give us beautiful Andean scenery at the end of our climb.
After having breakfast we will drive along the Avenue of the volcanoes back to Quito. Farewell dinner in the evening.
Return flight USA.
About The Operator:
Alpine Ascents International
A Brief History
Founder Todd Burleson has traveled the globe incessantly (from 8 Everest expeditions and the 7 summits, to Greenland, Mongolia and Iran) not only for his love of guiding but his never-ending pursuit of perfecting the Alpine Ascents approach. In 1986 there wasn't much of a business model for international guiding, but making a living at something you love has its merits. While Todd's proficiency in climbing was well regarded, he had a propensity for not only guiding and teaching, but looking at mountains as to how they might be successfully and safely guided (routes, camps, guide ratios, supplies and itineraries). From our early successes on Himalayan Peaks, this approach soon took hold on mountains around the world. Willi Prittie joined on with Todd and added his relentless pursuit of perfection and joy of the mountains to the zeitgeist of Alpine Ascents. This unique combination snowballed into some of the finest logistics, training and guiding in the industry.
With this recipe, Todd and Willi began sculpting a reputation - as a climber's outfitter. This included Willi maniacally developing the Alpine Ascents Mountaineering School, with the theme that any graduate should possess enough safety skills to call themselves a climber. Enter Gordon Janow who brought his eclectic background of writing, business and many years of traveling through Asia to galvanize Alpine Ascents as a business and mind set. This led to other strategic and opportune partnerships with old climbing friends such as Vernon Tejas, Peter Athans, and Jose Luis Peralvo, as well as recruiting, developing and training a host of younger guides that eventually became the core of the Alpine Ascents guiding staff. The office staff, not to be outdone, put the expertise of Matt Lepisto and Kristine Kitayama, and more recently Brent LaDoux, Alayna Cullen, Garrett Madison and Savannah Klunder, along with Todd and Gordon to the task of organizing and creating all that manifests the visions of guides and climbers alike. Most of the original members are with us today, keeping it a jovial and enthusiastic (bordering on obsessive) team.
Alpine Ascents International Today
Alpine Ascents International leads expeditions that have become benchmarks of quality in the climbing community and operates what we believe is the finest mountaineering school in the country. This expertise is based upon years of accumulated experience, not just from individual mountain guides, but through experience on particular mountains where details are fine-tuned over time. We maintain our ongoing process of multi-leveled and critical evaluation for each expedition. Innovations like daily weather reports, established season-long base camps, environmental pioneering, and operating our trips with small climber-to-guide ratios led by Alpine Ascents guides are just some of the factors that keep us in the forefront. Our guides are the primary reason that Alpine Ascents has built such a unique reputation. Many of our guides have been with us for most of their careers and have had the opportunity to participate in a wealth of climbs and programs. Our guides are generally not seasonal employees, who teach a few courses and head back to "other lives", but are dedicated and committed to a life of climbing.
Along with these elements, our commitment to the environment and ethical global business practices make Alpine Ascents the most respected and well-rounded mountain guiding company in the industry. Alpine Ascents is proud to be one of a small minority of companies authorized to guide on Denali, Mt. Rainier and throughout Washington's Cascades.
Program Philosophy ~ Mission Statement
Alpine Ascents is committed to developing safe, self-reliant and environmentally-conscious mountaineers and offering courses and expeditions of unsurpassed quality throughout the world. Our business practices stress ethical and culturally aware travel.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the skill level of this climb?
Climbers should have successfully completed our 6-Day Training course, 8-Day, 12-Day, 13-Day or have equivalent skills and experience. Those who had a strong performance on a 3-Day Baker or Rainier climb may also join. They must have basic knowledge of progression on snow and ice, self arrest, crevasse rescue and glacier travel. Snow and ice slopes to be dealt with are moderate (up to 45 degrees). During the expedition we will spend three days on the Cayambe glacier reviewing skills. The requirements are also based on our desire to have similarly skilled team members.
What is the physical conditioning level needed for this climb?
Climbers must be in very good to excellent physical condition. Summit day can be 11 hours long on Cayambe, 10 hours long on Cotopaxi and 12 hours long on Chimborazo.
Any tips on how a climber can maximize their chances of success?
Along with the required crampon skills, review cardio training on the training page of our web site. This climb generally boasts 100% success. Acclimatization will be the key to successfully and safely climb the main goals of this expedition. We strongly recommend following the advice of our guides to acclimatize properly. Try to improve your cramponing skills especially for Chimborazo.
Who is the guiding team composed of (How many guides? Climber to guide ratio?)
Your expedition leader will be Jose Luis Peralvo. He will have along as many assistant guides as necessary to ensure a low climber to guide ratio.
What is the best season to climb/which dates will have the most chance for success?
Ecuador has two climbing seasons: June through August (although it is often windy, August being the windiest month) and November through February (which is considered the best season for climbing in Ecuador). Cotopaxi creates its own microclimate and has the highest number of clear days of the Ecuadorian mountains, and subsequently can be climbed year-round. It is very important for safety reasons and in order to increase our chances for success the time of the day that we climb the big snowcapped Ecuadorian volcanoes. It will be necessary to climb at night because the snow conditions are better and safer. The weather tends to be more stable and it is generally clear during the nights and early mornings.
How many climbers are on this expedition?
