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