A few years ago when Mark finished his Ph.D. dissertation, he won a chunk of prize money. We decided that as a post-dissertation reward, this money would finally fund his Ecuador trip. In the years since, we've spent that money several times over, to buy new cars, pay debts, and other unsexy things. Finally this year, we replenished the money, and Mark convinced his mountain-man brother Bruce to join him. Everything from plane tickets to mountain guides to gear cost more than forecast--surprise!--and our year filled with baby expenses and orthodontic bills. But we decided this was the year. If we waited for a time when we had plenty of extra cash and few responsibilities, Mark would never climb his mountain.
While the kids and I played at my parent's house in Dallas, Mark and Bruce flew to Ecuador, where they climbed several peaks and took a jaunt to the Amazon rainforest. Mark was able to shoot a few emails along the way. I love how they capture his breathless enthusiasm as he soaks it all up. He keeps trying to reassure us that he's not going to kill himself--watch for the part in which Mark is literally crackling with electricity but still reaches out to grab a metal pole on the summit of a mountain. Also, you can hear that the man is thinking in Spanish.
Thursday, July 7 | Day 2 (morning)
Dear Angela and kids,
Bruce and I are safely in Ecuador at the hotel catedral internacional. We had a good flight. Tell levi that i had a window seat and a great view of downtown miami when we flew out of the miami airport. it truly was amazing. also, the ocean (and land) is so shallow there that from the air you can see underwater land formations for some distance from the peninsula. Very beautiful. We flew directly over cuba, but it was cloudy. we also flew over jamaica. i was able to see that contry or some other island out my window. We arrived safely. Between Bruce´s fluent portuguess and my get'by'able spangilsh, it is pretty cool, we can actually get by quite well between the two of us ' lot´s of fun. we are in a beautiful old hotel in the colonial district. the architecture is amazing and the sun is shining today. we are out on the town today to the military geograpic institute for maps ' awesome! and some outfitting places to arrange jeeps for next two days. We are having a great time. it is very comforting to be with bruce. there is nothing like a brother or a sister in teh world. [Then Mark remembers who he is writing to] except a spouse. i love you.
Thursday, July 7 | Day 2 (evening)
Dear family, here is an update on our day. in the morning we went to the iGM and got some sweet maps! then we went to an outfitting store to see if we could find a good jeep rental. long story short, we eneded up with a really cool guy, fabian, who is a guide and has a 4x4 jeep and is going to do all our stuff with us today and tomorrow--las pichinchas and illiniza norte and drive us down to riobamba. this should make everyone feel much safer about our trekking (including us). everything seems right about it, including the price. it was sunny all day, with a few clouds. We walked all over the downtown market area and the historica -colonial district. a great day. Tomorrow morning we are driving up to 14,000 feet, as high as the highest peaks in america´s lower 48. and then climbing three 15k peaks. Wow!! if the weather tomorrow is anything like today, it will be fantastic. i love you all and am thinking of you. Bruce and i talked much today of our families.
Angela, PS, i forgot to tell you that yesterdayin the miami airport I got a virgin mojito for $4. i just had to get it. Good thing - It was muy sabrosa!
[Mark and I always laugh about Sam Ax and his mojitos in the show Burn Notice.]
Saturday, July 9 | Day 4
hello my love. We are safe. it has been amazing. we are beat.
yesterday we hiked over 10 miles and summitted three (3), yes, that is correct, three peaks that were over 15,000 feet above sea level. one was 15,700! it turned out that we contracted a very good guide--i´m thinking now that this was the result of many prayers on our behalf. The guide´s father has a Land Cruiser (mark and joe will appreciate this). The guide (Fabian), his father, and his mother, drove us through south quito, around the back through the picaresque town of lloa, and then up the Guagua Pichincha volacano to above 14,000 feet (higher than i have ever climbed). i spotted a fox on the way up. For a second, I wondered if it were a Coyote or a dog, but it was red and looked just like a fox. i pointed it out, and the whole family cried out El Zorro! El Zorro!
From the trailhead, we hiked up to the rim. The sun was out, but it was windy, the ascent was steep, and the air was thin. At the rim, the wind was about 40 mph. As we looked down the cliffs into the volcano crater, with its fumarolas, the wind was blowing volcanic pumice dust, sand, and pebbles into our faces. A few times, i had to hold on to my glasses to keep them from blowing off of my face into the crater. of course i was not standing on the edge, no te preocupes, i was standing just below, and if the wind knocked me over i would have fallen into the rim, but my glasses would have gone over the edge.
