Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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South of the Border 3

After grabbing your attention by climbing a completely random jungle volcano…perhaps I can hold on to it a little longer with a story about…CAYAMBE!

Cayambe is a 18,993 foot volcano, towering above (but usually in the clouds), of a town called…you guessed it, Cayambe! The town is famous for butter biscuits called biscochos, which are equally as delicious as climbing a 19k’ volcano. Except volcanoes aren’t delicious.

Brayton had to go to a wedding, and the new group for the semester had just got here, so our good friend Brett was definitely not acclimatized for such an adventure. Thus, Conor and I would be climbing it together. For a lot of the huge mountains here, there are refuges at 15k or 16k feet (k=1000 if you weren’t in the know), except the access roads to get to said refuges are basically washed out boulder fields, so you need a 4×4 vehicle. We found a nice hefty truck in Cayambe, who would take us to the refuge. Awesome. The road was atrocious, and I’m sure most of the cost of the ride probably went toward paying for frame damages to his truck! Anyway, he dropped us off not quite at the refuge, telling us it was already dark, and charging us more…oh the life of a gringo climber (gringo=white, climber=gets ripped off, gringo climber=gets ripped off bad). We hiked up a bit, found a nice place next to the refuge to set up the tent, got all cozy, made dinner, and had an awesome nights sleep to a beautiful sunrise. NOT. We did have a great dinner and sunset on the way in, but we woke up at 1am (called an alpine start in the climbing world- you wake up early to minimize rockfall/avalanche danger/keep the snow hard), and began our dark and cold way up the mountain.

I could write hours about the climb, basically Conor was on skis, so he was skinning up; I was trudging in boots but happy to have the security of crampons. Although it was cold and windy when the sun came up, it was one of the most beautiful things I ever experienced (seriously!)! My fingers were numb so I didn’t take a picture at the climax, but I’ll add one right before the sky lit up. Why, you may ask, was it so amazing? Well- the entire sky turned violet, then pinkish yellow, and you could see everything (EVERYTHING) in any direction- practically all of Ecuador. Every large volcano, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Antisana, Illinizas…oh yeah, and I was climbing up a huge volcano in South America. The entire experience was surreal and made me exceptionally happy to be here!

Well, we suffered up further and further- and I do mean suffered- the altitude makes you weak and pant like a dog- until I was semi-hallucinating, seeing spots on the snow, and felt like I was going to puke everywhere, with a little headache. The summit was not on my mind! However after a pancito (little piece of bread) and a bit of Gatorade, I sucked it up and lead what was next- a steep headwall, probably around 200-300 feet of 60 or 70 degree snow (just what I love- YES!- at altitude on a huge volcano- double YES!!). I was really not looking forward to this when I saw the steep wall, but once I started up it, I regained my enthusiasm and we eventually crested el cumbre (the summit). Stoked to be on top, but exhausted, we were bummed because a lot of clouds had moved in, and we couldn’t get the all expansive summit view we had hoped for. Worth it for the sunrise though! What goes up must come down (especially at altitude), so we headed down- Conor went a separate way to pick up his cached skis, and I slogged through the softening snow rather quickly, arriving for a nice afternoon nap in the tent. Aw yeah, the good life. Except the next week I got a terrible flu and missed school all week. (Still worth it!).

Well that’s it for now, I hope maybe I’ve spurred you to book a ticket down here and get some yourself, before the glaciers all melt (no seriously!). Anyway hope you enjoyed and I’ll keep you posted on the more interesting things I do down here (mountains, jungle epics, etc…). Until next time…

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