Sunday 19th June, 2011
A friend wrote to me this week telling me about their wonderful hike through the Cajas National Park last Sunday. With their approval her description and some photos are below for you to enjoy. Thanks guys.
Firstly to those who don’t know about the Cajas? The park is located to the west of Cuenca approximately 20 km west of from the city. It has an area of 28,544 hectares and was legally established on June 6, 1977. The lowest altitude is 3,150 meters above sea level in Llaviuco and the highest at 4,450 meters is in the Cerro Arquitectos, or Architect`s Hill. In the Cajas you will find 152 species of birds. It is well known for hiking, rock climbing, and mountain bike riding, fishing and camping. It is one of Ecuador’s bird watching paradises. The main road through the Cajas is the route that most people use to go to and from Guayaquil.
“Well I am starting to recover from Sunday and thought I better clue you in.
As I think I told you we went for a 6 mile hike on Wed. in the Caja National Park which is of course in the Andes. We went alone on this one and we were scouting to find a rather large lake that we hoped to return to and spend a few days. Last Wed we woke up to a beautiful sunny morning so we skipped Spanish and decided to go hiking.
The hike was awesome and the weather held all day. The weather is very fickle in the Caja's and very tricky to navigate if you get too far in without a trail. We have talked to several park rangers and found out which trails we can do alone and which ones we need a guide. The problem is the fog that can roll in very quickly and make visibility zero. Anyway this trail is marked pretty well so we set off. We went approx. 5 miles with the first 3 being fairly easy and the last 2 were a killer. We were climbing up and over rocks because the trail is actually a creek that I can see carries a lot of water when it rains hard.
We made it to a point we figured about 45 min from the lake however because we started a little late and it gets dark around 6:30pm we decided to stop and try again on another day. We had already decided that climbing the later part of this trail would be very hard with a backpack on, not undoable but hard. I was the one that said I had enough because my legs were starting to shake and get weak on the hard areas and since we are still new to the Caja's and there was a few clouds forming I got nervous. I did take a first aid kit which does include a space blanket, food, aids for injury and a mirror for signaling for rescue which would be a joke here because there are so few planes that fly above the park. Anyway we left and I spent Thurs, Frid and even a little bit of Sat. hobbling around because of being so sore.
We get emails from Club Sangay (www.clubsangay.com) telling us about the different things they are doing, check it out, just hit where it says translate this page and you can read it better.
Anyway they had a hike this last Sunday that they said was 2/5 for difficulty and they also said they would walk by Lake Tatachugo which is the lake we were looking for. They had an entirely different route coming from above the lake. We have learned their difficulty reports can be a little off as this one was. The soles of my hiking boots from REI have literally fallen apart (and yes I will be taking them back) so I hiked in my sub zero boots that I don't where very much. Once we figured out I could wear them we decided to go.
We met the club people at 7am and left around 8:30am (remember we are on Ecuadorian time) and there was about 35 people. They were mostly all young people however there were a couple a little younger than us from Holland and couple about out age from Germany.
Dave and I had driven to the starting point the day before just to see it and I am glad we did because that day was very cold and windy and it made me dress warmer for the actual hike which was a good thing.
The busses dropped us off at a place called Dos Chorea’s which means 2 waterfalls and we started in. The first half of this trail is really not a trail, they call it a fisherman's trail and it was just that. Oh yes, we had 2 guides!!
Pretty much we climbed up the side of a very big mountain through the brush and rocks to get where we could get through the saddle of the mtn. It is hard to explain because it is so different than in the US because here you are responsible for yourself. Not that they would leave you or not help you it is just when you go on these trips you are expected to be able to endure anything they throw at you. This hike was not a 2 out of 5, it was more like a 3 or 4 out of 5. Maybe a 3/5 because 5 would be climbing Cotopaxi which is a volcano that requires crampons and ice pikes and a lot of experience. You can see their scale of difficulty is a very narrow definition!!!
