For more photos from Ecuador, see: February 2012
After 3 hours of steep uphill hiking in ankle-deep mud we reach an almost mud-free meadow. There we meet two American hikers walking back down. , but they dampen our optimism: „The mud stays with you up to the Refugio, only it's going up and down from here on.“ We had read before that the path might be muddy after heavy rainfalls, and it had indeed rained a lot this year. But we suspect that the locals riding up and down to the high plain on horses are blameable for the better part of the quagmire.
At least the rain only starts after we have reached the Refugio, a simple mountain hut where we have a quite atmospheric if moderately tasty dinner with two Czech guys in the light of the sole remaining candle (the Americans have used all the candles, and there is no electricity in the hut). The next morning, El Altar, the craggy 5319 m high mountain that we have briefly seen yesterday, is deep in clouds, but we go for the Laguna Amarilla below it anyway. This time, there is no path at all for the first hour, but once we have crossed the Collantes plain and start going up to the 4270 m high rim of the basin containing the Laguna, a clearly defined hiking path materialises. Another hour later we have a stunning view over the lake and some snowfields beyond it. The mountain itself does not show for the rest of the day while we scramble down the rocks, go cross-country over the plain and again wade in mud all the way to the start of the trail 1200 m lower near Candelaria.
Conclusion: Beautiful landscape, uncomfortable hut (at 12$ per person per night a bad value) and too much mud.
El Altar and the trail to the Laguna Amarilla are part of the vast Sangay National Park, designated as UNESCO World Heritage site for its extraordinary biodiversity. The complete GPS track can be downloaded here: Download ElAltar.gpx (428.3K) (Copyrighted material, only for personal use)