Saturday 22nd June
We leave the Cayambe firestation with Rodrigo, Mario, Jimmy, and Juan in the fire-pick-up truck. We drove across the countryside and up into the park of Cayambe. The terrain change in a few stages, from desolated long grass fields, then hardy flora, then finally grey, sandy mountain. There, at 4700 meters, we arrived to the refuge hut.
We entered the refuge hut to find friends of the firemen: the Red Cross, the police, and the Club de Andimismo (the Mountaineer Club) of Cayambe. There was a group of Americans for the weekend, too. The refuge was maxed out of beds, so the entire Ecuadorian group, including ourselves, camped in the main room. We didn’t expect to get much sleep for beginning the climb at 2 am, but it turned out the hike would begin at 11 pm! No one got sleep for the 2 hours of “lights off”. It was strange to get up at 10 pm to put on gear in the chilly dark. It was my earliest “before dawn” wake-up call, yet. We gathered one last time in a circle for the captains strategy calls and final prayer. The walks began over a steep and rocky hill, traversing for over an hour to the glacier. The full moon revealed the majestic Cayambe. There was not a single cloud, little wind. The timing could have not been any better- a full moon on the Solstice. We were blessed by perfect conditions. At the glacier, the entire group was set into 8 teams of about 3, each with a leader, an experienced climber. Paul and I were teamed up with Jimmy. We set on our crampons to our boots so that our feet can claw into the snow. For rest of the night, with the full moon overhead, we ascended for the summit.
It was around 4 am when Paul announced that we reached, what was my first, 5,000 meters. Our group stopped to pick up Mario on our rope. Our bodies lost the warmth from walking. The cold was getting into our limbs. I was anxious to begin walking again. Our walk was much slower- no surprise- we were sleep deprived, and into the fifth hour of hiking. Some groups began to turn back, and a few lights ahead slowly drifted into the hills of the grand summit. with only a few hundred meters to go, the morning blue began to grow behind the glorious summit, and looking back, the full moon fell slowly like a sunset. We sat to witness a rare morning that would last in our hearts forever.
There was only 200 meters left to the summit. We watched a group disappear behind the last slope to the summit. Should we go? My fall said loudly that it was time to stop. Mario, too, was exhausted. Paul had it in him to keep going, but as a team, if one stops, we all go down. It was heartbreaking for us to stop there. We sat in peace to enjoy the loveliest morning. Then we began our descend.
They say, that Cayambe is a “jealous mountain”. With exception to the translation, they mean that Cayambe is a tough mountain to climb. He is not pleased that where he sits, the moist clouds of the Amazons cover him throughout the year, compared to his sunnier-touched neighbors. He is vengeful, for he rarely lets first-timers reach his summit. We were the exceptional few, to be so close to have reached the summit, only had we kept going.. but it was entirely challenging. He dis give us a taste of his malice before we could leave him. I was the most exhausted, breaking into tears when crawling down the steepest slopes. The scattering of the ice grew louder as the wind set in. It brought a fog, making it very hard to see. We had just entered a field of hidden crevasses. Paul had fallen into one at the chest, still able to get himself out. After carefully navigating out of the glacier, thanks to the firemen skills, and Paul’s GPS, we reached the exposed ground and found the path for the refuge. It was a longer walk back,for the winds were blowing intensely, estimated at 80 kilometers per hour. The game was not finished, as we walked a balancing act against wind, slippery sand and falling rocks, back down the steep hill we began our expedition on, the night before. We were the second to last group that caused some concern, but Mario and Jimmy had radioed in frequently to update that we were on our way.
My last hour was exhausting, sleep deprived, sun-burnt face, tears, and sand blowing into my eyes. Cayambe had hazed me. My ego was stripped. However, like with all confrontation, the truth was realized as I walked away from this morning. A morning that I approached as a dream, and was broken into with the cold truth. It took me the rest of the day, after a bit of sleep, and a quiet ride home, and even further into the night with talks with Paul, and then some more time- for me to swallow what had all happen.
I had seen what power is present in this world. This has been one of my most challenging experiences. I give thanks to my friends who were there for me, and I am slowing giving myself credit. I was hard on myself, and couldn’t see the light of accomplishment. We were the 3rd group that made it close to the summit. I was the only woman in the 2013 procession who reached this height. I walked through a dream that came true and shared the moment, the beauty that Paul has been passionate for. He anticipated over the moment that I would join him on a climb. We were honored to share this morning with the Ecuadorian mountaineers, our friends, the firemen, in this very special procession. I hope to return to such great heights again. Looking back, my soul glows, like the morning on the mountain.