First day, decisions and to get there
I tried it once and the weather didn’t helped, making me go back at 5.240 meters. Tried a second time with perfect weather forecast, but the weather “did not follow the protocol” of the forecast i saw and at this second time i could not even leave the hut because it was snowing outside and there was a layer of verglass outside the refuge. Again, anyone who dared to try got back and no one summited the volcano. Some days later i decided to return because i could not return to my country without seeing its crater!
For my readers here in Brazil I kept secret about that third attempt until today. I bet all the readers thought that i have not tried, and also thought i missed the climb, and therefore the summit, but in January 14th i was willing to take my chances even with a bad cold and a serious case of sore throat. The hell with it i did it anyway!
Annoyed, defeated by the unpredictability of the weather in Ecuador, I was pretty much decided not to try a third time (and i said so at the summit log here at SP!), but i heard and read some advice. Those words at the last minute that are good to read. Rob SPer RGG
told me "Oh no, Paulo, it takes three tries to succeed, you just have to try it one more time!
" (I looked at the summit log of the volcano and he tried three times to achieve the goal last December). Boris Sper HIGHEXPEDITIONS
, also told me not to quit, to try again: "Paulo hermano, you can’t return to Brazil without climbing the Cotopaxi, try again!
". Also my dear girlfriend Lilianne told me not to lose hope as well, giving strength and support by e-mail.
The problem is: After trying the first time Cotopaxi, tried Illiniza Norte also with no luck. Summited Guagua Pichincha and tried the second time in Cotopaxi. I caught a severe cold resulting in a terrible sore throat. Besides that, I could not do what i wanted in Cotopaxi which was camping, i didn’t wanna sleep inside the hut. The snow was soft, wet, the snowstorm was “non-stop” at the second time and there was avalanches risk at the first time (which later happened!). Bad luck with the weather, bad luck with health, bad luck with the terrain = psychological factor down. After just hang out at the hostel just getting fat, and reflect a bit, at afternoon on January 13th i stood up and said to myself: "You know what, I'll try once more. Fuck my throat.". Enough of feeling sorry for myself!
I went to the same place, Gulliver agency, and managed the transport for the same twenty dollars they charged me the back in the second try, all the way to the parking lot, again, to 4.550 meters. Would leave Quito on the morning of January 14th. Went back to the hostel coughing, spitting in the street, with my psychological factor completely renovated. It's funny how "love for the mountains can move a mountain". Prepared the backpacks, all separated, left what i could in the hostel locker and went to bed full of hope. Woke up early and went wait for the minibus. While waiting i met a group of brazilians who recognized me because of the name and a huge brazilian website called www.mochileiros.com (backpackers comunity where i used to help people with tips years ago!), orkut (community “backpackers on south america” where i was a moderator and gave tips too). And of course www.altamontanha.com as well. We chatted a little and got on the bus with promising, immaculate blue sky. As soon as i got inside the bus i heard my name, "Paulo?!". It was Pedro, a local guide (frind of Boris) who i met while trying Illiniza Norte, he led a small group on the occasion, and was on the bus in the same position (tour guide) on my second attempt on Cotopaxi. That meant jokes on my bad luck, but also a great wish for good luck at that third attempt, which was promising by the perfect weather. Very good, a familiar face for the trip would be nice.
We hit the road. The weather was unbelievable! In the first 20 minutes we enjoyed the view of Cotopaxi. In fact, my very first view of the volcano! A white white filled with ice cascades, seracs and crevasses! My heart got freaking fast...
Arriving close to the parking lot Pedro asked the driver to stop at 3.800 meters close to the lake so people could take photos, afraid of approaching clouds may end everyone’s party. I delighted myself with the first pictures.
Clouds arrived in the parking lot and ended partly with the view, and i thought "not again ...". All descended and began to walk to the refuge as it was part of the package of all the other passengers on the bus. They paid for a tour on the park that includes a visit to the refuge, lunch there and walk up the glacier. For me, the service was over right there in the parking lot. I took my two daughters (backpacks) and started my lonely walk, listening to mp3 a little bit of Ozzy to unwind the heavy burden and the damn sore throat which btw was killing me.
