4800: climbing cotopaxi

3 Dec

A visit to the dormant volcano Cotopaxi is a great day trip from Quito. Because we are far from serious climbers, we decided to go to Cotopaxi on a tour organised by Guliver Expeditions in Quito.

Our tour started in Quito at 7am from the Coffee and Toffee cafe. From here we drove for an hour or so to Papagayo lodge where we drank some warm mint tea and collected mountain bikes to ride later that afternoon. Papagayo is an old homestead that has been tastefully renovated. From our very brief stay it looked like a cosy place to stay for a night or two.

After another hour in the bus we arrived at the entry to Cotopaxi National Park where our bus loaded with mountain bikes on the roof almost took out the roof of the Park ticket office. With the assistance of British tourist James and an unstable ladder, our driver Luis was able to make the necessary repairs without too much of a delay. Alex and I followed our tour guide’s advice and bought some warm woolen gloves from the women who have set up shops at the gate. These proved to be a very good investment.

Our bus driver atttempts to repair roof that he broke minutes before

The road from the ticket office to the carpark at 4500m wound through a beautiful landscape. A lucky break in the fog and mist that hovers over the great volcano gave us the chance to snap some photos of Cotopaxi. It was a shame we didn’t have the time to walk along this path.

As we neared Cotopaxi I grew more and more excited that the volcano was covered in snow that extended all the way to the carpark. I had never seen the stuff up close and personal before.

The walk from the carpark to the Refuge at 4800m was a little bit difficult. The path was steep and slippery in places, and the altitude was a killer. At this height there is just under 60% of the oxygen in the atmosphere that you would find at sea level. In these conditions most people find breathing difficult. It is not uncommon to also suffer other symptoms of altitude sickness including nausea, headaches, and dizziness. We both found it hard to breathe but thankfully were otherwise okay while we were on the mountain.

Once we arrived at the Refuge Alex and I opted to stay there and play in the snow while the majority of our group continued the climb up to 5000m. This is where the glacier starts, though at the moment it is impossible to see under so much fresh snow. We resolved that it was too cold to make a snow man, but proceeded with a snowball fight.

When the enthusiastic members of our group returned from their hike we had lunch in the refuge (hot soup, guacamole, tuna, crackers, potato chips, sweet bread and cheese) before returning to the carpark. I found it easier and more fun to slide down the hill on my bum. Some followed my lead. As a result my pants got a bit wet, but who knows when I will have another opportunity to enjoy something so close to tobogganing again?

Once we reached the carpark we had the option of mountainbiking downhill to the lagoon, or making the trip in the minivan. Largely because I was warm and comfortable in the bus, I chose the lazy option. But other reasons to say no to the bike included low visibility as a heavy fog had descended on Cotopaxi during our decent, the freezing cold, and the questionable safety of the bikes. The breaks didn’t function on a number of bikes and the handle bars were a bit wobbly too. The quality of the bikes is the only aspect of the tour that I am critical of.

From the lagoon we made the two hour return journey to Quito. After such a long day Alex and I decided to enjoy a steak with some new friends who we had met that day. Unfortunately Alex was feeling rather by unwell by this stage in the evening. He went to bed with a migrane after offering up most of his dinner to the toilet, sink and shower in our small bathroom. I guess the altitude got us in the end. Still, a very good day all up

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2 Responses to “4800: climbing cotopaxi”

  1. billy of botany December 7, 2010 at 11:27 am #

    Your blog reads like a travel log it is very enjoyable and informative

  2. billy of botany December 7, 2010 at 11:30 am #

    on your recomendation I would love to be ibn that part of the world. Do you think Alex had altitude sickness

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