Hitting a Natural High at 4700 metres
For hiking aficionados climbing Ruco Pichincha on the eastern side of Quito in Ecuador is a must. At 4700 metres it’s the capital’s highest peak.
Ruco or Rucu (which means old in the indigenous Quechua language of Ecuador) Pichincha is part of the old Pichincha volcano. It had been on my bucket list of things to do in Quito like forever. Given that I have been coming to and from Ecuador for years now, I really thought that it was about time that I climbed it. I should also add that with its proximity to Quito and its ease to get close with the teleferico (or cable car), my excuses not to hike it were running out!
Luckily for us, my good friend and co-founder of Andean Summit Adventure, Elisabeth, was in town. The company is based in Baños, Ecuador’s adventure capital. She asked Alex and I if we’d like to accompany her and Andreas, also from Austria and doing a stint with the company, on a hike to Ruco. Why absolutely! She’s Austrian, she gets mountains! Let’s go!
It was going to be an early start so we got out backpacks, clothes and food ready for the next day and took ourselves off to bed earlier than usual. Saturday arrived and we were raring to go! Well, I was! But then I always am; I am a morning person! Alex got up a little later than me and observed the somewhat still foggy outside. “We’re doing this Alex, rain, hail or shine”, I told him.
We walked the short distance to where Elisabeth and Andreas were staying. It was around 8.00 am as the idea was to leave as early as possible. From there we caught an Uber to where the cable car leaves from. The Uber ride was around $5.50 and it took around 15 minutes. You can also catch a local bus for 25 cents. It will drop you off at a point from which the cable car’s complimentary bus service will take you to the cable car ticket point. Very easy and organised really. We bought our tickets, and we were off at around 8.30 am (opens at 8.00 am).
The TeleferiQo (from teléferico and Quito), is a cable car lift, running from the edge of the city centre up the east side of Volcano Pichincha to the Cruz Loma lookout. The cable car ride is around 2.5 kilometres, making it the highest in South America and one of the highest aerial lifts in the world. The ascent takes around 20 minutes. It is once you get off the cable car that the hiking and ascent to the peak actually begins.
Cruz Loma, without a doubt, offers some of the most spectacular views over Quito’s mountainous landscape. I have been on the cable car and at this height several times. At 3867 metres above sea level, Quito is the world’s highest capital (no, it’s not La Paz as the constitutional capital of Bolivia is actually Sucre). At this point, we were at around 4100 metres above sea level. The air felt fresh and clean. We were ready. Ruco’s summit is around 4700 metres above sea level.
Life at the Top
Before the actual hike, there are some lovely shorter walks, paths and other activities (such as eating!) in which you can engage in. For the many who come up here and don’t hike to the top, there is still lots to do. Solo, couples, families … something for all. We had a huge amount of fun on the Swing in the Clouds. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s a must-do. It was now time for the ‘real deal’. Let the show, oops hike, begin! The round-trip is approximately five hours.
Time to Hike
And so, we were off! Slowly, slowly the air got cooler, and we started to pop on a few more layers, including gloves and hats. At first, it seemed breezy, so to speak, but as we got higher, a bit more focus came into play. I definitely would not call it a difficult or technical walk, but you do have to be reasonably fit. If you have never done such a steep hike or if you simply prefer to go in a guided group, I cannot recommend Andean Summit Adventure highly enough.
The vegetation and unusual flowers along the way were beautiful. Unfortunately, the fog didn’t seem to be lifting, so we weren’t getting the arresting views that we knew lay behind the fog. These are the breaks! You win some, you lose some. Mother Nature, or Pacha Mama, rules here! You never know what will happen when you hike a mountain.
At about the two and a half hour mark (going up) we met Mr Saenz (coming down). At 73 years of age, he hikes every weekend. Yes, EVERY, weekend! Impressive. Today he reached the summit in one hour and 25 minutes, proving that you are never too old! My hero. I want to be like him when I grow up.
