Midweek climb up Illiniza Norte (5200m)

Just one day after climbing Cotopaxi in under 3 hours, my friend Jose invited me along for a climb up Illiniza Norte, the easier of two twin volcanoes (the other is Illiniza Sur) on Tuesday. I am way ahead of schedule on my project and awaiting comments and feedback on manuscripts so taking some time off work was not a problem.

I was still tired from Cotopaxi, but I’m not one to pass up a chance to climb a mountain. Furthermore, Illiniza Norte can be done in a short day trip from Quito so I gladly went along.

Jose and his cousin Andres picked me up from my house at 5:45 am on Tuesday. Since there are no glaciers on Illiniza Norte, we didn’t have to get an alpine start. The morning started off cloudy and grey and I wondered whether I’d again be denied nice views along the climb and on the summit. Either way, I was happy to be going to the mountains again. I’ve been trying to find climbing partners for 3 months and then all of a sudden I got invited to climb 3 peaks in the span of 4 days!

The drive to the Illiniza Reserve only took about 1.5 hours. We signed in with the guard and drove another 30 minutes to the trailhead. I was surprised how low the trailhead was (3900m)…We would have to gain a lot more elevation than on Cotopaxi.


It was still somewhat cloudy as we prepared to start the climb, but the clouds opened up momentarily and allowed Jose to take this incredible shot of Cotopaxi! I took a picture at the same time that looks nothing like this. Jose is an amazing photographer and has a serious camera.


We started hiking to the Refugio at saddle between Illiniza Sur and Norte at around 7:30am.  Mercifully Jose and Andres didn’t want to speed climb as my legs were still screaming from descending the glacier on Cotopaxi. Even though we weren’t going that fast, we made pretty good time. It took us about 1 hour and 40 minutes at a nice steady pace. We actually gained most of elevation by this point.

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From the refugio, its a fun 3rd and 4th class ridge scramble up to the final summit couloir with a 5.3 move or two, known as the Paso de La Muerte because of the potential for rock fall. The sun had burned off the clouds by this point and we had stunning views of both peaks. The views of Illiniza Sur got better and better as proceeded up the ridge. We also saw a really cool emerald green lake aptly named Laguna Verde.

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Jose snapped another unreal shot of Illiniza Sur putting these pics to shame…..


As we made our way up the mountain, the clouds started rolling in and we began to hit some sections of snow as the scrambling got more and more technical.

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But after some more scrambling then some rock moves up the Pass of Death, we were on the summit. Fortunately, the clouds cleared enough for us to see Illiniza Sur in all its glory, though again the clouds robbed us a view of the valley below.

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After a quick snack on the summit, we made our way back down the Paso de la Muerte, and from there, instead of descending the same ridge, we took a direct route down.

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The route was down loose scree at first but then changed over to fine volcanic soil that was super pleasant to descend. Before we knew it we were off the mountain and walking through beautiful fields of lupine.


From there, we leisurely made our way back to the car and down to Machachi were we stopped for lunch at the famous Cafe de la Vaca for burgers. What a way to spend a “work” day!!

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