So if you’ve been following along (here and here) on this brief and exciting account of my mapping adventures in Ecuador, you’ll be on the edge of your seat by now (Was he able to pull it off?), or at the end of your rope (Get on with it already!). In any case, it has been a pleasure sharing the experience with you… Now the good part:
Everything about Cajas National Park in Ecuador was surprising. The first time I visited, we left Cuenca by bus on a day that was perhaps a little grey, but unremarkable in terms of weather. Coming off the bus we were greeted by freezing cold gusts of wind and a landscape that for me resembled nothing more than Scotland. How could that be? This planet is a strange and wonderful place. There is some sort of strange ecological kinship between the latitude of Scotland and the altitude of Cajas. As soon as she got off the bus, our friend who lived in Scotland for several years said, “It looks just like Scotland.”
|Side-by-side pics of Cajas and Scotland|
My first hike, Ruta 3 aka Valle de Quinuas (~6.5km (~4 miles), highest point 4136m (13569 ft), 2h40min), wasn’t too hard. I was accompanied by Park Ranger Luis Aucapiña. It should be noted that these park rangers seemed to know the trails better than I know the route from my bedroom to the kitchen, and they are really fit. Even though some of them were 10 and even 20 years my senior, they could have run circles around me all day long.
On Friday I hiked Ruta 6, Encuentro con el Valle de la Burines (~6.5 km (~4 miles), highest point 4088m (13412 ft), 2h10m) with Park Ranger Ramiro Carpio. Day two was about the same in terms of difficulty, except this route had a couple of really steep hills. I got to cross paths with the last two hikes I would do, but I wasn’t feeling too hot at the end.
I’d picked up some kind of gastro-intestinal virus at some point, probably before I even started hiking. By Saturday morning I was really sick, and feeling pretty grateful that we couldn’t hike during the week because I’d never have been able. I rested up through Wednesday and went for a couple of gentle runs on Thursday and Friday so I’d be relatively ready for Saturday. But Saturday was a lot different.
We hiked Ruta 7, Camino del Inka y las Lagunas Mayores (~18km (~11.2 miles), highest point 4038m (13248 ft), 4h30m). Senior Park Ranger Agustín Ordoñez does not mess around — at 56 he was the picture of health, and after nearly 30 years working in the park, he seemed literally unfazed by hikes that knocked me for a loop. I’d guess he measures just over 1.5m (5’) tall, and as has been previously mentioned, I’m quite a bit taller than that. Still, I had to rush to keep up, and with the slippery, muddy paths, it was quite challenging to do so. He’s also clearly dedicated to his work — I’m pretty sure he worked his weekend just to make this happen.
Ruta 8, La Gran Osohuaycu (~16.5 km (~10.2 miles), highest point 4075m (13369 ft), 4h30m), is meant to be about 13.5 km (~8.3 miles), but getting to the trailhead is almost 3 km(~1.9 miles), so it was more like 16.5 km (~10.2 miles). This last hike was by far the hardest, and to make matters worse, it had rained all night and rained on us all day. Visibility was awful because of the fog — I honestly lost Agustín a few times…dude’s fast.
So there you have it! For those of you data nerds out there, I’ll follow this up with a more in-depth exploration of how I went about all of it. This project wasn’t just about making beautiful trails in Ecuador safer for travellers like me, though that was certainly part of it. As we all know, digital mapping has so many advantages, and making that data open and accessible can literally save lives, particularly in disaster-prone areas.
Huge thanks to ETAPA (particularly to Sr. Agustín Ordoñez, Sr. Luis Aucapiña and Sr. Ramiro Carpio the park rangers who guided me on the trails so that I could focus on making sure the traces where recorded correctly, and so that I didn’t not get lost in the mountains at 4000m in rainy/foggy conditions ;)) Thank you also to Ing. Ricardo Goercke and Ing. Alexandra Parra, coordinator and sponsor respectively for the project on the ETAPA side). Many thanks also to Ryan Branciforte and Jereme Monteau at Trailhead Labs for their guidance and support in helping to make this happen.