A short escape to Ecuador to climb some of its more obscure peaks

Excuses, excuses… It’s a very short blog post this week. Life has been hectic in the Horrell household recently and I have been struggling to keep on top of my writing. I am currently working full time and have been travelling a lot with work. This has left less time for writing in the evenings, and less time for completing the paperback version of Feet and Wheels to Chimborazo.

On top of this, Edita and I have recently bought a cottage in the Cotswolds to retreat to at weekends. The cottage is in an idyllic location, with half an acre of wooded garden and a river. Acquiring the property has involved a lot of paperwork, and now that we are there, the place has needed a lot of gardening and furniture erection to make things habitable. We have been told the land is self-sustaining in terms of firewood, so I have been busy pruning branches and cutting logs to store for the winter, while Edita has been busy planting flowers and shrubs.

But I am happy. I have always dreamed of living in the country, and the quiet location is providing us with a different quality of life from busy London.

The approach to Cerro Hermoso from the west, from Hamish MacInnes's book Beyond the Ranges (Photo: Joe Brown)
The approach to Cerro Hermoso from the west, from Hamish MacInnes’s book Beyond the Ranges (Photo: Joe Brown)

It is time for us to take a holiday. We are returning to Ecuador for a couple of weeks to hike and climb some less-frequented peaks.

Imbabura (4,580m) is an impressive emerald volcano rising above the market town of Otavalo in northern Ecuador. Long-since extinct, it should provide us with a straightforward, if strenuous, warm-up hike.

By contrast Tungurahua (5,023m) has been until recently one of the most active volcanoes in South America, rising into the clouds above the resort town of Baños. It was out of bounds until only two years ago, but was reopened for climbing again in 2017.

Likewise, Cotopaxi (5,897m) erupted in dramatic fashion in 2015 and was also closed for a couple of years. I climbed it in 2010, an adventure that I recounted in Feet and Wheels to Chimborazo. Edita has not climbed Cotopaxi before, so it’s the last peak on our itinerary this time around.

The peak I am most looking forward to, however, is Cerro Hermoso (4,576m). It’s the smallest of the four, but it’s likely to prove the biggest in terms of adventure. The reason for this is because it involves a 4-day trek to reach it, through the remote Llanganates mountain range.

Another photo from Beyond the Ranges: is this the trekking we have to look forward to in the Llanganates? (Photo: Hamish MacInnes)
Another photo from Beyond the Ranges: is this the trekking we have to look forward to in the Llanganates? (Photo: Hamish MacInnes)

Cerro Hermoso also has a colourful history involving lost Inca treasure. In 1533, the Inca emperor Atahualpa was imprisoned and executed by Spanish conquistadors. One of his generals, the Inca warrior Rumiñahui, was in the process of delivering a huge ransom of gold and silver artefacts to the Spanish when he learned of Atahualpa’s death. Legend has it that he returned to Quito, gathered even more treasure together, and hid it all in a cave somewhere in the Llanganates mountain range to prevent the conquistadors from getting their grubby hands on it.

Rumiñahui was defeated and captured at the Battle of Chimborazo. Despite being tortured by his captors and eventually killed, he never revealed the location of the treasure. It’s possible that it’s still out there somewhere. Those who have gone looking for it in the centuries since include the British mountaineers Joe Brown and Hamish MacInnes. Although they were unsuccessful at finding the treasure, they did make an ascent of Cerro Hermoso, the highest mountain in the Llanganates.

I read about this story in Hamish MacInnes’s book Beyond the Ranges. Although I’m no treasure hunter, I found the idea of trekking to this remote peak that hardly anyone climbs appealing. My mountaineering trips to Ecuador have mostly involved staying in climbing huts or comfortable haciendas, and making day hikes up the peaks, so it’s about time I did more trekking.

In any case, it’s going to be fun and I need the break. We will miss our peaceful cottage in the Cotswolds, but I won’t miss the hectic lifestyle I’ve been living recently. I’m mentally exhausted and finding it difficult to write. I had been hoping to take signed copies of Feet and Wheels to Chimborazo with me to give to the eight Ecuadorian mountain guides featured in its pages, but alas the paperback version is yet to be completed.

My apologies if I am offline for a couple of weeks, and sorry for the shorter blog post this week. Life’s real treasure – the thing we could all do with more of – is not Inca gold, but time. One day life will become quieter and I will find more of this golden resource for writing again.

If you can’t wait for the paperback, fret not: Feet and Wheels to Chimborazo is available now as an e-book in all the main online stores.

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5 thoughts on “A short escape to Ecuador to climb some of its more obscure peaks

  • September 19, 2019 at 8:24 am

    Good to hear life’s treating you well, and I look forward to reading about your trip to Ecuador! This line particularly resonated: ‘Life’s real treasure – the thing we could all do with more of – is not Inca gold, but time.’

  • September 20, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Looks like a Fantastic adventure !! Good luck to both of you, looking forward to hear about it

  • September 20, 2019 at 9:05 pm

    A cottage….. wow, just wow….

    Have a great and safe trip out there!

  • September 21, 2019 at 3:30 am

    I just joined your mailing list (shoulda done it years ago!!) – I have purchased every one of your ebooks and re-visit them all the time!! Congratulations on your’s and Edita’s cottage – I remember you stated in one of your books that you lived in a “box” of an apartment in London for years!! Best wishes and have a wonderful time on your new adventure to Cero Hermoso!!!!

  • September 21, 2019 at 11:27 am

    Mark and Edita Have a well deserved holiday. Looks like you’ll need a powerful ride-on lawn mower to get to Cerro Hermosa. Respect for going somewhere out of the ordinary.

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