There’s always a point on a trip when people show their true colours. When they do, I’m rarely surprised anymore. The Illiniza’s was that point in our trip.
We’d stayed at the Illiniza Lodge, a ranch in El Chaupi which was reminiscent of a cowboy film. The owner Luis had no English and being the only person with any Spanish skills I did my best to sort out our rooms and food for the night. I have to admit being pushed into using my Spanish motivated me to try.
After a great night’s sleep we drove up the mountain in trucks to the car park marking the start of the hike into the Illiniza hut.
The plan was to spent two nights at the hut and for the team to independently climb the two peaks of Norte and Sud if we were all acclimatising well. Having had a bit of a battle with the warden at the national park gate because we’d arrived without a guide, we’d had a delayed start the following morning to fill out some (un)necessary paperwork to keep him happy. At least the whole endeavour had been a good test of my Spanish.
It was snowing lightly and it was cold, but it was a relatively easy path to follow.
Being a Mountain Leader, Mountain Rescue team member and responsible adult, my natural inclination is to keep an eye on my group members, so I hovered around the middle of the group. Maintaining a pace which prevented me from struggling from the altitude and able to see those of our group who already were.
The trudge up to the hut wasn’t that exciting – they rarely are. A dusty track, zigzagging up a steep banking.
Having arrived at the back of the group to the hut meant I was an hour behind those at the front. I wasn’t impressed I was left with only a top bunk and my kit bag had been unpacked for me with my stuff all over the place. I was grumpy.
Those who’d chosen to blast up the track meant when I arrived, they’d had a break and were ready to head out to do the Norte summit. Definitely didn’t help with my mood. Thankfully Greg and I had a brew and then went for an acclimatisation walk around the crater.
The Illiniza hut is manned and so food was provided by the hut guardian which was hearty and filling. As is usual we all went to bed early to try to sleep for an early start. As best as is possible in a packed hut. I didn’t sleep. I don’t the first time high and I struggled with nausea and the distraction of the hut warden’s phone light all night long as he watch tv.
In the end only Andy and Steve felt acclimatised to climb Sud the following day and so headed out together.
Harry was feeling great by the time Greg and I had arranged to head out at 6am, so he did a second ascent of Norte with us. Legend.
The route up Illiniza Norte is straight forward and visible from the hut. It starts out as a slow slog up the sandy ash onto the jagged rocky crater rim.
There’s scrambling at various points along the route and while some of it was a bit sketchy due to loose rock, nothing felt too difficult. It felt easier than the scrambling on Imbabura, though the rock was looser. As it had snowed the previous day the sandy ash was also wet and slippy, so that was the worst bit of the route.
We made it to the summit in 3 hours and back to the hut in just over an hour.
After a brew we then headed on the slog back to the car park for the bumpy drive back to the Ranch before departing for Quito.