This was my first climb with Rafael, climbing with somebody new is always a little hard for me at first. I hire a guide primarily as a climbing partner, whilst I usually learn an enormous amount from my guides, I don’t believe in offloading responsibility, to me climbing is about taking responsibility for not just your own safety, but for those around you too. The guide of course has the last word, as they bring experience, local knowledge, and usually a bit of perspective to the table, but I don’t expect them to wipe my ass, carry my backpack or winch me to the summit – If I can’t get there on my own, I don’t have a right to get there at all.
I had a good feeling about Rafael from the moment we met, he is extremely experienced, and in fact I had no idea just how experienced and respected he was until well into our climbing trip, but from our first meeting, I could tell he was going to be a great guide. From my side, the key now was making sure he had the confidence in me as a client. Illiniza Norte is a fairly easy scramble, and in good weather there are multiple obvious routes to the summit, however add cold temperatures, sleight and poor visibility and it becomes quite challenging to find the correct route, and with a layer of slush the surface becomes quite slippy. Rafael dropped me off at the trail head and I hiked up for a couple of hours the previous day before getting a lift back down to the refuge, and the next day I felt in pretty good shape for the summit. The climb was enjoyable, but the view was pretty minimal. We picked up another tourist who was a little bit lost, and descended back to the refuge for dinner and an early night.
The next day it was time for Illiniza Sur, this is a more technical climb, and was really the opportunity for me to prove myself to Rafael, if I wasn’t up to snuff, I wouldn’t be climbing on El Altar, so I felt a bit of pressure not to screw up, healthy pressure. We set off from the saddle, the climb is a delight, with great views down onto Illiniza Norte, on a reasonably exposed snow slope. We used a 30M rope, either using a running belay, or Rafael leading for a pitch before dropping in a picket and belaying me up. I’m pretty comfortable on this type of terrain now, and it was a real pleasure taking in the views.
From the summit we had perfect visibility over the avenue of Volcanoes and Rafael pointed out the other peaks we could see, before our descent back to the refuge. On the way down we had a perfect view of Cotopaxi, and lovely snow conditions. I didn’t screw anything up, and so far things were going well. It took me a while to get used to group rope travel, but felt very secure and pretty strong considering the altitude.
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