Sincholagua, La Marca (Pululagua Crater)

December 12, 2022

3338m, 3074m

San Antonio de Pichincha, Ecuador

Co. Sincholagua and Co. La Marca are two peaks on the rim of the crater of Volcán Pululagua and Sincholagua is the higher of the two. It’s not to be confused with the much-bigger Volcán Sincholagua to the south. These two peaks are easy hikes that can serve well for acclimatization. These peaks weren’t even marked on peakbagger.com but I noticed them on the Gaia map. Adam and I then quickly agreed to do them on my first day of arrival in Ecuador. Adam actually arrived two days before me since he wanted some extra time to acclimatize and the city of Quito where we’d be living in, is located at 2850 m elevation. Based on my past experience I knew I needed little time to acclimatize for this altitude so I chose to arrive 2 days later as that allowed me to earn more cashes at work. The only problem was that I likely caught COVID again a few days before departure, just like my Peruvian trip a few months back. I boarded the planes nonetheless and arrived in Quito still with mild fever and some serious coughing but if I were able to climb Alpamayo with COVID then I could do the same this time.

The next morning Adam arranged an Uber driving through Cabify app that would show up at 8 am or something. Adam had some troubles with that app but eventually managed to convince a driver to come. The drive to the trail-head took over half an hour and this day was shaping up to become a beautiful bluebird day, at least in the morning. Adam told me that the previous two days were 100% overcast with nothing to see. As we drove north away from Quito we entered some dry desert-like landscape that seemed rather odd given the proximity to equator. The hike was actually longer than we thought as the two peaks combined would give us over 900 m elevation gain, so we decided to take our time and start it out slowly. The trail-head was rather messy with garbage dumps and the driver seemed to question our sanity, but we informed him that we had experience. Sure enough, a lady came with two aggressive dogs (one unleashed) and the unleashed dog bit Adam on the thigh. I had previously been bitten in Peru and I hated the dogs in South America. Most of them are well behaved but some were just assholes.

Sincholagua and La Marca hiking route. GPX DL

We made sure to hike away from that lady and the dogs and had no further issues, but the COVID, the dog bite and the high altitude definitely put a damper on our mood. We eventually did speed things up a little bit after gaining the saddle between the two peaks and we opted to ascend the higher one first as that’s more important. The trail became ridiculously steep at places and ascended through some jungle tunnels that I had never seen before. It seemed to me that Cerro La Marca in in a dry desert but Cerro Sincholagua is on the tropical jungle and how amazing was that. We lingered on the summit of Sincholagua for over half an hour mostly to spend more time at this altitude.

The lady with dogs and Cerro La Marca behind
Adam after getting bitten by that lady’s dog. What a way to start a trip…
Looking back at Volcán Castilagua
Ascending above Sincholagua/La Marca saddle now
Looking back at the tiny Cerro La Marca from high up on Sincholagua
Adam halfway up Cerro Sincholagua
Some 3rd class scrambling on the steep trail
The final push onto the true summit was actually quite gentle
Some lower jungle hills to the NW
A closer look at Volcán Cotacachi to the north
Looking westwards down at that forested Cerro Pondoña
Me on the summit of Cerro Sincholagua, my first peak in Ecuador

After slowly making our way down to the saddle we resumed the 200 m elevation gain on Cerro La Marca. It’s always a nice thing to travel with fellow peak-baggers as otherwise I likely would have to ascend this add-on peak on my own. The hike was boring and the view was mediocre, but it’s a ranked peak that I could not have skipped. On the descent we paid extra attention to avoid dogs. The lady was nowhere to be seen, but there were 3 aggressive dogs on the dirt road out into the village. We did not want to risk walking that road so we tried really hard to arrange a pick-up right from this trail-head or the garbage dumpster. Thankfully after 15 minutes we succeeded through Uber app and another hour later we were back in Quito. Adam showed me around with the local restaurants and the first one we tried was a sea food restaurant only 2 minutes from our Air B&B, and it’s a good one.

Adam after walking through a jungle tunnel
About to descend Co. Sincholagua
Looking at Volcán Pichincha on the horizon, objectives in a few days
Descending Sincholagua with La Marca ahead
More about Adam with Cerro La Marca behind
About to ascend Cerro La Marca now in the heat
It’s a mind-numbing grunt on the monotonous terrain
A desert on the equator?! That’s interesting
This agaves was bigger than ourselves…
Adam approaching the summit with Cerro Sincholagua behind
Looking north towards Fuya Fuya and Cerro Negro
Me on the summit of Cerro La Marca
The cactus and flowers with Loma El Mirador behind
Another view southwards towards Volcán Castilagua
On the descent, the summit of Sincholagua was engulfed in clouds by midday
As you can see, the trail-head was right at a dumpster
Driving past a school. Note that the students were all wearing uniforms
Sea food restaurant in our neighbourhood
Adam and our first massive meal…