Cotopaxi, is one of Ecuador's most popular climbs. I'm sure most of people who come to this Andean country write its name down on their to do list. Well, that was my case, I dreamed about climbing it way before I came from Romania to visit this country. I never thought it'll take me some time until I can put my feet on its summit.
Cotopaxi from Pedregal
It wasn't until my third attempt that I was able to stand on its top. My first time, one of the most common mistakes most climbers do, to climb up to 4,800 m after just five days of my arrival to Ecuador (Quito), and to not give myself enough time to acclimatize.
The consecuencies of it was AMS, I felt extremelly sick and had to be taken down at midnight from the mountain to a lower elevation in the National Park. I started to feel much better as soon as I spent a night at 3,900 m which it is still relatively high for somebody who just came up from almost sea level.
I took advantage of a guided trip Boriss (ECU) got to Cotopaxi. It was a large group led by an Ecuadorian who thought taking care of his bussines was more important that anybody's life. A couple of his clients got sick while spending the night at the refuge. They tried to let him know about it, but actually he didn't care a thing about it and forced them to leave the refuge at night in the middle of a storm. Of course they couldn't even reached the glacier in those bad healthy conditions. Boriss told him that he'll take me to a lower elevation, 'cause I wasn't feeling right. But he didn't want to allow that in order to take care of his company reputation.
It didn't pass more than ten minutes and Boriss and I were on our way down, despite his orders. We set a tent up at the base of the mountain that morning, and started walking down to the nearest city by dawn.
Sincholagua from Pedregal
This didn't end up there. Strong thoughts of climbing Cotopaxi constantly spun around my mind. It started to be an obssesion. Boriss got another trip up to Cotopaxi, it was my chance to give it a try. So we planned to enter into the National Park a day prior the climb, in order to meet with the clients there.
We walked from Pedregal, the closest town to the National Park for about four hours, carrying a tent and more supplies for an extra day at the glacier. The plan was to climb a day after the guiding trip. It'd be twice in a row for Boriss.
Well, just the hike from Pedregal to “Paja Blanca” lodge took a toll on me.. I felt completely exhausted and I didn't think I'd be able to climb again Cotopaxi in those conditions. Anyway, we met with four french guys and with Ivan (ECU). We spent the night at the lodge, then the following night at the refuge. The weather was so bad that night that many didn't leave the refuge. It wasn't my time yet.
Third time. Boriss got clients for Cotopaxi and there I was taking adventage of it again. We took a bus to the Cotopaxi south entrance where we should switched to a pick up truck. Our driver “Wilson” was accompanied by his small 3 year old daughter. We went through the control gate, without paying a cent, it was easy.. he knew the gate care takers.
We met with the clients one hour later at “Tambo Paxi” lodge. Markus (GER) and Mehmet (TUR) have been spending a couple of days there acclimatizing. Markus wasn't feeling good, so he remained in the lodge while the rest of us headed up to the refuge. It was a clear sunny day... all the mountains were in sight, Cotopaxi, Corazón, Illinizas, Rumiñahui, Sincholagua etc. It was the day!
We started our 45-minute-hike from the parking lot up to the refuge. The three of us had lunch as soon as we arrived. Then Mehmet and Boriss had a quick knot tying reminder lesson at the refuge's second floor, while I tried to catch up some of them from very close. We all have the rest of the afternoon off to do whatever we pleased... Mehmet went for a walk around the refuge while Boriss and I started to get ready with our gear for the night. More teams arrived to the refuge by late afternoon, but not as many as the day before.
Cotopaxi from the parking lot
Mehmet, Boriss and I shared a table with Hugo (ecuadorian guide) and his french client and had dinner around 6:00 pm. Mehmet didn't feel ok at that time and I thought he won't be able to leave from the refuge that night.
We all went to bed at 8:00 pm. It was an awful night for me. I kept having bad dreams all night long until midnight when we had to get up from bed in order to start getting ready for the climb. Everybody, including us left the refuge at 1:00 am after having a light midnight breakfast.
Ours was one of the last teams leaving the refuge. We felt good and started passing everybody on our way up to the glacier. But half and hour later I started to feel nausseous and sick. I felt like I ate too much. But I kept moving up slower until we got to the glacier line. The weather was perfect, clear, starlit and windless.
Getting to the glacier line meant crampons on and rope up together. I almost got sent back with a girl who turned back from the glacier line to the refuge. I started feeling better so I remained there with the rest of climbers. I didn't think I'd be that lucky next time, the weather was perfect, the route up in excellent conditions.. I didn't care if I had to reach the summit crawling, I wanted to do it!
Mehmet and I started heading up by he glacier guided by Boriss. We crossed some beautiful deep crevasses on our way up. The weather was more than perfect now as well as the ice/snow conditions. We kept the same pace and rhythm up to Yanasacha (Black Rock Wall). But once there Mehmet started to feel the exhaustion of the climb. He felt like he won't be able to reach the summit for a while, and I wished he could gain enough strength to keep climbing up. Actually I felt the same way. The summit didn't look too far, so Boriss suggested us to give it a last try to the summit. I felt happy again.
The last hundred and a half meters to the summit became steeper. The sun was rising up, so we didn't need our headlamps anymore. It was necessary to climb by an exposed pass in order to reach the summit bergschrund. We crossed it and kept climbing up to the summit... passed the very last deep narrow crevasse and we got it!.. We were on the summit. I felt so happy of my achievement. I felt so tired and happy at the same time.
The view from up there was amazing. Thin clouds covered the crater most part of the time while we were at the summit, but they occasionaly drifted away letting us admire its dimentions and beauty. I could see the whole northern part of the Cordillera Occidental and its peaks towering above the valley.
Illiniza Sur's glacier looked so impressive and small at the same time. Global warming is making its glaciers retreat pretty fast.
Illinizas from the summit
Suddenly, I felt very sick at the summit. I had a bad headache, nauseous and loss of balance. I felt like I didn't have any power in my legs and control of my movements. We started heading down, passed through a penitentes field. Besides my weakness, I still had a bit of strenght left in me to enjoy of the views.The penitentes field looked bizarre, and those crevasses looked bottomless.It was the first time I climbed and crossed through them. The dryness of the mountain let us see hundreds of them on our way down.
I wanted to rest so bad for at least one minute, but it was kind of late for us to keep taking breaks at the glacier. The warmth of the day was melting the snow very fast, and ice bridges on the crevasses were getting weaker little by little.
We were the last team to arrive to the refuge. It took us about three hours to descent from the summit. Grabbed our gear and started walking down to the parking lot. We got in the truck which took us to Tambo Paxi lodge. Left Mehmet there and continued north to the town of Machachi, where we switched to a bus to Quito.
After the climb at the parking lot
The exhaustion of the climb lasted for a while and I still felt its remnants on me, even while in town (seems that I had a bad infection from some time so great that I could climb it like this...). But they faded away with time and the only things that remained were the memories and the happiness of being able to stand on the second highest elevation in the Ecuadorian Andes.