Ecuador - Antisana and Illiniza

Overview

This 10-day expedition is an excellent choice for intermediate climbers who want to apply their skills to moderately challenging high altitude routes on peaks that are often admired and, in the case of Illiniza Sur, seldom climbed. The complexity of the routes also make them a perfect "next step" for those who have learned the fundamental skills of glacier travel, and who now want to further develop their route finding abilities, climbing skills, and mountain judgment.

This expedition is scheduled so that you can immediately follow it with a five-day climb of Chimborazo Ecuador's highest summit at 20,703-foot (6310m).

Illiniza Sur and Antisana constitute two of the world's most prized equatorial alpine climbs. Illiniza Sur presents one of the most sharply defined summits in the Northern Andes, and with its easy access in the western cordillera and attractive snow and ice routes, it provides a rare opportunity for a short, high altitude climbing expedition on challenging terrain. Much more remote, Antisana is at the very edge of the country's eastern cordillera and drops its rugged ice and rock ridges abruptly towards the Amazon Basin.

Antisana's position northeast of Cotopaxi National Park and east of several 15,000-foot peaks brings it the deepest annual snowpack of all Ecuadorian peaks. As a result, it supports very large, active glaciers and the greatest equatorial snow and ice mass in the world. The varied routes it offers and the high quality of the snow and ice climbing found on them make this one of the most attractive and rewarding ascents of all the Northern Andes.

Cayambe-Antisana Skills Expedition

If you would prefer an introduction to high altitude climbing in a program that includes skills instruction (or review if you have had some training or experience in the past but are "rusty" with skills), please see our Cayambe-Antisana (Cotopaxi) Skills Expedition. It is normally presented on Cayambe and Cotopaxi, but due to the closing of access to Cotopaxi because of volcanic activity, we have temporarily moved the final climb in the program to Antisana.

Ecuador - Antisana and Illiniza

Structure and Goals

Introduction

Illiniza Sur and Antisana are elegant mountains that offer some of the very best glacier climbing in the Northern Andes. Illiniza Sur provides Ecuador's steepest regularly guided route, with its upper pitches in the 35-40 degree range on a mixture of hard snow and ice.

This high altitude mountaineering program is designed for climbers with glacier travel experience. If you are not sure about your past experience qualifying you for the climb, just give us a call and we will be happy to review your skills and experience and anything you might need to do to prepare for the climbs before heading to Ecuador.

Special Note on the Climbing Season

The Alpine Institute has been guiding our Illiniza climbs in the November-February and May-July time periods since 1980, but we are now moving the ascents to September and October because of the effects of climate change.

Rising to 17,218 feet (5248 meters) in Ecuador's mild climate, Illiniza Sur is high enough to support year-round ice and very attractive climbing routes, but with global climate change, those routes now tend to go out of shape during the region's prolonged dry seasons. We have, therefore, moved our expeditions to the September and October time frame when the routes most benefit from recent snowfall and are likely to be in their best condition. If you would like to climb in the November to July period, please consider our other Ecuador program, the Cayambe-Antisana (Cotopaxi) Skills Expedition.

With the growing effects of global climate change on all the world's mountain ranges, the American Alpine Institute continues to modify its programs, as needed, to work well in the evolving dynamics of the mountain environments where we teach and guide.

Acclimatization

Ecuador - Climbers on Antisana.

Climbers on Antisana.
Dylan Taylor

Like AAI's Cayambe-Antisana (Cotopaxi) Skills Expedition, this program has an ideal acclimatization schedule. It begins with arrival and rest at 9350 feet (2850m) followed by day-hiking between 9,000 and 10,000 feet (2740 and 3050m) and continues on to ascents of 13, 15, 16, 17, and 18-thousand-foot peaks (4198, 4784, 5126, 5248, and 5752m).

Largely because of this carefully structured acclimatization, we have enjoyed a remarkable success rate of 93% (excluding summits that were missed because of bad weather). In the Institute's many years of guiding the high peaks of Ecuador since its first trip in 1980, we have not had a single incident of serious high altitude illness. Like our success rate, we believe that this safety record similarly results from our carefully structured acclimatization program.

Our official arrival day is Friday in Quito, though some people choose to fly in one day early to have extra time to adjust to Quito's 9350-foot (2850m) elevation. Early arrival is not necessary, but some climbers prefer it, and we are happy to assist you with hotel arrangements if you want the extra time to rest from travel and acclimatize.

After beginning our acclimatization in Quito, on our first full day of activity we travel north to the Equatorial monument for some obligatory photos straddling the line, and then continue on to the large regional market of Otavalo. We enjoy the colorful market and after lunch, do some hiking in the countryside. Having spent a night or two in Quito, and by moving at an easy pace, most people arriving from sea level adjust to the altitude without discomfort.

