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Ecuador’s Rucu Pichincha

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Fresh off the plane and looking for a warm-up hike in Ecuador? Look no further than the sharp black mass looming over Quito. That pinnacle you can see from anywhere in the city is Rucu Pichincha. It’s an active volcano, but don’t let that worry you. The hike is easy enough for even the moderately fit, and doesn’t require any climbing gear. However, if you’ve only just arrived in Ecuador, take your time. Remember, you’re going to hit an altitude of 4696 metres.

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To get to the peak, head to the TeleferiQo cable car (a 30 minute walk north-west of the Colon Trolley bus station, or a 10 minute cab ride from the old town).
Don’t panic if you read in your guidebook that the lines are endless. Head out early on a weekday and the place will be empty.
After a smooth five minute ascent in the cable car, you’ll disembark at the trail head. The trail is very easy to follow, as it gently winds through rolling, grassy hills. Just keep heading towards the north flank of the peak.

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Squint and you’ll think you’re in New Zealand, or maybe the Scottish highlands.

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Soon you’ll find yourself heading along a ridge with great views of Quito, but an icy, cutting cross wind.

IMG_6254Once you arrive at the base of the peak, just continue following the trail around to your right, until you reach a sandy, eroded flat flank. Shortly before you reach the sand, the path appears to suddenly stop, and you’ll have to scramble a few metres up to a rocky outcrop near your head to keep going. Then, just keep heading towards the sign posts every few hundred metres. If the clouds are too thick to see, just keep criss-crossing up the slope until you can’t go any higher. Then head roughly east along the north side of the peak.

IMG_6242The path disappears here, and you’ll need to scramble the rest of the way up. Take your time, and make sure you get some solid gloves out (volcanic rock is sharp). Keep an eye out for falling ice shards, and watch for loose chunks of volcanic rock. Once you reach a large sign, you’ll know you’re at the top.

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Congratulations! Now, sit down and wait for the clouds to pass for a nice glimpse of the hills below.

IMG_6229Just don’t let the birds eat your lunch!

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