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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Laguna Mojanda, Ecuador




Saturday morning nine of us packed up two 4X4s and headed just a little north of the ecuator to Fuya Fuya Volcano. We climbed up the volcano from the town of Tabacundo. The road was passable but pretty muddy after some hard rain the night before. Once we crested the edge of the volcano we had a beautiful view of the larger of the two lagunas. Even though we knew that one of the roads would be impassable, we drove as far as the Mojanda Volcano cache (GC14AZY). bcargile found the cache! After some quick maintenance, including moving the cache to a safer location, (yes, it is one of my caches) we headed back up the trail and around to the laguna by a safer road. It took a while for us to make up our minds as to where to set up camp.  We finally chose a spot set back from the laguna. We got our tents up, ate a quick lunch and set out on a hike around the laguna. Our party included five adults and four children. The smallest is four. I was surprised at how well the children did. Ignacio and Mercedes took good care of their kids, sometimes carrying the youngest on what turned out to be a 9.5 mile hike. We hiked clockwise around the laguna. The first part of the trail was gentle with little climbing and a well-marked trail. About a fifth of the way around the laguna the trail disappeared and we had to cut through about a quarter mile of marsh. We struggled through the waist-high pampa grass for a long time before leaving the marsh. Once out of the marsh our hopes were that the trail we found would take us to the road bordering the laguna. Not so. After climbing into a small saddle we looked down on a quarter mile of high Andean humid forest running up from the laguna to the high cliffs. Our only choice was to push on and hope for a trail through the forest. No one wanted to go back through the marsh. We climbed down to the edge of the laguna and started into the thick humid forest. There was a barely discernable trail where someone had machetted through. We were climbing under and over Quinual trees, through mud and vines. Finally Dustin, our 13-year old scout out front, called out that we were out of the woods! We were ready for that but no sooner than we cleared the humid forest we found ourselves in another marsh. Fortunately Dustin found a trail right by the laguna and we followed it around to a fish hatchery. Now the fun part. We were half way around the laguna and hard rain set in. From the hatchery we met the mud road that would lead us around the rest of the laguna. We climbed up and down fingers leading down into the laguna, passing by several cars that were stuck in the mud. Some of those will likely be there for several days. We got to one point where everyone took the high road but me. I could see a trail paralleling the laguna edge, about 150 meters above it. It was a cattle trail through the pampa grass. We agreed the that they would come looking for me if I didn't get back to camp ahead of them. Off we went, not in a race, but eager to get back to camp before dark. We were soaked from the pouring rain. The trail I took was wet but good. I made better time than most of the others but still came in behind the fastest in the group who had taken the high road. We were so wet that our first goal was getting into dry clothes and getting our gear into the tents. Then, just as it got dark, we got our stoves going and had a great evening all gathered in the bigger of the tents, fixing supper and visiting. Our climbing boots were all soaked so we made the decision to forego climbing Fuya Fuya then next morning. We had a great next morning fishing, just sitting in the sun and talking and then having a worship service together. In the course of the morning over 50 people, probably acclimating for more challenging climbs in Ecuador, started up the nearby trail to summit Fuya Fuya. Maybe another time we'll get to climb it. We met several climbers, some from Israel, Canada, and England. All in all we had a great weekend at the laguna and are already planning our next camping and hiking excursion. It's a toss up at this point. Do we go to Antisana Volcano or to the Illaniza volcanos? You help us decide.
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