Our first few days were spent at Tierra del Volcan, an idyllic lodge set in the Paramo at the base of Ecuador's second tallest peak, Cotopaxi. Unable to climb due to the mountain's volatile volcanic activity, we rode horseback, ran single track on mountain bikes, and hiked the foothills of nearby Rumiñahui, while acclimatizing for our next objectives.
We then drove south along the Cordillera to a rarely visited National Park: El Altar. The remnants of a volcano larger than Everest that blew its top centuries ago, the Valle Collanes and Laguna Collanes provided us with days of eye-popping peaks and valleys far from any crowds.
The final leg of our two-week trip took us back north to Cayambe, Ecuador's third-tallest volcano, for a summit attempt. After a day of acclimatization hikes we set off for the peak well before dawn. But hazardous avalanche conditions forced us to turn around at 17,500 feet--about 1,400 feet shy of the summit.