I am sitting here, almost too warn out to type this entry, but I had to get it off my mind while the memories of today were still fresh! Since I arrived in Quito, I had seen a few adds for a trip to hike the nearby Volcan Pichincha. Everyone said that it had been raining too much (it is the rainy season here) for the four wheel drive to get you where you start the hike. I was really dissappointed since I had seen most of the city of Quito already and I am leaving for the Galapagos islands tomorrow. I will tell you more about that later. Anyway, last night I met this girl from Hong Kong here at the hostel. She told me that I could take this cable car thing up the mountain and there was a trail that led up to the volcano from there. She said it wasn't too difficult and it would take about two hours. I have since decided that she didn't understand that I wanted to get to the summit of the thing. After hearing that it was that easy to do, I convinced an Australian guy to join me on the hike. We left the hostel after a not so great breakfast and took a cab to the cable car. After a long wait in line, the cable car took us up to an elevation of around 4100 meters (around 13,400'). Anyway, from there we started the hike with lots of dark clouds in the sky threateaning a shower or two later in the day. As we began walking, we already new that it was going to be a big challenge just because of the altitude. Each step along the trail to the base of the peak was needless to say very slow. Now, after about two hours, we reached a lookout point. I think this must have been what the girl from Hong Kong was talking about getting too. From here, we began traversing the side of the mountain, crossing over wet rocks and mud with cliffs falling thousands of feet below. The clouds were now getting darker and we heard the occasional clap of thunder. We did get a few hail showers, but nothing much at this point. Anyway, as we got closer to the summit, each step was now getting to be twice as hard. Too make it even more difficult, the mountain became so steep that we had to begin actually doing more rock climbing than hiking. I was definitely nervous as one slip of the hand or feet could have easily sent either one of us tumbling into rocks below. As we neared the summit, the clouds became thick and began dumping more hail on us. That continued with a constant shower of rain and the occassional snow flake. Neither of us had gloves on and between the freezing weather, the ice on a lot of surfaces, and the frozen rocks, climbing was becoming difficult. As we approaced the last 100' or so to the summit, the thunder started getting really loud and it began to rain like hell. We did manage to snap a couple of pictures that could just as eaily have been me standing on a steam vent in the Winter in New York, but I assure you we had made it. The eleavtion at the top was around 4900 meters, or just over 16,000'. Definitely the highest point on land I have ever been on! Anyway, by now it was raining and snowing some and we began our journey down. Getting down the steeper portions with all of the rock climbing and frozen hands was pretty difficult, but from there on, it was easy going, sliding down with giant steps on the loose stones from the last erruption got us down below the freezing line pretty quick. From there, we were stuck in a constant rain and the trail had become like a small stram. After about 7 hours, we finally returned to the top of the cable car, both feeling the effects of the altitude with every part of our bodies unable to function properly.
Now, it is time for a bit of an easy night. I may go upstairs to our roof top balcony that overlooks the old part of Quito and drink a beer with some of the other guests here, but for now, I have to finish my packing. Tomorrow, I am flying to the Galapagos islands for an 8 day boat trip throughout the islands. Everyone here that I have met says that is their favorite place they have been and I have yet to hear anything bad about it! The plan is to ride on one of those giant tortises, take some photos of the marine iguanas and maybe a few whales and hopefully swim with some schools of hammerhead sharks! Should be exciting! I probably won't have email while I am gone so you can get in touch with me in just over a week! Stay tuned for more soon!