Ever since I was a child, I have wanted to climb to the top of mountains. This dream never became a reality because I thought that it was a feat reserved for great athletes and mythological characters. For me, it was an unattainable dream.
Seemingly by coincidence, on one birthday, the man who is now my husband invited me to take a mountaineering course with a group of experienced guides, the Dammer brothers, who are co-founders of NAHUAL. Without giving myself time to second-guess, and facing such a perfect opportunity, I said yes. Sometimes that is exactly what you need — a mere coincidence, meeting with someone who motivates you to get started in mountain climbing.
After a year of preparation, perseverance and effort, we ventured to snow-caped Mt. Cayambe, a giant at 19,000 feet, which is located 12.5 miles from the City of Cayambe, about 50 miles from Quito. This is an iconic place for athletes and mountain climbers.
We arrived in a bus rented for our group. Early in the morning, around 5 A.M., we started the day in the City of Cayambe with our guides. What struck me most about meeting these strange and admirable characters was the type of food they had: chicken broth and sushi. I would never have imagined eating sushi at above 15,000 feet. However, they explained how important it is to avoid changing the diet your body is used to.
The adventure was complete. The road is rocky, surrounded by unbelievably green meadows and cow pastures with patchwork farmland, until reaching the dry section above 15,000 feet, where the Ruales-Oleas-Berge mountain refuge is located. You need a 4×4 vehicle to get there.
At the refuge, we took out our equipment, laced up our boots, and started the rocky ascent. I clearly remember the sensation of climbing the hard rocks; I was a little scared. I had the impression that I would slip, but the truth is that my boots had very good grip. It was then that I understood the importance of having the right equipment and knowing how to use it correctly.
Soon the rocky road turned to snow, stone signposts greeted us as we passed. After about three hours on the way to Picos Jarrín, located at 17,400 ft, we stopped to learn how to stop using the ice ax. The small valley of snow and ice, a nearby lake, and slippery slopes that surrounded us became our playground. The beauty of that liquid water amidst the snow, and at such a high altitude, is indescribable.
We played with childlike delight, sliding and stopping our fall using the ice ax, taking pictures to capture the moment, until our guides said it was time to head back. I had such a desire to just stay in that place, stop time and keep playing in the snow. The mountain becomes a magnet, and its charm tries to hold you there, but you have to remember that the return is mandatory. Climbers need to be conscious of the need to save energy and conserve strength to get back safely.
This adventure filled our memories with amazing images and one-of-a-kind sensations. The mountain transmits many things, but most of all, it recharges you with positive energy. Despite the fatigue and physical effort, you really feel like you can achieve anything, and you can only thank the Pachamama (mother earth) for her hospitality, with hope of one day returning.
We made our hike during daylight hours, but if you want to climb all the way to the summit, the recommendation is to do it at night, preferably during full moon. This is key to avoid any thawing caused by ultraviolet sun rays while benefitting of the moon’s natural light.
This has been the most fun and exciting experience of my life, and I fully recommend it. It provides the adrenaline of a roller coaster ride with the bliss of a white paradise that not everyone is able to reach, while pushing you to overcome mental and emotional barriers. A lot of it is a question of attitude, motivation and desire.
Photos and text by Lorena Dueñas Petit