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Volcan Cotopaxi Climb 5,897m August 19, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, Ecuador, Environment, mountaineering, Nature, South America, Travel, trekking, wilderness.

Our plan all along was to fit in a couple of climbs in Ecuador before we left. With so little time we decided that maybe this time we would hire the help of a guide with transport and logistics worked out. Our first target would be Cotopaxi at 5,897m

Cotopaxi after the mists had cleared from just above the refugio, 4,800m

However, the weather has been appalling in Ecuador recently. Indeed from our climbing experience in the high Andes of Peru and Ecuador the weather has not been the predictable dry season usually encountered.

We therefore had to be lucky to summit. The additional complication being that as we have spent 2 weeks in the Galapagos we have lost some of the acclimatisation of our last few months at altitude.

Jason trying on Moggeleys glacier glasses                                            Our Hostel courtesy of Moggely

So we headed off on the 14th August 2007 to a Hostel owned by Moggely the climbing agent. We thought this might help as it is located at 3,500m. The Hostel is near the Cotopaxi National Park and is basically in the middle of no where! Unfortunately the weather was not good and the hostel was freezing! To top it they did not have enough wood for the wood burners! Oh hum.

The next day we left at about 11am with technical equipment up to the National Park and really for the first time in Ecuador (other than the Galapagos) we were truly impressed with the scenery here. A volcanic landscape quite beautiful and with a remoteness not felt elsewhere. With less human interference.

In the 4 X 4 we drove up to a high plateau where we could leave the vehicle leaving a 40 minute climb to the refugio at 4,800m.

The refugio is basic and large, fit for about 60 people and 2 self catering kitchens.

Chez, relaxing at 4,800m at the refugio on Cotopaxi      The view across from the refugio      Jason pointing the way!

After lunch we explored around the refugio and at last the clouds lifted revealing the hulk of Cotopaxi and its Glaciers. Truly beautiful. The sun was out and finally maybe our luck would be in. With bad weather over the last few days, we needed a clear cold night for a safe ascent.

After dinner and with the skies still clear we went to bed ready for a midnight dash for the summit.

. . . . . . . Midnight came and with it the snow. Snow had been falling for some time. A quick something to eat and we headed out in the snow for the glacier.

It was snowing and frankly not too cold, the exact conditions we did not want. We put on our crampons and roped up for the steep glacier ascent. 35 degrees or so as we climbed. The snow continued to fall and the wind began to pick up.

Jason, Cheryl and Marco our guide on the descent from Cotopaxi, in the snow

At 5,300m the snow was several inches thick and we had to dig a pit to test for avalanche. After much discussion between our guide and another we decided to continue. The slope now steepens to around 38 degrees, maybe 40 degrees in sections. Perfect avalanche country, and to top it we are on the lee side of the mountain allowing snow to build up.

We ploughed through the snow constantly slipping back as the snow beneath our feet collapsed.

At around 5,525m the snow was falling heavily and we were ploughing through up to 50cm of fresh snow. More testing of the snow conditions lead to only one conclusion. . . . .we had to go down.

Most disappointing after our failed attempts in the Cordillera Blanca but basically the weather Gods are not on our side at the moment.

Snow conditions could not be much worse and the avalanche danger was acute.

So as we were at the head of the pack so to speak we were advising other groups to turn back as we descended.

Not even a sun rise to behold as the cloud was too thick and on arrival at the refugio it was a Christmas card view.

The refugio following the fall of snow 6,30am, after descent, 4,800m

Oh well, after a rest and a drink it was down to the 4 X 4 and a long drive back to Quito.

It took us a day to recover from the exertions at altitude.

The weather is still bad and our plans for Chimborazo have evaporated with frustration. So with only a few days until we go home we will spend mainly in Quito.

It feels like a slight anti climax after all that we have done, but its not a bad place to “hang out”, and planning our return to good old blighty!



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