Ecuador Trip:  Cayambe

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Day 2
Our goal the second day was to get some experience hiking around the glacier. We packed up and hiked out to the lower part of the ice sheet:
Hikin' Out

Then we paused to put on our crampons and helmets, and to prepare our ice axes:
Gearin' Up

Geared up and pysched up, we headed out onto the glacier (crunch, crunch, crunch):
Crunch, Crunch, Crunch

Pepe taught us tons of stuff about getting around on the glacier. Always walk so all the points of your crampon dig evenly into the ice. When going uphill choose from different walking styles to get those points in the snow: the duck walk, the french method, the swiss method. We started to get comfortable moving around, so Pepe took it up a notch to front-pointing. This is flat-out hard. You try to climb very steep ice faces using the four front points on your crampons. Your hands are useless, and you have your ice axe only to steady yourself -- it can't actually bite into the ice enough to really secure you. There's some trick to getting your front points into the ice and then leaning down on them so the pressure locks you in place. And maybe it's easier than I thought at the time, but man was it nerve-wracking to be hanging out there fifteen feet up the face with just those little metal points keeping you from a very rude descent. Well, that was the optional part, so our trip was a success even if I didn't get the hang of front-pointing. I earned my "Ice Man" moment:
The Ice Man

When we got back to the refuge, we ate an early dinner and then practiced our emergency techniques. We learned to tie various knots, and to combine a few of them to create a makeshift harness that we could use to hoist ourselves up a rope. (You know... in case we were to fall in a crevasse during the ascent.) Here's Cari practicing with the harness:
Climbing Practice

Then we hit the sack in order to get a few hours of sleep before rising at midnight for the climb. We had to leave at night so that the snow and ice on the glacier would be firm during the climb. We planned to reach the summit a little before sunrise if all went well.

Unfortunately, when we woke up Cari then spent the next half-hour or so vomiting in the bathroom. We didn't know for sure whether it was food-related or altitude-related. About an hour late she said she wanted to try to go with us, and we set out to the glacier, lighting the way with headlamps. It was a really neat climb. We could see the blazing lights of the greenhouses in the distant hills. The sky was filled with stars. It was cool, but not too cold. Once on the glacier we were roped together. We proceeded to a little under 5,500 meters, at which point Cari got too sick to continue.

It was disappointing not to be able to reach the top, but I enjoyed the climb anyway. The sights grew only more beautiful as the sun began to rise. The weather would have been perfect for the ascent -- there were no clouds whatsoever. On the way down Pepe even let me take the lead and pick out the path across the crevasses.

Oh, and I forget to mention our mascot! The guides have named him Rambo. He lives in the refuge and very often he follows the climbing groups out onto the glacier and all the way to the summit. He accompanied us the whole way, appearing and disappearing but never straying for too long. Now that was a great dog:
Pooch Smooch

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