This time, despite a cold i went up even faster, just fifty minutes. I left the backpacks at the entrance of the hut and went inside. I was very well received by two other guides who also recognized me, and then others. Everyone knew that i was the solo brazilian unlucky climber with issues with the weather, and that that was my third attempt at the volcano in just 12 days. Okay, I began to hear many jokes, but good jokes lol. The funny thing is that they can’t speak properly my name, Paulo, so everyone always called me Pablo. Jokes and more jokes ... lol
Camping and walking around
Melting snow to cook
Got out, clear skies once more! I made more pictures. Went up to check the space good for camping, snow-covered, it is generally sandy but not this time. Snow quality: great! There was no melting, there was no wind and hardly anyone went there. Now my own mobile home would be properly photographed in one of the most beautiful volcanoes in the planet!
I returned to the hut. Pedro and Luiz (another guide who knew me already) got me a free lunch, great! While having lunch and chatted with all multinational people at the table, i heard somebody calling me: "Parofes!" with gringo accent and with much excitement. It was Gavin Sper Inday
. He was with his group of Earth treks http://www.earthtreksclimbing.com
: Tim, Dan and Stephan Jenkins. Met them all, we exchanged quick words as they were having lunch too. The four would climb led by Dan and a local guide.
Back on the table i finished the meal, got some wishes of good luck and went on my lonely way to the snow field to set up my camp. As the weather was good, i did it quietly, enjoying every minute of that wonderful day. Finally at 2 pm the camp was done and the inside was "cleaned", and i was walking around back and forth just checking things out and taking pictures.
The afternoon went by quickly, and out of the blue i ran into Boris inside the refuge, didn’t knew he was there guiding again. Quick chat because he was busy with three clients from Austria, after that i went for my million star self suported and cold hotel (lol), at 4.865 meters high. Shortly after 5pm i melted snow, drank some tea and then cooked myself dinner. I made some pictures and got ready to sleep. Well i would climb solo, so i did not wanted to say goodbye to anyone, decided to just lie down and sleep.
Same problem as always, did not sleep at one, not one minute. The starry sky was calling me to look outside the tent with its sensational scenery. Listening to music i began to sketch this report, measured the temperature inside the tent and around 10pm it was -4°C inside my tent, outside -6.5°C. I looked a little more to the sky and i couldn’t believe how perfect the weather was. I thought "Wow, it seems like an apology from Cotopaxi to me." Suddenly my watch screemed: 11:30 pm. Game face on Parofes!
Ice climbing crux
Cayambe from Cotopaxi
Ice from Cotopaxi, amazing...
More ice from Cotopaxi
Got up, did a double check in my backpack and left the tent almost ready after drinking a C vitamin and a painkiller for the throat. I took the backpack to the hut, finished getting ready there, found some guides there and wished good luck to all, last words before go for it. After that i started walking, alone. Looking up i could see groups close to the entrance of the glacier 300 meters above, where i returned the first time. Enjoying the moonlight that illuminated the way, i left the headlamp at minimum power to save energy. As an ant climbing a tree i made my way quietly, sometimes taking advantage of being out of the glacier (without risk of crevasses) and making my own way out of the line of people.
Arriving at the glacier the cold dropped to -6°C. Comfortable temperature, ensuring good snow for climbing. Better that way to me, i felt a little warm with all my clothes on. I climbed the volcano like a curious tourist, walking by calmly, looking closely to each curious icy form. The hours went by and i slowly evolved, struggling to protect my throat from the dry cold air of -8°C at 5.550 meters, but it was worthless.
Well, Cotopaxi is sold as an easy climb that do not requires previous experience, but this is not true! Sometimes, walking, i steped just a few inches from a small hole of half a meter on the floor and when i lighted to look,I couldn’t see the bottom! Cotopaxi is covered with crevasses in the normal route and anywhere else you go, 85% of them i saw only on the descent. Still, I was impressed. I saw in Cotopaxi a thing i never seen on other mountains, all steep icy slopes ends up in a crack and this is terrible, because at any fall in which you try unsuccessfully to do a self arrest, you will end up at the bottom of a crevasse that may have up to 150 feet deep! That’s right, 45 to 50 meters deep! Worrying ah?
There are also times and seasons in Cotopaxi. Times when a large crack opens after Yanasacha requiring steal stairs to do its crossing, as in the Everest icefall. Times when it closes with fresh snow that stuck for weeks or months. Yes it is an easy climb, but exposed and with too many hidden risks. Every precaution is needed.
I noticed something very unpleasant in the way, or the left or right side of the marks of boots in the snow on the glacier, noticed a lot of points with vomit on the floor. At least one every twenty minutes of the climbing. One of them must be the reason: 1: Either the customer did not want to give up and continued the climb even halfway to a serious problem with altitude; 2: Or the guide did not have enough “command voice” to make them go down to their own safety; 3: Or guides themselves encouraged their clients to continue ignoring the explicit sign of trouble by vomiting. I know Boris and he couldn’t do it, i saw him make his client give up due to bad weather conditions and because of the most important thing, his client couldn’t do it. He wasn’t prepared and it was obvious.