Aiming for the Summit
We reached a point where we had to scramble up a rocky interface. I cautiously and strategically placed my feet one in front of the other, knowing that there wasn’t that far to go. Or, was there? We were almost there, surely … or so I thought the signs were telling us. The fog hadn’t lifted, but I was a woman on a mission, and let’s face it, who wants to stop a woman on a mission? You certainly don’t want to stop me on a mission, just ask Alex!
The rocky interface then straightened out, and some of the folk coming down told us that we were almost there. Ok, whatever! But lo and behold, we soon did come around the bend that showed the sign that we had indeed reached the top, ‘Cumbre Ruco Pichincha, altitud 4696 msnm”. In English, that’s, ‘Ruco Pichincha Peak, altitude 4696 metres above sea level’. We managed it in around 2 hours 30 minutes.
Reaching the Peak
We did it! I did it! Alex did it! One more tick, one more thing which I wanted to do and did! The fog still had not lifted, but we had reached the top! On a clear day, the views of the many surrounding volcanos and snow-capped mountains are spectacular. So clearly, I will need to do this again.
What a buzz and thrill. Such excitement! I am a self-confessed adrenalin junkie. Thanks, Elisabeth and Andreas of Andean Summit Adventure! So, which peak is next?
It was at the peak that we met 11-year-old Lesley, who did the hike with her dad. Lesley, you also proved that you are never too young! What an inspiration.
What comes up, must go down
So, let the descent begin. Going down, you almost immediately have to walk/ slide down an area called ‘el arenal’ (means sand in Spanish). Be prepared for your boots to end up with sand in them, and for you to possibly end up on your butt. I managed both.
The rest was easy peasy. We made our way down slowly, chatting along the way. Whilst the fog didn’t lift from the top, as we got closer to the cable car, we were able to see Quito and its surrounds. Always impressive.
We did the round trip in about five hours. I was tired but happy. We caught the cable car back down and then took an Uber into the funky area of La Floresta. We decided that we needed a coffee hit, so Cafe Jaru it was, for some amazing coffee and cakes. Just what we needed really!
Once again, thanks to Elisabeth and Andean Summit Adventure for a truly awesome day!
Who are Andean Summit Adventure and where do they go?
Andean Summit Adventure is a specialised tour operator and international travel agency for hiking, trekking, trail running, mountaineering, expeditions, climbing and other activities in Ecuador and South America, with Austrian-Ecuadorian management. They can take you to many ‘lower’ peaks like Rucu Pichincha, Pasochoa, Corazon and Rumiñahui.
In Ecuador, you can also climb a number of peaks that are over 5000 metres (16,000 ft) in height, like Cotopaxi, Cayambe, Antisana, Iliniza Norte and Iliniza Sur just to name the most important ones. There is also Chimborazo which reaches an altitude of more than 6000 metres (20,000 ft) being.
FACTS ‘N’ OTHER USEFUL STUFF
- Capital City of Ecuador: Quito
- Country Population: 17.6 Million
- Official Language: Spanish. Ecuador also recognises, encourages and protects 14 indigenous languages, nationalities and peoples in its Constitution.
- Currency: USD
- Acclimatisation: At 2867 metres above sea level, Quito is the highest capital on earth. When you arrive you may experience some symptoms of altitude sickness like a headache, tiredness or nausea. In more severe cases even vomiting. Take the first few days nice and easy. Keep hydrated, rest, do not go to bed too late and eat lighter meals.
- Transport: Buses and electric buses are cheap and plentiful in and around Quito. Reasonably priced taxis and Ubers also abound. If using a taxi, always ask that they use the taxi-metre.
- Accommodation: Ecuador has everything from budget and family fun hostels and hotels, to Airbnb and more top-end and including 5-star hotels.
Our choice is a combination of hostels, family-run places and Airbnb (Get your FREE gift from us when you sign up). Also, check out bookings.com for more options.\
We passionately share 30 years of travel know-how, exploration and detours with you. We want to motivate you to experience this amazingly diverse world we live in and show you how to do it! You can subscribe to our blog as well as follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Check out our Travel Resources to help you on your amazing journey.
Do you have more tips, advice or suggestions on what to do in Quito? Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.
One Life, Live it!
Photo Credits: © Alex Benavides | Content: Ombretta Zanetti