Ecuador offers an incredible diversity of mountains to explore. Within a day's drive from Quito are glaciated peaks which rise over 5,000 meters (16,400 ft) and one over 6,000 meters (19,680 feet), all of which are volcanoes. The highest Andean summits in Ecuador are located primarily along the Avenida de los Volcanes (Avenue of the Volcanoes), a fertile central valley just south of Quito, which is buttressed by two mountain ranges, the Eastern and the Western Cordilleras. Some of the summits are young, cone-shaped volcanoes like Cotopaxi (5,897 m / 19,342 ft) with technically straight-forward climbs offering the novice a chance to get near to or above high altitudes. Others are deeply eroded, older volcanoes with challenging rock and ice routes, such as the glorious ring of peaks on El Altar (5,319 m / 17,446 ft).
For your first few days in Ecuador, you should acclimate by ascending some of the smaller mountains, such as Illiniza Norte (5,126 m / 16,813 ft), Imbabura (4,610 m / 15,121 ft) or Pichincha (4,794 m / 15,724 ft) to avoid developing AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) or the more severe Pulmonary Adenoma or Cerebral Adenoma. (See Health for more information.) These lower peaks are non-glaciated, easily accessible within a dayâ€™s travel from Quito, and offer either hut facilities or nearby hostels that can be used as a climbing base. Once your body has adjusted to the altitude, you are ready to try one of Ecuador's four classic glaciated peaks: Chimborazo (6,310 m / 20,697 ft), Cotopaxi, Cayambe (5,790 m / 18,991 ft) or Tungurahua (5,023 m / 16,475 ft). Although the standard routes are technically straightforward, people do die every year-primarily from avoidable mistakes. Novices should hire a guide. Experienced mountaineers can attempt the more remote and / or more difficult peaks of El Altar, Antisana (5,705 m / 18,712 ft) and Illiniza Sur (5,248 m / 17,213 ft), or choose more challenging routes on other mountains.
As a relatively recent playground for climbers, Ecuador still provides many opportunities for ascents on new routes. There are three anomalous volcanoes (Reventador, Sumaco and Sangay) that do not belong to either of the Cordillera mountain ranges, but rather thrust up from dense jungle east of the Andes. These climbs have the added attraction of giving you a chance to test out your machete skills, as you must blaze trails through dense cloud forest or rainforest just to get to the base of these giants. Sangay (5,230 m / 17,154 ft) is also noteworthy for its healthy population of woolly mountain tapirs.
V!VA Update: As of this writing, Tungurahua, Sangay and Reventador (3,485 m / 11,431 ft) are highly active. We do not recommend that you try to climb them at this time. Check with your climbing outfitter and guides for up-to-the-minute information.
Mainland park entrance fees generally run from $5-20, but Cotopaxi National Park is the only one that strictly enforces its entrance fee; all others are hit or miss.
Climbing Huts (Refugios)
There are huts at Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Cayambe, the Ilinizas and Tungurahua. Almost all huts have bunks, stoves, pots / pans and toilets. Some even have electricity. The cost per night is around $10. The hut at Cotopaxi has a cellular number for weather information and emergencies: 09-963-8344. Plans to install cellular phones at the other refuges have also been discussed as part of future improvements.
Guide services in Ecuador are a classic example of â€śyou get what you pay for,â€ť so we recommend avoiding the cheapest ones. There are many agencies and individuals who will take you up to Cotopaxi at the expense of a few nickels, but they donâ€™t know the first thing about mountaineering, and they could embed you in a dangerous situation.
Equipment and Packing
Climbing and hiking gear can easily be purchased or rented at reasonable prices in Quito, and with a bit more difficulty in BaĂ±os, Riobamba and Ambato. Helmets are the general exception to this rule; if you have your own helmet, bring it.
Below are supplies you will need on a two day non-technical climb up mountains such as Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. The more technical climbs will require more specialized equipment. For nearly all tours, the items listed under Equipment (below) are provided by the tour company. All equipment may be rented in Quito as well. Helmets are the exception to both of these statements, they are rarely provided and are also very difficult to rent.
Equipment: Mountaineering boots, crampons, ice axe, carabineers, climbing ropes, harness and gaiters. Recommended personal gear: Water, headlamp, 3 sets of batteries, glacier glasses, lip balm, sunscreen, knife, two water bottles, two insulating layer tops: one thin, one thick, insulating layer bottoms, Gore-Tex type hooded coat, Gore-Tex type bottom, glove liners, Gore-Tex gloves, two pairs of socks, warm hat, camera-keep it in your inside pocket or it will freeze-extra change of clothes, shoes for around camp.
Climbing, Climbing Info. Types: