December 31, 2003
New years eve 2003! To cut down on the headache of arranging the logistics on our own and the hassle of hauling extra gear, we hired a guide. Marco picked us up and I knew right away that this was our guy! He had climbed all over the world, including over 300 summits of Cotopaxi. As he was trying to convince us to acclimate another night, his car died. Here we are sitting in traffic, horns blaring, with two gringos pushing a car through the middle of downtown Quito. Once again we were unfazed, even when smoked started pouring out of car. Marco called around and located another vehicle and we decided to take his advice and stay a night at the acclimatization center.
The drive there was uneventful except for another priceless moment with a guy on a motorcycle, with a passenger carrying a TV, and another guy on a bike holding on. We arrived at the acclimatization center and were immediately comfortable with the choice we had made. It was called Tambopaxi and that was it for the entire national park, no other buildings, just wild horses, llamas, and incredible views of Cotapaxi and the surrounding terrain. Marco left us here and told us he would return the following day for our climb of the behemoth that lay in front of us. Jen and I had a very pleasant hike through the grasslands that surrounded our little National Park.
Arriving for dinner that night we were invited us to share a table, with Segundo (Like second) a outrageous friendly Ecuadorian and his family who would entertain us with animated stories and a desire to learn more about Idaho. Regretfully Jen and I called it an early night, as the Diamox (drug used to speed up acclimatization) made us tired. So here we are on the last day of 2003 in bed at 9:30 (7:30 Idaho time). My how the times change.
January 1, 2004
We awoke, had a nice breakfast and repacked our bags for the umpteenth time. Through the course of the vacation I bet we spent an entire day just unpacking, packing, and repacking. Before lunch we went up the get some water and low and behold, Marco! Turns out upon returning to Quito he had a client that wanted to climb, so he went! Now he is preparing to do the mountain 2 times in 2 days on 2 hours of sleep, now you see why we call him Marco the Madman. He informed us that they had perfect weather for their climb but encountered unfavorable snow conditions. Meaning we had to be turned around by 8! We let him steal a little shuteye before leaving for the wind and cold of the mountain. Upon arriving were faced with a 45-minute hike to the hut. It was windy, but we felt good, we kept a slow pace and went longer route versus the more direct one. Arriving at the hut we threw out our bags on 2 of the more than 60 beds and listened to all the different languages that were being spoken, English, French, German, Spanish, different backgrounds, but one goal the summit of the 19,348 foot Cotopaxi. Jen was weary about the wind, and I told her that often times it dies down in the night. Dinner was served at 5:30 and we were in bed soon in preparation for our midnight departure, reflecting on how the times have changed from New Years past.
1) I went to bed at 6 pm, not 6 am
2) When I say “That is the highest I have ever been” it represented a new climbing height not a new drinking record.
3) My performance mix from the past Whiskey & Coke has been replaced by mix for the future, Diamox and Water.
January 2, 2004
Summit day! Remember the wind I told Jen might calm down? Well it didn’t! It was blowing steady around 30 mph. Eating a small breakfast we bundled up and set out glancing at my watch it was midnight, 8 hours to reach the summit. We were the third team out of the hut, but knew that many more were not far behind. The first part of the climb was on dirt before reaching the glacier, Unable to tell that Jen was struggling because I had my head down powering ahead, I was shocked when she said the wind was too much and she was heading down. The unselfish reason she did it is because if she had turned back higher on the mountain we would have all had to turn back. I felt her disappoint in being thwarted by the weather and not your physical ability. She assured Marco that she would make it back fine, and we parted ways.
Marco and I continued up to the glacier where we roped up and put on our crampons for the task at hand. Soon after starting up it became very evident that this was not your ordinary climb. We had already gingerly stepped around a thin ledge and jumped two crevasses. We passed the two teams ahead of us, and even though we were moving a very slow pace it became very evident that we were way ahead of schedule. At this rate we would be on the summit at 5 am (A full hour before the sun comes up) so we were forced to stop and wait. My camelbak had frozen solid within the first 20 minutes, and the wind was getting stronger. Taking off my pack I discovered that my body was covered in a thin layer of ice, if there is ever at time to have good gear, it was now and I was warm.
At 18,500 we reached a section of ice about 50 feet long and 70 degrees steep. In the dark and cold I found this to be an interesting time to be introduced to ice climbing. Fully trusting that Marco could hold me if I fell he went first and then I followed. It was tiring at this altitude, but that is not what had my heart beating so much, it was the excitement of a new experience and being comfortable doing it. We cleared this section and collected our wits before embarking up the final section of 55 degree climbing. By this time we were moving very slowly to eliminate the need to stop again and because the wind was approaching 50 mph. Nearing the top when we saw our first inklings of light and trudged up and where a cloud that hid the view of the crater and the surrounding area welcomed us. Wanting to descend the tricky sections before the slow moving rope teams reached them we embraced and snapped a couple of pictures.
The descent showcased textbook examples of what not to do in mountaineering.
Lesson 1-Make sure you are in better shape than your guide. When we passed a group of two female French climbers who by this point were dragging their male guide up the mountain.
Lesson 2-Never stop below a icefall-Granted it was windy but as the sun comes up and the mountain warms up, don’t stop below huge icicles that litter the trail below.
Lesson 3-Do not have a picnic on top of a snow bridge-The rope that you wear on a glacier is designed to stop you when you break through a snow bridge. When your entire team stops on top of one it not only increases your risk of breaking through but the rope does you no good.
Arriving back at the hut at 8 am I went to wake Jen and tell her we were safe and had made the summit. She was happy for me, but I could see the disappointment on her face. I told her we would get her more experience and return to conquer this beast. I had made the choice on the way down that I would not climb Chimborazo in 2 days, because that would take up all we had left for vacation. It was time I wanted to spend with my girl! We quickly packed up and headed back to Tambopaxi where we once again repacked our bags and took a deserved shower. Marco had agreed to take our big bags back to Quito so all we had was our little day packs when we stepped on the bus for Banos. The bus system in Ecuador is cheap costing about a dollar for every hour of travel and surprisingly nice. Do to its proximity to the jungle and great mountain biking and whitewater options Banos is the tourist Mecca of Ecuador We aggressively seeked out pizza and a couple of cold beers before falling into a food coma at the end of a great day.