SO YOU WANT TO CLIMB A VOLCANO.
So you want to climb a bona fide 15,000' volcano.
All you have is a single day and a pair of hiking boots.
Not a problem. Ecuador’s Rucu Pichincha is the peak for you.
Conveniently located just outside Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, Rucu Pichincha is the fast food drive thru of volcanoes. It’s easy to access and climb in a morning’s time. Trust me. I did it.
To be fair, this is a real mountain. On my first attempt of Rucu a couple years ago, my friend Brad and I got caught in an electrical storm and had to sprint several miles to safety. Also, elevation is a real concern, as Rucu’s 15,413' summit can take your breath away, and even lead to more serious altitude sickness.
Disclaimer done. Time to hike.
The easiest, safest way to access Rucu’s trailhead is via the TelefériQo, Quito’s touristy gondola, that rises up Rucu’s lower flanks to a vista point, Cruz Loma, at 12,943'. Pay the fare and enjoy the sweeping views of Quito during your twenty-minute ride to the top. Make sure you save your ticket for the return trip. Stretch. Grab coffee if you want. It’s volcano time.
Follow the obvious trail up a hill, then follow signs to Rucu Pichincha up an ever-narrowing ridge. Devoid of trees, this ridge features expansive views on the rare clear Quito day, as well as stands of gorgeous purple and yellow wildflowers. After a couple miles, you’ll reach the base of Rucu’s summit pyramid. The still-obvious trail takes you around the right, through cliff bands on either side. A couple spots require some easy scrambling moves. The route is well-marked and even features markers that tell you how long it will take you to get to the summit from any given point. These estimated times are definitely on the slow side if you’re in any sort of hiking shape.
Eventually, turn left up a long, steep, obvious scree slope and gain Rucu’s summit ridge. This is the toughest part of the climb, as the scree is painfully loose, especially towards the top. Once on the ridge, turn left and scramble up some straightforward, solid Class 3 rocks, popping up abruptly onto Rucu’s exciting summit.
Enjoy. Breathe. Take pictures. You did it: you’ve climbed a 15,000' volcano. Right now, you’re at a higher elevation than anyone on The Eiger, Mt. Whitney, The Matterhorn, Mt. Fuji, or Mt. Rainier. Make sure you inform all of your climber friends of this fact.
I spent only about 20 minutes on the summit, as storm clouds were closing in and I planned on avoiding a repeat of my first Rucu attempt. I hiked back down as the skies continued to darken, returning the gondola in just over 2 and a half hours roundtrip. Unless you have a flight to Portland to catch, like I did, plan on this hike taking between 4 and 6 hours total. Want extra credit? Scramble on over to the slightly taller Guagua Pichincha. I didn’t. But you should.
Heading to Quito? Climb Rucu Pichincha. Bring water. Bring snacks. Wear sunscreen. I sound like your mom.
Also, have all the fun, and get ready for some serious bragging rights.