After a delicious dinner of soup, steak, and dessert, we hit the sack early for out 4:00 a.m. wake up. And morning came quickly. After breakfast and gear check, we hopped in the 4x4 for the hour drive to the trailhead. The morning shaped up nicely. As the sun broke, we could tell it was going to be a clear day. We got some beautiful views of the mountain on the drive and at the trailhead
. Iliniza consists of two peaks joined by a saddle at about 14,000 feet. We planned to climb the north peak (at 16,818 feet, a few hundred feet lower than the south peak and technically easier). I must say that Iliniza Norte may be the most beautiful mountain I have ever seen. Just look at the pics. The first half of the hike meandered through various types of vegetation before we finally hit some snow just below the saddle. Howard had some difficulty this day on the lower section of the mountain. When we finally reached the saddle, the crux of the climb lay ahead. Howard made the decision to head back down (which was disappointing to everyone because we had two bigger and more difficult climbs in the future). Diego convinced Howard to push on, and he miraculously got his second wind when we got up on the rock and glacier. I was still feeling fine at this point. No altitude problems yet.
The upper half of the climb was so much fun. It was a combination of steep snow and rock. So, we alternated between ice axe use and rock scrambling. The final push to the top was a steep, snowy, and somewhat dangerous section of mixed snow and rock. The summit was so small that only one person could stand on it at a time. This is probably the most enjoyable climb I have ever done. It was a mix of so many things from hiking to technical climbing. A complete blast!
We also got our first clear views of Cotopaxi from the slopes of Iliniza.
The day after Rucu Pichincha, we headed to Chaupi, a small town at the base of Iliniza Norte. This was the first of our many experiences staying in what I call Ecuadorian hacienda hostels. Ecuador is one of the few places where families and locals still run very clean and quaint bed and breakfast type hostels. Most of these places have private rooms and bathrooms and community dining. All in all, a very comfortable experience before and after climbing. The best part - most of them cost about ten to fifteen bucks a night. Amazing!!!!