Anyway, i arrived at 5.800 meters. There is a short stretch of about fifteen meters or so (45 – 50 feet) of ice climbing. If it were easy with snow, walking would be possible in its light maximum 50° slope, but was without fresh snow and it was verglass. Hard like a rock, so i had to ice climb that part, soloing of course since i was climbing solo with no ropes and using ice tools, not regular march ice axes. As i did, one guide found photogenic and asked his two clients to wait a little bit while he photographed me a few times. I tried to find that guide after i came down so i could ask for the pictures hehehe! Well, i’ll keep looking for him hehehe...
I found that funny, it was nice of him to still enjoy the mountain and take pictures while guiding, behaving differently. Well, i finished quickly, while i was catching my breath up already, ran into Gavin and his comrades already coming down, they were fast, summited in less than five hours! Ready, made my way alone now for a small "street" carved between two domes of ice already below the summit. I went through this little street, walked a straight stretch and then left turn to climb the final part, after a sharp right turn, a long one, ending in a huge dome of ice that forms part of a complex of three ice domes that compose the summit of Cotopaxi volcano. To climb the dome, the least i can give the slope is 50 or 55 degrees. Well exposed and more, looking just below it a scary crevasse again waiting for me in case of a fall. Damn it!
I was alone again, already at the top of the dome about thirty meters above, Boris took his clients to the timid final steps to the volcano's highest point, and i had to overcome alone that snowy steep slope with huge flakes of snow, almost the size of small candy, LOOSE! All of them.
Boris climbed roped with their clients and i would do it alone. Had to sink hand to hand, foot to foot on the steep slope, concentrate to not slip or move too much snow, in case of a fall i hardly would be able to stop with so much snow and fluffy flakes that looked like little balls, and would probably stop at the bottom of the crevasse below. Damn Cotopaxi crevasses!
Without error, calculating each step and each sunk hand, already half frozen fingers, i reached the top of the dome. A faint trail in fresh snow went left and climbed the last small ridge, 20° maximum. Regained my breath and climbed already excited, crying. What sparked my tears was listening to the screaming austrians already at the top, happy and celebrating. I couldn’t take it so i started to cry...
Finally the summit! Boris was with his clients very busy, i droped my ice tools and went to meet him, we shook hands and huged. After that i retreated a few meters and, obviously, i collapsed in tears for several minutes more, eight or nine i guess, just looking at the crater and its various points of fumaroles. I picked up the pieces of frozen tears on my cheeks, made a video of the summit, one of the austrians offered to do my photo of the summit and was impressed, the picture came out really good. I thanked him, with my camera in hand i did my panoramas, three. The funny thing is, when i was trying to get alone by the crater i heard Boris talking to one of his clients “look, he’s gonna cry!” ahahahahah, and i was already crying when i huged him, i guess he didn’t notice. lol
My gps was on five minutes before reaching the summit to give it time to get a good signal reading, i wanted to measure the volcano since in any book for climbing, website, the nominal reference is the same altitude, 5.897 meters. As the summit of Cotopaxi is not the crater itself, but the glacier, it can change from year to year as well as Mont Blanc and many others, depending on the depth of the glacier. I looked at the gps and it gave me accuracy of 8 meters, very good, and the reading i had with no pressure change was of 5.911 meters.
This may change a lot from gps to gps, but its possible that now the summit of Cotopaxi is a 5.9 rather than 5.8, which is very reasonable given the fact that in January 2011 it snowed in Ecuador like it never snowed for at least 35 years. Atop the volcano is cold enough so the fresh new snow is frozen day after day, incorporated into the glacier from the summit in no time. Well, just a thought, a possibility. That doesn’t really matter much.
I went back to the edge of the ice dome above the crater and photographed it dozens of meters below, as i said i made three panoramas to make sure that one would work. After twenty minutes i realized Boris had descended with his clients (one of them took to the summit a inflatable rubber guitar and did photos with it on the summit, it was very cool!). A final pair were making pictures. I decided to come down and celebrate making glissading when i left the glacier 650 meters below.
A closer look into the crater
Gently and twice as worried i down climbed the steep snowy ridge, right behind Boris and his group, and after reaching a safer spot i took the chance to make some pictures of the glacier and the landscape of the valley two thousand meters below!
