After several days of rain in Cuenca and then Loja, we awoke to a beautiful day, and decided to take advantage of it by hiking through Podacarpus National Park near Loja. The park was our last chance to hike in one of Ecuador’s cloud forests, known for their abundant wildlife, before heading to Peru.

Since the area received rain in the last few days, the trail looked like small ponds of quicksand. At first we did not negotiate these ponds well, and we braced ourselves every time we heard the sucking sound of our shoes struggling to free themselves from the mud. But, it was a nice day and as we hiked further up the first ascent, the path became drier.

Ecuadorians do not seem to believe in switchbacks. Thus, this particular trail climbed 650m (1850 ft) in less than 2 miles (of course, as usual, we calculated all of this after the hike and not before). Reaching the first clearing at 2900m (8700 ft) felt like a real accomplishment, and we enjoyed great views of the surrounding forest. As we turned to survey the trail ahead of us, the steep terrain before us and the small ridges leading to an imposing mountain gave us pause. The hike was only 5km (3 miles); we were 1km down. If you can, imagine us a bit dumbfounded looking at the trail map and back at the mountain and wondering how we will be hiking it….Straight up, that’s how. Knees to chest and pull. Knees to chest and pull. I kept telling myself this was a training hike for Machu Picchu. One small ridge at a time. Chris kept telling himself to be careful; he did not want to sprain/break anything before Machu Picchu.

As luck would have it, before our final push to the top the clouds unleashed a torrent of rain onto an already muddy trail. Footholds and branches to pull ourselves up with became harder to find, and the rain diminished what little traction was available. The thunder echoing above only made matters worse. We were too far into the trail to turn back, but the fact that we were so high and exposed worried us. We quickened our pace in the hopes we could reach the top and descend before the lightning started.

Upon reaching the top, we hustled along the ridge line and spent no time taking in the view. If felt like we could touch the clouds as they crackled above us. By this point, our clothes and shoes soaked with rain and covered in mud, weighed us down as we started our descent. Simply put, the descent was miserable. The river of mud, which used to be a trail, made it difficult to descend quickly. Chris, as always, stayed positive even after falling a few times. When I became exasperated at how much further we needed to go to reach the refuge, Chris remarked “it gets closer every step we take”. Words that really cannot be argued with, and so we pushed on.

During our hike we passed two Ecuadorian girls, one wearing a big wool sweater and jeans. As we reached the top of the mountain, we saw them being overtaken on one of the ridges by another couple; giving us some solace that people were still on the trail. That same couple passed us at the end of the trail. Fortunately for us, this kind French couple hired a driver to wait for them, and they offered us a ride back down the forest service road to the main road (saving us a 2.5 hour walk in the pouring rain). We arrived safely home by 2pm. At 4pm the skies unleashed like a monsoon with thunder and lightning. The thought of still being on the forest service road in that weather made us extremely grateful to the French couple, and concerned about the Ecuadorian girls and whether they made it safely off the trail. The forest ranger and a friend were awaiting their return at the end of the trail, however, so we are hopeful they also got a lift after such a miserable day.

3 Responses to “Parque Nacional de Podacarpus”

  1. Jeannie says:

    I’m sensing some trends in your traveling relationship. ;-) Have a great time at Machu Picchu

  2. Jeri, Chloe and Wyatt says:

    Spas? Resorts? Guided tours with tame animals? Will these happen on your trip or do only near death adventures count:)

  3. Mom and Dad says:

    Some things never change–it seems Jodi attracts lightning on many of her hikes. We did have a good laugh, but were very glad to hear that “everything is OK, now.” Dad always feels better knowing his daughters are safe. Our trip is not as adventuresome, but we like it like that. We love Chris’ philosophy–you balance one another like Ying and Yang. Who´s Ying and who is Yang?