Sunrise from the top.
After guiding Antonio and Raquel (Spain) up to the summit of Illiniza Norte (5,126 m/16,818 ft), I continued guiding Stephanie and Andrew, a very friendly couple from the USA. It was great to spend an awesome time with them in Cotopaxi's refuge.
On Tuesday, I drove down from Cotopaxi's parking lot to Hosteria Cuello de Luna, where Antonio and Raquel were waiting to be taken to Cotopaxi's refuge.
We all had lunch and drove up to the refuge. Couldn't believe it, but Raquel was still complaining about everything, this time about being in Cotopaxi. It was clear she didn't like anything about outdoors and this time we were right in one of the hardest place to be at when you are looking for some rest and relax.
Anyway, Antonio and I did our best to have a nice time and tried to make her feel comfortable while in the mountain. So, Antonio and I went up to the nearest snowfield for glacier practices. Spent an hour there and then we went back to the refuge.
That night Antonio and I left the refuge at 12:10 am. We had the best weather in days, so the route up to the summit was pretty easy, a starlit sky, windless and a compacted snow trail, we couldn't ask for more.
We got to the summit (5,897 m/19,347 ft) at 6;10 am with a beautiful sunrise in the horizon. It was windless and clear at the summit too. We could see all the surrounding mountains but the crater which was covered by a thick cloud below us. We spent at least 10 minutes up there and then headed down back to the refuge.
We picked our climbing gear up and drove down to Tambopaxi Lodge, where Antonio and Raquel switched to another pickup truck to the highway and then to a bus south to Baños.
Bruno and Claude (FRA). Cotopaxi summit (5,897 m/19,347 ft)
I picked up my next climbing partners, a 61 year old couple (both of them) from Lyon, France. Bruno and Claude looked anxious to go up to the refuge and to feel the altitude in their bodies. So, as soon as we finished having lunch we headed up to the refuge.
We all spent the whole afternoon in the refuge relaxing in our sleeping bags. It was my third night without sleeping, so as soon as I got inside my sleeping bag I passed out.
Bruno, Claude and I woke up at midnight and left the refuge at 1:15 am. We hiked up at very slow but constant pace. The weather wasn't the best; it was snowing a bit and windy.
Five hours later I could see the tiredness in their faces. They kept asking, are we close to the summit?. Finally, after 6 hours of climbing we got to the summit. It was 7:15 am, we couldn't see a thing but being all of us up there was awesome, and all we wanted. We stayed a few minutes at the top and then headed back to the refuge in the middle of a bad snowstorm.
Luckily I had to rest for one day, so I went back to Quito and then headed back to Cotopaxi a day after.
Austrian Rescue Team on the summit (5,897 m/19,347 ft). Gerald and Wolfhang minutes after the fall.
I had to guide a group of Mountain Guides from Austria. They were already at the refuge with two more Ecuadorian guides, Jose Salazar and Ivan Herrera.
We, two more guides from Riobamba (Santiago and Franklin) and I got to the refuge at 6:30 pm, had a quick dinner and got inside our sleeping bags.
I woke up at 11:00 pm and boiled some water for the whole group's empty bottles, then went back to sleep for another hour. We all woke up at 12:00 am, had a light breakfast, got ready for the climb and left the refuge at 12;50 am.
The weather was awful this time, but we kept climbing anyway. We were at least 15 rope teams pushing for the summit that morning, climbed by La Rompe Corazones (heart breaker slope), crossed a couple of big crevasses and got to Yanasacha (black rock in quichua).
The fall to Yanasacha
Then the fun started. There were a few teams ahead and behind us, climbing straight up the last ramp that ends up at a crevasse below the summit. We passed a couple of teams on our way up. A bottle neck got formed as soon as we got to the upper part of the ramp, so we followed and were followed by other teams by the col.
As we started traversing by a very narrow exposed pass below the summit, Gerald, the last climber on my rope team slipped down to his left side and to the void pulling Wolfhang, the second on our rope team with him. Luckily both of them yelled as they were falling to the void.
I looked back and imagined instantly the three of us falling to our deaths by the 250 meters Yanasacha's wall and stopping on the rocks and crevasses at the base of it.
There was one of the hugest and deepest crevasses at my right side, so I just jumped in it. I saw myself a couple feet inside of the crevasse and then I got pulled out of it by my climbing partner’s weight. Next thing I did was to plunge my ice axe in the thin crevasse cornice and to hold my weight and my partner’s weight with my arm against the lip of the crevasse.
I was afraid my ice axe could come off of the thin cornice and that I wouldn't be able to build an anchor system pretty quick. If this would happened I'd be pulled down by Gerald and Wolfhang's weight all the way down to the void.
I yelled at them to plunge their ice axes in the snow, but they were too shocked and scared that they never reacted to what it was happening. They just looked at each other’s faces imagining the worst to come.
Somehow, I built a quick snow anchor with my ice axe and pulled them up with their own help a minute later. They were still shocked and they never used their ice axes, but at least they climbed up a bit helped by their crampons while their ice axes hung from the leashes.
Once they got to the col, they were so grateful of being still alive, with tears in their eyes they gave me a big hug and we continued climbing up to the summit.
We summited at 7:15 am. It was extremely windy up there so we spent just 2 minutes at the top.
It was a scary experience; I think a mountain guide title doesn't exempt anybody for being involved in an accident. It's experience which helps climbers to avoid any kind of accident.
Later on in the refuge, Gerald and Wolfhang approached once again to me, gave me a big hug again, and we all laughed remembering at our new mountain adventure.