From there we started traversing the Paramo (high mountain lands) to padre Encantado (the bewitched padre) and summitted there as well. The wind was gone. The sun was out, and we had tremendous views all around. There were many clouds individuals. The wind above was very fast, so the clouds were moving very quickly. Sometimes, when we were on ridges, they would hit the mountain below and then come zooming up the mountain to us. it was exhilarating to be up there. I have seldom felt so alive and free. i don´t know what it is about the high country that makes you feel that way. perhaps a delusion caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain¿ i did get a headache at the first peak, so i took an escedrin.
The third peak we climbed was the Rucu Pichincha. The approach was very beautiful! it is a majestic peak. then, when we started the real ascent, by this time of the day, at this elevation, it was brutal. The peak, however, was very rewarding.
From there, we hiked 3 more miles down to El Teleferico, a gondola that goes down to Quito (like the Tramway in Albuquerq). By the end of the hike, we were exhausted. We went home, ate at a fast food chiken place (with a good manzana drink), showered, packed, and got a full night of sleep. This morning we got up at 5:30 pick up at 6, and drive down the panAmerican highway to machachi, then off and over to El Chaupi. Bruce wanted to get horses for the first several miles of trail to los illinizas. We went to a rancho and contracted for three horses. Then drove up to the trailhead and got ready. The horses arrived and we started climbing up through the Eduadorian campo toward the mountains. Wow, how beautiful it was! The country was already high, and you could really feel as you climbed higher that we were entering a different realm.
We rode the horses up to about 15,000 feet, a little below the saddle between illiniza norte and Illiniza Sur. We started our ascent to norte. it was very steep and the air very thin. it was very cloudy and began to hail. i began thinking about my training and grateful for every mile I had run. Before long, Bruce had to turn back. This was a poignant moment I can tell you. he told me later that he was thinking about advice from Dad and Grandma McGee and turned back to keep me safe. It is not good to be on the mountain in the afternoon, which is the stormy part of the day. Fabian and i climbed and climbed.
We were about 3 fourths up surrounded in fog, when we heard thunder. it´s okay, he said, it is in another valley. We climbed more. Then thunder sounder nearer. 20 meters! he said. We dropped our packs and trekking poles and scrambled up the rocks to the summit. On the summit, there is a metal cross. the peak is very steep, so the cross only came into view in the last few feet of the ascent. i approached the very summit, which was now about three feet away, when all of a sudden my hair stood up inside of my balaclava and rainjacket hood and my scalp tingled all over and i could hear buzzing and crackling. i yelled to the guide that i felt static electricity on my head.! he said !we have to get down right now! later he told me htat he could hear buzzing from the hood of my rainjacket. This is stupid, but i reached out and touched the summit (in a split second) and then we started as quick a descent as possible given the steepness and the hail. Soon i felt we were safe. Still, the lower we got down the mountain the better i felt.
We came down a different side of the mountain that was very steep but very smooth and sandy, so it was just plunge stepping and sand skiiing. A very rapid descent. Then a beautiful hike through the paramo, and i felt that the holy Spirit was with me. Then we met Bruce and the horses and rode down. The hail turned to rain, but after a while it stopped and then the beautiful sun came out. We got to the jeep, drove back down to El Chaupi, out to the panAm highway, and down to Riobamba.
We just ate a hot meal. hot chocolate, chicken soup, a local churrasco, and strawberry soda. now we are going to take baths and go to bed. Today i summited a peak 16,800 feet above sea level and i feel grateful to be alive. i feel like we have already succeeded. if the weather is bad on Chimborazo or it gets too steep in the snow, i think i will just turn around. i will not push it more than wisdom. Also, we have the best guides in the world for this mountain, so do not worry about us. We will be out of contact for four days. i will write again when we get back to Riobamba. i love you and think of you every day. happy birthday to Roscoe! Send this to Mark and give him my congratulations for a new member of the family! i love you dearly.
[Roscoe had his sixteenth birthday while Mark was gone, and my brother Mark and his wife had their second son.]
Thursday, July 12 | Day 7
We are back safely from Chimborazo. We did not summit, as it was just too windy, which is dangerous when the glacier gets steep. We only made it 1-4th of the way (17,000 ft).
We are back early, as no summit, so Bruce wants to go down into the Amazon. Love you got to go. Ride here. love you