Pichincha is an active stratovolcano just outside of Quito in Ecuador. The mountain's two highest peaks are the Guagua (4784m) and the Rucu (4698m). The active caldera is in the Guagua, on the western side of the mountain and erupted last time in 1999.
The Rucu summit is next to Quito and can be easily (and cheaply) accessed from the teleferico, but this route has in recent years seen a lot of armed robberies so it's not considered entirely safe. The Guagua summit is higher and can easily be accessed from the village Lloa outside of Quito. This approach requires rent of a 4WD however.
I wanted to do the highest peak (Guagua) of course, and got Antonio to drive me again. I paid him 70 USD for the 2 hours drive to the trailhead, including waiting time (3-4 hours) and the return trip to Quito. Antonio's Toyota Hilux (1996) had no problems negotiating the steep 4WD road above Lloa and could even drive all the way up to the refugio at 4560m. But I chose to start hiking from the parking lot at 4130m so I could have a better exercise.
The first part was easy walking on the road (taking several shortcuts) and I arrived the refugio after 50 minutes. Then I continued on a good trail to the ridge, where there is a small summit which has good views of the crater and the continuing trail to the Guagua summit. The trail now followed the ridge easily to the false summit, then climbing a bit down again before the last uphill to the highest point. The route between the false and main summit is easy scrambling.
I stayed on the summit for almost one hour to breath the thin air and boost my acclimatization. The weather was splendid although a bit windy. Numerous volcanoes could be seen from the summit, including Cotopaxi, Antisana and Cotocatchi. Maybe even more impressing was the view straight down into the new crater, where smoke was coming out from several sources.
Again I enjoyed a wonderful day in the mountains of Ecuador, and considered myself now ready and acclimatized for the climb up Cotopaxi. See the photos and route below.
Guagua Pichincha at EveryTrail