Ka Fai, we're almost there!After climbing Cotopaxi with Victor (Russia) I was dropped off at Paja Blanca, a lodge located at Cotopaxi National Park south entrance.
I met my next client there, Ka Fai Kan (ENG) a friendly 34 year old who was traveling for two weeks in Ecuador. We stayed at a very comfy cabin at 3,700 m. and hiked around the lagoon of Limpiopungo for about 2 and half hours the same afternoon.
Dark thick clouds started to cover the blue sky and all of the sudden, after an hour of hiking we were caught under a huge thunderstorm. So, we stopped at a shelter on our way back to the lodge at 5:00 pm. We dried ourselves and cloths out at the restaurant's fire place and got ready for dinner.
The night was clear and calm. A bright full moon was shining above the cabin and forest. I could see Illinizas silhouette casted to the west and the shadows of the tall pine trees tops just a few meters below our cabin. I felt so lucky of having a window right above my small bed. It was just great to see the nature from the comfort of my warm sleeping bag which I placed on my bed.
We got up early next day. But we still remained in the cabin. I looked out the window and saw a couple of deer hanging out near the door. Ka Fai was taking thousands of shots of them while I was doing the same from the second floor window.
Ka Fai and I had breakfast at the restaurant. Organized and packed our climbing gear in our backpacks and got ready to go. We rode on a small 4WD up to Cotopaxi's parking lot. Once there we started hiking up towards the refuge. Got there after 40 minutes of hiking, went up to the second floor and placed our sleeping bags on the beds. It was a windy afternoon so we decided to relax for a while before going for ice practices to the glacier. We had some hot tea, bread and snacks. An hour later our arrival we started hiking up to the glacier with ice axes and crampons in our hands. The glacier was pretty crowded by climbers, most of them beginners who looked forward to climb Cotopaxi the same night as us. Crossed a few crevasses, walked up and down the ice field and got back to the refuge for dinner.
The night was short this time. After dinner most of climbers, including us went to bed at around 7 pm. As usual, most of climbers couldn't sleep because of the altitude. Personally, I slept better than at home. The alarm went off and I felt so lazy to wake up, but work is work and I got up pretty fast, boiled some water, set our table and geared myself up. Ka Fai and I had a very light breakfast at midnight. After making sure we had everything for our long climb, we headed out the refuge and started hiking up towards the glacier.
Once at the glacier we roped up together, put crampons on and started our climb on La Rompe Corazones (heart breaker slope). We passed all the other climbing teams on our way up. The whole steep slope was fully covered by fresh new snow from the night before. All the old tracks from previous climbs were gone. It was my turn to make my way up to the summit. I started breaking trail through knee deep fresh snow, always trying to climb straight up in order to avoid triggering an avalanche. Ka fai was following my new tracks right behind me. He was climbing keeping my same pace and without complaining of the hardness of the climb, which is something I highly admire in somebody who hasn't climbed a mountain in his life. We climbed this way for about 2 and a half hours until we finally got to the ridge and the ending line of La Rompe Corazones. This was our resting spot and our pee break.
The other teams caught up with us and then they passed us. Now it was their time for trail braking. We constantly were catching up with them and letting them pass us ahead of us. After climbing a couple of short snow ramps and traversing a long section covered by very soft snow, we got to a flat platform located to the right side of Yanasacha (black wall in kichwa). We continued climbing up and got to the external walls of the crater which are known for their steep 70 – 80 degree inclination (depending on the snow). Ka Fai pace slowed down considerably, but he still kept his will to climb to Cotopaxi's summit.
We had many stops from here up to the first deep crevasse located just below the summit. We climbed and traversed by a very thin exposed pass. The summit looked pretty close from up there but we still had a long way to go. It passed almost one hour until we reached the northwestern side of the main summit. We walked for about 15 long minutes until we finally got to the summit of the second highest Ecuadorian volcano. We felt extremely happy of our big achievement. Ka Fai never took his goggles off but I guessed he felt as happy as I was feeling. It was 7:15 am when we reached Cotopaxi's summit (5,897 m/19,347 ft). We could see all of the surrounding mountains, a sea of clouds below us and the crater.
Our time to go back down to the refuge came, and Ka Fai started heading down from the summit followed by me. We climbed down very slowly, trying to avoid any fall from any of us. The slope below the summit was pretty steep and very exposed, fully covered by new fresh snow which didn't offer a good place to place an anchor in the event of a fall. Once we passed this area we kept going down, but this time Ka Fai strength and energy was almost gone. Although he did his very best to keep placing one foot in front of the other until we got to the glacier line after 3 hours of constant activity.
Once at the refuge we both had a mug of hot tea, relaxed for a minute and headed back to the parking lot. We were picked up and rode on the same 4WD we drove up the previous day. Ka Fai was dropped off at the Panamericana Sur highway in order to take a bus to the town of Banos while I rode in it for 30 more minutes to the town of Machachi where I took another bus to Quito.
Despite the tiredness, after climbing Cotopaxi two times in a row and spending 5 long days in Cotopaxi National Park. The friendship of Kafai and his good sense of humor made my hard work on this mountain an unforgettable nice experience.