Day 1: Arrive in Quito and meet your guide as well as other members of the expedition. For those who arrive early, we will provide you with a variety of sightseeing options around Quito.
Day 2: Quito City Tour: The guides will brief you on the details of the expedition and conduct a gear check before leaving on a city tour to visit the colonial part of town. This includes the Basilica, La Compania and San Francisco; the first religious building constructed by the Spanish in South America. If time allows, we can also drive up the hill of El Panecillo where there is an impressive statue (the Virgin of Quito) and a great view of the whole city. In the afternoon, you may also have the chance to visit a native South American souvenir market.
Day 3: Acclimatisation hike on Cerro Pasochoa (4,200m/13,780ft): The Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge has been protected since 1982 and exists as it did in pre- Columbian times. In the forest below Cerro Pasochoa, we will hike among stands of pumamaqui, polyapis, podocarpus and sandalwood trees as we watch for some of the more than one hundred species of native birds.
Day 4: Acclimatisation hike on Rucu Pichincha (4,784m/15,696ft): We head to the east of Quito to the Pichincha Massif for our final acclimatisation hike on Rucu Pichincha. This hike involves first taking a cable car ride above the city, then hiking on trails through rolling hills with a few rock scrambles for good measure. The summit provides views of the central valley from high above Quito. In the afternoon, we travel to one of the oldest haciendas in Ecuador, Hacienda Guachala (built in 1580), for the night. The hacienda is a beautiful property which maintains its rustic charm and was used by Edward Whymper before his first ascent of Cayambe in 1880.
Day 5: Travel to Cayambe Refuge (4,648m/15,249ft): We make our way through the small village of Cayambe to have a close look at the simple rural architecture, which typifies villages in the Andean foothills. The road changes as we gain more elevation, becoming more and more rigorous. Depending on road conditions, we may hike the last section of road and allow the jeeps to go on ahead with our equipment. When we reach the famous Cayambe Refuge, we will be treated to breathtaking views of the precipitous Glaciar Hermoso, the “beautiful glacier”. In the afternoon, we will take a short hike above camp as far as the entrance to the upper glacier. This trip may take up to two hours in total. In the evening, if the skies are clear, we will enjoy the alpenglow at sunset showing our route up the south and western flanks of Cayambe.
Day 6: Skills Practice Cayambe/Glaciar Hermoso: Much of this day will be spent discussing and practising alpine climbing skills to prepare for our summit attempt on Cayambe. The glacier above the hut provides an excellent classroom for learning and reviewing basic glacier travel skills, ice axe and crampon technique, plus self-arrest. After spending the day on the ice, we return to the comfort of the refuge and discuss our plan for summit day.
Day 7: Cayambe Summit Attempt (5,790m/18,996ft): We start our climb in the middle of the night, making use of the firm snow conditions caused by the cooler night time temperatures. The route takes us up varied terrain on rock until we reach the glacier, where we configure our teams for glacier travel. The snow and ice climbing on Cayambe is moderate and the steepness tops out at a comfortable 35 degrees. Our first major landmark is the Picos Jarrin (5,300m/17,390ft), a big rock outcrop where we have a good opportunity for a break. Above this point, the route becomes a bit steeper and more exposed to weather. As we near the summit, the final obstacle presents itself as a steep face passable through good route finding. We usually need to traverse around seracs and crevasses in order to gain the summit. The traverse creates an exciting finish to one of the great classics of equatorial climbs. We then descend and spend the night at Hacienda Guachala.
Day 8: Travel to Cotopaxi Region (Recovery Day): We leave Cayambe and travel to one of the excellent haciendas or lodges located on the north side of the Cotopaxi National Park (most commonly at Tambopaxi). We review the workings of our team on our climb of Cayambe and discuss the coming ascent of Cotopaxi. This will be a well-earned day of rest, but you’ll also enjoy stretching your legs on a walk and enjoying the great views.