On the third and fourth days we are ready for more vigorous activity, so we make scenic hiking ascents of beautiful Pasochoa (13,776 feet / 4198 meters), and of the rugged Guagua Pichincha (15,695 feet / 4784 meters). Pasachoa is a 5-mile / 4.5-hour hike with a 2296-foot (700-meter) elevation gain. GuaGua Pichincha is a 6-mile / 5-hour hike with a 2673-foot (815-meter) elevation gain. These ascents provide team members with a solid foundation of acclimatization which serves them well on the high peaks that come next. They are also beautiful hikes above tree-line with great views of the “Avenue of the Volcanoes” and of Ecuador’s beautiful central valley.


Ascents of Illiniza Norte (16,818 ft/ 5126 m) and Illiniza Sur (17,218 ft/ 5248 m)

We travel south from Quito on the Pan American Highway and then move west into the countryside on a dirt road towards the Illinizas, finally driving as high as we can via a rough track to a point where we meet our arrieros and pack animals. With our gear on horseback, we move to our high camp at a simple hut at approximately 15,000 feet. After getting our gear stowed and having lunch, we make an afternoon ascent of the south face of Illiniza Norte. This is an easy scrambling ascent on rock that adds to our acclimatization and provides excellent views of our route on Illiniza Sur.

Ecuador, Illiniza Norte and Illinisa Sur

Illiniza Norte and Illinisa Sur. Kristen Risnes

Moving on to Illiniza Sur the next day, we climb the mountain's Northwest Face, a beautiful and interesting route that includes short sections of steep snow and ice on complex glacial terrain, a traverse of a moderate face, an ascent of a couloir, and a climb of an aesthetic ridge line that leads us to the summit. From beginning to end this is a rewarding and photogenic climb, and after our steady exercise activity at gradually higher altitudes, our climbing team members should be able to deal very well with the terrain and the 17,000-foot altitude of this peak. Views from this very aesthetic summit encompass all the major peaks of the eastern and western cordillera.

Following these two climbs we descend to Ecuador's central valley for two nights and a full day of rest at a hacienda. During our time off, we will make the short trip to the Saquisili to explore one of Ecuador's most traditional markets. It functions every day, but on Thursday when we will visit, it's at the peak of activity, with native people coming from miles around to sell food stuffs or items they have made, or to buy products for themselves. Though tourists visit Saquisili, it is very much an indigenous affair. Anything needed for the kitchen or broader home and household can be found here, and because of its weekly significance to the communities in the region, the people in the market dress well in their traditional clothing and place high value on the social aspects of the marketplace experience. It is a great market to experience on several levels.

Ascend Antisana (18,874'/ 5752m)

Despite its spectacular appearance and the quality of its climbing, Antisana does not see nearly the traffic that its neighbors receive because of a combination of two factors. First, it has a moderately technical nature - there are no "walk-up" routes on the mountain - which means that though this is not a technical climb, those who attempt it must have intermediate glacier climbing skills. Second, access to the peak has been severely limited by surrounding haciendas in order to protect the wildlife found there as well as their own small herds of livestock.

Leaving our hacienda below the Illinizas, we cross the central valley, then drive up through some of Ecuador's most beautiful Andean foothills. We pass through several traditional, small villages before crossing rolling paramo and then steadily gaining altitude as we travel from roughly 9500 feet (2900m) to well over 14,000 feet (4300m). Here we have excellent opportunities for viewing wildlife, including deer, boar, wild horses, fox, and bird life ranging from hummingbirds to condors.

Ecuador, Nearing the summit on Antisana with Cayambe in the distance.

Nearing the summit on Antisana with Cayambe in the distance. Dylan Taylor

The glaciers on Antisana are very active, and their configuration is complex and always in the process of evolution. Our choice of route will depend on conditions at the time of our climb, but it will most likely include a combination of moderately angled glacier travel and short, steep sections that require the use of a full range of snow and ice techniques for intermediate terrain. The entire climb is interesting, and we are rewarded with views from the summit that include a rare look at the north face of Cotopaxi and an excellent view across a portion of the Amazon Basin.

This journey to Antisana is a great adventure. It includes high quality alpine climbing on the world's largest low latitude glaciers in an area that feels very remote and untouched. A person might easily decide to come here for the wildlife and the beauty of the landscape, but add superb climbing to the experience of those other qualities -- and you have a remarkable climbing expedition that will provide memories to last a lifetime.

Climb Chimborazo (20,703'/ 6310m)

Following the Antisana-Illiniza Expedition many people choose to climb Chimborazo, the highest peak in Ecuador at 20,703 feet, and a summit with the further distinction of being farthest from the center of the earth. (Because of the ellipsoid shape of the planet, Chimborazo's location close to the equator makes it "higher" by this measurement than Mt. Everest.)

Ecuador - Antisana and Illiniza

Program Dates

The Antisana-Illiniza Expedition can be combined with a 5-day extension to summit Chimborazo (20,703 ft.), the highest mountain in Ecuador. 

