SMG in Ecuador: The Source of La Nina

Drew Pogge and I decided to start the ski season off with some ski mountaineering in Ecuador.  Big peaks, glaciers, cool summits, a foreign country; why not?  Kirk has spent quite a bit of amount of time in Ecuador guiding and exploring, and had always talked it up, so the place had always been in the back of my mind.  The picture on Kirk’s wall of his ski descent of Cotopaxi is the classic Andean shot, far above the clouds on a big glaciated peak: we’re sold! November is typically the tail end of their wet season, and we hoped this would mean clearing out of bad weather, with some skiable conditions and good coverage on the glaciers.  But with a strong La Nina in the mix, the weather was very fickle.  We did a lot of hanging out in bad weather, with locals telling us it “usually isn’t this bad in November”.  However, bad weather meant lots of new snow, and all of our skiing was in perfect powder conditions, a true anomaly in Ecuador, and twice as good as we were hoping for.  Plus skiing on glaciers at altitude in low visibility is always exciting!

After spending some time acclimatizing we made ski descents of Cotopaxi (19,347ft), Illiniza Sur (17,267ft) and part of Chimborazo (20,561ft), although we had to bail because of avalanche conditions  With historically low snowlines, we were able to ski lines much further down then normal.

Since the peaks are on the equator, the sun is very intense when it shines, which softens snow bridges over crevasses and can spike avalanche danger.  Because of this, and late morning storms, an ungodly early (12-2am) start is required.  This means you are ascending most of the mountain in the dark, which can be interesting for route finding, and makes for a unique experience.

Ecuador is an amazing diverse country in geography.  This includes the Amazon, lush green valleys, the high paramo grasslands, high altitude glaciated volcanoes and the coast.  Not to mention the indigenous people, food and culture.  It was a great place to visit in the “shoulder season”, and we were glad to see La Nina brewing at the source.

La Nina, or the “the girl” in Spanish is a weather phenomenon that has to do temperatures of the ocean surface on the pacific equator.  If temperatures are cooler then average on the ocean surface on the equator, then this has a domino effect on weather in the norther hemisphere.  This typically means a cooler and wetter winter for the Northwest.  With record low temps in Quito, and snowlines reaching down further into the valleys then normal, La Nina was in full force at the source.  Even though we were focused with the excellent ski conditions and projects on hand, we kept an eye as to what was going on back home, and were pleased to see that the La Nina patterns in Ecuador were resulting in snow continuing to pile up in the NW.  Now that’s a win/win!  Although we may not be getting the cold weather, it looks like we’re sure getting the precip of a La Nina year!

Thanks to Voile, Beyond Coastal and Smith.