By the time I was within sight of that concrete refuge—our house for the night—I could barely breathe. Really all I could do was breath. But it felt like the air wasn’t going into my lungs. After each series of sloppy steps, I kept having to stop to bend over and pant like a dog. At that rate it would’ve taken me an eternity to reach the house, if it wasn’t for Jeremy, my hiking companion, who took the majority of my overnight gear and dashed toward the top, at normal speed. A competent mountaineer and just eighteen years old, he was hoping to be standing a few thousand feet higher by the following morning, on the lower summit of the twin peaks.
That next morning, after completing a knife-ridge ascent, he'd made it to almost 18,000 feet. From the front door of the refuge I was watching with binoculars as my friend stood at the top of the world. At that moment, the sun rose through a dense layer of fog, illuminating the top few thousand feet of Ecuador’s largest Volcanoes, poking up through the clouds. Their glaciers reflected the sun’s rays back into the sky.