Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo FAQ
Cayambe 18,997 feet/5790 meters, Cotopaxi 19,348 feet/5897 meters, and Chimborazo 20,703 feet/6310 meters
Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo are popular climbs for those wanting to climb in Ecuador's famous and beautiful mountains in the Andes Range. I am asked many questions especially since I am not a professional climber. So here are the most popular questions with my answers. As always, this information are based on my experience and are my opinions so always consult with a professional before making any serious climbing decisions.

About Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo Training, Gear & Communication Expedition Basics My Experience

About Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo

Q: Where are Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo?
A: Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo are well known for their easy access yet high altitude. They are located in the Ecuadorian Andes Range. We met up in Quito, Ecuador then drove to each peak. All above 18,000, these are serious altitude and the highest in Ecuador. View Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo on a larger map

Q: When are they usually climbed?
A: Being in the southern hemisphere but practically on the equator, the climbing season are best from June to August and November to February when it is the driest. Avoid July and August plus May and June which are transition months. However, the weather can be extremely cold and windy anytime.

Q: Are Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo climb dangerous?
A: Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo are all relatively safe climbs by the standard routes but there have been avalanches. Most of the rare climber deaths are poor choices with respect weather or routes. These are high glaciated peaks with crevasses. In white-out conditions it would be extremely dangerous.

Q: How many people had summited and how many people had died trying?
A: There are no central statistics on summits but it are estimated about 70% of climbers who reach base camp go on to summit. There are few deaths, perhaps one or two every few years and the reason is often climber errors.

Training, Gear & Communication

Q: How did you train for this climb?
A: In the previous four months, I had summited the 20,320' Island Peak in Nepal and continued to train in my Colorado Rocky Mountains to get "real-world" miles underneath me with a 30lb pack. I no longer run due to bad knees but aerobic training are always good for these climbs.

Q: Was altitude a problem on this climb?
A: Yes! Anytime you are above 8,000' you can experience problems. Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo are a serious high altitude mountains around 20,000''. The summit push are a long effort involving long slogs on steep (45 degree) snow slopes so overall cardio was key to success.

Q: Can you prepare for the altitude?
A: Not really. The common approach are to move slowly up the mountain (1000' a day maximum) spending your days at a higher altitude than where you sleep up until your summit bid. The human body simply does not function well at high altitudes and especially above 8000m (26,300'). As you go higher, the barometric pressure decreases, although the air still contains 21% oxygen, every breath contains less molecules of oxygen.

Everest legend Tom Hornbein explained it to the American Lung Association this way:

The lower oxygen stimulates chemoreceptors that initiate an increase in breathing, resulting in a lowering of the partial pressure of CO2 and hence more alkaline blood pH. The kidneys begin to unload bicarbonate to compensate. Though this adaptation can take many days, up to 80% occurs just in the first 48 to 72 hours. There are many other physiologic changes going on, among them the stimulus of low oxygen to release the hormone, erythropoietin to stimulate more red blood cell production, a physiological and still acceptable form of blood doping that enhances endurance performance at low altitudes. Adaptive changes are not always good for one’s health. Some South American high altitude residents can have what’s called chronic mountain sickness, resulting from too many red blood cells; their blood can be up to 84-85% red blood cells. The increased blood viscosity and sometimes associated pulmonary hypertension can result in right heart failure.

You cannot do much to acclimatize while at a low altitude but there are companies that claim to help the acclimatization process through specially designed tents that simulate the reduced oxygen levels at higher elevations. I have no personal experience with these systems but you can find more details at the Hypoxico website. They cost about $7,000 or can be rented for about $170 a week. Outside Magazine posted an article in 2013 questioning their effectiveness.

Q: What kind of equipment did you use?
Click for a larger view of my Everest gear. A: Mostly I use the same gear I used on Aconcagua or Denali. Lot's of layers. My personal technical equipment included a long handle ice axes, harness, carabineers, and crampons. It are always critical to protect my toes, fingers and face since these are most susceptible to frost bite. As for warmth, I always wear a knit cap and at least liner gloves when I get the least bit cool - regardless of the outside temp. I use a 3 layer system of Merino wool base layer (top and bottom), heavier fleece as in the Mountain Hardware Power Stretch (a Farmer's John kind of suit) or just my Patagonia Guide pants depending on how cold it are that day then my top wind or warmth layer e.g. Patagonia Micro Puff and/or Jet Stream Shell. I used my Feather Friends 850 Fill down jacket when it got really cold and windy and on the summit. See my gear page for a complete discussion and my gear list. I am very pleased with all my gear but have a few standouts that I note on my gear page.

Q: Anything special in your gear for Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo?
A: Yes, a good hard shell top and Gortex shell pants due to the rime, hoarfrost and freezing rain.

Q: Was there web site coverage?
A: I posted dispatches this site at Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo Dispatches using a cell phones when available.