Generally, our maximum for this climb is 12 climbers plus guides.
Will I be sharing a tent or lodging with other climbers?
You will not be sharing a tent. Lodging for this expedition is in hotels, old haciendas converted to hostelries and mountain huts.
How much will my pack weigh?
On summit day climbers carry approximately 20 pounds.
What gear will I need?
Please review the annotated gear list.
How does your gear rental system work?
Those requesting rental gear must submit an expedition rental form with payment by fax or mail. All rental gear will be mailed to the climber prior to the climb. Climbers are expected to clean all rental gear and return it to us by mail following the expedition.
Any further advice on gear and using your gear list?
We recommend that you get a pair of anti-balling plates for your crampons. These useful devices made of a special type of rubber prevent crampons from balling up in soft snow conditions. There are different types depending on the model of crampons and brand. Please, make sure you get the right ones for the crampons you have.
How is drinking water treated?
There will be bottled water available while staying in hotels, haciendas and during the first two acclimatization hikes. All water will be boiled while the group is in the mountains. Doing so for several minutes will kill anything that can live at the altitude the huts are located. Mountain huts are supplied with clean glacier-melt water.
What will the meals on the expedition be like?
Meals in the mountains consist of a diet rich in carbohydrates because our bodies do not process fat and protein efficiently at higher elevations and to compensate the increase in caloric need that high altitude climbing involves. We try to make meals and breakfast varied and as normal as possible. The selection of meals is wide in the restaurants of hotels and haciendas we will stay on this trip.
Can I bring some food from home?
You may bring power bars, Gu, Power Gel, cereal bars or similar high energy foods, powder Gatorade is also recommended to fight dehydration. All meals will be provided on this expedition.
Are there any innoculation requirements?
No requirements at this time
What is the best air route to my destination?
Most routes are via Houston or Miami. Most climbers arrive on American Airlines or Continental Airlines flights. LACSA also known as TACA is another option. They fly from Los Angeles to Quito via San Josè, Costa Rica. Climbers that arrive early or depart late will incur in an additional airport pick up fee.
When should I book my flight? Do I need to use your Travel Agent?
Fares are generally less expensive when booked early. You may use our Travel Agent (Charles Mulvehill 1-800-727-2157) or book flights yourself. Please note that flights booked online are often difficult to change. Please send us a copy of your flight schedule as early as possible as this allows us to book pick ups and hotels.
What time should I arrive and leave and where do I meet the guides?
Your guide or an Alpine Ascents representative will meet you at the airport. Look for a large Alpine Ascents sign.
What if I arrive early or depart late? Can you arrange extra night lodging? Is there a single room option for this expedition?
We are happy to make arrangements such as personalized tours, extra hotels rooms, airport pick ups and arrange for private rooms. Please indicate that you would like a private room on your application and we will contact you with information on single room supplement costs.
Are there any entry or Visa requirements?
The personnel at Immigrations at the airport in Quito will ask you how long you plan to stay, after your answer; they will give you a 30, 60 or 90-day tourist visa. Please make sure your passport has at least six months of validity left.
Is there any communication while we are on the mountain?
In the cities and in hotels telephones are readily available. Our guides carry cellular phones in the mountains.
Where can I get more information on history, books, and additional activities in the region?
Check the reading list on the Ecuador page of the web site.
Can I contact the others on the climb? How about the guide?
You can always call our offices and we will have our Ecuador lead guide contact you. 30 days prior to departure, we will mail a list of the other team members to you.
How much should I budget for this expedition? How much cash should I plan to bring?
$500 should easily cover any extra expenses and tips. Most climbers prefer to bring about $1000 and have credit cards.
How much should I tip my guide and staff?
$150 total is the suggested tips for all Ecuadorian guides and you may have some perfunctory tips at hotels and at time of transport. Tipping is not required but a common practice. Climbers may also opt to tip the Lead guide ( $100+ is an average tip)
What paperwork do I need to send in?
Each climber should submit an application and flight information.
When is the money due for this expedition? What kind of payment do you except?
We accept MasterCard, Visa, American Express, personal checks and Alpine Ascents gift certificates. To reserve a space the deposit is $700.00 and balances are due 90 days prior to departure. Unpaid balances can result in forfeiture of trip.
What is your cancellation policy? What is your refund policy?
Note: Alpine Ascents International highly recommends trip cancellation insurance for all programs.
Due to the nature and heavy costs of government and operator permits, Alpine Ascents International must adhere to a stringent refund policy. Specific brochure cancellation and refund policies may supercede those enumerated below.
- Each deposit, regardless of amount, includes a $200.00 non-refundable registration fee.
- All Expedition balances are due 90 days prior to departure date unless otherwise specified.
- Full refunds, less registration fee, will be provided 90-days or more prior to departure date.
- 50% refunds will be provided 60-89 days prior to departure date.
- No refunds will be provided 59-days prior to departure date.
- Participants whose balances are not received by the 90-day deadline as stated above, risk forfeiture of their place on the expedition.
All refund requests must be made in writing and be received in our office within the 90-day period, as stated above.
What happens if I need to leave the expedition early?
The easy access to the high mountains in Ecuador makes not difficult an early departure. If for any reason you need to depart early, our guides and local staff will assist in obtaining the necessary transportation and reservations to get you home as quickly as possible.