I’m off! Heading to Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks Wilderness for a 4-day 24-mile loop up and over Mount Yale- 14,202 feet! So far this summer the dogs and I have summited several sub-10’s, two 11’s, three 12’s and a 13. Hopefully this won’t be my last Colorado mountains trip of the year – fall is my favorite hiking season and I’d love an excuse to buy my very own ice axe and crampons – but I’ve got a great climbing partner on the hook for this one so we’re going big!
My friend Sarah and I met on a very big mountain in Ecuador: Gua-gua Pinchincha- 15,695 feet. The climb up Gua-Gua (pronounced Waa-Waa) strung together five rope pitches and a rappel. The whole way up it was sleeting and on the summit it was snowing hard. We hiked down the backside of the volcano, in thick, snowy fog and piled into an ancient Toyota Land Cruiser for the return trip to Quito, wet, cold, exhausted and elated.
As we drove down the winding mountain road to Quito, rain was falling in earnest and the dirt road was quickly quagmiring. Our Cruiser slowed to a crawl, sliding sickeningly around the steep turns. Partway down the mountain, we rounded a corner to an incredible sight: angled across the narrow road, fully blocking both lanes, was a full-sized bus. Our truck slid to a stop, skidding a bit on the bus’s muddy tracks. The huge vehicle had apparently lost purchase in the mud and slid backwards down the hill until it became firmly wedged between the two high banks.
In Ecuador, when you come across a blocked road you have two choices: dig your way through, hike your way out or wait a very long time for somebody to come help. Nobody on the bus had elected to wait; it was completely abandoned. The door was tightly wedged against the dirt bank and the passengers must have escaped through the still-open windows. We looked at the bus for a few minutes, redonned our packs and climbed up and over the front, using the headlight wells, windshield wipers and side mirrors as foot and handholds. It was the easiest climbing we’d done all day.
The hike back into town took us through rural Ecuadorian countryside, past lone houses and tiny villages. Dogs barked at us. One friendly but muddy and horrific smelling Saint Bernard followed for several miles, bouncing in our midst from puddle to puddle. Several of the locals came out to greet us and I picked out the word bus from the rapid conversations with our guides. Everybody laughed. One woman ran back inside her tiny house and brought out a bowl of oranges. We each took one, said gracias and she grinned at us with rotting teeth. We peeled and ate them as we walked through the mud and the rain.
Several hours later, long after dark, our boots finally hit pavement in the tiny town of Lloa. We kept walking until we found a bus shelter where we could all get out of the rain and one of our guides ran off to find a phone to call some taxis. An hour later, half a dozen cars showed up to ferry us and our gear back to Quito. Huddled in the bus shelter, we all maintained lightheartedness to the very end. We had all climbed a mountain and then over a bus.
Friends made in these kind of circumstances are friends for life. Since Ecuador, Sarah and I have met up in many places and climbed many mountains. Sarah just moved to Denver a few weeks ago and I’m super stoked to have her within meet-in-the-middle-for-weekend-adventures distance! Hopefully the Collegiate Peaks will be the first of many more trips.