Day 9: Travel to Cotopaxi National Park and Jose Ribas Hut: Today we drive down the “Valley of Volcanoes” and turn east to Cotopaxi, eventually finding ourselves on a small altiplano beneath Cotopaxi National Park's towering summits of Ruminahui (4,755m/15,602ft), Sincholagua (4,986m/16,360ft) and Quilindana (4,917m/16,134ft). We are fairly likely to get good sightings of wild horses, llamas and condors while driving up to around 4,600m/15,100ft. From here, a forty-five minute climb with full packs takes us to the José Ribas Hut on Cotopaxi's flank at 4,794m/15,729ft.
Day 10: Climb Cotopaxi (5,897m/19,347ft): On summit day, we will leave the hut well before dawn in order to have firm snow conditions. We first climb non-glaciated slopes and then ascend a series of uniform snow and ice ramps of 30 and 35 degrees to reach a glacial platform at around 5,200m/17,000ft. As dawn arrives, we enjoy views of the massive glacial slopes of 5,704m/18,714ft Antisana, which rises to our north. We belay across occasional snow bridges, skirt large crevasses and ascend moderate terrain towards the huge summit cone. We reach the base of the 120m/400ft rock wall Yanasacha (which means "Black Wild Place" in Quechua) and to its side, encounter a gaping bergschrund at the base of the final glacial slopes that we must climb to reach the summit. We move onto a steeper ice face, up to about 55 degrees. From there, we belay up some of the most enjoyable snow and ice climbing pitches in Ecuador. The gradient eases off as we reach the crater rim and continue along easier slopes to Ecuador’s second highest summit. From the top, we enjoy views of nine major equatorial peaks, the seemingly limitless Amazon Basin to our east and Cotopaxi’s spectacular 300m/1,000ft deep summit crater directly below us. We drive back down to our hacienda in the central valley where we enjoy a celebratory meal together.
Day 11: Travel to the flank of Chimborazo: We drive south, down the "Valley of Volcanoes" along the Pan-American Highway through the towns of Latacunga and Ambato. We will stop along the way for lunch. In the afternoon, we move up onto the eastern flanks of Chimborazo where we spend an evening in a lodge at 3,499m/11,480ft. It sits picturesquely in grassy plains below Chimborazo and allows us to rest and enjoy views of the Ecuadorian Altiplano surrounding Chimborazo and Carihuairazo (also known as “Chimborazo’s Wife”).
Day 12: Travel to Chimborazo Basecamp: From the lodge on the eastern side of Chimborazo, we drive to the western side of the volcano passing through the town of Riobamba. Chimborazo Province is very hilly and is populated by a very high percentage of indigenous people. Great views of the Chimborazo massif, the surrounding rolling terrain and wild vicuñas and llamas will be had during our drive. Around noon, we will reach the Carrel Hut (4,800m/15,700ft) for lunch. The afternoon will be used to complete a two-hour hike to the Stübel Camp (4,900m/16,100ft). Climbers carry their own personal gear to camp while porters carry water, tents and food. In preparation for our alpine start at around midnight, we will have an early dinner. Despite the building excitement for the next day’s summit climb, we will go to bed early in anticipation of a safe and rewarding climb in the morning. If conditions on the mountain are different and a direct route is more favourable, the team may stay in the Whymper or Carrel huts and make the summit attempt from there.
Day 13: Chimborazo Summit (6,310m/20,702ft): From Stübel Camp, we follow the Stübel Glacier until it joins the Castle Saddle (5,499m/18,044ft). It takes an average of eight hours to get to the Whymper summit from Stübel Camp. By the time we reach the 5,640m/18,500ft foot level, we will have surmounted most of the technical challenges on the mountain and on the remainder of our route we will ascend compact and moderately angled snow. The summit crater area is a vast one that is normally covered in its entirety either in soft snow or nieve penitentes. Although this is our longest day, we will be well acclimatised from the conditioning we have achieved on our previous climbs. Round trip we will spend 10 to 12 hours on route, which includes some ice ramps, snow bridges and sections of icefall. It is a very interesting route on an impressively large mountain. We will descend to the Carrel Hut and then continue in our vehicle to the lower altitude and oxygen-rich town of Baños at the edge of the Amazon Basin.
Day 14: Contingency Day.
Day 15: Return to Quito: We will have an easy morning in Banõs and return to Quito in the afternoon. The last evening is usually spent recounting, celebrating our successes and discussing plans for future adventures.
Day 16: Depart Quito.