Colville hikers reach Amazon River headwaters, then rest in hotsprings

Roger Harnack

A group of Colville travelers made their way to the headwaters of the Amazon River today, June 24.
High of the capital city of Quito, Colville Interact students and chaperones trudged uphill on a muddy trail in bitter-cold rain and light wind to reach an elevation of 13,600 feet. There, they found some small ponds, numerous springs and a waterfall veiled by clouds..
Walking through the grass and mud, the spongy trek led the travelers to the rim of a ridge that looked down a lake.
"This is important for the Amazon," tour guide Pablo Salazar said, noting the 30 hikers were standing in perhaps the most important wetlands in the world.
According to Salazar, the falling rain and groundwater high up in the Andes Mountains was the start of the watershed for the Amazon River.
The cold rain came with a few snowflakes and the trail back to the bus was slippery. Before returning, the soaked hikers posed for a photo in the region Ecuadorians call the region the "paloma."
The paloma is a wet tundra that is few people could survive in without proper training and supplies.The high-altitude tundra is also home to the speckled bear, the only species of bear found in South America.
The cold rain came with a few snowflakes and the trail back to the bus was slippery.
A few of the weary hikers slipped on muddy parts of the trail, but nobody was injured.
As the group reached the roadway, tour bus driver Franklyn Izurieta alerted hikers to any traffic on the highway at the trailhead. He beckoned hikers aboard the warm dry bus.
As the last of the hikers boarded, Izurieta headed to Termas de Papallacta, a natural hotsprings and resort in a nearby valley at an elevation of 10,600 feet --.about the same elevation as the summit of Western Washington's Mount Baker.
The group quickly found changing rooms, got out of their cold, wet clothing and headed for one of the many springs.
For about two hours, the Colville entourage soaked up the warmth of the springs before eating a lunch of rainbow trout and chicken at the hotsprings.
After lunch, the 30-member group headed back to Puembo, a suburb of Quito, to pack and prepare for the next leg of their trip, a flight to the Galapagos Islands. The original flight to the islands was canceled earlier today, but the group is expected to leave their hotel, San Jose de Puembo-Quito Airport, at 4:10 Monday morning.
The students and their chaperones should be on Santa Cruz Island by noon Tuesday, June 25.
Check back daily for an update on Colville Interact's adventures in Ecuador.