2017 Dates 

Antisana and Illiniza Expedition

  • September 15-24, 2017
  • October 06-15, 2017
  • October 20-29, 2017

Chimborazo Extension: Please click on the link to view course dates. 

2018 Dates 

Antisana and Illiniza Expedition

  • Sep. 14-23, 2018
  • Oct. 05-14, 2018
  • Oct. 19-28, 2018

Chimborazo Extension: Please click on the link to view course dates.

Special Note on the Climbing Season

The Alpine Institute has been guiding our Illiniza climbs in the November-February and May-July time periods since 1980, but we are now moving the ascents to September and October because of the effects of climate change.

Rising to 17,218 feet (5248 meters) in Ecuador's mild climate, Illiniza Sur is high enough to support year-round ice and very attractive climbing routes, but with global climate change, those routes now tend to go out of shape during the region's prolonged dry seasons. We have, therefore, moved our expeditions to the September and October time frame when the routes most benefit from recent snowfall and are likely to be in their best condition. If you would like to climb in the November to July period, please consider our other Ecuador program, the Cayambe-Antisana (Cotopaxi) Skills Expedition.

With the growing effects of global climate change on all the world's mountain ranges, the American Alpine Institute continues to modify its programs, as needed, to work well in the evolving dynamics of the mountain environments where we teach and guide.

Ecuador - Antisana and Illiniza

Details

Pricing: $2570;  Prices are based on a minimum of 2 people per trip

Max Ratio: 2:1

Capacity: 8

Private Trip Pricing: 

1:1 $5320

2:1 $3560

3:2 $3240

4:2 $2980

Climbing in Ecuador can be an amazing adventure to share with friends or family! Please contact the AAI Office for additional information on private trips, or to arrange a customized trip that fits your unique schedule and availability: 360-671-1505 (Toll Free: 1-800-424-2249) or email: info@alpineinstitute.com. We would be happy to set something up for you!

Prerequisites

  • Excellent physical condition - We will be happy to advise you on a conditioning program; more information is provided in the registration packet
  • Previous glacier travel experience, including the use of crampons and ice axe - If you don't have this experience, you can join the Cayambe-Antisana (formerly Cotopaxi) Skills Expedition, or arrange for training prior to your Ecuador trip in the U.S. You can gain the needed experience in our 3-day Glacier Skills and Crevasse Rescue course, our 6-day Alpinism 1 program, or you can work with a guide on a private basis.  We have training venues in six states.

Program Cost Inclusions and Exclusions

Inclusions:  Lodging in hotels, haciendas, huts, and tents on a shared basis for the dates of your program (available on a private basis by special arrangement, subject to availability, and at added cost); meals while at huts and while climbing; group cooking equipment; admissions to museums and national parks; group climbing equipment; transportation during trip.

Exclusions:  Airfare; airport transfers; personal equipment; meals in cities, hotels, haciendas, and lodges; gratuities to guides; government and airport taxes; inoculations; personal insurance; excess baggage.

Flight Information

Your flight should be arranged so that you arrive in Quito on the first scheduled day of the trip, a Friday. Departures can be made for the day after the last scheduled day; we end on Sunday, so you can fly on Monday. If you add the five-day option to climb Chimborazo, you will end on Friday and you can fly home on Saturday. Please contact our Travel Coordinator, Lisa Greif, if you would like assistance with travel arrangements. 

Other Programs & Custom Itineraries in Ecuador

Both the Skills Expedition and the Antisana-Illiniza climb can be followed with an ascent of Chimborazo. Our El Altar Expedition may be of interest to you if you are looking for more technical challenge on a remote and rarely climbed Ecuadorian peak. See the program pages for more details on each of these expeditions. We can also provide you with custom itineraries of any length for hiking, trekking, backpacking, scrambling, and climbing.

Galapagoes Island, Amazon Basin, Rain Forest add-ons

Travelling as far as you are to get to Ecuador, you may want to take advantage of your presence there to make a visit to the Galapagos Islands--an area that is on most people's short list of "sites I have to see in my lifetime." You can meet blue-footed boobies close up, swim with penguins and seals, and photograph amazing reptiles--all with no fear of humans. We can also arrange tours to the Amazon Basin and to lodges in the Ecuadorian cloud forest. Tours can range from a few days to a week or more. Call the AAI travel coordinator if you'd like to discuss some of your ideas or our recommendations.

Ecuador - Antisana and Illiniza

Testimonials

"Our guides were extremely knowledgeable, not only about mountaineering, but also in the areas of geology, geography, Ecuadorian culture, and the Spanish language. They were so helpful!" 
Matt Peak, Pasadena, CA

"Our guides were extremely professional, and they inspired great confidence. They also prepared delicious meals. Their work exceeded my expectations." 
Daniel Mulvihill, New York, New York

"The guides we had were all excellent, top rate. Hats off to every guide I climbed with. All are top notch, and I recommend all of them HIGHLY for climbing ANYWHERE!" 
John Goble, Miami, Florida

Ecuador - Antisana and Illiniza

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