Last Spring Michelle Parker embarked on a trip to Ecuador with Alpenglow Expeditions. She traveled just South of the equator with hopes of climbing and skiing Cayambe and Cotopaxi. Cotopaxi is the worlds highest active volcano sitting at 19,347 ft. and Cayambe is the third highest mountain in Ecuador with an elevation of 18,996 ft.
Personally, I have never been at altitude nor have I ever climbed a mountain while being roped up with skis on my back, so this trip was meant to be a learning experience. Up until now, my career as a professional skier has been all about chasing storms and skiing the best snow possible in aesthetic mountains. With a passion for both climbing and skiing, this trip seemed like a logical next step to learn the ropes and get more into ski mountaineering.
While attempting to climb and ski Cayambe we were met with strong winds and whiteout conditions. This photo was taken on our first attempt. Walking on ice and rocks with crampons didn’t seem like the safest thing to do with 100km gusts of wind, but it was great to get outside and feel it.
I was really stoked to be on the rope with Adrian Ballinger, co-owner of Alpenglow Expeditions and highly experienced climber of mountains at altitude. He’s sparked a new interest in me with climbing and skiing high altitude peaks. He’s skied a continuous 12,000 vertical foot run. Mind blown.
On our second attempt of climbing and skiing Cayambe we got much closer to the top before the weather turned us around. My close friend Jim Morrison and I clicked into our skis with huge smiles on our faces. We skied from 15,700 feet back to the hut in marginal conditions, but it was super fun either way. I’ve never regretted a day of skiing and that day was certainly no different. Fired up!
Traveling to and from Cayambe was quite the adventure. With mud, rain, wind, and sketchy roads we ended up carrying much of our gear to and from the huts to the point where the trucks couldn’t go any farther. I was fortunate enough to be on this trip many close friends, but these two were always a good time no matter what. Climber, Emily Harrington, and our bad ass Tahoe amiga, Emily Turner, and I were all smiles all the time.
: Jim Morrison and I were roped up and ready to go on Cotopaxi. For a brief moment you could see Quito, Ecuador’s capitol, behind us, but it didn’t last long enough for me to take a photo. Soon after this shot was taken we were fully engulfed in high winds while trying to reach the summit. The skis on our backs acted as sails and were challenging to climb with. We reached 19,000 ft, a few hundred meters away from the summit, before we decided to turn. It was full on. We were crawling on all fours trying to make it. Ultimately, it was an incredibly humbling experience to turn around when we were so close to the top. I was so fired up either way. The adventure of making it that far was a great experience. I learned a ton and truly enjoyed the journey.
The above photo makes me smile looking back on it. We had just walked through the most intense wind I have ever felt and were covered in rime ice from head to toe. I would guess that we weighed about 25 pounds more than we had when we started the hike just from the ice. Emily is in the background taking a seat after our suffer fest. Her stance says it all. We were worked, but also in great spirits and quickly regained our energy for the down climb. At one point in the intense wind, I was head down in the snow and had to give myself a pep talk to keep moving. Slowly, with steady legs, we made it to this point when the wind calmed and we could relax a little.
Another shot covered in ice, but stoked to be out of the heavy wind. I had to take a photo of myself at this point because in my head I was thinking, “I hope that I look as worked as I feel right now.”
I have an ongoing tradition with butter biscuit Ritter Sports. The tradition is that you have to do something awesome in order to get one. Typically my climbing partners and I only eat Ritter Sports in the Eastern Sierras after long days in the mountains climbing and hiking around like monkeys, but on this trip every time that I hit a new high point I was rewarded by my friend Jim Morrison with a Ritter Sport. Mmm…they are tasty treats after long days!
While we weren’t in the mountains we were getting a close look at Ecuador’s beautiful culture. We toured the churches in Quito, saw a parade, ate amazing food, and just soaked it up before heading to the mountains. It was a unique opportunity as I feel like I typically head straight to the mountains and tend to skip over some of the cultural aspects of traveling sometimes, but we nailed it in Ecuador!
One of the highlights of my trip was riding through the country side on Panchito! Two friends and I woke up early one morning, hoped on a couple of horses, and went for a quick ride before heading to Cayambe. We rode through fields of quinoa which were beautiful, tall stalks, of multicolored flowers. It was simply spectacular.
I love visiting the market place and Ecuador’s didn’t disappoint. While I try not to purchase much I couldn’t resist picking up a blanket and a couple of hats! The colors in this shot are so true to our surroundings while in Ecuador. It became my new favorite country and I definitely recommend going there summit or not!
Just a rad shot of a church. The Pope just payed this church a visit. It had quite outstanding views of Quito.
Quito was filled with color, music, and this awesome parade that we happened to catch.
A couple of musicians on the street serenading the passing crowds. I had to stop and listen as they were in to it. I was continuously surprised around every corner of the city by the general feel of this place.
We went for a couple of acclimatization hikes before heading to the bigger mountains. Here’s the whole crew on top of Rucu Pichincha at 15,400 ft. high above the city.
On our second acclimatization hike we were greeted with ridiculous views of the surrounding landscape. Pure stoke knowing that soon we’d be in a snowy environment!