Two volcano hikes in northern Ecuador

A quick update from the road in Ecuador.

Edita and I have finished our first two acclimatisation hikes exploring the northern part of the country.

We started with Mojanda, a sprawling massif a 2-3 drive northeast of Quito. Mojanda has multiple summits formed by the collapse of two volcanoes. Its highlight is a large lake at 3700m formed by one of the two craters.

Imbabura rises above the town of Otavalo
Imbabura rises above the town of Otavalo

We climbed both summits of Fuya Fuya, a twin-peaked mountain formed by the other volcano. One these rises to 4258m and is the high point of Mojanda.

It’s possible to drive up to the crater, and I started out expecting this to be an easy 3-4 hour hike, a suspicion confirmed by the presence of a couple of large groups of locals setting out at the same time.

And so it proved to begin with. A gentle rise through the paramo grasslands took us to a narrow, picturesque ridge which is the remainder of the crater.

But Fuya Fuya has a sting in its tail. The final part to the main summit is a short scramble with one highly exposed section. I was unprepared for this and, like a horse, I actually refused at the first attempt, telling Edita and Pablo to go on up to the summit without me while I waited down below.

For a short while I considered renaming the peak Fuka Fuka. But I composed myself and stared at the exposed section for several minutes. It didn’t look so hard from where I was sitting. I took off my pack, examined it again, then made it across to join Edita and Pablo for lunch on the summit.

Our second peak can hardly be described as an acclimatisation hike. Imbabura is an imposing hulk of a volcano rising to 4640m above the town of Otavalo. Green and pleasant in its lower portion, it has an apron of high-altitude polylepsis forest surrounding its central section.

The summit, however, is steep and rocky. It is often hidden by cloud, but on a clear day it rises above like a jagged black dragon back.

The ascent is easier from the east side, diametrically opposite Otavalo. A dirt track took us above farmland to 3500m from where we started a long ascent, mainly through grassland and latterly along a ridge to 4400m where the black rock began.

The ascent of Imbabura is an extended scramble, far longer than the two short sections on Fuya Fuya. I was prepared for it this time. The scrambling wasn’t difficult and it felt less exposed, though this may be because we completed most of it in thick mist.

After scrambling up to the first summit, there was then a long section of lateral scrambling followed by a long scree ridge to get to the main summit.

Only on the way back did the mist clear briefly to reveal that between the two summits we had actually been curving around the remains of a giant crater.

I enjoyed the ascent with much varied terrain, but we had no views. On a clear day, this hike would be something special and it’s one I would like to return to again in better conditions.

The whole trek took us 8.5 hours up and down. Not bad, given that we are still acclimatising.

Today is a rest day. We spend this morning looking around Otavalo’s pleasant market. Tomorrow we head south to start our five-day trek through the wetlands of the Llanganates Mountains to Cerro Hermoso. We have packed wellies.

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