This Adventurous Life

A young couple exploring the world…and their 30's

Cotopaxi is the second tallest peak in Ecuador and one of the tallest active volcanoes anywhere at 19,344ft. This makes it 3 feet taller than Kilimanjaro in Africa(I hope you read our blog Sam, Dave and Marty – the ball’s in your court now). After spending a fun and somewhat treacherous week doing smaller peak climbs around Ecuador’s high sierra to acclimate to the elevation; Tracy, myself and our friends NI and BB were ready to tackle this iconic South American mountain:

2 days before the climb, Tracy and I are confidently standing on the high plateau already at almost 13,000ft. Although part of a major mountain range, Cotopaxi stands quite solitary as a perfect cone shaped volcano behind us.

This seriously must be the worlds toughest walk from the parking lot! The day before the summit attempt we hiked from the  parking lot to the high camp to prepare, rest and acclimate to the elevation. It was straight up the mountain in loose volcanic sand, gaining over a thousand vertical feet of elevation and we were told that if we planned on climbing Cotopaxi than this hike should take us less than an hour. (the parking lot can be seen far below, straight behind us)

After arriving at the high camp, we immediately hiked even higher to the start of the glacier for our training session in ice climbing and self arrest. We learned to use crampons(the metal spikes strapped to our boots) and our ice axes. But most importantly we practiced self arrest which consists of stopping yourself from sliding down the glacier and off the mountain by using your ice axe.

Did I mention that our summit attempt started at 1am? Using headlamps for the first few hours we had the surreal experience of climbing a glacier in the black night. To answer your next question: The mountain is almost always climbed at night because of safer ice conditions in the cold morning air.

With the extreme elevation, it was hard to breath, hard think, and it took all of our strength and focus just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Remembering to take photos was hard enough, but I barely had the energy to even get the camera out of my pocket. (most of the pictures were taken with down mittens on and some were over my shoulder without looking)

Sunrise created a perfect triangular shadow of Cotopaxi on the clouds far below.

Don’t fall backwards! The self-arrest training was to prevent us from ending up in a crevasse or on the plateau 5000ft below.

I should learn to take panoramic pictures with our camera. Until then, you will just have to try to imagine this view on all sides as we struggled in the thinning mountain air.

Here is a short video of our actual climbing. The directing and cinematography is pretty poor but I think it gives a good feel for how grueling this 8 hour ascent was(Tracy says it was like 8 hours on a stairmaster while breathing into a paper bag)…the wind is a little too loud for you to hear my exhausted panting.

Although not considered a very technical glacier climb, there were several sections on Cotopaxi like this that required  full on axe wielding, ice wall climbing

Bad-ass Dr. I and BB nearing the top. Just another surreal, amazing, breathtaking moment on their world adventure.

Happy, exhausted and thrilled that we all made it to the top. The crater of Cotopaxi is behind us…but don’t worry there have been no major eruptions since 1904(or as our guide put it “it’s due”)

I have always wanted to climb a mountain like this and now Tracy and I proved we could do it…and that it is just as difficult and wonderful as I had always imagined.
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2 Responses to “Cotopaxi – Climbing One of the Worlds Tallest Active Volcanoes”

  1. Leslie

    Wonderful wonderful blog. I love the video and pictures. i wish that I could have climbed too.

    Reply

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