Sincholagua

Once again, I spent a weekend climbing yet another one of Ecuador’s incredible volcanoes.  This weekend’s project was Sincholagua, southeast of Quito by way of the valley where the towns of Cumbaya/Tumbaco/Pifo/Yaruqui are all located (Which, if you’ve been paying attention, is where my university is, and the location of a past rock climbing/rappelling adventure with my andianismo class).  The peak is 4,898 meters tall, or 16,065 feet, which makes this the highest I’ve even climbed; even higher than where we camped at the refuge on Cayambe.

We went with Paypahuasi Guide Company, my first time with a professional guiding company, because through friends and the ample time he spends at Shawarma Kings in Tumbaco, my climbing buddy Bret got to know a couple of the guides/owners.

Our group left from Cumbaya Saturday afternoon and set up camp on the hillside of the mountain at a house, which I can only assume is part of a farm and is rented out for purposes such as ours.  Saturday afternoon we set up tents and spend the entire evening inside the house, eating dinner at playing Cuarenta, an Ecuadorean card game.

It rained most of the evening and the night, making for a soggy morning.  We woke up before the sun at 5 am, but it was just incredible to see the lights of Quito and then watch the rising sun illuminate Pichincha, Pasachoa, Rumiñahui, El Corazon, and in the distance we could even see the Ilinizas, although they were mostly obscured by clouds.

After breakfast, at about 6:30 we set off.  The beginning of the trail follows barbed wire fences separating different fields and is moderately sloped.  The first half hour or so of hiking up a mountain is always the hardest, I’ve noticed, just because it’s early and your body isn’t warmed up.  After hopping five fences we reached the beginning of the trail.  Half of our group went up the ridgeline while the group I was with followed the ravine trail.  Both meet in what our guide called the “bosque” which means forest, but it was really just where the grassy field turned into bushes.  Our group reunited and after a snack we began the ascent to the summit, at about 11 am.

Like other volcanoes, Sincholagua doesn’t have one clear peak; the remnants of the caldera form a ridgeline which runs east-west, with the crater to the south and the north face sloping down to the valley.  The ridgeline rises and falls, alternating between loose rock and more technical climbing, but nothing more difficult than basic bouldering.  On one ascending section our guides fixed a rope to help us ascend a narrow rock face, but this area could have been climbed without the rope by those with more experience.

We reached the summit at about 1pm, and it had been raining, and then sleeting on and off since our break, so our stay at the top was short.  Because of the wet rock we took a different route down the north face, which is mostly loose rock and rather steep, around 45 degrees.  We had to descend slowly because the now constant rain had turned the slope into mud and joined hands to descend as a group.  Then we traversed the face back to pick up the trail on the west side of the mountain and followed the ridgeline, rather than the valley, back to the campsite.

In all it took just over ten hours to climb, and once everyone packed up, the adventure was not quite over.  The dirt road back to the valley and Quito had turned into mud, and three of the four vehicles for our group became stuck in the mud or on rocks uncovered by the rain.  It took two hours and some creative maneuvering in the rain to get them all unstuck before we could all get on our way back to Quito.

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