We made it to the TelefériQo shortly after it opened, and hitched a ride up the side of Cruz Loma, the hill next to Pichincha. The gondola dropped us at an altitude of a mere 4100 meters, and we were free to hike the easily identifiable path to Pichincha. After several rolling hills, "Is there any oxygen up here"-stops, and an hour of hiking, we made it to the base of the volcano. We were fairly convinced that the worst was over (ok, so I was fairly convinced) and that we only had 30 more minutes until we reached the summit... we were sorely mistaken.
After circling one side of the volcano, we stumbled onto what felt like a vertical climb of sand and loose rocks (in retrospect, "vertical" seems like a strong word... but I guess it's all relative when you feel like you're going to begin a human landslide at any moment). That's where the real "hike" began. We slowly followed each other up the sand/rock combo and after a little quasi-rock climbing, we finally made it to the top.
I distinctly recall one of my college professors saying that the word "amazing" is overused, and I'm fully aware that I'm guilty of all charges. But I'm also convinced that no better word exists to describe the rush of emotions we felt when we reached the top of Pichincha. We sat at the top - above the clouds, the airplanes and the noise (a big deal when living in a house of 10) - and took it in. There is something magical about being that close to the sky that neither words, nor photographs, can capture.
Once we got cold enough, we began our descent. I'm pleased to report it was much more pleasant (and less terrifying) than the ascent. After only an hour we found ourselves safely back on the ground in Quito, with only a dehydration/altitude headache, a little sunburn, and a ton of dirt in our shoes to show for our adventure; however, I'm sure the feeling of climbing over that last rock and seeing the view from the top of Pichincha will last much longer than any sunburnt face or dirt in our shoes. And for that, the climb was well worth it.
Here's to hiking teamwork and reaching the summit with friends,
PS. Psssst... we just added photos from the end of August/beginning of September. Check them out by following the link to the right!