Anyway long story short, the hike was 20km (12.5 miles) a lot of climbing most everything being above 12,000 feet in fact at the highest we were hiking at 13,000 feet. I took very few pictures because so much of it all looks the same however I now wish I would have taken more. The pictures I have are in the open areas but you get the idea. The weather was cold (which is normal in the Caja's), foggy in spots and misty. See why I say I was glad we checked it out the day before? We were dressed for the weather !!!!! Climbing up in these altitudes really gets me. However, I am like the tortuous - I go slow but steady with an occasional stop to get my heart rate back to a manageable level. This is where the younger people that live here in Cuenca really show off their stuff. Actually some of the older ones show off also because they have lived here all their lives and are used to it. I am so impressed with all of them.
We would climb over one mountain (me thinking this is the last one) and damn there would be another saddle we would have to climb through. We did get to the lake and actually walked almost all the way around it because that was the route to the next saddle. I have a few pictures of the lake and you can see what I mean. It took a lot of mind power to see ahead and also know that I had to hike this stuff when I was so tired. There were times when I said to Dave I am not sure I can do this, all the time knowing I had no choice. At those times I did some EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) something I am learning and tried to change my mindset and it would work until I got to the next climb then I would do some more. Coming down the other side from the lake we were pretty knowledgeable about the trail because remember, we had hiked that the Wed before. I told the guide we had hiked that part on Wed and he just looked at me like I was crazy or lying. WHATEVER!!!
We were about the 8th or 9th person to get to the bus so I sat down and ate a delicious orange I had brought for energy and waited for the remainder of the group to return. It took about 30 or 40 min. for the last people to arrive and we set off for home. We were able to get the driver to stop the bus close to our house instead of going all the way into town and then having to catch a taxi. It is about 4 or 5 blocks from where they dropped us to our house and I did at one time say to Dave, maybe you should go get the car!!!!! Of course I would never let him do that so we walked home; Dave took my boots off, helped me undress and drew me a hot bath. Monday I was tired. However, we did go and pick out the faucets for the apt then I came home and rested. I am sore, but not as sore as I was from the Wed hike and now (Tues) I am doing pretty well. We need to go to town so I think we are going to walk to help keep the old body moving.
I said "no more" when I was on this hike but you know what, I am already looking at the map trying to find another lake that is not so hard to get to. We are determined to backpack into one of these lakes to spend a few days and do some fishing. I think we are going to try and find a lake we can walk to and from in 1 day so we can do the hike without packs first to see how hard it is. The people here that are active, like the people in these clubs, I really give credit to. Some of the girls came in little fancy tennis shoes and obviously not dressed for cold and wet hard hiking but I heard no complaints.
Many of the women in Cuenca are pretty fluffy and pretty much just walk around town in HIGH heels, tight Levis and wouldn't hike to save their soul. We obviously have found the other type of people in Cuenca and I am so happy we did.
This hike was beautiful, inspiring, and difficult and another one of those adventures that helps build character and strength. There will come a time as I am seeing and feeling where some of these adventures will come to an end. I am really coming to grips with the fact I am getting older and I can't always do what I want however I am also learning to go at a slower pace and be satisfied with what I can do. This is a wonderful country with a lot of things to do and see and I plan to do just that.
We are leaving this Sat for Mindo which is a 10 hr drive from here (in our own car, yaaaa) to spend a little time in the jungle. This will be a very slow paced adventure with time to reflect, hopefully learn a little more Spanish since ours is so bad, maybe do the Mindo Ropes and Canopy zipline (well of course) and just relax. The weather will be warmer, more humid and of course more bugs however just another adventure to explore in this wonderful Country.
Ecuador has offered us the opportunity to be retired and still go and do most of the things we like. We have to watch our pennies pretty close and are not extravagant with the way we live. However, at a time in our lives where adventure is still our mindset it has turned out to be very wonderful. Chao for now K"
I hope you have enjoyed reading this story and there are more where this came from so stay tuned.
Chao for now and have a great week.