We got this crazy idea that we’d like to go hiking in El Cajas National Park today because, well, “Cuenca’s kinda boring on Sunday …”
A lot of things are closed on Sundays.
Even when I was looking for a guide to take us, I had a tough time finding someone willing to go on a Sunday.
When I found someone, I was thinking we’d do a leisurely hike like the vast majority of tourists that venture into El Cajas… wrong!
The guide we found, David, albeit not yet an “official” guide, was very much qualified for the job and I’m really glad we picked him — it was one heck of a day. Something I’m very glad I did, but something I also don’t think I ever want to do again!
David is a 27-year-old mountaineer/rock climber/trekker who grew up in Cuenca and is pretty much obsessed with El Cajas. We know we wouldn’t have been able to experience what we experienced if we’d gone with a more traditional guide or a travel company.
David picked us up from our place on Calle Larga at 9:30 this morning and we drove to El Cajas — we discussed the various trails along the way and we finally ended up picking one.
A hard one.
We’ll post the link to the photo album at the end, but ^^here’s a pic of where we started, and where we were headed. We set out thinking we’d get almost to the top and then come back down, but by the time we got up to that point, we were like, well, we made it this far, let’s just go to the top.
The top is over 14,000 feet in altitude!
We essentially worked out for like five hours straight.
I sometimes wonder if I’m really in good shape or if I’m just kidding myself, but after a climb like this, I think I can safely say I’m in pretty good physical condition 🙂
Ben felt more of the altitude than I did — I did not feel much of an effect, other than my heart rate climbing because of the steepness of the climb in general. It was HARD WORK getting up there. In the photo it looks like a small hill, but it was no walk in the park.
David showed us the trail most folks take when they come to El Cajas, which was relatively flat. The trail we were on was not very well maintained at all, with hardly any markers to help us stay on the trail. David was really good at finding them, though.
The paths were rocky, muddy, steep … oh, and it was FREEZING. If I look fat in the pics, it’s because I’m wearing a tank top, a long-sleeve shirt, a sweater, and a thick scarf under my rain jacket… LOL 🙂 I’m actually down a few lbs, I think, ’cause Ben and I both had stomach bugs earlier this week and I barely ate anything!
We finally got to the top of the mountain, and it was WINDY AS HELL. We literally had to crouch down a bit so as not to get blown over. It was like tropical storm-force wind up there, and it continued for about an hour. We did stop for lunch when we found a spot at the top that was somewhat shielded from the wind.
I also peed at the top of the mountain! NO, I did not have to squat. I use this handy device to make peeing in the woods/on a mountain/in gross bathrooms with no TP super clean and simple! I never leave home without it … ’cause you never know the type of bathroom you’ll end up in … or if you’ll end up in a spot without a bathroom!
The wind got really bad on the way down the mountain. David gave us a choice of going back down the way we came or saving an hour and going down the other side of the mountain — which was much steeper, he said. We chose to take the steeper route to save time.
He wuddn’t lyin’.
That sh*t was steep.
I totally mastered the “crab walk”, as Ben called it — scaling down the mountain on all fours, but facing outward. I wish we’d taken a pic of how I was doing it. I really did get good at it!! A few parts of the mountain I just sat down and slid … other parts I crab walked. Some areas had such sharp drop-offs, we had to completely sit down to get from one spot to the next. The muddy trail made it really slippery, and we both slipped and fell several times. That’s one reason I did the crab walk so much, though, ’cause if I slipped, my butt was always just 1-2 inches from the ground anyway, so there was less chance of injury.
The coldest parts of my body, and Ben’s, were our hands. I had on waterproof shoes, pants, jacket … but my gloves were fabric and not cut out for muddy outdoor use. I knew they weren’t going to freeze, ’cause the weather wasn’t freezing, but my gloves had gotten muddy and wet … add in the fierce wind and my hands were burning they were so cold!
We got really lucky that it only drizzled near the beginning of our hike — by the time we got to the top, the rain had mostly stopped. If it had continued to rain, we likely wouldn’t have been able to scale the entire mountain. Wind plus rain = recipe for a disaster.
It’s amazing how I went from feeling so unsure of myself when we first started the climb, to how well my body and legs had adapted by the end. I felt much more capable by the time we finished the hike.
Ben and I both agreed this hike really pushed us to our limit when it comes to “extreme” outdoor activities. Even David said he’d never seen wind like we experienced today. This wasn’t an artificial environment with handrails and planks or ropes to keep you on the trail. It was roughin’ it — more so than I’d ever roughed it before — but I felt really good by the time we finished.
I’m so glad we did the hike. It was so much harder than I expected, and I’ll never (ever!) do it again, but it was 100% worth the money, and I’m really glad we had someone experienced take us. If we’d just gone on our own, we probably would’ve just stayed around the lakes down below — rookie stuff!
We stopped for a meal on the way home, and the food was really good! Neither of us had an appetite for about five days last week, so it felt really good to enjoy food again.
What felt better was getting home, stripping down out of our muddy clothes and shoes, and taking a shower 😀
Click here to see our El Cajas photo album! (43 photos)
Here are some videos Ben took in El Cajas, and on the way home:
This is a herd of dairy cows a farmer was trying to get across the road on the way home!! Only in Ecuador!