Climbing Volcanoes in Ecuador

Climbing the highest mountains in Ecuador - what is it like and what to expect?


Climbing the volcanoes of Ecuador: True Summit Adventures Managing Director, talks about our February 2022 expedition to Ecuador - one of his favorite countries in the world. 

Set the scene for us. Tell us about Ecuador?

Ecuador is a smallish country (by South American standards) in the North West of the continent that borders Colombia and Peru. The population is c. 18m. It has very diverse ecosystems including the Galapagos, Amazon area, coastal regions and the high Andes plain and its associated Volcanoes. Quito, its capital (population 2m) is located in the centre of the country at 2800m, the second highest capital city in the world. 

Simply put, Quito is like a smaller Bogota. 

What do you like about it?

I always say to people that Ecuador is like a dreamworld, a Studio Ghibli (Japanese anime) film come to life. It is unbelievably beautiful. Scenery that you cannot quite believe - fantasyesque.

 Beyond that I love the proximity of the high mountains to Quito, which is a great and historic city, the friendliness of the people there, the climbing scene and mountain culture, the food (great seafood ceviche) and so much more. An amazing place, truly!

How did you get there?

I rowed the Atlantic in December and January. Afterwards I went for some decompression at the beach in Colombia with my girlfriend so flew direct from there. For guests joining from Europe the two main routes to Quito are on KLM via Amsterdam or Iberia via Madrid.

When you land is it straight to the mountains?

Haha. Quito is the mountains! One of the first things you realise when you land, you are in a mountain environment! 4000’ers surround Quito and the airport and the 5000’ers are visible also! But we take a few days in Quito to acclimatise, see the sights etc before heading off on the expedition proper. 

Our first ascent (Rucu Pinchincha) is a 4,600m ascent right on the edge of the city. In fact I once did an ascent starting and returning from my apartment in Mariscal. It was an unreal day! 

How is the program structured?

All roads lead to Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest mountain (6,300m) and only 6000’er but that’s not to take anything away from the rest of the itinerary! We take in some amazing ascents and incredibly beautiful places, gradually increasing altitude as we go. 

Guests are welcome to arrive ahead of time, but the program starts with a guided tour of the historic Quito. The sights are incredible but the acclimatisation and post travel rest is useful also!! 

This year guests arrived ahead of time and we managed some extra acclimatisation peaks including Cerro Puntas and Pasochoa. We also take in the otherworldly Cuicocha lake circuit before climbing the famous Rucu Pinchcha. 

We then leave Quito and try Illiniza Norte, our first 5000’er and the beautiful Cayambe before we head south for a night at the incredible Chimborazo Lodge ahead of our crack at the big one itself! 

On route we stop at great restaurants and artisanal markets.. It is amazing..

What were the highlights from this years trip?

Definitely the group of people we had. Everyone was very nice and all got along great. We had a really strong camaraderie.. The itinerary was also really strong with most guests coming for extra days and extra ascents.. We could have been luckier with the weather for the really high stuff but that said, we had some very good days also. 

Tell us about the guiding team?

This year we had a slight disaster in that our Head Guide, the great Andres Herrera had an accident during a ski descent of Cayambe in the days before the expedition started. Andres and I had been planing this trip for 2 years so it felt especially cruel on him. 

Luckily he was not seriously injured, but required surgery on his knee. In his absence, another of the (handful) of Ecuadorean guides with the full IFMGA (ski) certification, Alejo Lazzati, took over as head guide with Camilo Andrade joining also. 

Both are super guys - excellent guides, very strong and great fun also. I was there also of course.. 

How experienced / fit do you need to be?

The fitter the better. Cayambe and Chimborazo are big mountains and take some climbing. This year we had a lot of wind which made the climbs even more arduous than normal. But anyone that has sailed up Mont Blanc or Kilimanjaro or has a really high degree of fitness and lots of mountain awareness deserves to take their chance on this itinerary. 

Tell us about Chimborazo Lodge? It looks amazing!

Chimborazo is one of the most amazing mountain accommodations in the world, if not the most amazing. It is extraordinary! One of the legendary and pioneering Ecuadorean guides, Marco Cruz, designed, built and owns it. It is part hotel and part climbing museum. The attention to detail is quite remarkable and the scenery, being in the shadow of Chimborazo is just incredible. 

Ask to stay in or take a tour of the Reinhold Messner suite. The alpacas that graze around the place are something to behold also! TBH we try to choose great accommodations in all the places we visit, but this one is really special. 

Why do you do you run this trip in February? 

In theory you can climb in Ecuador all year round but in practice there are periods of rain which translates to a lot of snow in the high mountains. February is one of the times of the year that conditions are considered most stable.

Tell us something we might not imagine about Ecuador?

Craft beer is really popular, with lots of specialist bars / micro breweries. We take a couple of the really good ones in in Quito in during our time there. 

Which is your favourite mountain to climb in Ecuador?

From our program I would say that all the mountains are special. I really like the refuge on Illiniza Norte and the custodian who works there. Gato is his name and the food he cooks is unreal. It is small and intimate and always fun. Cayambe likewise and then of course the great Chimborazo and it’s tented high camp are unique; the mountain is tough and the views from the top are insane!

Not included on our trip for the moment, but Antisana is also amazing.. I recommend people to stay on and attempt it if they are going well and feeling strong.