Category: Illiniza Norte

Cotopaxi (5897m/19348′), Ecuador November 20, 2011- Perfect Snow Conditions, Big Crevasses, and Cool Views

Cotopaxi (5897m/19,348') is the 2nd highest active volcano in the world.

After a great climb of Illiniza Norte our team was ready to head to Cotopaxi.  Upon finishing our descent from Illiniza we spent a night close to Cotopaxi National Park in one of the beautiful haciendas Ecuador is famous for.  Showers, comfortable beds, and a couple good meals were welcomed by the entire team.  The food in Ecuador is always a delight.  From a wide variety of fresh fruit to their ají salsa made with a red pepper that goes by the same name there is something to tempt every part of the palate.

Following a restful evening the team drove over dirt roads to Cotopaxi National Park.  The road takes us to 4600m/15,091′ dropping us off within a 40 minute walk to the José Ribas Refugio at 4810m/15,780′.  Reaching the hut at lunchtime gave us plenty of time to hydrate, snack, and get settled in preparation for our summit attempt the following morning.  An early dinner of pizza with fresh vegetables was followed by one last hot drink then to sleep.  We woke in the middle of the night to begin our ascent in anticipation of a 7+ hour climb to the summit.  Weather was cool and calm.  Under a blanket of stars we strapped crampons to our mountaineering boots and left the refugio with headlamps on to aid in navigating the terrain.  60 minutes of climbing brought us to the entrance of an unnamed glacier.  Here we divided into rope teams and began carrying ice axes.  The heavily glaciated terrain normally has large crevasses that require careful navigation.  Snow conditions under foot were as good as we could ask for offering solid purchase for our crampons.  Picking our route through the glacier made for fun and exciting climbing.  Taking breaks at regular intervals to hydrate and refuel we found ourselves well over 18,000’/5500m as the stars above gave way to the approaching sunrise.  We put our headlamps in our packs, put on sunscreen, and continued picking our way through the icy glaciated terrain.  We crossed over large crevasses with depths of over 100’/30m and surmounted steep ice walls that reached 45+ degrees.  The upper reached of the route had us climbing on the west side of the peak keeping us in shade.  As we climbed atop Cotopaxi’s crater rim we were treated to the warming rays of direct sunlight for our final steps to the summit.

With a warm calm morning we took time to relax for a few minutes before taking pictures, hydrating, eating some food, and enjoying the incredible views that Cotopaxi offers from its summit.

A few pictures from our climb are below.  The entire photo gallery from our Ecuador trip can be found here:  Ecuador’s Volcanoes November 14-24, 2011

Hacienda in the foothills near Cotopaxi National Park.

Llamas grazing near Cotopaxi National Park

The team at the entrance to Cotopaxi National Park.

The team en route to the José Ribas Refugio.

Team members arriving at the refugio.

Sunset from the refugio.

The team geared up and ready to climb Cotopaxi.

Climbing at 18,000+ feet as it became light enough to not need headlamps.

SMI guide April Mayhew high on the route.

Gary Maxwell surrounded by big crevasses and cool views!

Jairo and April climbing around a crevasse on the route.

Gary Maxwell topping out on Cotopaxi.

Jairo taking the last steps towards the summit of Cotopaxi.

April topping out on Cotopaxi with Jairo close behind.

Kurt, Gary, Jairo, and April on the summit of Cotopaxi.

Cotopaxi's double crater as seen from the summit.

Inspiring views and fun climbing on Illiniza Norte (5126m/16,817′), Ecuador November 18, 2011

From left to right: April Mayhew, Gary Maxwell, Kelly Tucker, Kurt Wedberg, and Jairo Marin pause for a photo on the foothills below Illiniza Norte, Ecuador.

After finishing a great trip to Mexico’s Volcanoes SMI guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg flew from Mexico City to Quito, Ecuador to guide climbs on the volcanoes located within this beautiful equatorial country.  Gary Maxwell, Jairo Marin, and Kelly Tucker rendezvoused in Quito, which is at an elevation of 2800m/9186 ‘.  Acclimatization was the first order of business.  The team took a couple of hikes on peaks outside of Quito where we were treated to beautiful vistas of the Ecuadorian countryside.  We also attended an intense soccer game between the national teams of Peru and Ecuador.  After a couple good days of acclimatization we then headed to Illiniza Norte.

The climbing on Illiniza Norte is mainly scrambling over rocky terrain.  Ropes are used for safety.  Negotiating the upper reaches of the mountain required picking our way up excellent hand and foot holds on steep terrain with moderate exposure in spots.  The route was fun and offered a great sense of accomplishment.  After this climb the team would be well set up for climbing Cotopaxi in a couple days!

A few pictures are below.  The entire Ecuador photo gallery can be found here:  Ecuador’s Volcanoes November 14-24, 2011

It's always nice to stretch the legs after international flights. The team enjoys their first day hike in the hills above Quito, Ecuador

The team hiking towards Rucu Pichincha (4698m/15,413').

The Chuquirahua flower grows between approximately 3000-4000m in Ecuador. This beautiful wildflower is the symbol of mountaineering to the Ecuadorian "alpinistas".

The team on an acclimatization day hike to Pasochoa (4200m/13,779').

The team traversing along the crest of Pasochoa where the dramatic difference in vegetation is proudly displayed between opposing exposure to the elements.

The team starting up the rock scrambling on Illiniza Norte.

Gary, Jairo, and Kelly enjoying the climb of Illiniza Norte.

Gary, April and our good friend Romulo from Ecuador high on Illiniza Norte.

Gary, Jairo, and Kelly on the summit of Illiniza Norte with Illiniza Sur behind to the left.

April and Romulo on the summit of Illiniza Norte.