Nature, in all of her majestic forms, brings me joy. A memory, from nearly a year ago, resurfaced this morning. A friend and I had met up in late morning in Quito; he was visiting from the States and we both had the afternoon free. Without planning, we decided to try to climb a volcano, Pichincha, which loomed above the city like temptation. After the ride up the Teleferico, arriving around noon, we embarked on the Rucu Pichincha route. The sky was bright, chilled, but sunny. I paid 0.25 to a local man so I could take a picture with his llama. Small moments of delight, paving the way up…up…up…to 4,700 meters (15,400 ft).
We didn’t have the best shoes, we soon realized. And, we had started late. No body else was walking up the mountain, only down. It was nearly 12:30 when we started. But we wanted to- needed to- make it to the top. It started simple enough: white and blue flowers speckled the golden hills. We encountered runners who were finishing up a 24 hour race. They passed by us in a haze of sweat, exhaustion, and exhilaration, closing in on their finish.We were just beginning.
Leaving the hairy grasses and sweaty racers behind, we ventured into the land of volcanic rock and sand. I was wearing my Keen slip-on shoes; great for river-walking, a challenge for sand-climbing. We braced ourselves forward, leaning into the wind that had suddenly appeared, and climbed up 60 degree inclines, our feet sinking every step. The clouds soon covered the sun. The fog had arrived. We knew we were close; we found a sign saying it wasn’t much further, but we could only catch glimpses of the trail between volcanic rock. We both grew hesitant, hiking horror stories circling our minds, but then the sun cut through the clouds–a gift, a reminder. Go on.
We saw two other hikers, their silhouettes, somewhere behind us- we weren’t completely alone. We screamed “Hello!” into the foggy abyss and heard an echoed sound in return. We decided to
wait for the two strangers. “So we weren’t the only two crazy ones who decided to keep climbing up this hill, huh?” Zach, from Holland, greeted us in such a way. Instant friendship.
We banded together, and braced our bodies against the wind. Just after this boulder, we’d arrive. No. After this boulder? No. Finally, we landed on a flat stone with a placard resting on the mountain top. The summit. And we could see everything, everywhere. The sun carved an opening in the clouds, and the entire Andes range was outlined in front of us: the spine rolling on, and on, and on. It was yet another temptation; could you just set out walking atop this ridge forever?
The strangers turned friends shared chocolate. We shared crackers. Two new climbers emerged, rapidly speaking German, from the fog. I look at the taller one. He was wearing shorts and flip flops. It was so perfectly ridiculous. He looked like he had just rolled out of bed and rolled up a mountain.
We all rested there, above the fog, atop the peak, watching the sun and the clouds play hide and seek across the sky. We descended buoyantly, sliding down sand inclines, skipping from boulder to boulder, nearly running when we reached the sun-baked warmth of the dirt trail. We returned from the nebula into the world of the city, carrying pieces of joy on the soles of our shoes.