If someone ever tries to tell you that a 40km trek, 20km up a volcano and 20km down, is “suave”; don’t believe them. A 20km ascent is never a gentle affair. No matter how slow you go, it’s not easy. Not ever.
Rewind. This past weekend I was invited by my cousin-in-law, Rai, to accompany a geology expedition to Mojanda. Mojanda is a small region in the Andes of Ecuador that includes several volcano peaks and crater lakes. I’ve always wanted to check it out, so what better way than to go with a bunch of geology students from Ecuador’s Universidad Central? I was a little worried about the altitude, as I recently arrived back to Ecuador after 6 weeks at sea level in the USA; but Rai assured me that the hike was “suave”…suave, as in easy.
So I packed my essential camping and camera gear and set out early Saturday morning with a group of college kids. In typical Ecuadorian fashion, our planned 7am departure turned out to really be a 10:30am departure–during which time I almost bailed because I just can’t work when it comes to poor planning and tardiness. I stuck with the expedition mainly because I was excited to play with my new wide angle camera lense to get some mountaintop night sky photos.
Anyway, we finally made it to our destination–Otavalo, where we began our ascent. And what an ascent it was. Holy smokes! We are talking 8 hours of grueling, quad-burning work. Keep in mind, I was carrying a tent, sleeping bag, food and water for 2 days, emergency kit, and some significantly heavy camera gear. Also, it was raining. So, all in all, not a walk in the park. It was tough–and I’m not a wimpy wimp. Nothing at all technical, just a lot of up up up and no down.
By the time we made it to camp it was already getting dark and freezing cold. We camped alongside the largest of the Mojanda lagoons, and it was a breathtakingly dramatic landscape. Jagged peaks in every direction, and our little campsite nestled in the crater next to the lake. Granted, when we arrived it was very overcast, nearly dark, and we were completely exhausted, so it wasn’t really until the next morning that we could fully appreciate the landscape.
While camping with a bunch of college kids 12 years your junior is not the most peaceful experience, I was so excited about testing out my night photography skills that I didn’t really even mind the noise. I got some pretty awesome (in my humble opinion) shots of the night sky, although I still have so much to learn and needs lots more practice. We tried to do some long-exposure light writing photos…and failed, but had fun nonetheless.
Morning brought sunshine and spectacular views…and a long hike around the lake and then down. Down. down. I personally strongly prefer going down to going up, but it still isn’t easy on the joints. It was a beautiful day with beautiful views. A long hard hike, but in the end totally worth it. I would say Mojanda has some of the best Paramo landscapes in Ecuador–different from the highest, glacier capped peaks, but rugged and beautiful nonetheless.