It feels like I am getting nowhere as I desperately try to make progress through the thick sand under foot.
The sweat is pouring off me and I’m blowing more than an asthmatic bagpiper.
God, altitude is a killer.
At over 13,000 ft every step is a struggle and the temperature is bitterly cold. A driving wind isn’t helping matters.
Fortunately I have brought a pair of gloves.
Unfortunately Sophie and our new Swedish friend and fellow Volcanoeer Jonas haven’t brought anything to keep their digits warm.
So we play pass the parcel with my mittens in an attempt to keep the blood circulating through all our hands.
After climbing for nearly four hours we are too far in to turn back now.
The summit of the Rucu Pichincha volcano is somewhere we all want to reach and the appearance of icicles indicates that we must be getting very close.
As we creep closer nature decides to throw another obstacle at us in the form of a thick mist, which reduces visibility to just a couple of metres.
We take extra care over our rock scrambling.
The scene is a World away from the bright sunlight and blue skies we enjoyed at the beginning of our climb.
Initially the incline had been gentle as we strolled past grazing llamas and witnessed giant birds of prey giving a spellbinding aerobatic display.
The sudden emergence of a couple of salivating, growling dogs from behind a rock had given us temporary cause for concern, but they soon became distant specks behind us as we marched onwards and upwards.
Before the mist descended the scenery was spectacular. We were surrounded on all sides by a carpet of bright green and a line of mountains rose up behind us from the valley floor.
The sprawling Ecuadorian capital city of Quito sandwiched between the two Andean Cordilleras looked like a picturesque model village.
Right now, however, that is all a distant memory as we dig in to push slowly closer toward the summit.
Finally, with one final effort, we make it to the top and from behind a running nose I let out a girly scream of joy and exhaustion that reverberates around the neighbouring peaks.
The fog limits our view which is a shame, but as we tuck into bananas and crisps I don’t care too much. The satisfaction of completing the climb is a tremendous buzz.
After refuelling and posing for some photos, we decide it is time to start heading back down because we are all pretty cold.
What had before been a lung-bursting, sandy, uphill scramble now turns into a kind of downhill footsurf as we skid down the side of the volcano.
It is is good fun, even if we are all ending up with half the mountainside’s sand in our boots.
Soon enough we come out of the mist.
Our limbs begin to thaw out as the temperature rises and the llamas and birds of prey pop over to say hello again.
Finally our aching bones reach the warmth and comfort of the café and, after a three-way hit on the toilets, I clasp my lips around a steaming mug containing the most delicious hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted.
As we sip Jonas quietly leafs through his guidebook, but he seems perplexed.
“Are you okay?” I inquire.
“Yes,” he replies tentatively before continuing. “It’s just it says here that the route we’ve just taken up the mountain is renowned for attacks and robberies against tourists and it strongly advises you not to do it.”
We all look at each other and breath a sigh of relief. “Thank God the robbers were taking a day off today,” I say.
“Having my pair of gloves stolen by a pack of bandits at 13,000 feet would not have been funny.”