Rucu Pichincha

December 15, 2022


Quito, Ecuador

Rucu Pichincha is the second highest peak on Volcán Pichincha massif and is one of the most popular summits in Ecuador. The elevation serves perfectly for acclimatization and the access is easy through TelefériQo Quito. It’s too bad that this isn’t the true summit of Volcán Pichincha and because of that, Rucu Pichincha isn’t an attractive destination for prominence-based peak-baggers. Adam and I simply wanted to ascend as many peaks we humanly could, so even though we just climbed Guagua Pichincha the day before we would still wanted to scramble Ruch Pichincha afterwards. The original plan was to do the two peaks in one combined outing but we disliked the overall distance of that route, and instead we ascended Guagua Pichincha from a different approach on its own. That significantly shortened the outing but did leave Rucu behind, so we decided to come back the day after via the standard TelefériQo (gondola) access. The gondola wouldn’t open until 9:30 am in the morning and that’s too bad. Given the weather pattern in Ecuador we were fully expecting clouds, white-outs and the worst case scenario, blizzards and lightning…

We didn’t wake up early as there’s no point. After a leisure morning routine we arrived at the TelefériQo at 9 am and surprisingly learnt that’s it’s already running. I guess the hours stated on the website aren’t meant to be trusted and this is very much unlike in North America. The TelefériQo also required masks which none of us had, so we ended up paying a dollar. At this point nobody in the world is still believing in masks so I think it’s more of a money grab thing for the tourists. The 20 minute ride to 3900 m elevation was a scenic one and we shared the ride with two strangers. None of them was planning to hike and scramble Rucu Pichincha which was not to our surprise. After getting off the gondola we could see numerous groups of hikers ahead and some seemed to have started at least half an hour earlier, so that further confirmed that the stated 9:30 am opening time wasn’t correct.

The TelefériQo Quito
Looking back down into the city of Quito from the top of the ride
Rucu Pichincha standard route from TelefériQo Quito. GPX DL

We quickly went ahead to pass the tourists. The trail was wide and easy to follow and we gained elevation gradually. The breathing did felt rather difficult as we would be doing this entire hike at near or above 4000 m elevation and this was only my 4th day after arriving in Ecuador from sea level. Still, we caught up and passed most, if not all of the groups ahead. It seemed like at least half of the groups were guided and the guides knew where exactly to take short-cuts to avoid some unnecessary gain and loss. Adam and I passed one group at one point but they immediately passed us after taking a smart short-cut, oh well.. I called for a break before the steep ascent towards the summit as we were right under the cloud layer and this was more or less the last pleasant spot to sit down and eat some food. A guide caught up to us during the break and we chatted about the mountains in Ecuador. We learnt something that we otherwise wouldn’t know. The Cotopaxi’s current eruption could possibly lead to closure of Chimborazo as the smoke would likely be drifted westwards by the wind. We hoped that wouldn’t happen in the next two weeks…

Starting the long and boring plod
A glimpse of view towards Atacazo to the north, covered in clouds as usual
We passed several groups of hikers who started earlier than us
A typical scenery in the lower elevation zones
Our objective was still far ahead, engulfed in clouds

The rest of the ascent was done in some thick clouds but the rain never came. Instead of following the ridge, the trail traverses across the steep slopes on climber’s right (north) side. A few tricky spots required some scrambling (class 2+) and the elevation gain was steady. We were still catching up to and passing people but I was feeling tired likely due to the combined effect of the altitude and the recovering COVID. The final 200 m elevation gain to the summit was definitely steep with some scrambling and scree slogging required. We waited for at least half an hour on the summit but the weather showed no sign of improvement. We learnt gradually throughout this trip that the summits in this country are most likely done in the clouds or in the darkness.

Starting the long and diagonal traverse now
This is one tricky step that required some scrambling with minor exposure
The traversing resumes
The traverse is obvious, due to cliffs
The upper route was mostly on volcanic scree
Nearing the summit there was more scrambling and steep stuffs
Some kind of chicken on the summit and there were quite a few of them…
Me on the summit of Rucu Pichincha

The descent was infinitely easier than the ascent and that’s true for most, if not all high altitude climbs. In no time we descended past those steep traverses and were back under the clouds ceiling. The weather actually improved as we went farther down, and looking back we could actually see the pointy summit from time to time. We did not rush too much on the descent as we actually wanted to spend more time at the higher altitude to acclimatize, but eventually we plodded back to the top of the TelefériQo Quito and subsequently took a ride down. We ordered an Uber ride this time to get us back into the city. Adam was stoked to finally see a female driver coming to pick us up, but the reality was rather disappointing. We indeed got a female driver, but not a cute girl. Oh well.. About half an hour’s ride later (traffics!) we got back to the neighbourhood and spent the rest of the day eating and resting. On the next day we would finally start the first major climb, Volcán Cayambe.

The clouds parted as soon as we started descending….
A girl from Colorado on her way up the traversing stretches
Passing more hikers on their way up
Adam negotiating that scrambling step
Back to the main trails
Looking back towards our objective. That pointy one isn’t the summit actually.
Descending with Quito down low
Descending back into the tourism zone
Chairs, tables and garbage bins. That seems fancy on a hike…
This was actually quite fun. Busy though as we needed to wait in line…
A view of Quito again.
Probably llamas but to ride on them you have to pay…
Rucu Pichincha now completely visible from the top of the TelefériQo