Cotopaxi Volcano
Near Quito, Ecuador. (5897 meters)

Entrance to Cotopaxi Volcano Parque Nacional
  Entrance to Cotopaxi.  I spent about a week in Quito (~10,000 feet) trying to get acclimatized to the elevation, and hopefully get the hemoglobin levels in the blood up a bit. The timing for this climb to just under 20,000 feet was perfect, for I was planning to head off to sea level and the the tropical Galapagos Islands when I got down off this frozen volcano.

Tim and Austrian climber at 13,000 feet
  "The Highest Active Volcano in the world!" It has erupted about 50 times in the last 200 years!   We spent a day driving around the park, then drove the truck as far as we could and loaded up our gear. Photo of me and one of the guys from Austria on the approach to the refugio (hut) at about 15,300 feet. The roof is visible in the center of the photo, but it is a long slow approach even to the refugio.

Climbing the scree slope to the refugio
  Approach to refuge. Very slow and tiring due to elevation, steepness of the slope, and scree underfoot.
We also were very aware that if conditions allowed, we would be headed up the final 4000 feet starting at midnight, and using headlights until sunrise.

Supper in the refugio
  Inside the Jose Ribas Refugio at 15,300 feet, having supper and copious quantities of matte de coca. Besides pulmonary and cerebral edema, the major problems at this elevation are dehydration, continuous headache, fatigue and exhaustion.  The tea really helped with all of those. It was still plenty cold in the refugio, and the whole building was shaking from the intense wind. After supper we would all climb into our sleeping bags and try to rest for a couple hours until midnight, when the alarm clock would tell us that is was time to suit up and head out into reality. (left to right; Tim, guide, and two dudes from Austria)

Halfway up, still 5 hours to go!
  We spent a couple hours before supper practicing our roped climbing and self arrest techniques. The mountain was relatively safe, but if one of us fell into a crevasse, or slipped in a critical spot, it would be up to the others on the rope stop the slide and/or to perform rescue.  (somewhere in this photo there are a couple of guys picking their way through the icefield)

After a long night climbing; Sunrise!
 Halfway up, just at sunrise. stopping for a break!

Our rope party at sunrise
 Stopped for a break right after sunrise.  We had been climbing in the dark for about 7 hours up until now.

Tim at 17,000 feet
  Tim at about 17,000 feet.

Frozen eyes near summit
 Tim near the summit. The wind was screaming, and at one point we stopped to wait out a particularly strong gust. I closed my eyes for about a minute to give them a break from the wind and UV light, and the darn things froze shut!

After eight hours of steady climbing, we stopped to rest 250 meters from the summit. It was close to 9 a.m., and the sun was shining brightly, but conditions were still horrendous (windy, but beautiful). The other three parties that were on the mountain that day had all turned back a long time ago. Myself and the guide were still feeling strong, and were ready for the final push to the summit. We knew we had to move quickly, for the sun would soon be tearing up the mountain, causing icefall, avalanche conditions, etc. It is usually way to dangerous to be up this high after mid-morning.  We had another problem also. The Austrian climber was hurtin' real bad. His friend had turned back several hours before sunrise, and now it was just the three of us left on the mountain. The guy said his head was about to explode, and he felt like he was bleeding from his ears, nose and eyes. We got him to drink and eat some stuff, but he was just too weak to continue. The guide agreed that he and I could probably summit ok if we moved fast, but we all knew it was time to turn back!  I started thinking about the hot and sunny Galapagos, and how I would be there in a couple days. But we were so close to the summit. We could almost touch it.  So I said to the guide "...take me off the rope, I'm gonna solo this thing".  The guide gave me a big smile, made the sign of the cross, said something in spanish, and started to untie the rope.

He knew I was only kidding. But we still had fun making up stories to tell the authorities and all the relatives back home. We secured the rope and sat down for awhile and ate the rest of our chocolate and other snacks, and just enjoyed the view from the top of the world. We could see the tops of many other peaks, and the guide enjoyed pointing summits out telling us stories about some of his favorite climbs.

Luckily we were still roped on the long slog down, since I fell into a crevasse. It was narrow but deep, and I used my elbows and the rope to keep from going in too deep. There were huge cravasses everywhere, and most were big enough and easy to avoid. The smaller ones were covered by snow bridges, and and the one that got me was invisible under the snow. They got me out quickly.  We glissaded most of the rest of the way down, and after 12 hours on the snow we were sure glad to be back at the refugio.

Two days later I had hooked back up with Yfat, and we were on a flight to the Galapagos.  That afternoon we were swimming in the ocean, chatting with just about everyone we met, putting together info and trying to handpick some new friends, a boat, and a crew to spend a week visiting the incredible islands of the Galapagos.

Yfat and Eric at the ocean near our hostel.
  Two days after Cotapaxi, Yfat and I headed back down to sea leavel and the Galapagos Islands. We met Eric our first day there, and the three of us spent the next few days checking out different boats, guides, cooks, boatmates, etc.  We spent a few hours every day at this beach, body-surfing in the huge waves, and just loafing as much as possible.

If you ever get a chance to climb Cotopaxi, or any other big frozen mountain, go for it!  Of the dozen climbers attempting the summit that day, none of us made it, but I think most of us had an awesome time!

For more info on climbing Cotopaxi, check out the following links.

Steve & Judy's Cotopaxi Page

Cotopaxi Web Links
"Cotopaxi's shape is the most beautiful and regular of all the colossal peaks in the high Andes. It is a perfect cone covered by a thick blanket of snow which shines so brilliantly at sunset it seems detached from the azure of the sky" (link to a nice page describing the climb)

Climbing Mt. Cotopaxi (nice pics)

Page by Tim D, October 1999

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My other pages:
Travel * Ecuador * Columbia * Peru

Too bad I had to compress these images so much to get a reasonable download time,,, the originals are much better!

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