The most spectacular and ghostly view i've ever had, walking alone in the glacier of Cotopaxi looking around, suddenly i saw a real wilderness of ice, while i was observed from just above by Yanasacha, that massive rock wall that looks like a huge eye. The boring is not been able to leave the path already marked, because it was just to damn risky falling into a crevasse, as i explained before, it is a little bit frighteningly.
One more problem while descending, the cold wind from the summit combined with the sunk ice tools and hands into the snow to be safe gave me no good result at all. I felt a sharp pain in my left index finger and try to move it, i noticed that it was frozen. What the fuck, again?! By that time i got to Boris doing some dead man protection to his clients and he gave me a few good ideas. After i followed his tips i took the glove off to see the finger, and it gave me a kind of despair, it was purple and hard, very hard. Toes i don’t care by not the hands! Luckily for me, was recent, very recent, so it wasn’t not even a first degree frostbite, easy to solve. I put the cold finger inside my mouth, kept him warm by forcing hot air from my body to my mouth, but without release the hot air. So in just five minutes i could heat the finger, put back on the glove, reached into my jacket under my arm and got it heated for a while more.
It was the scariest event of hand frostbite i've ever had, because this time i felt pain, really sharp pain. For the next trip, first of all, i need to buy new gloves. The one i use of BD is not helping at all when the cold is around -8°C of colder, and that's normal temperature on a high mountain such as Cotopaxi.
After Boris had already made their clients down climb with security the verglass part, i down climbed and follow too. I took advantage and took a photo of the hut and my tent beside, a little far. The only tent there, the only colored dot in the snowy field. Far far away from there, at the west face of the volcano, there was another tent and its owner passed by us still on his way to the summit, really tired.
From there the descent was fast, after we reached the snowy field just outside the glaciar i glissade the way down, moreover, i found no marks on the snow of glissading up there. Possibly i was the only one to do it.
Neither had time to take off the crampoons and i was questioned by some guides about the summit, then being congratulated after my positive answer, for the success and persistence. This process was repeated many times, every time i ran into one of them. I packed my things and went to my tent. There i began to slowly pack the tent and throw everything into my backpack, i was so happy! Went back to the hut ready to come down and try a transport to the panamerican road or straight to Quito.
I arrived at the parking lot feeling tired, feeling the damn cold and the sore throat that was obviously worse, there were dozens of cars. I made a video with 360 degree view of the park, changed the boot, put on my big jacket because it was cold (or i had a fever) and i lay down on the sandy floor clinging to my backpack and fell asleep for almost two hours! Woke up with children walking near me, europeans. They looked at me as if they were sorry for a beggar! Ahahahaha that was funny! I really must have been miserable...
Soon after i saw Luis again coming down with another group of tourists, asked him about vacancy on the bus and i was happy to receive a positive response. Jumped in and half an hour later the bus left the park heading straight to Quito. I slept almost the entire trip back to town, had fever on the bus and even chills, fever must have been high! However, i was happy, fulfilled, feeling the taste of accomplishment. Be back to Brazil without reaching the top of Cotopaxi to me was not an option. Losing the first two attempts was an annoying experience i know. I thought about quitting, but as i said earlier on this report, i read and listened to what i needed to radically change my mind and i put myself on the line, out there for the third time, and i’m glad i did it.
My tent as seen from about 5.600 m.
Best of all is that the way back was for free for me! That means that my cost to climb the volcano was only twenty-two dollars, can you believe it? Twenty of the transport to go in and the park entrance fee.
Overall, the trip to Ecuador was not a success, but it wasn’t a failure either. I should meet with Pero Hauck (friend and editor of altamontanha.com), but did not, hoping to make some summits in Colombia and Venezuela, also did not, hoped to make more summits in Ecuador, but that did not happen. Above all, i had no intention of getting a cold so degrading during the trip, and also did not want my psychological fact shaken as it was. On the other hand, i met another amazing andean country, could make my observations of people and behaviors (as a historian i’m really glad!), people shots, made it for four summits and came home with more experience. I can not complain i know.
Not everything worked out , but i climbed as i wanted, in alpine style and with my tent set up at the base of Cotopaxi, without using the refuge.
I’m happy. I no longer need to spend another three years looking at the cotopaxi picture in the atlas book, i can spend twenty or thirty others looking at my own photos!
Now i would like to thank again my friends Rob and Boris for the kind words of encouragement that changed my mind. Thank you guys! Boris: Cuidate hermano con las gostosas ahahahah