View from the hill!

View from the hill!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Avenue of Volcanoes

For those of you who don't know, Cotopaxi is a picture perfect snow caped cone that is the 2nd highest peak in Ecuador and the highest active volcano on earth. It is on of the few equitorial glaciers in the world (the glacier starts at 16,400 ft.). Today, I got to climb Cotopaxi!

The day trip started at 6:30am at Coffee and Toffee where I got a free hot chocolate and met the others who would be joining me on this adventure. My group was fantastic, a couple from San Francisco who are traveling S.A. for 6 months, a British couple on their honeymoon to the Galapagos Islands, a Swiss guy who has been traveling for 4 months and an older Austrian guy. As we ventured out of Quito it did not take long before the beautiful peak of Cotopaxi came into view. It seems to appear out of nowhere and looked fake because of the volcanos perfect cone shape. After an hour drive we stopped at a Hosteleria called PapaGayo. This was an adorable hacienda with nicely furnished rooms and perfect grounds. There were about 10 dogs lounging in every corner of sunshine they could fine. Here our guide, Marcela, loaded the mountain bikes onto the top of our van and then we were off to finish our journey to Cotopaxi. After a quick stop in a tiny little grocery store (which was actually someone's house, all the fruits and veggies came right from her backyard) to get our lunch supplies we arrived at the entrance of Parque Nacional Cotopaxi. Here we went in the parks museum and learned about the wildlife and just what an impressive mountain Cotopaxi is.

There is no road to Cotopaxi, after about an hour of extreme bumps, river crossings and phenomenal views we arrived at the base of the volcano. We could see the refugee camp up in the distance but it really did not look that far away. However, it is important to remember that we would be climbing to 4850 meters (15,748 feet!). And it was straight vertical. The climb was honestly the hardest thing I can ever remember doing. The altitude caused severe pressure in my head and ears making me feel like I couldn't breath or see straight. Every few steps I would get extremely breathless and light headed. The refugee camp (base camp) seemed to get further away rather than closer. The weather worsened as we climbed turning from cold to heavy hail. But after about an hour I arrived at base camp. What a feeling of accomplishment! After a few minutes rest our guide informed us we were going to attempt to ascend further up the mountain. After a few minutes of climbing through about a foot of snow (in sneakers and yoga pants!) the hail was so heavy that we lost all visibility and had to turn back to base camp. However, on our way back we were able to see a Andean fox, what a treat!

After an amazing meal of fresh guacamole, tuna salad, croissants, noodle and potato soup and hot chocolate we began our journey down the other side. The trip down was much more pleasant, especially since the hail had changed to snow! Once we arrived to the van we hopped on our mountain bikes and began a hour and a half mountain bike ride down to the Laguna de Limpiopungo. I took it slow and steady on the bike taking in the amazing scenery, there were hundreds of wild horses in the vast plains at the base of Cotopaxi. Even though we were primarily biking down hill, you could still feel the altitude, breathlessness and dizziness were a feeling I got used to!

Once we all made it back to the van it was time to head back to PapaGayo where warm fudge brownies and mint tea were waiting for us. I cannot think of a better way to end an amazing day!

It is possible to reach summit of Cotopaxi. This involves the hike I just described then taking a nap at base campy before departing at 11pm to climb all night long in order to reach summit (19,347 ft) at dawn. The trek can only be done in the middle of the night bc the risk of avalanches and extreme weather. While we were at base camp there was a group of grad students from the Wharton School of Business who had just returned from summit. Over the half the group was extremely ill due to the altitude and many had to turn around before reaching the top. The tour was lead by Earth Treks, right in Timonium!

**Pictures coming as soon as I can load them onto a computer!!!

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