High hopes fulfilled for CSU students climbing volcanoes in Ecuador

PEOPLE IN SNOW WITH COLORADO STATE BANNER

Story by Bailey McCaffrey 

What would you do if you lost feeling in your feet in the Ecuadorian Andes, only 1,000 feet from the peak of a 20,000-foot volcano?

In January, a student from Colorado State University faced this challenge. Maclean Freund was on an international trip with CSU Campus Recreation’s Outdoor Program with 10 other students, including two trip leaders. CSU student Richard Salas, who was Freund’s ropes partner during the journey, decided he would do whatever it took to get Freund to the top. Salas volunteered his stomach, the only warm place within miles, for Freund to thaw his frozen toes on. The duo peaked the volcano, as did the other nine team members.

The Outdoor Program participants left Colorado on Jan. 2 and landed in Quito, Ecuador, with high hopes of summiting not one, but two South American volcanoes: Cayambe, at 18,996 feet, and Chimborazo, at 20,564 feet. Their dreams came true only eight days later, as they stood on top of the second peak after summiting the first.

Planning

Andy Nelson and Rodney Ley are the coordinator and assistant director of the Outdoor Program, respectively, and they took the lead for this 14-day excursion through Ecuador. It was a year and a half in the making. After careful consideration of high-altitude volcanoes, accessible mountain peaks, welcoming culture, capability and challenge, the two settled on the two volcanoes in Ecuador as the destination of choice. The team began training in the fall of 2017 by climbing and hiking at high altitude, maintaining good health, and preparing themselves mentally for the long trek ahead.

“Mountaineering is 99 percent a mind game,” said Grant Williams, one of the students who attended the trip. “Fighting the thoughts of failure was the hardest part.”

Training one’s mind is certainly a difficult task, but the participants said they were able to fight the internal battle and be confident in their own ability to make it to the top. Nelson said he wasn’t surprised when the team successfully summited both volcanoes, especially considering how strong each person was coming into the adventure.

The grit of the journey

In their first few days after landing in Quito, the group of 11 students stayed at one of the oldest haciendas in the region and experienced the beautiful taste of the Ecuadorian culture. They began acclimating for the hikes, starting with multiple shorter hikes at 13,000 feet and 15,000 feet. Soon it was time to push their limits.

They got to the base of Cayambe, a volcano in the Cordillera Central Range, and began the summit at 1 a.m., pushing through thick fog and snow. Accommodations ranged from huts to base camp, and seasoned guides helped lead the way through challenges like unknown terrain behind every switchback. The team conquered Cayambe at 7 a.m. But they knew they had another volcano to summit in only a few short days.

Chimborazo, the larger of the two volcanos, would bring its own challenges. The Outdoor Program participants stayed in the Carrell Hut, located on the volcano at 15,000 feet. They began their ascent at 11 p.m., facing a long night of ice climbing and deep snow hiking. The entire team summited the mountain at 7 a.m. on Jan. 10.

Team members agreed that the success wouldn’t have been possible without the unending support and encouragement of their teammates.

For CSU students interested in high-altitude mountaineering, the Outdoor Program is a great way to start. Get familiar with the outdoors through backcountry skiing trips, climbing clinics and other hiking events led by the Outdoor Program student leaders. More information is available at https://csurec.colostate.edu/programs/outdoor-program/