Mountaineering in Ecuador - Perfect for Beginners
Mountaineering in Ecuador is certainly a unique experience compared to climbing in other South American countries. Compared to Peru, or Chile, the volcanoes in Ecuador are not only more straightforward to climb, but have easy access and an all year round climbing season. In Ecuador, it is feasible for high altitude beginner climbers to cut their teeth on a big Andean mountain and summit their first 5000 plus peak.
So, if you are someone who performs regular long day hikes over challenging terrain, knows how to use crampons and wants to get into the high altitude stuff – then mountaineering in Ecuador is the perfect place to start.
The perfect environment for high altitude beginners
If you are new to the high altitude game, then you should get experience on glaciated mountains that are straight forward to climb before committing to technical peaks. In Ecuador, the volcanoes are perfect for doing this. Here there are high peaks such as Cotopaxi (5 897m or 19 347 ft) and Chimborazo (6 268m or 20 564 ft) with gently angling slopes and broad, coned summits, perfect for your high altitude introduction. Having said this, these volcanoes are not easy pickings. Mountaineering in Ecuador will test the limits of your strength and stamina. Just without the technical difficulty that exists in other Andean regions like in neighboring Peru.
The most comfortable base camps in South America
In ‘the Avenue of Volcanoes’, many of the cities and small towns lie at an altitude of around 3 000m (about 9 800 ft). This is a good altitude base for acclimatization purposes. High enough for the body to begin adapting to the thin air, but not too high that you risk altitude sickness. During your acclimatization period, you can hike up nearby 4 000m (or 13 000 ft) peaks during the day and at night sleep relatively low in one of the cities. So, not only are you performing text book style acclimatization, but you have the advantage of being comfortable compared to roughing it in a tent. And yes, there are some really good hostels or haciendas here and cheap too.
Good access to mountains
Nothing acerbates acute mountain sickness more than lugging heavy loads at altitude. Fortunately, in Ecuador, you have easy access to big volcanoes such as Cayambe (5790m or 19 000ft), and Chimborazo. Basically, you can take a two hour jeep ride with all your gear from the nearest town straight to the front door of these refuges. However, it is only advisable to do this once you are well acclimatized.
An all year round climbing season
Mountaineering in Ecuador is feasible virtually all year round. However, saying that, March to May tends to be rainy and wet, but still climbable. Fortunately, because of the easy access between peaks, you can be flexible and change your objectives depending on the weather, which is difficult in other Andean countries.
Cities with good supplies stores
Many travelers don’t know what facilities to expect when coming to Ecuador for the first time. Let me assure you, the cities and towns have good supermarkets and outdoor gear shops, so no hassle in finding all that you need. In Plaza Foch (the main centre square of Quito), I know of two stores where you can rent gear. This may solve the issue of not wanting to schlep crampons, helmet and ice-axes on long haul flights.
Good mountain refuges
The majority of the big mountains in Ecuador have comfortable refuges. Here you can sleep and get decent meals for around $40 per night. The sleeping quarters can house up to 20 climbers in bunk beds and there is basic sanitation like toilets and basins. Just don’t expect a shower or a hot bath 🙂
Finding a reliable guide in Ecuador is not too difficult. The local mountaineering association, ASEGUIM, trains guides to the highest standards, as required by the parent body, the IFMGA. Many speak perfect English as well as other European languages and are honest. These guides will ensure your safety traversing the glaciers and ensure that you acclimatize correctly. From my experience, I have been impressed by many of the guides here, but there are always exceptions. Therefore, check to see if your guide is listed on the ASEGUIM website. Follow this link to their https://aseguim.org/miembros/
I believe the mountaineering in Ecuador is ideal for beginner to intermediate high altitude climber looking to summit their first 5 000 or 6 000m (20 000ft) peak. The mountains in Ecuador are technically straightforward, but that does not make them easy. They are challenging and certainly strenuous. So, if you want to get high altitude experience while you tread on your first glacier, then Ecuador is a good bet.