Hiking to Mt. Fuya Fuya

14,100 ft closer to the sky!

Ecuador travelogue: Chapter 19 | Read other chaptersSee photo gallery

↑ Mojanda lake seen from the trail. It’s shaped like a heart, isn’t it?

The Otavalo region of Ecuador is surrounded by numerous interesting mountains, volcanoes and lakes, and presents exciting opportunities for hiking enthusiasts. Toronto, where I live, is on a very flat terrain and therefore I was looking forward to visit this part of Ecuador and hike as much as I could.

A volcano that exploded…

Approximately 165,000 years ago, this area would have been the site of two active volcanoes. A volcanic explosion marked the end of the activity and now we are left with three lakes and a handful of peaks, including Mt. Fuya Fuya, to hike. The mountainous Mohanda lake region is about 17km south of Otavalo and is part of a chain of mountain ranges, all of them with interesting names like Fuya Fuya, Cerro Negro, etc. and definitely hike-able if you have time, which was unfortunately I had little of.

↑ Trail markers at various points on the trek will point you in the right direction. Being well above the tree line, it’s hard to get lost. But there’s fog. 🙂

To get here from Otavalo, you’ll have to arrange a taxi to drop off in the morning and pickup at a pre-arranged time. I was staying in a hostel called La Luna up in the mountains south of Otavalo and met two interesting people from Australia who were looking for someone to split the cost of taxi. The taxi ride is along stone path, quite rough and I guess dizzying because one of the people in the car asked the driver to slowdown. Park your vehicle on the shores of Lake Mojanda which is at an elevation of 3,730m (12,250 ft) and the trail head.

Hike to the summit

The weather was interesting; I like hiking in foggy surroundings. Unfortunately it was an awful time for taking postcard pictures. It’s kinda unpleasant when it rains and your clothes get cold and damp, but that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? The weather gods were employing their classic ploy – it got sunny and briefly made us optimistic, but soon the clouds took over and then it rained for a couple of minutes.

↑ Above the clouds. The trail is 1.92 km long and gains an elevation of about 550m from the lake.

The region is quite barren (being above the tree line) and with the exception of small cacti, grass and shrubs, there is no vegetation. I suspect volcanic ash and being too windy next to the lake might be contributing factors. Thankfully, as a result of this, we didn’t get lost on the trail to the summit. The path climbed around the side of the mountain, then wound to the front and after about ninety minutes of hours of hiking we were either above or at the same elevation as the other peaks around us.

Laguna Mojanda looked fabulous from here and its colour changed depending on the amount of cloud cover and direct sunlight. At one point, it appeared light turquoise, blending with the surrounding topography, while at other times it changed into a shiny blue, standing out distinctly. Wild grass and short plants bearing little bright flowers grew at strategic places on the trail, offering support while hiking on slippery surfaces while wearing inappropriate shoes.

The last hundred meters were the toughest – not technically, just endurance-wise. It also got cold, windy and damp because we were walking through a thick cloud. Little more push and the summit was right there. It appeared before us in a typically unceremonious fashion – if you have hiked to a mountain summit before, you know what I mean.

↑ Scribbling messages at the summit for the loved ones. This was the highest elevation I had ever climbed to, the other places were in the Himalayas and quite snowy too.

The view from the top (4,281m or 14,045 ft) was beautiful since we were above the cloud cover at one instant and below it the next. I defiled the soft soil there by scratching a message for my loved ones and asking my hiking buddies to take cheesy pictures in front of it. I am sure it got washed out by the end of the day.

Return hike to the base of the mountain was more fun, as it usually is. Hope you enjoyed reading.