When you wake up and its dumping rain, your first thought isn’t lets go on an overnight backpacking trip. Only problem was, after a month on the beach, we were eager for a backpacking trip and weren’t going to be turned away easily. So we packed up our bags, threw on every piece of rain gear we had (garbage bag ponchos included) and walked towards the taxi take off point.
Baños sits right at the base of Tungurahua. On a clear day, the volcano stands tall and proud, rising into the sky. Unfortunately, the clouds decided this would be the week they hung right over Baños. Being the overly optimistic American I am, I figured it might clear up and we’d have an epic view at the top. Intelligently, Alaina had doubts at the beginning. Especially when we arrived at the Bus station and the off road vehicle wielding taxi driver incredulously looked at us like
‘you want to go up there?’
Ignoring any lingering common sense we hopped in the truck while the driver shook his head. The drive up to the first ‘refugio’ was flooded and steep. From smooth pavement to rocky paths we made our way up until the refugio came into view through a wall of rain. Running into the reserve we were met by a ranger who immediately demanded our attention for an introduction to the park.
With professional grace the guide launched into a rapid set of warnings, advice and occasional tangents while we made our final preparations. He gave us the option of paying immediately or when we got back for staying in the second refugio higher on the mountain… we opted for paying later just in case we didn’t make it.
The scenery was beautiful when we started. 40mph winds, heavy cloud cover, and a river running down the trail were some of the first sights. This was of course after we walked around for a little bit trying to find the path, afraid that the small river was the only way up. The trail is understandably susceptive to flooding because its at a 45 degree angle running between pastures, making it the perfect waterway.
Dirt walls rose up on either side of us forming tunnels at different points. We sidestepped ankle to knee deep mud on parts of the trail, basically crawling. I finally began to doubt my faith in the clouds clearing at the top.
Eventually, we had to question whether it was a good idea. Is it worth it to hike 6 hours in the rain? Of course not.
Tungurahua’s peak lies at 16,479ft. Luckily we were only going to the Refugio at 12,600. For our unacclimated bodies, it was getting hard. Sometimes you just gotta push through. Luckily, as we neared the refugio, the rain let up and we could even glimpse the valley floor momentarily. It was just enough to get our hopes up and make us realize how incredibly beautiful it would be on a clear day (mental note to come back).
Our luck continued to improve as we finally arrive at the refugio. Right as we got inside, the rain started dumbing buckets. Hanging up clothes, making coca tea (for elevation), and generally trying to stay warm constituted our evening until another adventurous pair of hikers arrived. Although the hike was slightly miserable, meeting two avid hikers from Quito made it all worth it.
Playing card games, making hot soup, and learning about our drastically different cultures rejuvenated our spirits. Listening to the rain hit the roof knowing we were warm and dry, in the company of newfound friends will simply make you grateful.
Waking up early and practically running down the mountain brought us back to the ranger station in under an hour. Soaked, sweating, with blood pumping from the exertion, we stepped onto the dirt road. Of course, we started walking and found ourselves traversing overflowing roads and muddy waterfalls cascading over embankments. At this point the rain hadn’t stopped for 16hrs and we were loving it. Embracing the rain filled boots we walked down the mountain until we hopped in the back of a farmers truck heading to Baños.
In the cold open air of the truck bed, I know that there was no other place I’d rather be than speeding down the flooded streets into Baños, Ecuador.