Approach We spent the day after Chimborazo at Hostel Valhalla, near Cotopaxi national park south of Machachi. The hostel is owned by Moggely and was quiet- a good place to rest away from Quito. Patricio, our guide, met us for lunch and then we were off to Cotopaxi. At the park entrance we picked-up one of the hut guardians. Near the parking area below the hut the snow began to fall. By the time we arrived it was falling pretty thickly, and I had to change in the jeep since I was still wearing shorts! The snow blanketed the otherwise dirt trail. Although the hut didn't appear to be very far, the hike took about 40 minutes.
Jose Ribas hut from the parking area There was a sizeable avalanche that hit the hut several years ago which killed its occupants- a large concrete deflector now sits between the hut and the adjacent slope. Escape doors were also added- hopefully they won't be needed! The hut was in pretty good shape, especially considering it sees considerably more traffic than the huts on Cayambe or Chimborazo. For a change we actually had some company- we weren't the only party around. After a good dinner we went to our bunks for a short rest.
The Climb We didn't get up until 1am. Particio felt that our pace would put us on the top much too soon before sunrise if we left the hut any earlier. We left the hut and began our slog through the snow which was still falling briskly. The traverse to the right normally requires walking over dirt and rocks, so again the snow was welcome. I was worried that the conditions might keep us from reaching the top, but we kept going. As we turned and started the climb up the glacier, it became apparent that Patricio had his work cut out for him. He had to break trail the entire way with some post-holing the whole way. Once our rope gained the lead, the other teams were never really very close to us and we could only dimly see the large, yellow light of the next lower guide which disappeared from view after an hour or so. This meant that Patricio wouldn't be able to get a break from his post-holing!
Patricio taking five after breaking trail. As we continued it was apparent that Patricio was right to plan a later departure from the hut. Nord was well-rested, and I wasn't really sore after Chimborazo. We also carried less water this time (one liter plus Gatorade) and just one axe which helped. We only took three longer stops for a snack and a drink ~5-10 minutes each on the way up. As we got higher we encountered some of the larger crevasses and large seracs. We didn't have to do any crossings with aluminum ladders like you see from some of the other contributors in the past. Large serac on the way down.It seemed a little surreal in the snow and mist as visibility wasn't so good. The slope steepned a bit until we were climbing with the slope near our noses. The steeper slope eased as we neared the top, and I wasn't really sure that we were finished when we reached the summit. It wasn't as windy as it was on Cayambe, but the visibility was pretty poor. I could barely make out some of the crater's features. We stopped for a few photos and congratulated each other before we headed back down. The trip down seemed pretty short- 80 minutes with one brief stop 15-20 minutes before reaching the hut. We took a short break at the hut, had warm water or tea before packing our things for the hike to the truck. The hike back down took 15-20 minutes fully laden, but I felt so light coming down. Although we didn't do another peak on our trip and didn't have a great view while on Cotopaxi (or of Chimborazo from a distance) I felt very fortunate that nine days out of Denver I was able to climb six peaks over 15,000 feet (including three "real" climbs) without a hitch, have mostly good weather and conditions (except for Chimborazo) and no unforeseen problems. Above all I was pleased to have had a dream, prepared adequately and see it through to its realization and success. And now, I will have the pleasure to lay new plans and return to the uncertainty of attaining my next goal- almost half the fun! Cumbre Blanca!