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Climbing Ruku Pichincha

In all fairness to Kate, I really didn’t explain the game plan. As far as she knew, we were simply taking the day off to take the TelefériQo Cruz Loma, the highest aerial lift in the world, have a nice day of looking down on Quito and make a few nice pictures.

Once at the top of the teleferico you are at 12,943 ft (3945 m) and have some impressive views of Quito on a clear day. We had a clear and wonderful day.

My plan was more selfish. I was getting antsy at the Centre and needed to stretch my legs, however, after 2+ years of marriage Kate knew this wasn’t a quick up and down and had a day pack with water and snacks. I wanted to hike to the top of Ruku Pichincha, a mere 15,413 ft (4,698 m) in elevation. In Kichwa, “ruku” means “old person.” The other nearby peak is Wawa Pichincha, “wawa” meaning “child/baby.” Ironically, Wawa is the higher of the two (15,696 ft – 4,784 m), and an active volcano.

After a handsome breakfast of eggs, toast and ham we jumped on the “Rapid Trans” bus, which took us along the West Highway.  We had traveled this a few times already and remembered a sign saying “Teleferico” but never much payed attention to where the stop was. We got off two stops too soon and enjoyed a nice 3 km walk to the actual stop and started our ascent up to the teleferico on a very steep road built for the sole purpose of access to the teleferico.  Although a ride was offered to us gratis, we (I) refused, and after 20 minutes of strenuous climbing we arrived at the base of the teleferico.

Cost for gringos:  $8.50 (keep your ticket, you need it to get back down.)

Six of us boarded the car and we slowly made our way to the top. Kate and I sat quiet while two Argentinians (one whom we would meet a week later hiking the Quilotoa Loop) chatted away about vacations in Mexico and then there was the dodgy businessman who sat and stared, without shame, at Kate’s chest the entire way to the top.

The temperature was much cooler when we arrived at the top. We put on our wind breakers and started our hike upward to the peak of Pichincha. The trail was well marked and steep, very steep.

We passed a small church and then turned right up the trail.  Soon after ascending the first of many steep hills, Kate decided to sit and wait for me to make my ascent. I took $1.00 from her in case she got tired of waiting and decided to go back to the centre. We had read about safety concerns of robbery up here, but it couldn’t have been safer and everyone I passed (tourist and/or local) were very kind.

Where the energy came from I don’t know, but I soon passed a couple who had just stopped to catch their breath, I would later find out they were from Ireland and this was their first day in Quito.  

Within an hour I was at the last big “hill” (14,500 ft) and staring at the base of the final ascent.


At this point altitude was starting to get me, the trail turned into a narrow single track and skirted around the peak upward. It was cut out of the side of the mountain which means there was a steep drop off which I was anything but fond of. Continuing on and overcoming my fear of heights, I passed three Australian women, and then suddenly found myself at the base of a rock…a big rock…a steep big rock…a steep big rock that overhung a steep drop. The only thing to do was swear, think about how I was going to get up it and how I was going to get down. Of course, there was the whole, “I think I’m going to turn back now.”  

After many attempts of scaling the rock, I finally made it up and then back down and then up again. I wanted to see what going down would be like as to not ruin the rest of my hike worrying about if I could get down. Proving to myself I could do it was 98% of the game. The trail continued up and up and got really steep and wet. At this point the clouds moved in thick and made it difficult to see, this is when I called it.  Sitting at 15,200+/- ft I accepted defeat.  

Pichincha – 1 :  Cory – 0

I made it down from the “big” rock again, and walked back along the ridge through the clouds until I found “solid ground.” For those of you not afraid of heights, “solid ground” may be described as the part of the trail that doesn’t have a ledge, edge or cliff to fall or jump off of.  

The hike back was faster as I ran down most of the steep descents. Soon I came across Kate, who had decided to hike up until we ran into each other and was well above 14,000′.  She spent much of her hike with the Irish couple I had first passed.

We hiked back down with them – Sinead and Adam….or as he put it, “I am Adam, the first man.” Back at the teleferico, we sat and talked travel and Ireland. After a few beers, we exchanged info and went our separate ways. Us back to the Centre, they to the Galapagos.  

Don’t be deterred by over cautious travel books warning of crime. It was a great day of hiking  – plan 3-4 hours for the hike – and it would be a disappointment to miss. I’m glad we found the time to do it before we left Quito.


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