Scrambled Crags


I remember one the outdoor companies in my college town had a slogan, “Get High in the Mountains,” ostensibly owing to both the altitude (a contentious 3,333 feet) and bohemian vibe. The double entendre makes even more sense to me now that I’ve experienced the Andes, as you’ve got to be in an altered frame of mind to consider the Appalachians high in the mountains*. I have to tell y’all: because of the altitude, over the last month I tried no less than three times to climb the Pichincha volcano outside of Quito.

Why three tries? This is what I know about the altitude here (courtesy of Wikipedia, naturally):

  • Our base camp, Quito, is located at 9,350 feet above sea level.
  • To start the ascent one must catch a gondola from Quito up the mountain another 3,000 or so feet to 12,943 feet.
  • The summit of Pinchina is located at 15,696 feet above sea level: quite the feat for someone prone to altitude sickness.

The meadows, filled with scrubby alien plants seemingly better suited to a desert than a volcano slope, were absolutely the highlight of our hike. Craggy mountaintops piercing the clouds above our heads dwarved us for much of the walk. At the summit, after a scramble up said crags (actually hardened lava), we were rewarded with views of the volcano below.

*Fightin’ words, I know.