El Corazon Climb
Monday, November 19, 2001. (Near Aloasi Ecuador.)
My wife Dianne just had a night without any sleep or retained food due to some bacterial stomach bug. I'm not expecting her to be able to climb much but we decide to attempt the climb and see what happens.
It turns out there are issues with crossing some privately owned land that impeded access from the "normal" route up the north side of El Corazon (close to our hostel near Aloasi). We drive for about 45 minutes to reach the south side of El Corazon (nice views of Iliniza on the way) and are hiking by about 9:30 (starting ~12,000 ft). (I have recorded a GPS track of this route and the roads to this route as well as all the other major mountains using my Garmin Etrex Vista and can make this available in MapSource® format. I can probably also do Delorme and Wildflower/National Geographic/.tpg formats if there is some need for this). We climb over a six-foot fence (the toughest part of the climb) and start out following the dirt road. Dianne is uncharacteristically quiet as we start climbing. (This really worries me, as I know she is hurting.)
After about 45 minutes and 1000 feet elevation gain we leave the road and head out over the paramo (no discernable trail) up the mountain. This is easy gradual hiking at this point. After gulping down a "goo" (Dianne had been drinking Cytomax about every 20 minutes), Dianne is finally starting to feel OK. We continue up but I go ahead of Dianne and deliberately set a slow pace. Once when Dianne gets ahead of me, I have to work really hard to keep up with her! We gain the SW ridge and follow it up the mountain. Here there are some steeper sections (now on rock) and few class three sections where we need to carefully climb. There is one section of a narrow (class 3) ledge to the left of the ridge with some significant exposure but mostly it was easy climbing along the very top of the ridge. There were beautiful views to both sides of ridge but we had very little chance to see this because we were in thick cloud at this point.
By 1:30 PM, we are at the 15,700 foot summit (in very thick clouds). There is a pile of rocks and some white fabric as a flag to mark the summit. We took four hours to reach the summit but we deliberately went quite slowly so this would probably be a three-hour climb for us normally. We lounge for about 30 minutes on the summit. As we head down, we start to get hit with some strong sleet and hail. I put on my Activent® shell and we quickly start heading down. The class 3 sections actually seem easier on the way down. We start to hear thunder and see occasional lightning as we descend. At about 14,500 feet, we start to feel a static build up. Dianne's hair is standing up (I wanted to take a picture of this rather comical image but didn't want to stop to take my camera out of my pack. We're away from the higher points and not at a local high point so there isn't too much danger but in light of the static charges building, I'm afraid there is still some danger of a lightning strike. At this point the clouds are thinner and we can actually enjoy the views some more.
At about 13,800 feet, the sleet and rain stop and I strip back down to my T-shirt. (Overall it was surprisingly warm for the altitude; I never wore any gloves during this climb). By 5 PM we are back down at the gate. (This gate exists because cattle are being grazed on the public lands of El Corazon. We hear from another group of climbers that a $10 National Park fee is on some occasions being charged here but we see no indication that this land is even in a national park.
We spend the night at the climber's hostel in San Jose de Chaupi and return to the hostel at Aloasi. This is a good place to acclimatize since it's at 11,300 feet and close to the Ilinizas. James, a fellow from Boulder, says it's a five-hour walk to the Refugio (Iliniza) from the hostel. The hostel charges $10 per person, which includes breakfast and use of the kitchen for cooking other meals.
Warm regards, Wolfgang and Dianne Stiller (Colorado Springs, Colorado USA)
Copyright November 2001 by Wolfgang Stiller