How I Climbed Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador
January 28, 2009 by rtwsenior
(Another crowded-together posting…scan the rest to catch up)
Oh dear me! I´m working under terrible circumstances in this my favorite internet. Just this evening, somebody on duty wants to play this awful rock music, very loudly, and won´t turn it down in spite of my requests. Why don´t others object? One can´t think! So, if this lacks something, that´s why…my brain is bumping and grinding…poor thing. Now, where was I?
Oh yes, drinking hot chocolate on the equator. Since we all were heading back to Quito, Carl, Jose and I hopped on the same bus. Fortunately, Jose is a native Spanish-speaker and he learned that this was a much different bus, going to a much different place than we had in mind. Both buses were blue. After some discussion with the ticket-taker, he figured out how we could make it work and we eventually hopped off along the highway, wandered downhill (thank goodness) towards familiar territory, with him checking directions now and then.
After many miles, we landed in the neighborhood of our respective hostels and I even hung out with them to the extent that I came along when they stopped at two excursion companies to inquire about climbing a mountain and doing some mountain-biking. The first didn´t have any thing to offer and we went on to the next office that they had talked to earlier. Not having a thread of an intention to do any such thing, I, nonetheless, sat down between them as the nice lady described the trek they had to offer the very next morning. Wow! Only $35 for the whole 12-hour outing! Wow! Climb up to touch a glacier! How hard could that be? There´s a smiling kid right there in the album she´s showing us. Wow! We get to mountain-bike downhill! I could do that, though I don´t fancy myself a mountain-biker. All I´d have to do was steer. All of my Aspen, Colorado, memories of summiting Pyramid Peak four times came to the fore…neglecting the tiny factoid that this was over twenty years ago.
So, by the end of the presentation, I was plunking my money down and joining the trek. Yikes1 I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. to be at Coffee & Toffee at 7:00 a.m. for takeoff as…what was the name of that mountain??? was three hours out of Quito. (Cotopaxi turned out to be the highest volcano in the world at 18,000 feet at the summit and one that climbers usually prepare/aclimate for by climbing lesser peaks.) But, just then, all I could think of was whether my alarm clock would actually work. Grabbing a humongous chicken sandwich, I ate half of it and hit the sack, waking up every few hours to see if it was time yet. I made it though the clock never peeped.
Luis was our guide and what a true sherpa he is! We stopped at a remote nature hostel, PapaGuyo, and picked up two delightful young women, Justine and Fanny, from Paris, and then drove for seemingly hours to get to the park surrounding the mountain. This Denali-like peak was perfect and completely snow-covered, sparkling in the lovely sunshine, showing just fine against the blue sky. We were above treeline at 13, 940 feet when we parked, pulled on all our warmest clothing, and started hiking up the steep incline on switchbacks. We puffed and panted for an hour and a half over the soft lava surface. At least, I did, with dear Carl hanging back to accompany me while the others seemed to veritably leap up the 900 feet rise that we were covering to the Refuge at 14,880 feet.
Oh. My. Gosh! It was tough! But, I made it and was greeted happily at the top by the others – my buddies. Luis had, in the meantime, headed straight up the mountainside, scorning the switchbacks, carrying our lunch on his back and getting there ahead to prepare it. While I collapsed at the rustic table, drinking hot chocolate and mint tea, he led the others on up another 600 feet in elevation to the glacier´s edge. Me, I figured I´d seen enough blue ice for my lifetime and we were already up in the deep snow at the Refuge.
(There´s a huge thunderstorm threatening to burst loose over this internet as I write this, but I plug on, optimistically, hoping an outage won´t wipe out all this writing. I save often.)
Anyway, my clothes were beginning to freeze on my body as the first of the seven or so layers I wore were pure cotton and soaked through. So, I ducked into the restroom and removed the wet stuff, putting a wool sweater next to my skin, thinking of all those people who have amputated their arms when caught in similar desperate circumstances and glad that my problem was so mild. When the others returned, we tucked into the feast that Luis had prepared – guacamole spread, bread, crackers and fruit, plus plenty of hot drinks and water. I hadn´t eaten breakfast, only a candy bar on the way, and that might have been contributing to my ascent difficulties.
Photos at the elevation sign and all the way down the long haul to the bottom on a soft ash ramp for which we had to use a different set of leg muscles entirely. This time, dear Jose stayed close to my side while the others cavorted easily along. At the bottom, my legs were so shaky that I opted to ride in the Toyota while the others rode their mountain-bikes over one of the most rutted dirt roads imaginable. Six miles later, we loaded their bikes back on the trailer and headed home. They had loved the ride but said that now their hands and arms ached like crazy. I was happy in my snug spot in the warm car.
Chocolate cake at the PapaGuyo Hostel was my dinner and then the endless ride in the dark back to town. How does Luis do such a life day after day. So much driving and running uphill.
My sweet goodbyes to my new InterGalactic Friends went something like this:
Me – “Will we recognize each other in another life when our paths cross again?”
They – “We´ll email you and when you get to Lima, our family will be waiting for your call!¨
Then, I got sort-of mugged within half a block of my hostel, when a running thief grabbed my wet clothing bag. His accomplice was approaching me to snatch my backpack off my back when I turned around to face the teen and pointed to his snatcher friend¨s disappearing back. “Go after him and get my bag back!” said I. He looked so puzzled and reflexively pointed to my backpack shoulder strap, as if explaining that this was what he was about. I simply stood my ground and commanded loudly that he run after his friend and “BRING BACK MY BAG!” Well, you know he didn´t but he did do me the favor of disappearing empty-handed and that was almost as good. There were witnesses who recommended that I go tell the police standing just a block away.
I dragged my tired self over to them, pantomimed what had happened and they duly walked me a thousand blocks to the police station where they insisted that I fill in two extremely long forms, showing no interest in my unimportant loss. And it was unimportant. I was just reporting it because Lonely Planet says to. It was my wakeup call and I shall be more careful very soon. However, it has now grown dark outside and I am hungry, so shall simply walk more cautiously the two blocks home after a nice hot soup supper across the street. Didn´t bring much with me for them to steal. That´s the smart part. Even the thunderstorm has dissolved without mugging me, just like that punk who couldn´t take a little confronting last night.