Article by Bailey McCaffrey

What would you do if you lost feeling in your feet, climbing 19,600′ above sea level in the Ecuadorian Andes, with only 1,000 to the peak? This past January, a student from Colorado State University was posed with this challenge, as he attempted to summit a volcano over 20,000’ tall. Maclean Freund was on an international trip with CSU Campus Recreation’s Outdoor Program, with eight other students and two trip leaders by his side. Richard Salas was Freund’s ropes partner throughout the journey, and also attends CSU. Salas decided he would do whatever it took to get Freund to the top. Salas volunteered his stomach, the only warm place within miles, for Freund to thaw his frozen toes on. The duo peaked the volcano among the other nine team members. At the top they stood closer to the sun than any other point on the earth. 

The Outdoor Program left Colorado on the 2nd of January and landed in Quito, Ecuador, with high hopes of summiting not one, but two South American volcanoes, Cayambe, peaking at 18,996′, and Chimborazo, peaking at 20,564′. Their dreams came true only eight days later, after successfully standing on top of the second peak. 

So, What Did it Take?


Andy Nelson and Rodney Ley are the Coordinator and Assistant Director for the Outdoor Program and took the lead of this fourteen-day excursion through Ecuador. A year and a half in the making led to a worthwhile reality. After careful consideration of high altitude volcanoes, accessible mountain peaks, welcoming culture, capability, and challenge, the two landed on Ecuador as the destination of choice.

Cayambe and Chimborazo were picked as the perfect adventure, with accommodations such as huts to basecamp and seasoned guides to help lead the way, and challenges including the unknown terrain behind every switchback. The logistics came together as the team began to obtain the necessary equipment and built their vision of what the trip would become.


The team began training in the fall of 2017 by climbing and hiking at high altitudes, maintaining good health, and preparing themselves mentally for the long trek ahead. Grant Williams, one of the students who attended the trip states, “Mountaineering is 99% a mind game. Fighting the thoughts of failure was the hardest part.” Training your mind is certainly a difficult task, but every person on the trip was able to fight the internal battle and be confident in their own ability to make it to the top. Nelson wasn’t surprised when the team successfully summited both volcanoes, especially with how strong each person was coming into the adventure.

The Grit of the Journey

The eleven students landed in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. In their first few days, the group stayed at one of the oldest haciendas in the region and experienced the beautiful taste of the Ecuadorian culture. They began acclimating for the hikes, starting with multiple shorter hikes, at 13,000’ and 15,000’. Soon it was time to push their limits. They got to the base of Cayambe, a volcano in the Cordillera Central Range. They began the summit at 1:00 a.m., pushing through thick fog and snow. The team conquered Cayambe at 7:00 a.m., proud of themselves and the rest of their team. In celebration, they marched down knowing they had another volcano to summit in only a few short days.

Chimborazo was the larger of the two volcanos, and would bring its own challenges. The Outdoor Program stayed in the Carrell Hut, located on the volcano at 15,000′. They began their ascent at 11:00 p.m. with a long night of ice climbing and deep snow hiking ahead. Counting their steps up the mountain, they were able to keep their minds from wandering off. The entire team summited the mountain at 7:00 a.m. on January 10th. With cold hands and feet, they stumbled to the peak with enough joy to not care as their tears froze on their faces.

Team members agree that the success wouldn’t have been possible without the unending support and encouragement of their teammates. If you are interested in high altitude mountaineering like the students brave enough take on this challenge, then the Outdoor Program is a great way to start. Get familiar with the outdoors through backcountry skiing trips, climbing clinics, and other hiking events led by the Outdoor Program student leaders. Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself on top of the world. 

Congratulations to each member who achieved greatness on this journey, pushed the limits, and hiked away with an experience of a lifetime.


Ecuador Trip 2018