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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hiking in the Eco Reserve above Papallacta, Ecuador

There is a group of us who plan camping and hiking outing every two months or so. We recently went to the ecological reserve above the thermal baths at Papallacta, on the east side of the continental divide about two hours out of Quito. We arrived around 11 a.m. just as the rain started to fall. We ate a quick lunch in the car, got into our rain gear and backpacks and off we went. The guard allowed us to park and camp near the control point at 12,200 feet above sea level so our hike from our campsite took us up a number of switchbacks as we ascended to the first series of high mountain lakes. The trail grew increasingly slippery with the rain but the scenery was beautiful nonetheless. We climbed past waterfalls until finally arriving at a large unnamed laguna. There my two companions fished for a time while I prepared coffee on my light weight propane stove. The rain continued. This particular lake was at about 13,000 feet above sea level and my friends caught nothing. As we worked our way back towards our campsite we stopped at Laguna de Banos where they tried their fortune again. We all were hoping for a trout supper. I head ahead on the one hour journey back to the camp. I wanted my tent up and ready before sunset. As I descended from the lake region the rain stopped and I caught the first view of the day of the Antisana Volcano. Since I was ahead of my friends I was able to hide a cache near where we were pitching our tents. It is Campsite (GC2CKNX) hidden at 12,200 feet above sea level. We were all wet and with the setting sun came the cold. After preparing supper on my Coleman camp stove, eating and cleaning up and then using my propane stove to dry out my socks and boots, we were ready to get in our sleeping bags as the temperature dropped to freezing. Freezing in July close to the equator! Not uncommon at these altitudes. I snuggled into two sleeping bags to defend against the cold. Sometime during the night I woke and thought that someone was shinning a bright light on my tent. At first I thought my friend in the next tent was playing a trick on me. When I got out of my sleeping bag to check it out I found it was a bright full moon shining in a cloudless sky. As I stepped out into the crisp, cold air I was struck with the beauty of the Antisana Volcano. Antisana was shy during the day, hardly doing more than peaking out from the clouds. Her she was in all her splendor in the moonlight. What a sight! The next morning after breakfast we headed up a different trail. After several grueling hours of climbing we were again at 13,000 feet above sea level. Realizing that we would have to go off the gravel road and into the paramo we decided to head back. The paramo grass is thick and the ground after all the rain was marshy. We hadn't seen a vehicle all morning. Just as we turned to head back a pickup truck came along heading our way and we thumbed a ride. When back at our camp we decided to head up another trail to find another lake. All totaled we hiked about 12 kilometers, climbing all but three of them. Hopefully someone, a tourist most likely, will find the new cache, the only cache in this area.
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