20 March 2019: The second acclimatization climb took me and partner Mahua to the “smallest high mountain shelter in the Ecuadorian Andes” at 4,750m yesterday evening. It was already raining at the trailhead and the rain turned to sleet and snow about 200m below the summit, at which point I realized we had to pick up the pace to avoid risk of hypothermia and loss of visibility.
Fortunately we were greeted warmly at the shelter by guardian Freddy a.k.a “Gato”, three German climbers we had met on Rumiñahui the day before, and one American couple with an interesting story. Don Nguyen, living in Colorado from a Vietnamese refugee family, not only excels in high alpine mountaineering, guiding and rock climbing, but was the sole “survivor” in the 2016 edition of Naked and Afraid in Namibia! His competition partner had to abandon the challenge due to a burst implant. I am thoroughly questioning my years of studiously avoiding Reality TV.
But I digress. On arrival at the unheated shelter, the welcome was not sufficient to warm up our wet and very cold bodies. We had not expected the intensity of the precipitation, and even spare clothes in the packs were soaked through. Dinner of seafood paella cooked by Gato was enjoyed with a helping of translations of “wet to the bone” in German, Swedish and Vietnamese, and we then quickly shed the wet layers and got in the sleeping bags with a bottle of hot water under the armpit. Bedtime for the 12 of us (two young Germans with a guide joined us too) in the 25m2 shelter was about 18:15, and the gradual warming and drying effect of body heat made for a decent night’s sleep.
The launching point of this leg of the expedition was the village of El Chaupi, which by all appearances is populated principally by indigenous Ecuadorians. Conversations with guides and our young driver to the trailhead indicate a certain neglect by the state with regard to funding for repairs of roads and infrastructure. I wonder if there will be any funding in the coming years to make the most basic of improvements to the Nuevos Horizontes shelter, such as sealing windows, something Mahua would appreciate in any future stay!