Prior to leaving los Estados Unidos, I purchased my first pair of hiking boots. I had never really been hiking before, but I had a feeling I would like it.
I broke them in with a frigid trek along the trails at Foster Falls. It was fun to show my mom some of the routes I’ve climbed in beautiful Tennessee. Still, I didn’t summit anything, and I wasn’t sure where the line existed between walking in nature and hiking.
Well, I have now summited something: Rucu Pichincha, one peak of the Pichincha volcano that overlooks Quito, Ecuador. “Old Man” Pichincha is 15,413 feet above sea level, and I hiked six hours up and down it on Saturday.
A lot of my climbing friends make fun of hiking. They don’t understand why you would want to spend hours walking uphill without the reward of a rock face waiting at the end. “It’s just a never-ending approach,” I’ve heard. “It’s like you’re walking to the climbing, but you never get to climb.” “It’s just shitty climbing.”
I suppose those opinions are valid, but I gotta say, hiking Rucu Pichincha felt like I had stepped into an episode of Mushishi. The rolling hills were vibrant and green, volcanic rock sprung up in perfect formations, and the flowers shone like fairy spittle. We could touch the clouds around us, and everything was magical.
It wasn’t all anime flowers and fairytale skies, though. There were two sketchy stretches of class 3 scrambling, and as I fought my way over loose rocks and endless sand, I was grateful for my confidence as a climber. Balance and bodily awareness were key in these sections, and I might have struggled more if I hadn’t been honing those skills for the last few years.
That said, I did take out a huge chunk of rock and get a gallon of sand down my pants while attempting to bypass part of the first scramble in an ambitious and ill-advised choss mantle.
I took on this hike with new Peace Corps friends. We’ve already become closer in two weeks than I would have thought possible, but Pichincha was a better bonding experience than any get-to-know-you game or shared digestive struggle. There was a huge range of experience and skill levels, and some serious teamwork had to happen to get everyone up the mountain. We kept joking about how climbing this mountain was a metaphor for our Peace Corps experience, but in some ways the cheese is true. We are about to encounter some serious challenges, and we absolutely have to have each others’ backs.
Climbing is my first love, and I’m more psyched than ever to finally touch some Ecua-rock. But hiking is another beautiful way to experience the outdoors, and I can’t wait to spend more time traipsing through the Andes.
How do you feel about hiking? Have you climbed Pichincha? Any must-do Andean adventures I should know about? Leave your thoughts in the comments!