An active volcano peering out of the clouds above the city of Quito, the pichinchas are a group of three peaks with Rucu being the most accessible to climb. On my final day in Ecuador I had an overnight flight with an 11:00pm departure, which would give me ample time to attempt the trek up the mountain. This would serve a few "firsts" for me, the most exciting part was potentially reaching an altitude above 15,000ft, weather permitting.
The best approach would be getting a taxi to the Teleferico, a sky tram taking visitors to an overlook at 13,000ft. From there is would be a three mile walk up to the base of the "rock." Gaining ever so steadily along a line, the trail offered spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and distant volcanoes, as well as the big city below. I reserved my pace due to the high altitude and ventured up and up making conversation with other hikers as a way of restraining myself. By the time I approached the final ascent up the rocky crag I met a group of Americans with the same intentions of reaching the peak safely in numbers. As the very characteristic clouds blanketed the summit, our single file line served as a nice way to summit with risk of making an ill advised turn into the crater.
Two hours after stepping off the tram I found myself at the summit, sharing in the thrill of climbing my highest mountain to date - 15,413ft! For reference, the highest peak in the continental United States is Mount Whitney in California at an elevation of 14,995. Rucu is nearly a thousand feet higher. I was surprised by how little of a factor the high altitude affected my climb, a promising test for future ascents. A group photo was mandatory after an achievement such as this, so we huddled around a large wooden sign for a quick shot before making our way down when the clouds broke.
The return was rather easy and I simply soaked in the views and enjoyed my final few hours in such a remarkable place. I have a good feeling I'll be in the area sooner than later to take on some of the larger peaks like Cayambe and Cotopaxi.