2 min read

High Altitude Mountaineering in the Andes: >5000m

Having spent three months in Quito at 2.8K m above sea level, I got intrigued about climbing high altitude mountains, above 4K m.

Ecuador is the home to some of the highest mountains, including Cotopaxi, Chimbarazo, Cayambe, the Illinizas and Tungurahua.

The first week, I climbed Pinchincha, 10 miles from Quito at 4.97K m and realized how difficult it was. Even though you could be fit physically, your mind needs to adapt well to handle low oxygen, so your mind keeps telling you to stop and return. Further, the biggest lesson from climbing a mountain is that getting to the top is only 40% of the trouble and most of the known accidents happen while on descent.

Mountain climbing is an experiment in mindfulness where you have to take deep slow breaths and just focus on the next step upward or downward. I realized that its important to keep moving, even if they are slow steps instead of stopping; stopping makes you feel restful and your mind goes back to saying its time to get back; Restarts become harder.

Respect the mountain; its the journey of climbing up and respect comes in the forms of accepting you cannot go all the way to the peak if the weather is against you. Its not just about getting up to the peak but enjoying the climb and nature.

One needs strong glutes, hamstring and quads and running at high altitude prepares your lungs. Climb acclimiting mountains first before going for higher mountains.

Equipment - keep luggage as low as possible

  1. Helmet with a compartment for lights if you are well into the night.
  2. Ice axe - for both in ice,snow & sand,rocks.
  3. Fleece jackets - Inner layers to keep as warm as possible.
  4. Crampons - A layer below your shoes for the grip in ice.
  5. Gaiters - the socks that hold your show up and covers your pants from getting wet
  6. Water bottle - Plastic bottle freezes
  7. The thickest socks you can find.
  8. Food
  • Generally digestion is affected at high altitude and you feel gaseous. Cocao tea leaves help - energy and digestion.
  • Not too much sugary chocolate as getting a sugar high doensn’t help. Raisins help.
  • Don’t use any altitude sickness pills.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
  1. Apply sunscreen before the climb.

Pushing yourself too much and going too hard at high altitude can make you dizzy and can be dangerous in rough and steep terrain where you need to keep your wits about on where to place your hands and feet, check for loose rocks etc.

On the way to Cayambe!

Climbing Cayambe ~5K m

Peak of Illinize Norte in the clouds

Illiniza Norte at 5.3K m