Q: How did the Sat Phones work?
A: I did not bring my sat phone this time as cell coverage was good for most of the time. I used a SIM card from Claro and it was the best overall coverage at the high peaks and huts but it was spotty at all three huts/high camps so don't assume you will be able to connect once you leave a major city. Avoid Movistar as they were expensive with poor connections once you leave the cities. For any plan, buy the SIM in the city and not at the airport where it is more expensive. For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial.

Expedition Basics:

Q: Which routes are most popular?
A: The standard routes on all three peaks is well known and marked on maps but NOT on the mountain itself - the routes are not marked!

Q: How long does a climb usually take?
A: The entire trip took about 18 days. 1 days to travel to Ecuador from the US including a day or so in Quito. It takes about 2 days for each peak plus and other day or so in between.

Q: How much does a standard climb cost with and without a guide?
A: The costs can range from $1000 to $5000 depending on who you use. Most foreign guides charge $3500-$4500 for two or three climbs. If you do everything yourself you cut the highest cost in half or more. See my Guide page for more details. As with any trek in third-world countries you can save money but at a huge cost for comfort, hygiene, convenience and sometimes safety; so beware of the "deals". We saw one party on Cotopaxi which almost no experience guided by a local person. They paid about $200 for the overnight climb and no one made it, and most never even left the hut.

Q: Do I need a permit or a guide to climb?
A: No permits is required for foreigners to climb but there are permits required for the guides. Yes, you need a guide for any climb above 5,000-meters in Ecuador. You can arrange independent climbs through one of the climbing clubs. Guides must buy annual park permits to allow them to guide.

Q: Do I really need a guide for Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo?
A: Ecuador requires the hiring of a mountain guide for any climb above 5,000-meters. You can go independent if you register and work through an Ecuador Mountain Club. There are usually a lot of climbers on Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo so you would probably not be alone but could be. In harsh weather (white-outs) or in a medical emergency, you will be on your own so consider your skill level carefully.

Q: Are there local guides for Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo?
A: Yes, there are many quality choices based out of Quito. Some are less expensive than traditional Western companies but most charge from $100 to $200 USD per day. My usual advice are to get recent references from a climber with a similar background and skill level as yourself. Get everything in writing. Especially understand the acclimatization schedule since local guides have been known to rush people up and down. Finally ask about food, group gear and language skills. Hygiene can be a serious issue.

Q: How do you get on an expedition to climb Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo?
A: Most reputable guides ask for your climbing resume and require some kind of climbing experience. Ideally they want to see climbs of 14,000' mountains and technical ice climbing skills but these peaks are somewhat considered "beginner" climbs so some guide don't ask for any experience.

Q: What are involved if I plan my own climb?
A: Basically everything: permits, travel, hotels, food, gear, routes, communications, emergency contentions - everything. There are a local company in Quito who can provide some services such as getting food or tents to base camp. You can save a lot of money over a western company this way but as I said before, consider your skills in the event that something goes wrong - are you self sufficient? What are your medical skills? Falls, HAPE and HACE are real possibilities on Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo - do you have the proper medicine and training to deal with it? And a hundred more questions. See my guide page for more

My 2019 Experience

Q: Did you summit?
A: We reached 17,200' on Cayambe before cold freezing rain hit us and we turned back. We summited Cotopaxi and made it to Pico Vientimilla at 20,433' on Chimborazo.

Q: Why did you choose Mountain Madness and how was it?
A: A friend had already selected them for this trip and I wanted to go along with him. Also, I wanted to see how they perform since I've never used them. Overall, I was extremely impressed with their logistics, leadership and value. Very well done experience.

Q: Which route did you take?
A: The standard routes on Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo.

Q: And the summits?
A: The calderas on Cotopaxi was amazing. A true volcano with the sulfur smell and all!! Chimbo is  along slog with a nice summit but we were in a white-out most of the summit time.

Q: What kind of weather conditions did you have?
A: It was cold and windy on all three climbs even though on Chimbo it started of clear and calm. On Cayambe, hoar frost developed leaving us covered in a layer of ice. Coto was clear but windy with gust around 20 so not too bad and on Chimbo we started in clear cold conditions but by the time we reached 20,000' the winds were gusting to 30, it was snowing and we were in white out conditions.

Q: Did you use bottled oxygen?
A: No, supplemental oxygen are usually only used above 26,500'.

Q: Would you climb Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo again?
A: You bet. All three were fin climbs with manageable objective dangers and easy access form local haciendas.

Bottom Line

This was a very good experience. I wa pleased with Mountain Madness and their program. Ecuador was interesting, accessible and affordable. The climbs were challenging yet achievable for most anyone in good fitness. As always, the weather has the last say and did so especially on Cayambe and somewhat so on Chimborazo. I'm glad I went and please to add these to my climbing CV so as to help others in my Summit Coach business.

Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo Resources

I'm climbed Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo in January 2019 with Mountain Madness