Camping in the Illinizas

The Illiniza mountains are some of the highest peaks in the Ecuadorian Andes. A couple weekends ago I went camping in them thar mountains with some of my coworkers and friends. The drive up was insanity, we left really late at night and the car rental company didn’t have the jeeps we requested, so we got stuck with two tiny cars, 11 people, and a ton of camping gear.

 Holy hell I do not belong here
Photo: http://ms-bancojusto.blogspot.com/ 

We had to hop out of the car many times on the way up and down, in the pitch black, jumping over creeks and hearing under parts of the cars getting torn on rocks in the road. Somehow, we made it to the top, and had another 15 minute climb up to where we set up camp. At night time, we couldn’t see the peaks and had no idea of how beautiful the setting was, but when we woke up the next morning it was beautiful! I need to also mention that this experience proved to me even more that I am completely lacking in camping, cold weather, and mountain living survivial skills. I knew it would be cold enough to be snowing so I brought a pair of wool socks, a cotton sweater, a hoodie, and some sweatpants. As I lay shivering in my sleeping bag, one of my friends saved me with some extra polypropylene clothing.
View of our tents in the valley
 

We woke up with a layer of frost around the tent to fantastic views of the valley below. We were camped out at the base between the two mountains, Illiniza Norte and Illiniza Sur. Sur is the more hardcore summit, but because of some harsh weather, half of our group went to climb Illiniza Norte and the other half stayed in the valley to explore some minor hills. It’s probably easy to guess which group I chose to tag along with. We worked our way slowly up a nearby hill, from the top of which we had spectacular views of the snow covered peaks and rolling hills below. The mountains are around 5,200 meters tall, we were at the campsite below, which was still at extreme altitude, so I was constantly out of breath in our hike.

 Taking a breather on our mini hike
Photo: http://ms-bancojusto.blogspot.com/

We live in the clouds 
Photo: http://ms-bancojusto.blogspot.com/ 

After the trekking around, we all crashed near our camp site and hung out until we saw some grey clouds rolling in. We piled everything into one tent just as it started to rain. An impromptu game of Settlers of Catan was begun, but we finally decided to suck it up and try to carry everything back to the cars in the drizzle before it started to rain harder. It cleared up just as we were pulling away from the mountains and then we had the most beautiful view of all. This is a photo from Wikipedia because my camera had died at this point, but this is more or less the same view we had. I am surprised we didn’t total either of the cars because on the way down there were some pretty intense clanking noises and we could see parts dragging along below both cars that probably should not have been.
View of the Illinzas
 

All in all, I am really glad I participated because I almost did not go. Some of my coworkers’ outdoorsiness intimidates me. I am really good at sleeping in a hammock on the beach, or exploring woods, but when it comes to camping in cold mountains at high altitude, I have little to no experience and a strong case of asthma that would keep any smart person from attempting something like this. The whole reason I am in Ecuador, however, is to push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things. I know I won’t be here forever and I want to make the most out of my time. When I move on to a school in a new country in a few years, I want to feel like I really took advantage of everything Ecuador had to offer. Except maybe summiting a mountain, let’s not get too crazy now.

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