Ecuador Trip

Next month, Aron Ralston will join a team of his friends in Ecuador for some high adventure. Over the course of 10 days, Aron and his 5 companions will attempt to climb and ski the two highest peaks in Ecuador. After warming up on Rucu Pichincha and Pasochoa, near the capital city Quito, and further acclimatizing on Ruminahui in Cotopaxi National Park, the team will set their sights on Cotopaxi itself.

At an elevation of 19,347′, Cotopaxi is the second-highest mountain in Ecuador. It’s also the most frequently climbed glaciated peak in the country. Due to changes in the glaciers, the climb has become more difficult and even slightly more risky in the past couple of years. To mitigate the hazards, Aron Ralston and the team will take additional time during their ascent to find the safest route to ski down.

Saving the biggest for last, Aron Ralston and his friends will continue their Ski Ecuador expedition on Chimborazo, whose ‘Whymper Summit’ reaches an elevation of 20,560′. After establishing a camp at 16,000′, the group will time their attempt to climb and ski from the summit for the best weather during a three-day window.

Besides the challenges of open crevasses, black ice, and six-foot-high snow spikes called penitentes that can appear on the route, there is also the complication that Tungurahua, a volcano directly east of Chimborazo, has erupted twice in 2014, sending ash clouds 6-9 miles into the air. Past ash deposits have melted out the snow on Chimborazo, to the extent that climbing — let alone skiing — is undesirable, if not impossible.

Thus, much of the team’s success will depend on the severity of any eruptions in the coming weeks, as well as the direction of the wind. Thankfully, April and May happen to be the heaviest months for snowfall on Chimborazo, so Aron Ralston and his team are watching weather forecasts and gathering up-to-date information on route conditions. Hopefully, the trip will go off without a hitch — though sometimes a good dose of uncertainty and adversity makes the summit all the more sweet.

A final concern of Aron’s and the group is the recent change by the Ecuadorian government to require that a certified guide accompanies mountaineering expeditions in Ecuador’s national parks. While this requirement potentially prevents inexperienced groups from getting into trouble, it also creates issues of style for “by-fair-means” mountaineers like Aron Ralston and his team of highly-experienced friends. (Imagine a rule requiring that a driving instructor joins you and your friends on your next road trip…)

For veteran climbers, exercising one’s hard-earned mastery on the mountain is a significant source of the achievement one hopes to feel by climbing and skiing big peaks. Granted that with the freedom of the hills comes responsibility: to oneself and one’s teammates, to other parties, and especially to the environment.

While respecting the intentions of the new regulations to make the peaks safer for novice mountaineers, Aron Ralston and his group also hope to balance compliance with aesthetics. Perhaps bureaucracy is just another crevasse en route to a safe, successful, and fun expedition.

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